Posts Tagged ‘ Behind the scenes at findmypast.co.uk ’
As you’re probably aware, one of the larger projects the findmypast.co.uk team has been working on this year is a complete revamp of our General Register Office (GRO) birth, marriage and death (BMD) indexes.
We’ve created a completely new, clearer set of images of the original records and we’ve also been working to transcribe each and every one of them for the very first time. This allows you to search directly for your ancestors, rather than having to browse several pages to find the person you are looking for.
Of course, some England & Wales BMD records are available elsewhere online, and some of them are even fully-indexed like our new ones, but to date, nobody else has provided a complete set of fully-indexed BMD records – another first for findmypast.co.uk, and a project which should be complete in early 2011 when we launch the death records. As always, our aim is to make your family history easier and this project is no different…
So, having launched the new birth records a few months ago, recently we’ve turned out attention to marriages.
Marriage search challenges
One of the main difficulties with searching marriages is the need to search for both spouses separately, and then compare the registration district, volume and page numbers to see if the two match up. Even worse, because more than one marriage is recorded on a single page of the GRO indexes, even if you manage to match up two potential partners, it is always possible that they actually married someone else on the same page of the index that you haven’t tracked down.
Another major challenge is finding wives when you do not know their maiden name. Often you will come across a new branch of your family in a census and identify a new husband and wife, listed under their married surname. Finding the husband in marriage records is generally possible, but without knowing the wife’s maiden name, tracking down the marriage can often be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
To help overcome these inherent difficulties, we’ve been developing a new search technology we call MarriageMatchTM, which should make searching for marriages much easier, and should even help you unravel some mysteries in your tree.
MarriageMatchTM does something very clever – rather than searching for one spouse in a marriage, it searches for both at the same time, and does the matching up for you. If you give the surnames of both spouses and they married after 1912, it will generally produce a list of exact matches – people with the surnames you are looking for who definitely got married to each other.
If they married before 1912, or if you only know the first name of one of the spouses, it will also show you all the potential matches on the GRO index page: in most cases you only have to choose between two (or occasionally four) people that your ancestor might have married. In any case, because it shows everybody on the same results page, you can be confident that one of the people on your results screen is the right one, and you don’t need to dig further.
Where it really comes into its own is when you know the surname of the husband and just the first name of the wife – again, MarriageMatchTM will find you all the records where, for example, a Thomas Smith married a Catherine. You can even use a variants search on either or both of the names if you are not 100% sure of the first name the wife may have been recorded under.
We have been testing it thoroughly at findmypast towers, and it has been incredibly valuable for us – it seems to have an uncanny ability to identify the marriage you are looking for from the millions of marriage records you might have been browsing for years, hoping to get lucky. I managed to crack five long-standing brick walls in my tree (husbands with common surnames marrying wives with common first names) in 20 minutes flat and we’re hoping you’ll find it just as useful.
We’re just doing some final tweaks to it now and will make it available on site in early December.
I’d really recommend that if you have any marriages that have left you baffled, you start digging them out now so you’re ready to see if MarriageMatchTM really can solve some of those marriage mysteries…
I’m Jess Moore, findmypast.co.uk’s web editor. I joined findmypast.co.uk in January 2010 and it’s been non-stop since then! I create and send out the monthly findmypast.co.uk newsletters and usually it’s me who updates the blog.
I’m also responsible for the content on the website. At the moment I’m working on a project to make our records more user-friendly. This will involve standardising the information for each set of records and making sure that you get the facts you need on each search page.
Background information on the records and the best ways to search them are crucial, so you can expect to see enhancements to this in the not-too-distant future.
Another project I’m working on is a host of new pages for the site. We think we should tell you more about us as a company (including biographies of each team member) and how we can benefit your family history research. I’m working on this with my colleagues Ian Tester, Paul Yates, Debra Chatfield and Amy Sell. So, keep a look out for exciting new pages on the site coming soon.
That’s all from me for now…I’ve got plenty to be getting on with in the run up to the festive season. That’s all I can say for now but I promise you won’t be disappointed!
I’m findmypast.co.uk’s records development manager and resident genealogy expert. As well as answering your ‘Ask the Expert’ queries, I work with archives, family history societies and other owners of original historical records to digitise these for findmypast.co.uk
Recently I’ve been reviewing our Chelsea Pensioner data so as to understand and think about how we can go about enhancing it.
