2 September 2014

Postems on FreeBMD (England and Wales)

This is an updated version of a post that I originally published here in August 2010. It is also one of my contributions to 'Worldwide Genealogy: a Genealogical Collaboration'.
FreeBMD is an ongoing project to transcribe civil registration indexes of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and to provide free Internet access to those transcribed indexes. FreeBMD is an immensely useful site, and I like it even more since it produced the unexpected bonus of contact with new relatives via 'postems'.

An excellent feature of FreeBMD (but one that is overlooked by many genealogists) is the ability to add a short message (250 characters maximum) called a postem to any entry in the FreeBMD database.

The postem can tell people how to contact you - or if you buy a certificate that turns out to be for the wrong person, you can help other researchers by putting details from the certificate in a postem.

Here is a step-by-step example of how I used a postem.

I searched FreeBMD for the birth registration of Bertha OAKLEY, who (according to census records) was apparently born in 1895 in County Durham. This is the search screen.



The search result looked like this.


I clicked the 'Info' icon and added a postem with my contact details.

When someone adds a postem, an envelope icon appears beside the entry, as shown below. You click the icon to read the postem.


To my delight, a distant relative contacted me as a result of my postem! She had information about Bertha OAKLEY's grandfather, Benjamin PEACOCK, who was a brother of my great-grandmother, Mary HUDSON nee PEACOCK.

This was just one of several similar successes that I've had with FreeBMD. I now always add a postem for each index entry that is (or could be) for my family... and I need to go back and add some that I didn't do originally.

I also use the 'search postems' feature to quickly check whether anyone else has added one that may be relevant to me. Here is an example of a search...


...and the search result, showing two postems that fit the criteria.


If you have used FreeBMD to find births, marriages and deaths for your family, I urge you to:
  1. Go back and add postems to all of those entries.
  2. Include an email address that will be valid long-term, such as a free Gmail address from Google.
  3. Check the text carefully before you click 'create', because postems cannot be changed or deleted.
  4. Before you start, read the Postems Help page.

Have you benefited from using postems on FreeBMD, or used them in different ways?

24 June 2014

10 Tips for Wills, Intestacies and Probate

Cover of a probate file (Queensland)
52 Weeks of Genealogical Records: Week 3 (Wills, Intestacies and Probate)

These tips demonstrate why I recommend that you look for wills for every person in your family tree.

Probate records, wills, intestacies, administrations and related documents are vitally important for family history. They provide clues for further research, and they 'put flesh on the bones' as we research our ancestors. They often have relationship details that prove whether we are researching the correct person or someone else with the same name.

Tip 1:  Use indexes for other States and countries.  There may be copies of a will or related documents in multiple places, including record offices far away from where the person died.  Examples:
  • Magdalene NIELSON:  Formerly of Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia, but late of New York, USA; wife of Peter NIELSON (formerly of Bundaberg but at present of Copenhagen, Denmark). The Supreme Court file at Queensland State Archives includes Magdalene's death certificate from America (giving her age, marital status, occupation, birthplace, how long in USA, how long in New York City, names and birthplaces of her father and mother, her place and cause of death, and class of dwelling); and a transit permit for her body to go to Germany, stating the exact burial place there.

  • Ellis READ:  He owned land at Burketown, Queensland, Australia; and when it was sold, a grant of probate was required so that a certificate of title could be issued. His Supreme Court file at Queensland State Archives shows that he lived in Mexico from 1882 to 1890; and between 1887 and 1890 he make business trips to England and lived there for a few months at a time. He died in Mexico in 1890. An affidavit gives a translation of details from his death certificate (age, cause of death, burial place, native place, occupation, wife's maiden name, father's name, mother's maiden name).

  • Julia WEBSTER (my great-great-grandmother):  Probate was granted in New South Wales, but there are also documents at the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV) because Julia had property in both States. She lived in NSW but was entitled to a share of the estate of her late brother, Malcolm John CAMPBELL, in Victoria. (The PROV files include extra documents, and I was able to download digital copies free of charge.)

