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Oxfordshire Family History Society

How Much Can You Do From Home

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Past Meetings Monthly Computer Open Day

OFHS Computer Group Meeting   -   How Much Can You Do From Home

This page provides a precis of the topics covered in the talk "How Much Can You Do From Home" given by Alan Simpson, to the OFHS Computer Group meeting on 5th October 2009.

The object of the meeting was not to provide a detailed picture of my own family history but rather, to take examples chosen from my researches, to illustrate the various techniques which others may find useful.

Links To Web Sites Mentioned

There are links to all the web sites I mentioned during the talk on the Finding Your Ancestors On The Internet web page (known to its friends as FYAOTI) which is located on the OFHS web site at


This page forms a permanent part of the OFHS site. It is linked from the home page and is kept regularly updated.

Some General Points

Don't Be A Couch Potato. Although you can do a lot from home these days, do not believe you can establish your entire family history that way. You should still visit libraries, record offices, churchyards etc. or you will be missing out on much of the fun that goes to make up Family History.

What Can You Do From Home?

  • Ask the Family
  • Rummage in Drawers
  • Write Letters
  • Purchase Transcripts (especially from OFHS !)
  • Use the Internet (which of course, was the main focus of the meeting)
Keep Records As You Go. When searching the web it is all to easy to get caught up in the excitement of the chase and not record where you have found the various pieces of information. Note things down as you go and if necessary keep sections of text, images or complete web pages. The web site you are looking at may not be there next week, next month or next year. Some techniques are:
  • Keep a page open in windows notepad and copy Website URL's, and key bits of text into it.
  • Use right-click menus to copy or save URLs, text, images or complete web pages.
  • Use the PrintScreen key to copy an image of the screen to the windows clipboard, from whence it can be trimmed and saved in your favourite image program. (See my earlier All About Images talk for more details.)

Examples From My Family

These show the sorts of techniques that are useful when exploring the lives of "ordinary folk". If you are interested, the results of this research can be seen on my own web site at www.shotover.org.uk/geneal/

A Starting Point for my researches was a letter found amongst my grandfather's papers, written in 1902 by his uncle, a Robert Harold, living on the island of St Vincent, in the West Indies. This exotic location was intriguing but at the time (1994), home internet access was virtually unknown, so it was not easy to carry out research at such a distance.

Fortuitously however, I am an amateur radio enthusiast, so I was able to post a message on an amateur radio message board in the West Indies. After a month or so this produced responses from previously unknown family members in Connecticut and Jamaica. From them I was able to learn a lot about that branch of the family.

The modern equivalent of this is to use internet Mailing lists and Message Boards, such as those found on the RootsWeb web site. You can browse or search the lists to see if there is already a mention of your ancestors and if nothing is found, post a question to the list.

By way of example, I showed a sequence of postings from the Liverpool & South West Lancs Genealogy mailing list, relating to the Harold family.

Censuses provide a good starting point for families in the 1841 to 1911 date range.

  • Censuses for 1841 to 1901 are available on a subscription or pay-to-view basis on sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past.
  • As with many other web searches, "less is more". Including more terms in the search boxes can only reduce your chances of finding someone. Put in just sufficient data to reduce the number of "hits" to a manageable level. By way of example I showed that putting "Liverpool" as their place of residence, would have failed to find my grandparents since they were enumerated as living at "Prescot" (a suburb of Liverpool).
  • At the time of the meeting, the 1911 Census was only available on a pay-to-view basis on its own web site www.1911census.co.uk I demonstrated how to use the "Other Members of the Household" and the wildcard options available in "Show Advanced Fields", to maximise the chances of finding the right household before spending money on the View Transcript or View Image options.

FreeBMD is an excellent way for locating births, deaths and marriages in the civil registration system from 1837 onwards.

  • Coverage is now almost 100% for most years up to 1930. Detailed coverage graphs are available in the "Information" section of the site.
  • Avoid entering your data in the boxes associated with the Advertisement shown at the top of the opening page. This will take you away from the FreeBMD site to a commercial site. Instead, click on the red FreeBMD logo, or the red Search caption lower down the page to get to the data entry form.
  • For marriages, clicking on the page number link in the results, will show you other people on the same page of the register, often allowing a spouse's maiden surname to be discovered.

Parish Registers are the main source of data for ordinary folk before 1837.

  • The Family Search web site provided by the LDS church provides the most comprehensive on-line route into this data.
  • Look carefully at the "Messages" section of the results to determine the source of the data. Data extracted from parish registers is normally reliable. Data submitted by other people is generally less so. In particular, if only an approximate date is given for an event, the record is likely to be just a guess!
  • For extracted data, clicking on the Batch Number, then searching for a surname only, can allow you to locate siblings.

Examples From Local Aristocracy

Shotover was a Royal Hunting Forest and later, a 900 Acre privately owned estate. The examples for this section of the talk were taken from my researches into the former owners of the estate.

Transcriptions of Monumental Inscriptions (from OFHS of course!) are likely to show elaborate monuments for the rich and famous.

By way of example, I took as my starting point the monument in Forest Hill church commemorating the burial of Thomas James Schutz and his wife Ann, erected by their successor at Shotover Estate, George Vandeput Drury.

Google can often reveal a plethora of information about the famous. For example:

  • Old maps showing estate boundaries can be compared with modern satellite images from Googe Earth.
  • On line texts in Google Books. (The example I showed being from A genealogical and heraldic history of the extinct and dormant baronetcies" by John Burke, which included some, authoritative genealogy of the Schutz family who owned the estate for several generations.)
  • Pictures to be found via Google Images. (The example I showed being of the Tate Gallery web site, depicting a 1725 painting of the Schutz family, which may have been painted at Shotover.)
British History On Line which is largely based on material from the Victoria County Histories, is a good source for background information on important families and estates in an area.

Newspapers are another very useful source for the family historian. These can often have extensive articles about the activities of the famous (as well as birth,death and marriage entries for some of the less well known). A recent partnership between Gale and the British Library has made available on-line The Times digital archive covering 1785 to 1985 together with an extensive collection of 19th century local newspapers, including a full 100 year run of Jackson's Oxford Journal.

In some areas you may need to visit your local library to access these, but several counties, including Oxfordshire, permit library members to access the collection from home, using your library reader's ticket number as a password.

Locating the "Source" of A River

Time did not permit going into any detail about my researches into the source of the name of the Shotover River in New Zealand, but if you are interested, the results of these researches can be read on my own web site at www.shotover.org.uk/history/nz.htm

Last updated 2009-10-10

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