The contents of “Act 2”

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Whereas the 1998 book was a progressive story of my research, “Act 2” is freer to range over a number of individual topics. These thumbnail notes give an indication of the coverage.

Chapter 1 “Backwards and Forwards”

The brief story of the three research visits to the General Register Office in 1998, 2000, 2001. The nature of the research. Confirmation of errors and omissions in the records. Description of the workplace. How the records are held. Changes at the GRO over the research period.

Chapter 2 “The system in a nutshell”

The GRO volumes and the registration districts. The parishes and subdistricts. The (erratic) process of quarterly returns and the GRO “bundles”. The page numbering system. The indexing process. The published indexes on fiche and film and their quality.

Chapter 3 “Holes in the net”

In the GRO fiche of the early indexes (1837-1865) many frames were missed out. Each contains 40 names (sometimes more). 100 missing frames are identified here, mainly from the deaths indexes, approximately 4000 missing names.

Chapter 4 “Repeat marriages”

Many couples have enjoyed two marriage ceremonies, sometimes on the same day, sometimes with weeks or much longer between them. Many such dual entries are described here. Details often vary in some particulars. Some dual index entries are not dual ceremonies but are errors in the indexing system.

Chapter 5 “A Series of samples”

I made samples of clearly written entries in the GRO film records. The indexes have then been checked carefully for those names. Some 3 per cent out of 1500 names cannot be found indexed. Many other names were found misindexed in some way.

Chapter 6 “The ‘a’ entries in the GRO indexes”

Index entries such as 512a or 88a are entries added after the index was first created. They may be late returns or may be amended returns. Some are entries misfiled and then (if noticed) refiled. Description of the mechanisms in this late indexing. Some unexpected discoveries during the investigation.

Chapter 7 “Broken sequences”

Entries in original registers of births deaths and marriages have unique reference numbers, intended to check completeness of the quarterly returns. Gaps in these sequences in the marriage records have led to the finding of marriages missed by clergy and registrars in their quarterly returns. They are not at the GRO. They are not indexed. They are missing from the national record. This chapter supplies their details.

Chapter 8 “Bad indexing at a high social level”

A fascinating story of an 1839 marriage that was not copied to the GRO until 1895. It was then indexed and filed, the bride in 1839 and the groom in 1844. Locating this record at Southport was a long and nearly unsuccessful process between 1998 and 2001. The bride was a bishop’s daughter. The groom was a gentleman of substance.

Chapter 9 “Diggin’ for Duggin”

Another detailed story, a marriage where a vicar amended a quarterly return and got it terribly wrong. Genuine error or falsification ? GRO and local RO records differ. Errors and inadequacies lie both with the clergy and the GRO. Even the two copies of the original registers are not entirely identical.

Chapter 10 “Variant entries”

Many GRO index entries have two versions (or even 3 or 4), largely caused by writing too bad to be read with certainty. These give clues to how other entries may have been misindexed. Hundreds of examples are given as a help in seeing how such corrupted names may be searched for. As examples, Hotchin and Notchin, Jackway and Tackney. The list is endless. Your Batts may easily be Balls.

Chapter 11 “Odd omissions”

The GRO volume structure is such that every odd-numbered page should always contain data and should thus appear somewhere in the index. The absence of many such odd-numbered “recto” page references has led to the finding of unindexed records.

Chapter 12 “Shrewsbury ? Where’s that then ?”

Many registration districts have come and gone in the GRO record system, including places such as Shrewsbury and Montgomery. Be aware of some of these changes if you are searching for ancestors on the basis of registration districts.

Chapter 13 “Changes in 25 years”

Based on the marriage indexes, I describe some of the changes in the 25-year period 1856-1881. Industrial development and population changes led to changes in registration districts and in the significance of different regions. Relative numbers of odd/even page references are another indicator (appendix 4).

Chapter 14 “Legalese”

Further discussion of the BMD legislation in relation to quarterly returns, to compulsory birth registration, to access to indexes and registers. Some of these issues are debatable, and they are debated here in the belief that some past assumptions are not justified.

Chapter 15 “Improved by over-inking ?”