  • Some of the other tips below give more examples of finding information in records of another State or country.

Tip 2:  Probate files may include birth, death and marriage certificates.  The certificate in the file is usually more accurate than a typed certificate that was issued later. This is also a great way to get certificates that would otherwise be restricted and/or expensive.  Examples:
  • Some probate files contain birth, baptism, marriage or death certificates because beneficiaries had to prove their relationship to the deceased.

  • From about the mid-1890s onwards, most Queensland Supreme Court probate files (and some intestacy files) contain a death certificate. The majority of these files are at Qld State Archives and have no access restrictions, so you can see very recent certificates. Photocopies cost about $1 per page, but if you take digital photos or copy from microfilm to a USB drive, there is no charge. It is worthwhile looking for files for your direct ancestors, their siblings and other relatives.

Tip 3:  Some wills are only in land title records.  If a person died without a will, his/her relatives would need to prove their relationship before the deceased's land could be transferred to them. The Titles Registry in Queensland holds many records of intestate estates, and many wills that did not go through the Supreme Court.  Examples:
  • The Titles Registry has a large packet of documents for a particular person (name withheld at my client's request), including seven certificates for births, deaths and marriages of various family members.

  • Indexes to Transmission of Real Estate by Death 1878-1940, from Queensland Government Gazette notices, include all names mentioned. Many property owners and claimants lived interstate or overseas. For a detailed description of the index and original records, see the book Tips for Queensland Research.

Tip 4:  Probate files may give parents' names when death certificates don't.  Example:
  • Margaret STAPLETON:  Her death certificate in Queensland, Australia, says 'born Ireland, parents names unknown'; but her probate file at Queensland State Archives reveals their names. In her will, Margaret left property to her sister Johanna in Ireland. As Johanna's surname was spelt incorrectly in the will, she had to prove that she was the person named as beneficiary. Johanna was unable to supply her birth certificate because her birth had not been registered. Instead she sent a copy of her baptism record from a parish register in England! It gave her father's name and mother's maiden name.

Tip 5:  There may be a delay, or there may be two separate probate files created many years apart.  Examples:
  • Abraham ALMAN of Melbourne, Australia, died in 1854. Twelve years later, administration of his estate was granted (in the United Kingdom) to his widow, who had since remarried and was living in Middlesex, England.

  • A second file was sometimes created because one of the deceased's children later applied for guardianship of younger siblings.

Tip 6:  Read before you research.  Look for published guides and search procedures, which Archives and Record Offices often put on their Web sites. If you don't understand how the records are arranged, you may fail to find a will.  Example:
  • Unlike other States, Queensland has three Supreme Court Districts (Northern, Central and Southern); and each district keeps separate records. For each of these three districts there are two series of files:

    1. Ecclesiastical files ('wills'). This series includes (1) files with a will, and (2) files without a will if the estate was administered by someone other than the Public Curator.
    2. Public Curator orders and elections (commonly but misleadingly called 'intestacies'). This series includes (1) files without a will, (2) files with a will that named the Public Curator as executor, and (3) files for deceased estates administered by the Public Curator because the will was not valid (eg, if it was unsigned).

    In other words, there are six main series whose indexes you may need to search - plus minor series such as Supreme Court (Southern District) orders to administer (inventories). For more suggestions, see my book Tips for Queensland Research.

Tip 7:  If you don't find it, repeat the search.  Make a note of searches with negative results, and try again later.  Examples:  If you used the old version of the index to Queensland wills up to 1900, you would not have found these entries. The new version corrected these indexing errors:
  • 'John SMITH, late of Brisbane' was indexed as 'LATE, John Smith'
  • 'Michael KELLY junior' was indexed as 'JUNIOR, Michael Kelly'
  • 'August NEIDLER of Helen Street' was indexed as 'STREET, Helen' (yes, really!)

Tip 8:  A few Queensland Supreme Court probate files contain photographs.  The ones I've seen were for people 'missing, believed drowned' after the steamers Pearl and Lucinda collided in 1896.