The Chelsea Pensioner records extend over 150 years – from 1760 to 1913 – and those up to the middle of the 19th century are, in some ways, especially interesting from a data point of view. At that time, spelling of place names had not quite settled and been standardised, at least not the spelling as used within the British Army. In some ways this is inconvenient but in others it provides an intriguing insight into local history.
Many of the soldiers’ places of birth are given and spelt phonetically by the recruits or the recruiting sergeant on the attestation and discharge papers which form the surviving service record.
This week I have been looking at the places of birth of soldiers born in my home county of Kent. This requires some thinking about the local accent and local pronunciation of place names. For instance, ‘Settingbourne’ sometimes appears instead of Sittingbourne (older members of my own family still say ‘set’ instead of ‘sit’). Similarly, Erith is sometimes spelt ‘Earith’ and ‘Eariff’, which gives a close approximation to the way it is pronounced locally.
On one occasion it appears aspirated (if that is the right word), as ‘Hereif’. This is a common fate of Kentish places beginning with a vowel and, therefore, tempting the local to add a leading H. For example, occasionally Eltham can become ‘Heltham’, Eynsford becomes ‘Hainsford’, Eythorne is ‘Haythorne’, Ide Hill is rendered as ‘Hide Hill’, Iwade metamorphoses into ‘Highwade’, Ulcombe becomes ‘Hulcombe’, etc.
The reverse process also occurs, where a required initial H is dropped: Hadlow becomes ‘Adlow’, Halstead becomes ‘Alstead’, Harbledown turns into ‘Arbledown’, Headcorn becomes the delightful ‘Edcorn’ and so on. These are not transcription errors but bona fide reflections of what is written in the original papers.
Sometimes the spelling can tell you how a place was (and often is still) pronounced. For example, there are a number of villages in Kent called Boughton. The ‘ough’ combination of letters in English can be pronounced in a variety of different ways – think of ‘bough’ (of a tree) ‘cough’, ‘though’, ‘nought’ and so on. Here in Kent, however, this place name is always pronounced as it is sometimes spelt in the Chelsea Pensioners, as ‘Borton’. We know this as the qualifier can be present: ‘Borton Aluph’ instead of Boughton Aluph, or ‘Borton Mallet’ instead of Boughton Malherbe.
Kentish pronunciation also has a tendency to run letters together and not trouble to pronounce some letters or syllables. Thus we get ‘Harrisham’ instead of Harrietsham, ‘Harcus’ instead of Hawkhurst, ‘Lamhurst’ instead of Lamberhurst, and ‘Trosley’ instead of Trottiscliffe. Other places have changed over time. Today’s Molash usually appears in Chelsea Pensioners records as ‘Moldash’, while in the older records Faversham is often shown as ‘Feversham’.
Understanding this sort of variation in spelling and departure from received pronunciation – and especially the adding or subtraction of an H at the start of a word – can be helpful when researching your family history as of course it applies equally to personal names just as to place names.
I’m Scot McSweeny-Roberts and I’m one of the software developers here at findmypast.co.uk. I thought I would let you know about one of the projects that all of us in the development team have been busy with over the last few months, namely our infrastructure upgrade.
One of the more challenging parts of software development is keeping up with the latest versions of the tools and technologies that we use to build and run our site with and it can be quite easy to get left behind with an environment that is unsupported or difficult to maintain. Besides general issues of support and maintenance, new versions also bring new features that we want to use to make the site even better, which is why over the last few months we’ve been migrating our code over to use the latest and greatest versions of our tools(*).
Upgrading software can sometimes be difficult as what used to work in a previous version might work differently or not at all in the latest version. Those differences can be subtle and lead to several days of work figuring out why something that used to work perfectly fine no longer does and then getting it to work correctly again. This can involve spending hours looking at source code you would never normally look at – personally, I now know more about a type of software known as a ‘Transaction Manager’ than I ever really wanted to know.
Once we had working versions of the site running our local machines, it was time to run a copy of the site on a test server. The test server is meant to be as similar as possible to a production server and occasionally surprises pop up due to differences between our local machines and the test server.
Once everything is running as expected on the test server it’s time to move it over to the production servers, which means an early morning for some of our team members as they make sure that everything still runs smoothly after switching over.
All the work involved is worth it though as newer tools are generally better tools. We’ll now be able to develop new features for the site in far less time and we’ll have more flexibility when it comes to scalability.
(*) While we were in the process upgrading, a very important bit of software known as the application server had an entirely new release. Sometimes new can be too new, so in this case we’ve stuck with the slightly older but potentially more stable version.
