Friday, May 9, 2014

#NGS2014GEN English Research and the FamilySearch Wiki

Nathan Murphy of FamilySearch presents at NGS 2014Nathan Murphy of FamilySearch presented a session titled “FamilySearch Wiki Guide to English Research” at the 2014 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. Murphy is a senior research consultant at the Family History Library.

Murphy started by asking everyone to silence their cells phones while giving him leave to leave his on. You see, his wife is just about to have a baby and he didn’t want to miss a call from the hospital. Needless to say, he planned to be on a plane the minute the session was over.

In the past, the Family History Library published a series of research guides. With the Internet, websites were being added more quickly than the guides could be updated. Consequently, FamilySearch established a wiki that could be updated by both FamilySearch staff and researchers at large. That’s where the information from the guides migrated. Over 75,000 articles are now present in the Wiki. The wiki and its use is growing. In the next month or two we expect to get a million plus visitors each month.

The wiki contains resource information that can be used in conjunction with the FamilySearch catalog. For example, the catalog entries for Somerset County list no online resources. However, if you go to the Wiki article, the article contains many links to online records. The links include both free and paid resources. You need to be aware of all the resources available and articles in the wiki include parishes that aren’t available in the records from the International Genealogical Index (IGI).

In the Wiki search for articles by location or by topic. For example, from the article about England, you can link into related topical articles, or you can link to counties within England. From county pages you can link to topical articles, but you can also link to parishes within the county.

If you went to the England page, this is what you would see:

FamilySearch Wiki article about England

You have links to record types in the left column. And further down the page you have links to each county.

If you go to you can see the parish boundaries for all the jurisdictions in 1851 England. Much of the jurisdictional information from that project is now available in the wiki.

At the bottom of each parish page is what is called a nav-box. It has links to all county-related record types, parishes, probate courts, and county archives.

Glastonbury, Somerset, England page in the FamilySearch wikiBeneath the article title on a parish page is a bread crumb trail that shows you the hierarchical path going back up to England. Beneath that is a table of contents for the page.

If you click on the history tab you can see a list of edits and the editors. Click on the username and you can see a page about the author. This can help you judge the quality of the information in each article.

Besides browsing or search in the Wiki, Google can be used to find the parish pages in the Wiki.

An example showing parish register information online is Chediston, Suffolk. FindMyPast and FamilySearch are both publishing its records online.

Links to online parish records of Chediston, Suffolk, England

Another example is Burnham Westgate, Norfolk. “We don’t always know exactly what we have online, so I had to put “undefined.” In some instances you can find an index on FreeReg and the images on Where multiple indexes exist, if you can’t find your ancestors on one website, you may be able to find it on another.

Links to online parish records of Burnham, Westgate, England

London Church Records shows online, published, and microfilm records for marriage licenses. The marriage licenses contain more information than present on the church registers.

One strategy to find missing baptism entries is called radius search. In Wing, Rutland under Maps and Gazetteers you can click through to the England Jurisdictions 1851 map site. There you can specify a radius search and see a list of all the parishes within that distance. You can then use online indexes for a quick search. Then you’ll need to recheck the microfilm, since indexing errors can exist.

It can be difficult finding wills and probate records in England. Depending on where you lived, you’ll go to a different court to find the will. In Kent, you could go to a dozen different places. (Blue text is a hyperlink. Red text is a hyperlink to an article that hasn’t been written yet.) We have most of the English wills on microfilm at the FHL.

Published abstracts of wills that index all names are rare. “England Everyname Probate Indexes” gives some examples, some of which have been published online. Every name indexes are useful. For example, you can find a daughter’s father’s name.

English census records have been published up through 1911. They have all been published online.

Chancery court records deal with things like family disagreements, divorces, and so forth. Ronald Hill has allowed us to publish an article he wrote about finding them.

We’ve also tried to show which of the old Heraldic Visitations pedigrees have been published online. Go to the county page and look for the Heraldic Visitations link.

Another valuable source is called lay subsidies. These are tax lists and go back to the 1200’s. FamilySearch went in and microfilmed thousands of these, but no one knew we had them. We have originals from 1272 to 1678 of hearth tax records. Because it covers the whole country, it was cataloged under England Taxation records. The catalog can help you find what has been covered. The E 179 catalog entry on the National Archives website gives some information. These can give you an idea of who was living at the time previous to coverage by parish registers.

One of the curious things about these online parish records [I didn’t note what parish or website he was showing] or other records is that there is no online information about coverage of databases. In some of these cases we have better coverage information than the websites where the databases are located.

Murphy finished his presentation without cell phone interruption. Go home, Nathan. Your wife needs you.


  1. Boyd's Marriage Index (FindMyPast) and Pallot's Marriage Index (Ancestry) are two significant databases on our partners' websites. They currently lack online coverage tables. We are creating online coverage tables in FamilySearch Wiki derived from book publications at the Family History Library.

  2. Online parish registers guides for Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Kent, Lancashire, London, Middlesex, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Wiltshire, and Yorkshire are up and ready.


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