Tip 9:  Ancestry has indexes or images for many series of wills, administrations, probate records, death duty registers etc, with details for thousands of people from all over the world.  Examples (I'm only quoting selected details) from the National Probate Calendar (index of wills and administrations, England and Wales 1858-1966):
  • George AMBLER of Richmond, Melbourne, Australia, died 10 Jun 1864. Administration granted 13 years later to his widow in Wales.

  • Elma BERG of Chillagoe, North Queensland, Australia, died 15 Dec 1902.

  • Joseph MOUNTAIN of London died 30 May 1834 at Hammersmith, Middlesex. Next of kin was his son John MOUNTAIN living (in 1883) in the USA.

  • Harry White SMITH, otherwise known as Harry WHITE, formerly of Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, but late a Corporal in the 94th Regiment of Foot, died 5 Dec 1879 at Fort Albert Edward, South Africa.

  • Richard SMITH late of Amoy, China, merchant, bachelor, died 26 Jan 1857 at Amoy. Administration was granted to his father in 1880 (23 years after Richard died).

Tip 10:  FindMyPast will soon be the largest online resource for UK wills/probate, and those records include data for people from other countries including Australia.

FindMyPast's 'wills and probate' collection includes (to name just a few) an index to Queensland intestacies and wills 1859-1900 (from Government Gazette notices); Bank of England wills extracts 1717-1845; British India Office wills and probate; London probate index; Suffolk testator index 1847-1857; Great Western Railway Shareholders; index to Death Duty Registers 1796-1903; index of Irish wills 1484-1858. To narrow your search, click 'Browse record set' then select the one(s) you want. More material will soon be added to FindMyPast's wills and probate collection (including the National Wills Index, currently on Origins.net, for pre-1857 probate material for England and Wales).

For more research tips, see my other posts in '52 Weeks of Genealogical Records':
A full list of topics in this series is on www.shaunahicks.com.au.
~ ~ ~

23 June 2014

Why I use FindMyPast (Tuesday's Tip)

I am a big fan of FindMyPast for genealogy research, and I'm glad that they are gradually improving their 'new' site.

For records that are on both FindMyPast and other sites, FindMyPast's indexes and transcriptions are (in my experience) much more accurate. This is particularly obvious with British censuses.

FindMyPast has an especially good collection of Queensland records, and I have also been using their British census records and parish registers for many years. Recently I made exciting discoveries in passenger lists, Royal Household records, East India Company and civil service pensions, and non-conformist baptisms, marriages and burials. For example, passenger lists showed that between one British census and the next, some of my families went to South Africa and Canada and then returned to England.

Recent improvements at FindMyPast include:

  • Records from Origins.net will soon be on FindMyPast. That includes the National Wills Index with pre-1857 probate material for England and Wales. FindMyPast will then be the largest online resource for UK wills and probate (and those records include data for people from other countries including Australia). The collection includes (to name just a few) Queensland intestacies and wills (from Government Gazette notices); Bank of England wills extracts 1717-1845; British India Office wills and probate; London probate index; Suffolk testator index 1847-1857; Great Western Railway shareholders; index to death duty registers 1796-1903; index of Irish wills 1484-1858. To narrow your search in the 'wills and probate' collection, click 'Browse record set' then select the one(s) you want.

  • The British Newspaper Archive is available within FindMyPast.

  • New record sets are now added more frequently, and announcements are made via FindMyPast's email newsletters, blogs etc. See also '100 record sets in 100 days'.

  • The latest explanation of how to use FindMyPast's new search tools is a 'must-read' now that their site has changed. The new search platform is getting better all the time. It is very powerful and flexible, and it allows you to search at multiple category levels.

  • On-going site improvements are listed on What's New.

  • Online family trees can now be created at FindMyPast by importing a GEDCOM file (or by entering data manually).

  • One month subscriptions are now available and very affordable.

If you are not sure whether FindMyPast will suit you, try the one month subscription. Although a 12 month subscription is better value (and there is a 10% loyalty discount for renewing it), some people will find the one month option more convenient. It is available for each of FindMyPast's regional collections (Australia/NZ; UK; Ireland; USA) and also for the World collection (which, as of Feb 2014, is now cheaper).

