BerksFHS Logo  

Berkshire Family Historian
September 2001

upBerks FHS indexContents

Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, September 2001 Contents

The Bulletin

Wiltshire Record Office on the move A hot tip from Oxfordshire
GRO birth, marriage and death indexes Warfield Millennium video
Cleaning gravestones Public Record Office events
Genealogy and medical research Have you caught the disease
Procat on-line catalogue Family history classes

Wiltshire Record Office on the move

Three years ago the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts de-registered the Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office as the building did not match the national standard for archives. As a result local councillors considered three options: closure, doing nothing, or improving the existing structure. Last year Wiltshire County Council and Swindon Council agreed to move the Record Office from Trowbridge to Devizes. Wiltshire County Council also proposed to take the opportunity to improve its other heritage services. The site chosen at Devizes became known as the Wharfside Initiative. It would include the new Record Office, the County Local Studies Library, the County Museum Service and the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust Archive. The reasons given for the move to Devizes was that it was closer to Swindon, and central to the County. In terms of access, this does not make sense. Trowbridge is accessible by bus and rail while Devizes has no railway station, nor the level of bus services that the existing Record Office has. So Devizes is not closer to Swindon in any sense apart from simply marking it on a map. Trowbridge will also be losing one of its attractions for tourists and archive users.

The County Council is likely to receive support from the Heritage Lottery Fund which it is said, 'recognizes the central role of access'. On the face of it moving to Devizes is unlikely to improve services to users, but perhaps you have other views.

A petition protesting to the move is available at Trowbridge Town Council Office at 10/12 Fore Street and at the Tourist Information Centre.

GRO birth, marriage and death indexes

FreeBMD is a volunteer project to transcribe the GRO birth, marriage and death indexes. The objective is to provide free Internet access to the Civil Registration index for England and Wales. The main focus of the project is currently the sixty-three year period from 1837 to l900. So far the database includes more than 12,000,000 of the l00 million index entries. That represents about eight per cent of the information held at the Family Records Centre. Given the size of the database it is always worth checking FreeBMD to find if the certificate you are searching for has been placed on the Internet. A researcher may visit the FreeBMD website and enter their ancestor's surname, first name(s), whether a birth, marriage or death is of interest and so on. Additional search criteria such as year of the event, registration district, etc. may also be entered to help narrow the search. Wildcards and multiple selections can be used (e.g. select several registration districts to be searched simultaneously).

The search facility will return all results that match the search criteria, with information on: event, quarter, year, surname, first name(s), Registration District, volume number, page number, and submitter.

The project has over 1,500 volunteers adding around 6o,ooo entries a day, but more volunteers are needed if the project is to be completed before 2010. Volunteers need a computer with Intemet access and some spare time. The Internet address is

Cleaning gravestones

In view of the number of enquiries about cleaning gravestones, Paul Wohlgemuth sent in a report in the Sunday Telegraph on 24 June. The Association of Burial Authorities say that in cemeteries across the country there are 15 million unstable gravestones, many of which weigh more than 200lb. A falling gravestone in Harrogate killed a six-year-old boy last summer and there has been a death a year over the past four or five years. Accidents happen when someone kneels down to tend a grave and takes hold of the top of the headstone to pull themselves up. All headstones are now being submitted to a 'topple test' to establish whether they can withstand pressure equivalent to the weight of an eight-stone person. If not, they are being knocked flat by council workers. Families are responsible in law to maintain a plot and they will have to pay up to l000 if they want a stone restored to its proper position. Meanwhile, gravestone transcribers beware.

Genealogy and medical research

In recent years there's been increasing scientific research into hereditary life threatening conditions like cancer and heart disease. Although poor diet and smoking does raise the risk of succumbing to these and other medical conditions, family genetic history is also one of the major causes. The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies has been one of the pioneers in the application of links between genetic research to assist medical teams throughout the world.

Now in a major step forward the Institute and the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands have launched a new research programme. They are seeking family historians who can provide a proven family tree of four or more generations on each line and/or longevity for four or five generations. They hope to build a database for scientific research that will also provide a means of assisting those whose genealogical research may be blocked by adoption, lack of documentation or a failure to discover the place of origin of a family.