I joined findmypast.co.uk in August after seven years in India managing a team of software engineers. That’s probably about as far detached from family history as it gets. On the other hand, I have over 25 years’ experience researching British military history and have a number of military-related blogs including one on army service numbers between 1881 and 1918, a subject very close to my heart.
Findmypast.co.uk’s publication of the Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records (WO97) opens up a vast new range of military records dating from 1760 to 1913. What’s more, the records are in excellent condition and have been scanned in colour, which really makes them come alive.
The beauty of the WO97 series is that the records encompass many different numbering systems. My own data has focused on the numbering system introduced in 1881 as part of Cardwell’s reforms, but WO97 goes back a full 120 years before this, enabling today’s patient historian to really study British military history in depth. In terms of military campaigns, in this series alone you’ll find records of men who fought at Waterloo alongside those who fought the rebels in the Indian Mutiny; Egypt and Sudan campaign veterans, Boer War veterans; in fact records of ordinary soldiers who took part in virtually every British military campaign between 1760 and 1913.
I list below sample records for the 1st and 2nd (regular) battalions of The King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). The regiment was formed on 1 July 1881 from the 4th (King’s Own Royal) Regiment of Foot and was established as the newly formed regiment for North Lancashire. It started numbering from 1 in July 1881.
Use the information below to narrow down the date on which your ancestor joined this regiment. For instance, if he had the number 444, and was soldiering with the King’s Own in the late 19th Century, he must have joined between 2nd June 1883 and 21st March 1884.
A word of warning, however. Numbering in the British Army is far from a simple matter and regiments could and did start new number series for other battalions – or indeed the same battalions – within the regiment. For instance, by 1908, the King’s Own had five battalions and the number 444 had already been used four times, once for the 1st and 2nd Battalions, once for the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, and once each for the 4th and 5th Territorial battalions.
The King’s Own – Regular enlistments 1881-1913
10 joined on 9 July 1881
271 joined on 16 December 1882
397 joined on 2 June 1883
599 joined on 21 March 1884
1012 joined on 12 March 1885
1632 joined on 22 July 1886
1923 joined on 1 January 1887
2300 joined on 19 January 1888
2561 joined on 15 January 1889
2981 joined on 11 June 1890
3244 joined on 24 June 1891
3506 joined on 31 January 1892
4061 joined on 24 July 1893
4317 joined on 17 February 1894
4650 joined on 12 January 1895
5019 joined on 29 January 1896
5311 joined on 3 May 1897
5671 joined on 14 April 1898
5923 joined on 24 March 1899
6288 joined on 2 April 1900
The 1st Volunteer Battalion, The King’s Own, sent over 150 of its volunteers to South Africa to serve with the 2nd Battalion. Such was the number of men wishing to serve with the Volunteers that a 2nd Volunteer Battalion was formed and its headquarters was set up at Lancaster. Those volunteers who made it to South Africa fought in several actions and guarded prisoners at Ladysmith.
Numbers within the range to 7200 to 7352 were issued to men serving in the 1st VSC. Numbers 7353 to 7448 were issued to men serving with the 2nd VSC. Numbers 7449 to 7468 were issued to men serving with the 3rd VSC and – as stated on the QSA medal roll – the Volunteer Service Section.
6665 joined on 4 January 1901
7003 joined on 17 February 1902
7652 joined on 5 January 1903
8079 joined on 11 January 1904
8489 joined on 9 January 1905
8847 joined on 9 March 1906
9134 joined on 1 January 1907
9800 joined on 20 August 1908
10076 joined on 21 April 1909
10178 joined on 14 February 1910
10439 joined on 20 April 1911
10649 joined on 3 May 1912
10836 joined on 3 January 1913
I hope you enjoy searching findmypast.co.uk’s Chelsea Pensioners collection for your military ancestors.
I joined findmypast.co.uk at the start of the year and walked straight into my baptism of fire: reindexing the birth, marriage and death records.
As head of the data team, I am responsible for the quality of the data we receive from two separate transcription companies. I have to ensure that they meet their guarantees of quality so that everything falls into place in time for the launch.
We received the files in quarterly batches, usually with one file per quarter – for the births alone this amounted to more than 600 files and 113 million records. The challenges came in verifying that we were not missing any records and ensuring that all of the 800,000 images were in place and of high enough quality and that we could identify and standardise any fields that had been transcribed in error.
We shared knowledge with the transcription companies, provided them with lookup tables for valid districts, common first and last names and provided regular feedback so they could validate their transcriptions before delivering them to us. This ensured that we were as close as possible to our desired accuracy levels before we handled the data ourselves.