If you have no Australian research but need access to UK records, sign up via findmypast.co.uk.

Searches on FindMyPast are free. You only need pay-as-you-go credits or a subscription to see transcriptions or images of original records. (HINT: Try entering a surname in the Keywords field. This finds entries in records that are searchable PDF files, such as digitised books and newspapers.)

Follow the links below to see (for each region) a full list of categories and all the record sets currently available within them, with descriptions of what each record set contains and what detailed information you can expect to find.


('Tuesday's Tip' is a theme used by Geneabloggers.)

Revenue from ads goes to Kiva

11 March 2014

More NSW and South Australian records online

Image by Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
These seven record sets have been added to FindMyPast's Australian and New Zealand collection:

  • New South Wales, Junior and Senior public examinations 1867-1916

  • British Garrison deserters in South Australia

  • South Australia landowners 1835-1841

  • South Australia destitute women 1855-1860

  • South Australia cemetery inscriptions 1836-2005

  • South Australia naturalisations 1849-1903

  • South Australian ex-convicts

You will find them in the full list of Australian and New Zealand records on FindMyPast (one of my favourite sites for genealogy).

Revenue from ads goes to Kiva

30 January 2014

The British in India: an update for genealogy

2.5 million records detailing the lives of the British in India have just been added to FindMyPast's British India Collection. It includes births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, burials, wills and probate records, civil and military pensions, East India Company cadet papers, and applications for the civil service. Index searches are free.

The Families in British India Society (FIBIS) has provided some tips for using these records on FindMyPast.

Use the records in conjunction with the book Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors by Emma Jolly. It is a superb resource for family historians with a connection to India during the centuries of British involvement with that country.

The book discusses many sources for genealogical research, including British Library India Office Records, The National Archives, records of the armed forces, civil service and railways, and religious and probate records. A concise and vivid social history of the British in India makes this book even more enjoyable.

When I was in London I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Emma Jolly. In addition to being a well-known genealogist and writer specialising in London and the British Empire, Emma is also the author of My Ancestor was a Woman at War, Tracing Your Ancestors Using the Census and Family History for Kids.

23 January 2014

Internal Migration (52 weeks of genealogical records: week 2)

Week 2 in the series '52 Weeks of Genealogical Records' is about internal migration (movement from place to place within one country). You may not realise it yet, but many of your ancestors probably did this (maybe only for a short time). In Australia it is especially important to be aware of such movement because each State and Territory has separate records for births, deaths, marriages, wills, electoral rolls etc.

Shauna Hicks recommends timelines to reveal gaps in your information, and certificates to find out about internal migration. Other sources that I use include:

  • British censuses:  To quote an example from my own family tree... George WEBSTER married Sarah GIBLETT in 1829, and various sources indicated that they lived in the Greater London area until they died in 1881. I was surprised when I discovered (from census returns) that two of their eight children were born elsewhere in England (Leeds, Yorkshire, c.1833, and Manchester, Lancashire, c.1843).

  • Hospital admission registers:  These are often better than death certificates; and they include biographical details for hundreds of people who went interstate (or overseas) during gold rushes and other mining booms. Many returned to their home State, and you may have no idea that they had moved temporarily. Some name indexes are online.

  • Wallangarra quarantine registers:  These give details of people crossing the Queensland / NSW border during the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic. The index is online.

  • Australian electoral rolls:  There are online indexes for at least two different series of 19th and 20th century rolls (and some rolls are more informative than others).

  • Strays Collection Australasia:  A 'stray' is someone who married, lived or died away from his/her place of birth. This index, compiled from many different sources, has details of thousands of interstate and international strays with a connection to Australia or New Zealand.

Examples (abbreviated, without the source citations) from the Strays Index:
  • ELLIOT Jeanie, widow of Max HEBDEN... late of Brisbane QLD, formerly of Rabaul PNG, Tenterfield NSW and Bangalow NSW...
  • GUNN Ian Morriss, late of Clontarf QLD, formerly of Uganda and South Africa...
  • JONES Gladys Ruebene (formerly HALLAM), born 1894 Texas QLD; married... Inverell NSW; died... Grafton NSW...

