Published: 14 July 2017
Yesterday I embarked on a most frustrating task. I have been working for a couple of weeks now on sorting and scanning my Nana Fulford's collection of photographs dating back to 1910. To support this exercise I have been searching for records of the people and places involved. The first irritation was discovering that genealogy web sites want to charge so much for access to what are supposedly "public records". Seeking information from the National Archives gets the would be researcher referred back to Government recommend commercial entities "findmypast.co.uk" and "ancestory.co.uk". The former wants a basic £10 per month and the latter £11.00 per month for starters. It is more for a "premium service" which, I suspect, loosely translates to "for access to anything useful" but that's not of course the end of it.
What these online archives offer is access to indexes. When you've found the record you want, it can't be accessed on line,oh no, no no. You must order a printed copy. Using third parties to get copies of certificates even the National Archives centre admits to be a ripoff, Premium rates for no added value as they remark. The same certificates can be ordered directly from the GRO or from your local registry archives. Being the cynic I am I can't but suspect that the GRO offer a substantial discount to the agencies and so are inspired to promote the more lucrative direct route. Still I find the rather heafty ten quid, when all that is really wanted is an emailed scan, somewhat excessive. BMDs for Fred, Elsie, Annie, Dorothy, Frederick W, Jeannie, Betty, Great Grandma and Grandpa Hammett would be £250 and I'd only just be scratching the surface of one side of the family.
Being a miserly sort of cove I dug around until I came up with Free Genealogy UK, a registered charity run by volunteers who are painstakingly transcribing the public records for free public use on line. The website for access to the births, marriages and deaths is freebmd.org.uk. For access to parish records and census records the equivalent sites are freereg.org.uk and freecen.org.uk respectively.
Ok so having found these remarkable resources why still so frustrated? Well as you may have gathered I was searching initially for information on my paternal Grandparents Elsie May Hammett and Frederick John Fulford.. Although I found possible birth records for both, as I didn't have birth dates nor birth places, I couldn't pin anything down and there were hundreds of Hammetts to wade through. I tried then, to start with the marriage of Fred and Elsie as I thought I would have more to go on and might be able to tie the correct record down and work out from there. Nothing, zilch, nada, not a sausage.
I discovered that registration districts change their names and catchment areas and that what might crop up in Basford one year could be in Nottingham the next and visa versa, but it didn't help. I learned that the indexes rarely use a persons full name. Grandad could be Frederick John or Frederick J or just Frederick. I tried them all and Elsie May and Elsie M and just plain Elsie but no joy. I also discovered that the indexes were composed quarterly so March 1925 meant the event was "registered" in January, February or March of 1925 although the actual event might have occurred in 1924.
I began to think that perhaps some records are just recorded locally in the parish or written on the fly leaves of Bibles or some such but further research confirmed that all marriages in the 20th Century should be in the National Archives. Ok I thought, lets try something simpler in order to hone my skills.
I searched for the marriage of my Mother and Father, Joan Mary Allen and Frederick Wesley Fulford. The record, I was sure, would be in Basford or Nottingham, would be after 1945 and before 1950. What could be simpler? Well your right, nothing came up. Were they really married? I tried Joan Mary, Joan M and Joan. I tried Frederick Wesley, Frederick W and Frederick, still nothing. Hells bells what am I doing wrong? One last go, just Fulford, anywhere in the country... and finally I found it.So what was wrong? simple. While Joan M Allen married Frederick W Fulford in 1949, according to the index Frederick W Fulford married Joan M Allan. Put both parties in the search and your scuppered.
So returning to Fred and Elsie. It appeared that although Frederick J Fulford married Hammett it was Elsie Hannet that married Fulford. Were they doing it deliberately? Elsie and Fred's first child Dorothy EM was born to Fulford and Hannet whereas their second, my father Frederick W, was born to Fulford and Hamnett! I recorded "posterns" (rather badly as I didn't understand how they are used) for the first three errors but got tired by the fourth as a very long winded and inaccurate "I am not a robot" procedure was needed each time. I'd spent enough of my day on this already.
What chance do we have? A limited sample I agree but this is an eighty percent error rate. I find the idea of detailed government record keeping, identity cards, dna samples, medical records, email and phone records quite terrifying. The idea that those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear is a nonsense. The chances of being incarcerated or summarily executed, or bankrupted in error are I think quite high, what hope have you got with the name Smith, Singh or Mohammed. The state is not only incapable of maintaining the security of our records but is, as likely to get them wrong in the first place, as not.
It is worth noting that even the GRO themselves recommends that when you want a copy certificate, it is advisable to go the local records office rather than use their services, as there you will be provided with a hand written transcription of the original, which, they say, is likely to be more accurate as the staff are trained to be able to read handwriting accurately. Well there's a thing.