Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Improved Facilities for Birth and Death Certificates

The General Registry Office (www.gro.gov.uk) has now launched a new search (and order) facility for historic birth and death certificates based on what is actually on the certificate rather than the old indexes. In addition the birth index from 1837 now gives the mother's maiden name while the death index gives the age at death.

I decided to test it out using information from the Phipson One Name Study I carried out in the 1980s = which involved manhandling hundreds of heavy Victorian indexes when they were in St Catherine's House, in London. There indexes were later used to produce the online FreeBMD. For details of my tests see below:

Test One involved searching the new index for Phipson births between 1837 and 1856 - as this part of my research were backed up by good records such as baptisms and a partial family tree - so I already knew the expected mother's maiden names. In every case the recorded mother's maiden name on the new index matched the maiden name I had got from other sources. However my notes include the following points

  • On the new index the registration district of Emmelie Claridge Phipson (1843) was recorded as "Binningham" rather than "Birmingham"
  • The birth of Jane Stace Phipson (1847) not recorded but I had got it from the indexes and so had FreeBMD
  • William Andrew Phipson (1847) mother's maiden name recorder as "Meney" [Know from other sources as "Money."]
  • The new index records the birth of Edward Ernest Phipson corectly giving the mother's maiden name as "Petf..." (should be "Petford"). The original indexes and FreeBMD add additional entries for the same page relating to Ernerst Tr??? Phipson - presumably a correction of the original register. The child was, in very many later records called Ernest Thring Phipson.
  • The entry in the old index, and on FreeBMD, for Joseph Henry Phipson could not be found in the new index..
  • The new index gives the mother's name for the birth of a male Phipson in 1851 in Chelsea. This allowed me to link to a 1843 marriage in Chelsea where the wife's name was not know in my original research. Other children of the marriage are (from census returns) born in Ireland. 
  • The new index means that the birth of unnamed twins in 1855 can now be linked to their parents.
So the new index had a serious typo error in the name of a registration district (which may affecr many hundreds of entries?). Two names in the old indexes were missing - and because the surname is a required field you cannot search for the birth with the given names or register page reference to see how it was recorded. In two cases the provided mother's maiden name allowed gaps in the original research to be filled.

Test 2: As test 1 but for deaths. The age a death allowed me to tighten up the date of birth for several people born before 1837. In one case I found I had associated a death with the wrong person and in another I had made a typing error when entering the data onto the computer. The only real query was that the new index entered that age of death of Susannah Phipson (1841) as 9 when she actually died at 9 months - but the index may accurately reflect what the certificate says.

Test 3: When I did the One Name study there were no census indexes and a number of years had not been released. The test involved listing all the FreeBMD entries for births between 1890 and 1911 -as this period was one where I had a lot of loose ends because I did not have information linking children to their parents. I then updated the list with mother's maiden names from the new index. There was a 100 percent match - completing many loose ends. In addition where a child had multiple forenames the new index showed them in full.

Apart from some problems with three entries in the first test the new index proved to be very useful in filling gaps in the original records. However I was unhappy with several aspects of the search engine.

(1) You could only search 5 years at a time and had to specify male or female.
(2) If you knew the given names and date and place of birth you could not search for the surname of people with those given names (essential if the surname was recorded incorrectly - or there was an adoption or illegitimacy).
(3) You can't search on the mother's maiden name for possible relatives living in the area. 

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