That said, there was still plenty of work to be done. By programmatically checking the files we received for gaps and inconsistencies, e.g., comparing the representation of first letters of surname across quarters, we were able to identify and plug plenty of gaps well before the project neared completion.
One of the most time consuming parts of the births project was cleaning up the registration districts from their incorrectly transcribed values into something that could be used in a search. Our list of invalid districts included over 60,000 incorrect values which all had to be standardised. My colleague Francesca Aiyeola and I spent many hours trying to work out if that ‘B’ should have been an ‘R’ or an ‘H’ and acquired a fine appreciation for the transcribers’ skills and patience in the process!
We hope that you enjoy the birth records and that you’re looking forward to the fully indexed marriages and deaths, coming soon.
If you’ve been tuning into programmes like Victorian Farm or Secrets of World War II on the Yesterday channel recently, you might have caught findmypast.co.uk’s new TV sponsorship ads. This is our very first foray into the world of TV advertising, and as marketing manager for findmypast.co.uk, I was lucky enough to be there at the filming.
This was my first experience of working on a TV campaign and I was surprised by just how many people were involved in bringing our ads to life. As well as the five actors who you see on screen, there were lighting crew, cameraman, runners, sound man, make-up artist, wardrobe mistress, producer, production manager and assistants, props team, assistant director, scriptwriter and creative team – around 30 people in total – who all had to squash into a tiny nursery to film the “But I can’t be your great-grandmother” ad.
Of course there was our brilliant director Alan Grint, of Lark Rise to Candleford, Catherine Cookson mini series and Midsomer Murders fame. He ensured that we had no dramas of our own, with filming running perfectly to schedule (which apparently never happens) and all taking place on one day at Cragside House, a stunning National Trust property in Rothbury. A day later we found out that gunman Raoul Moat had been on the loose in the village all the time we were filming! Fortunately for us the only problems we encountered were the house alarm going off whenever a smoke machine was used to create the atmospheric haze in the ad set in the kitchen and the occasional RAF jet flying low overhead between takes.
Cragside House was the home of Lord Armstrong, a Victorian inventor, and it is filled with all sorts of his gadgets, such as a forerunner of the soda stream, with a rather dauntingly oversized gas cylinder attached. This was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity, so our production team had to disguise some of the electric light fittings to make them look like gaslight and more in keeping with the period. The staff at Cragside House were incredibly patient with us and the whole crew really worked well together – we all had a fantastic day.
Hello from the head of findmypast.co.uk
I’m Paul, head of findmypast.co.uk, and welcome to the first in a series of blogs I’ll be writing. I wanted to get in touch to talk about what we’ve achieved over the last year and let you know what’s in the pipeline for the future.
It has been a very busy and rewarding year at findmypast.co.uk. Just over a year ago we added the eagerly anticipated 1911 census for England and Wales to the site. We also completed the remaining censuses to be able to proudly offer you the only complete England and Wales census collection anywhere online. We’ve also added hundreds of thousands of parish records to the site to make ours the largest online collection of parish records in partnership with the Federation of Family History Societies.
More recently we’ve launched our fully indexed birth records that cover the period from 1837 to 2006. There are over 100 million individual records. We’re very excited about these records and judging from the fantastic feedback we’ve received so far, you share our enthusiasm about the value of these records to family historians.
All of these projects were a key part of our continued commitment to you to:
- Deliver rich family history records to connect you to your past
- Provide a complete census collection for England and Wales 1841 to 1911
- Ensure our records are as easy as possible to search
This makes it the perfect time to introduce this new series of blogs which will share knowledge with our customers and the wider family history community. You’ll be hearing from me and other members of the findmypast.co.uk team on a regular basis about a wide range of topics, from records and data to products and marketing. The findmypast.co.uk team will keep you informed with new developments at findmypast.co.uk and give you a backstage pass into life behind the scenes at findmypast.co.uk
Of course we really want to hear your views and thoughts so you can help to shape the service we offer you. Please feel free to comment on any of our blog posts – you can do so underneath each post.
The next year is going to be even more exciting than the last one. We’ve got some fantastic new records which we’ll publish exclusively on findmypast.co.uk, including the fully indexed marriages and death records which will complete our BMD collection. Along with new search features and functionality, I hope this will make our site even more useful and engaging for you.
I hope you enjoy the ride as it promises to be a very exciting and rewarding journey on findmypast.co.uk