Tips on using the Strays Index:

NOTE (22 Jun 2014): This method currently does not work. FindMyPast says this record set should be functioning again soon.
  1. In FindMyPast's records for Australia/NZ, narrow your search results to Category='Directories and Social History', and Record set='Strays Collection Australasia'. 
  2. Enter a surname only; then click 'Search'.  In the results, ignore the event year/location. They have nothing to do with the person, and refer only to an index's publication date/place.
  3. Click on the icon beside the entry to view the document (a typed page on which the surname appears, perhaps multiple times - as shown below). 
  4. As you can see, beside the image of the page there is a section with details of the publication. Note the page number and dataset, which refer to one of several Strays Indexes published by the Queensland Family History Society. Those publications may perhaps give a better explanation of abbreviated source citations.

To find Strays Indexes for the United Kingdom (with references from census records, headstones, parish registers etc), go to GENUKI and search for the word 'strays'.

For more research tips, see my other posts in '52 Weeks of Genealogical Records':
A full list of topics in this series is on www.shaunahicks.com.au.
~ ~ ~

15 January 2014

Military Medals (52 weeks of genealogical records: week 1)

Photo o John Mustell Webster's medals courtesy of Nick Aldham and Elaine White
John Mustell WEBSTER's medals
This post is the first in a series called '52 Weeks of Genealogical Records'. Anyone is welcome to do all or part of this blogging challenge, and each week Shauna Hicks will add a new topic to this list.

The topic for week 1, military medals, is not particularly relevant to my own family, although a few of my direct ancestors' siblings served in WWI or WWII.

I have been told (but I have not confirmed) that my second cousin twice removed, John Mustell ('Jack') WEBSTER (son of Ernest Edward WEBSTER and Alice TEAGUE) was awarded the 1914 star, British war Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal and Military Medal. (This photograph was kindly provided by Nick Aldham and Elaine White.)

Lost Medals Australia, who do a great job of returning medals to family members, sought my help in tracing the next of kin of Terence Edward Downing WEBSTER (a cousin once removed, but a stranger to me). I was able to put them in contact with a descendant of Terence's sister.

Records available on FindMyPast include:

There is a British Army Medals index at http://britisharmymedals.blogspot.com/.

For more research tips, see my other posts in the series '52 Weeks of Genealogical Records':
Topics in this series are listed on www.shaunahicks.com.au.
~ ~ ~

4 December 2013

Getting cheaper copies of wills and certificates (Thrifty Thursday)

I frequently find information about a direct ancestor in records of his/her siblings or other relatives. Genealogists always strive to use original records, but if I cannot afford to buy certificates and wills for all family members, I look for ways to obtain cheaper copies. (See Free Certificates in Archives Files.)

Record offices often hold copies of wills for people who died in other States or other countries.

Example 1:  Julia WEBSTER died in 1900 at Orange NSW, and her original will went through the Supreme Court in New South Wales - but a copy of her will can be downloaded (free) from the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV). Why is there a copy in Victoria? The explanation is in Julia's will, where she mentions (quote) 'my interest in the estate of my late brother Malcolm John CAMPBELL, late of Newry, Gippsland, in the Colony of Victoria.'

Julia WEBSTER, incidentally, was my great-great-grandmother. Because I wanted to see her signature, I made a point of inspecting her original will in New South Wales, not just the transcription held in Victoria; but the PROV's free downloads allowed me to get wills and other probate documents for Julia's sister and brothers and many people from other branches of my family tree.

PROV entry re the will of Julia Webster, Beecroft, died 1900
PROV entry re the will of Julia WEBSTER who died in NSW

Example 2: Queensland State Archives have a probate file for Ellis READ, who spent a lot of time in England but died in Mexico in 1890. Ten years later his widow applied for administration of his estate. He owned land at Burketown in Queensland, and when it was sold, a grant of probate was required so that a certificate of title could be issued. The file includes details from Ellis's death certificate from Mexico (his age, native place, occupation, wife's maiden name, father's name, mother's maiden name, and his cause of death and burial place).

