In the first of a series of masterclasses, expert genealogist Helen Osborn looks at what she terms ‘gapology’ – the missing entries in PR collections
Understand gaps in parish registers
Are you searching for people in parish registers online and not finding them? Are some members of a family found in a location while others are just not there?
This is a common and frustrating occurrence. The well-read researcher knows that sometimes people are not in parish registers because they or their parents were nonconformists. It is a particular problem for the later 17th century, when nonconformism was growing, and into the 18th century. But if you are sure the family were baptised, married and buried in the Church of England, are you certain that the records you need are actually complete, or equally importantly covered by the index or website you are using?
The failure of an index to cover what you think it covers must be one of the main causes of unsuccessful searches in genealogy.
In recent years, more and more indexes to parish register baptisms, marriages and burials have appeared online on a number of different websites, derived from a variety of sources.
If you have only ever done your research online and particularly if you only have a subscription to one website, and have not visited a record office to pore over the originals, your understanding of these important records and the indexes to them may need broadening.
Those who have been researching since before anything was online are better versed in what I term ‘gapology’. The genealogist who is a good gapologist finds out abo out record gaps before they start a search h.
Genealogical information n comes from original records, transcriptions of original records and indexes to the original records. Indexes and transcripts are rarely 100 per cent accurate – there will be things misindexed or wrongly transcribed and there will be events that fail to get indexed d at all. It is equally important to be able to distinguish whether the indexes you are searching have gaps because the underlying records themselves also have gaps.
Original parish registers are not perfect either. They have never been consistently kept and safeguarded across the many different parishes and over the 475 years or so they have been in existence. In general, the more modern the register book, the more consistent and gap-free it’s likely to be. But there is wide variation across parishes. Gaps in the original registers occur for two main reasons: Register bbooks or portions of books lost thr rough civil war, damp, verm min, ignorance, wilful de struction, or none
depositedd in the archives.
In 1831, the first and only government survey on the location and state of parish registers, known as the Parish Register Abstract, found that huge losses had already occurred. The
Abstract is available in
full on histpop.org
Individual entries lost dduring the writing-up pprocess or poor recording; thhese gaps are hard to spot andd may never be noticed. Be suspiciious if there are years without evvents or with few events, when surrounding years are busy. Bishops’ Transcripts can help with some of the gaps, although they have a patchy survival rate themselves, and very rarely cover the missing parish register entries exactly. There are also gaps in the records used to produce the indexes we commonly search. In other words, not all parishes are covered by indexes, and not all registers within a parish are covered, even though the original register may exist.
Get to grips with the IGI
The biggest country-wide coverage of parish register indexes is within the International Genealogical Index (IGI) maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) on FamilySearch indexes are organised by batch number and it is possible to find the numbers for each parish and work out whether all the possible registers are covered by the FamilySearch indexes. Very often you will find they are not. More importantly, the date ranges assigned to the batches often conceal missing books, thus Batch No C070001 for christenings in Albourne in Sussex gives a date range of 1550-1771 and you would assume that this is what you search. Not so. The far more comprehensive National Index to Parish
FreeREG is attempting to provide new indexes to the originals
which is published by the Society of Genealogists, provides more detail on individual registers. The original register for Albourne runs 1550-1580, then there’s a gap until 1601-1900. Marriages for Albourne start in 1605-1757, then nothing until 1813. Bishops’ Transcripts cover some of these gaps, but certainly not all, and have many years missing themselves.
Subscription websites can give the impression they have all the possible available material, and that registers are complete – they don’t and they are not. There are several different sorts of material available online, now with duplication on more than one website making the situation very confusing. These comprise: Indexes made by family history society volunteers working from the original parish 5 registers. Some societies have placed their indexes with findmypast.co.uk, others may have them available via their own website. The IGI and other collections held by the LDS Church, available on familysearch.
org, and also now on ancestry.co.uk. Some of the IGI is derived from Bishops’ Transcripts rather than original registers. Material directly from an archive, indexed by a data provider with original images, such as the London Metropolitan Archives’ collection on ancestry.co.uk. Indexes based on transcripts made privately, and printed transcripts published in the 19th and early 20th century, such as those by Phillimore and the Harleian Society. Ancestry has digitised some of these, some can be found for free on archive.org while
thegenealogist.co.uk bases some of its parish records on these printed transcripts. Indexes made by the genealogist Boyd, and other indexes such as Pallot’s index. Boyd’s indexes are on findmypast.co.uk and Pallot’s on ancestry.co.uk. Neither of these is fully comprehensive. Each of these sorts of material can have its own problems of error and misindexing, as well as never having been complete in the first place. You still need to determine how complete the index is, and whether or not the date ranges shown are accurate.
FreeREG ( freereg.org.uk) is attempting to provide new online indexes to all parish registers in England, Wales and Scotland. Check the coverage before you start because it is an ongoing project. Unfortunately, it is not recording original gaps in the registers it has indexed as far as I can see, so you could still search a parish register over a range of years and not know that the register itself was incomplete. Being able to drill down into the online sources and work out what is actually available online is key to success with online searching, particularly when it comes to parish registers in England and Wales.
In all instances, you must follow up what you find in the indexes in the original registers or in the images of original registers where they are microfilmed. Usually, this still means a visit to the local record office, or at least to the online catalogue of the record office. Then you will be a gapologist!
The gaps in this parish register from St Clements,Clements Cheapside (part of the LMA collection on Ancestr Ancestry),) were ere d due e to the Great Fire of London