So, what next?

Two weeks ago today, I sat down and composed a blog post entitled, Where Have All The Registers Gone? I referred to it as a ‘soapbox’ piece and my aim was to highlight what I saw as a serious problem for the current generation of family historians; namely that there are significant gaps in some of the parish register collections available on the big commercial genealogical websites, and that these gaps are effectively hidden from the users.

I was delighted with the response to the post over the next few days; lots of supportive comments came in suggesting that I wasn’t alone in feeling how I did about the situation, and that there was a sense of a shared experience.

Then it all started to go a bit crazy. About a week after I published the post, it was picked up by Peter Calver’s LostCousins website and featured in their weekly newsletter, while a number of Facebook Groups also posted links to the blog. Suddenly, I was getting notifications left, right and centre. Comments were popping up in my inbox every few minutes and the stats were going through the roof – the post was viewed nearly 3000 times in 48 hours! I began to sense that I might have struck a chord with the genealogical community…

I have to confess that I felt a bit overwhelmed by it all. I was hoping for a response – and I clearly had a response! – but it all felt a bit too much. Was this issue bigger than I could cope with? Had I bitten off more than I could chew?

Now that the dust has settled (we’re down to about 100 views a day as the total count grinds on towards 6000) I’ve begun to take stock of it all. There were a number of recurring themes in the comments, largely people agreeing that there was a problem and offering their support for a campaign, but also a significant number of people indicating that they hadn’t been aware of the issue and that they would now approach their searches with a different mindset.

Wordcloud created from comments on my original blog post, generated at

So I thought I should set down my thoughts and try to consider what we’ve learned and what we should do next.

I think that there are two main strands here:

1 – the question of forming some sort of pressure group
2 – the question of creating a single place to gather information about known gaps

Unfortunately, unlike Johnny Nash, I can’t see clearly, and like Johnny Nash, I have more questions than answers.

Here are some things that I think.

  • Although it’s clear that the problem isn’t just confined to parish registers (people mentioned censuses, the 1939 register, military service records etc.) I feel that the initial scope of the project (if there is a project!) should focus on digitised parish register collections (county-wide or equivalent).
  • Similarly, in terms of geographical coverage, I think that it should (initially at least) be limited to England and Wales.
  • This isn’t about transcription errors, nor, in my opinion, should it be about individual pages or even sections missing from digitised registers. This should be about entire registers which are known to exist and to form part of an archive’s holdings which are not part of the collection in which they should appear.
  • This is also not about lost registers, or about those registers for which Archives don’t have the necessary rights, although I can see some advantage in logging this information.
  • QUESTION. Is it also about noting/identifying registers which are wrongly named (the example of the Findmypast Flintshire registers collection was mentioned)? Errors like this are much easier (and therefore cheaper) to correct.

A few more questions:

Of course, the biggest question to ask (and I really don’t have the answer), is ‘can we actually achieve anything here?’ Would we just be wasting our time? Is there any point in even trying?

And what about the archives themselves? Do they want a bunch of rabble rousers running around, possibly interfering with their own efforts to get the commercial websites to do something? Would we be helping or hindering?

One thing’s clear. The situation as it stands at the moment is unacceptable. A couple of people suggested that there may be some potential in pursuing legal action but as there are no explicit claims of completeness, just a vague suggestion of it, I really think that’s a non-starter. But I would love to think that we can help to sort this out – even if it’s just making some progress with the second strand and creating a space where errors can be reported and recorded.

(Perhaps there’s also a role in offering advice/guidance to archives who may be considering getting into bed with one of the commercial websites…)

As a professional researcher, working fulltime, there are limits to the amount of time and mental energy I can commit to all this. My family and my garden take up most of my spare time and I’m even hoping to have a social life again one of these days. But if there are enough like-minded individuals out there, perhaps with a bit more time on their hands and with the necessary IT/organisational skills to make something happen, maybe this can work.

So, as I said before, who’s up for it? Email me if you are…

© David Annal, Lifelines Research, 20 September 2020

This entry was posted in Document Sources, research, Soapbox and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to So, what next?

  1. elainemaul says:

    As a very inexperienced genealogist I’m hesitant to add my penny-worth, but I will!

    One issue I can forsee is exactly what do you mean by a missing register? Missing with whom/what?

    If I can give an example, I have been transcribing Essex registers for FREEREG and I know the reference numbers that the Essex Archives have given for each register they hold. Only a select number of them have been transcribed on familysearch and this was the principle reason I got involved with FREEREG! I found I was accessing and transcribing registers from the Essex Archives collection that weren’t on familysearch and I thought I’d do something to help the research community at the same time as I was investigating for myself! An example; Great Parndon, Essex wasn’t on familysearch and it meant I couldn’t progess my own tree any further.

    Until the end of last year (I think!), the data from a lot of these registers wasn’t on any of the major ‘big boys’ either, but that has now changed as there are a lot of Essex registers on Ancestry now! I couldn’t swear whether they have all of the Essex Archives collection but as it was achieved due to a collaboration between Ancestry and the Essex Record office, I would hope so (although who knows!).

    So, a number of Essex registers are ‘missing’ on familysearch, all are ‘missing’ from findmypast, most are on Ancestry.

    In my own research, as I mentioned Great Parndon, I discovered that the marriage register that should have covered the period 1837-1861 is not with the Essex Archives. I am going to have to guess that it has been lost, so that is ‘missing’ from everywhere! Although luckily that period is covered by civil registration.

    However, I hope you can see what I’m getting at?



  2. kcm76 says:

    A few initial thoughts …

    The first step should surely to be to create an online database of all known instances of missing registers; at the moment it appears we have little more than an unorganised collection of anecdote. Without this knowledge we have little evidence on which to base any campaign. This ought to be relatively cheap and easy to set up, at least in the first instance; although it will need someone(s) with the time, energy and motivation to receive reports of new entries and add them to the database — I don’t suggest everyone adds there own because
    (i) there needs to be some moderation
    (ii) this will involve much more complex user registration etc.

    The initial cost for a web domain and hosting would likely be somewhere in the region of £50 pa.; there may be an individual who would be willing to host this on their existing website at effectively no cost; or it could be funded through a “tip jar” or GoFundMe (or similar). Then we’ll need volunteers to:
    (a) build a plan (this person may well act as owner/sponsor)
    (b) have the website and hosting set up
    (c) build a WordPress (or similar) website
    (d) analyse the data and decide what fields need to be in the database
    (e) key the initial bulk data.
    None of this is difficult and it does not (indeed, should not) be done by one single individual. The biggest pieces of work are (c) and (e).

    I agree that initially we should restrict ourselves to England & Wales and to entire registers. It could later be extended to missing sections of registers, censuses, and the like — but that is very much phase 2 or phase 3.

    Once we have the evidence documented all the other options open up, and we will be in a better position to decide if we become a more formalised pressure group, and even if one of the genealogical organisations (eg. SoG, Family History Federation) is willing to take on the project.

    HTH …


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