Many references in the primary indexes became badly worn and were inked over by clerks to clarify them. The high proportion of wrongly inked entries, some ludicrously so, is a clear indication that the work was done without any check on what the correct references were. They display extreme clerical ignorance.

Chapter 16 “A miscellany of items”

This lengthy chapter is a melange of queries and discoveries, many of them sparked by letters and messages from correspondents and readers of the 1998 book.

Chapter 17 “Peripheral vision”

There is much in the GRO records that you do not see in the tiny part that is masked for copying into the certificate that you purchase. By reference to some prints of whole pages from the GRO films (appendix 7) this chapter shows some of the interesting information that you fail to get.

Chapter 18 “The district of Mitford”

A by-product of a search for a particular marriage, this chapter shows the pattern of marriages from a very rural part of East Anglia. It illustrates parish patterns, seasonality of marriages, and the sparse marriages in tiny parishes. A gap in the sequence from one parish revealed another marriage that was missed from the quarterly returns.

Chapter 19 “A London synagogue”

The pattern of marriages from the register of the New Synagogue in the City of London 1844-1848. Returns were erratic, often extremely late. The chapter illustrates the many varied locations for Jewish marriages, often far from the City of London district.

Chapter 20 “Late insertions in the 1864/Q3 deaths index”

The story of an extraordinary pattern of index entries that were missed when the index was created, and were interlined later. The pattern of these strays suggests the way that many index entries may have gone missing in the indexing process, without ever being recovered. Other GRO indexes show similar happenings.

Chapter 21 “The LDS film and fiche”

The history of the GRO indexes as published by the LDS church. Their relationship to indexes published by the GRO. Some inferences as to the quality of the processing.

Chapter 22 “The index registers at Southport”

Description of the index registers held in the GRO basements at Southport. When they were made. How they relate to the public view of the GRO indexes, both at the FRC and in the form of film and fiche.

Chapter 23 “Late Southampton marriages in 1841”

The story of a set of late returns of marriages from a Southampton church. The very high incidence of index errors when they were added to the indexes.

Chapter 24 “Illegible fiche material”

An investigation of a small sample of entries that are wholly illegible in the published fiche. A comparison with the corresponding GRO basement registers. Some remained illegible even in those registers and were only determined by going through GRO films to find and “re-index” them.

Chapter 25 “Typewritten indexes”

Discussion of some original typewritten indexes (pre 1866). Discovery of a small and valuable group of volumes where the original handwritten version survives alongside the typed version. Some questions for further investigation.

Chapter 26 “Something else strange in the coal cellar”

An investigation of one strange index entry led to the discovery of some exceptionally badly typed index registers in the GRO basement. More evidence of the losses of entries through mislaid indexing slips.

Chapter 27 “Gaps in the series of Southport registers”

The GRO index registers in the Smedley basement are not a complete series. One area of the births indexes has long-standing gaps.

Chapter 28 “Best foot forward”

My recommendations on the preferred approach to overhauling the national record of births, deaths and marriages, overcoming the errors and omissions throughout the system by using the original registers as the basis for a reconstructed and re-indexed system.

Chapter 29 “The ONS White Paper”

A critique of the ONS White Paper of 2002 on modernisation of the system. Its many inconsistencies, lack of important detail, total lack of information on indexing and search procedures, the apparent impracticability of many of its proposals. The risks of failure if ONS adopts its apparently favoured approach. Inadequate data specification.

Chapter 30 “A tell-tale tally”

The incidence of “a”-type index entries and variant index entries and some of their possible significance in indicating the performance of the system. Suggestions for experiments in data capture for the modernisation proposals.

I conclude with nine appendices and two indexes of names, one for names appearing in “Act 2” and one (belated) for names in the 1998 book.

The appendices are :
Page Range Table for 1881/Q1 marriages
Marriages at The New Synagogue 1844-1848
Some names rescued from the registers
Odd/Even page references
Pattern of marriages by parish, Mitford 1879-82
Late marriages from Southampton 1841
Sample of full pages from the marriage returns
Some entries from the deaths index 1864/Q3
Some more frames missing from the GRO fiche
Indexes of names appearing in "Act 2" and in the 1998 book.