The Institute is also working on a project involving the longevity of individuals. A substantial prize has beenset aside for anyone who is able to produce a pedigree for three generations in which the living great grandparents are aged 95 or more with children, grandchildren and great grandchildren all in good health.

If you would like to join either project send your full name, address, telephone number and email address to the Institute at Northgate, Canterbury, Kent CT1 1BA. They will then send you forms and further details.

Procat on-line catalogue

I tried out the new Public Record Office online catalogue recently and I was pleasantly surprised, indeed shocked, to find a dozen or so references to my name ranging from seventeenth century wills, to First World War records and even an abortion case in the 1930s. The Procat database provides searches through eight million document references giving a summary description. The catalogue does not contain images of the documents themselves (although this cannot be far away). It is not necessary to have any previous knowledge of the administrative history of government records as the catalogue searches all the departmental codes. There is only a small chance that a family name of a relative will be found in the catalogue, but in my case a dozen hits seems to be a rather good strike rate. The catalogue is especially helpful to local historians as entering placenames provides a wealth of documents. The catalogue can be found at

A hot tip from Oxfordshire

For those with North Berkshire interests, I've just stumbled upon the fact that the Bishop's Transcripts for Appleford are now available on-line and completely free of charge. They cover the years 1563 - 1835. Go to either: or: 

Warfield Millennium video

After Warfield's successful Millennium Exhibition in July last year the exhibitors made a video presenting some of their material. Included are photographs illustrating the history of St. Michael's Church and of local brickmaking; finds from excavations of the sites of old houses; and local scenes, characters and agriculture. The video runs for 33 minutes and may be obtained for 1.50 Plus 1.00 P&P (payable to Warfield Millennium Exhibition) from Michael Dumbleton, 25 Warfield Road, Bracknell, Berkshire RG42 2JY.

Public Record Office events

The Open Day this year will have a Victorian theme to commemorate Queen Victoria's death. Visitors will able to sample food prepared from authentic

Victorian recipes and explore an exhibition based around an original Victorian street scene. Original material from the PRO's collections will be on display, including a letter from 'Jack the Ripper', plans of the Great Exhibition, and an informal photograph of the Queen with her children. The Open Day will also feature a series of behind-the-scenes tours and talks about our premier record collection. The Open Day will be held on Saturday September 22.

An exhibition and series of talks exploring a thousand years of immigration to Britain - from the Norman settlers to the passengers on SS Empire Windrush - will take place throughout October.

Have you caught the disease

The condition is extremely contagious to adults. It reveals itself in a need for names, dates and places. The patient has a blank expression, sometimes deaf to spouse and children. They have no taste for work of any kind, except feverishly looking through records in libraries and archives. There is a tendency to frequent strange places, like cemeteries, ruins and remote areas, making secret night calls hiding telephone bills from their spouse. Although the disease is not fatal it does get progressively worse. Patients should attend family history workshops, subscribe to genealogical magazines and be given a quiet corner in the house where they can be left alone. The usual nature of the disease is: the worse a patient gets, the more he or she enjoys it.

Family history classes

It's September and the autumn season of adult family history courses is with us. There are three classes in the Reading area, all of them at the Adult Education Centre at Caversham. For beginners there's a class on Monday afternoons from 2pm until 4pm and for those with some experience there are two family history forums on Thursday. All the classes involve trips to record repositories and as far as possible studying real documents. The beginners class' takes students through a range of document sources and at the end of the course most will be able to trace their families for at least 150 years. If you're interested get a copy of Focus 2001 from your local library or telephone 0118-901-5272.

Oxford University Department for Continuing Education has courses throughout Oxfordshire and Berkshire. At Henley there's one on English social history and at Hungerford one on the town and village (Hungerford, Inkpen and Kintbury). At Windsor, there is Behaving Badly? Crime, Law and Order in England and Wales from the mid-eighteenth century until 1914. And at Oxford itself various subjects from archive sources at the Oxfordshire Record Office, Villages in the

Landscape and an illustrated history of medicine from 1750 to the present. For information and a prospectus on all these courses call 01865-270391 or 270360.

Web-page produced by DandyLion Services
Please contact the webmaster with any queries
Berkshire Family History Society 2001

updated 26th November 2001