Some early probate files for Queensland are available on microfilm through Church of Latter-Day Saints Family History centres - but a word of warning...

The old 'card index' listed in FamilySearch had a huge number of mistakes, so you should use the new (corrected) index 'Supreme Court, All Districts Wills 1857-1900' (four PDF files) on the Qld State Archives Web site. Note that it covers ecclesiastical files only, and many other wills are in the Intestacies (Supreme Court Public Curator orders and elections) series. There is an explanation of this in Tips for Queensland Research.

Have you succeeded in getting cheaper copies of wills or certificates by these or other methods?

('Thrifty Thursday' is a theme used by Geneabloggers.)
~ ~ ~

23 November 2013

Tips on Using FindMyPast for Genealogy

Yesterday, in FindMyPast or a Coffee?, I pointed out that some FindMyPast subscriptions only cost about $5 per month (not much more than a takeaway coffee).

Kylie commented, 'I got a world subscription through FindMyPast.com, the USA site, because it was cheaper at the time than the Australian and the UK sites. I don't seem to get the same search results as if I searched from their Australian site or their UK site.'

I am not an expert, and FindMyPast may change in the future, but here are my thoughts.

* Some of the United Kingdom data may not yet be fully integrated into the World Collection. In that case the UK data would be best searched through the UK site or the Aus/NZ site. Work systematically through the UK record categories rather than trying to search everything at once (a tip I learnt from Rosemary Kopittke.)

* I have sometimes found a particular entry with a search on one site (eg, Aus/NZ) but not another (eg, UK). When I noted the country, collection and record set, then went to that country's site and that record set, I always found the entry even though it didn't appear in the initial search results. (You can switch sites quickly via links at the bottom of FindMyPast's Web pages.)

Searching UK records from FindMyPast's Australian site gives a result like this
(a Richard GIBLETT - but not this one - was my ancestor)

* On each FindMyPast site, look for links to 'search tips', 'video tutorials', 'help/advice' etc.

* Different search strategies are required with fully indexed records (where you use name fields to search) and digitised records that have been processed with Optical Character Recognition software (where the keyword field is important). This applies particularly to the Aus/NZ site. There is a good explanation in the book The New Findmypast.com.au: Gateway to the World Collection, by Rosemary Kopittke.

* Tips on how to best use FindMyPast.com.au:

Part 1 (Basic Searching)
Part 2 (Filtering)

* At Rosemary Kopittke's talks about FindMyPast (eg, at Unlock The Past events), you often get an excellent handout explaining search strategies for each site (not just the Aus/NZ one).

If you have any helpful hints about using FindMyPast, please add a comment below.

22 November 2013

FindMyPast or a Coffee?

I recently wrote about why I like using FindMyPast (link opens in a new window). My world subscription is through their UK site, but I have also registered (free) with the Australia/NZ site because I want to receive their newsletter. (In 'My account - Personal details', tick the box beside 'Please send me an occasional newsletter'.)

The newsletter often has competitions and special offers (discounts, free pay-as-you-go credits, etc). Today's newsletter offered 20% off subscriptions if you join by 30 Nov 2013.

Depending on which subscription you choose, the cost (without discounts) ranges from about $5 to $25 per month. In other words, going without one takeaway coffee per month would save you almost enough to pay for an Australia/NZ subscription. Most people reading this blog probably have British ancestry, and for you the Britain & Australia/NZ subscription may be better value. I chose a world subscription because some branches of my family were in Ireland and Canada.

Not sure whether they have records that will be useful to you? Have a look at the full list (worldwide). More datasets are added each month. Note the inclusion of the British Newspaper Archive and various other digitised newspapers.

If you are thinking about getting a FindMyPast subscription (or if you already have one), see Tips on Using FindMyPast for Genealogy.

Screen shot showing the least expensive subscription (without a discount)

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