Newsletter, 1st January 2024 updated to 7th February 2014.

A trip to Wharf Road

13th December was an exciting day, as the Society of Genealogists opened its new premises at 40 Wharf Road.  I was there on the opening day.  Wharf Road is in a part of London unfamiliar to many.  It is two bus stops north west of Old Street underground station, off City Road.  Wharf Road lies adjacent to a Texaco filling station and a MacDonalds drive-thru on the eastern side of the road.  It's a windy street, being home to many tall converted warehouses and leads north east towards Regents Canal.  Booking a visit in advance is required and anything stored off site has to be ordered a week in advance.  Half a floor below ground level there are a lecture room, reception desk, lockers and coat pegs.  Two flights of stairs take one down to the library area, the members' "common room", toilets and the kitchen.  The SoG has wisely given up its coffee machine and one can help oneself to free tea and coffee from the kitchen.  It also has a microwave oven.  Disabled access to this lower ground floor is by a lift in which one has to keep holding the button for floor -1 or G. 


The library area consists of a straight row of shelves for books and  further shelving provided by movable racks which economise on space.  The number of books stored on site has been hugely reduced.  Readers at the Library of Birmingham, for example, will be familiar with movable racks..  A limited number of computers are bookable in advance, to help those coming from afar.  One can also bring in a laptop and thereby access most of the records available on the SoG's computers via a wifi link.


All that said, the basement floor including the library area is not yet fully operational.  Adjustable chairs are on order.  Fiches have not yet been retrieved from offsite storage.  The present scanning machine cannot satisfactorily be used on films that require high magnification and a new one is on order.  There are problems with heating (the library area gets too hot in the afternoon).


Progress with Whitehouse records

I am pleased to report 13 months of steady progress towards improving this website to make it fitter for archiving.  There have been five main projects:

(1) Combining and revising three very large trees; this has finished.

(2) Revising the 1851 census file, a task taken on by Brian Strehlke, my friend and collaborator from Scotts Valley, California, with a much smaller amount of input from me; this is nearly finished.  He has done a great job.

(3) Normalising forenames and altering the layout of the 1881 census file, to make it consistent with our work on the 1911 and 1851 censuses; this is ongoing, but well advanced.

(4) Revising the new (online) GRO (England & Wales) index of births, which is very time-consuming and has temporarily stalled.

(5) Extending coverage of black country baptisms, particularly by creating a single file for the whole of Dudley Registration District, adding Wednesbury and improving West Bromwich.  In the course of the last-mentioned, I have been greatly assisted by Peter Loach, who has been researching at Smethwick (the Sandwell Community History and Archive Service).

(6) A  project to improve the main GRO (England & Wales) marriage file by finding or inferring spouses, and where appropriate entering full or partial details in the Marriage Details file, has been completed.


Commenting on these projects:

(1) A website tree was carefully drawn up by my correspondent, but without recourse to this website, where my marriage details file would have shown that he had made some bad assumptions and as a result inserted the wrong spouses. 

(2) Currently, Brian is checking subscription databases to see whether there are any omissions. 

(3) It has been our policy when revising the 1851 and 1911 censuses to try to provide forenames in place of initials or blanks.  It requires investigation.   Normalisation also means that we no longer accept abbreviations such as Wm, Edward or Thos, in order to facilitate searching.  Odd-looking surnames are also checked.  The 1881 census is in the process of retro-normalisation.  In the 1911 census, I have reversed the normalisation of Florrie etc. to Florence where Florrie is the name registered at birth.  This has resulted in 11 denormalisations.

(4) There are hundreds of errors in mother's maiden surnames.  Some might be the result of careless data processing during the GRO's project, but many discrepancies occur for the probable reason that people could not read and the registrar wrote the name as it sounded to him.  The interesting question arises: what is the "correct" surname ?  I take it to be the name registered at birth, failing that at baptism and failing both these at marriage.  A difficulty that occasionally arises is that the parents do not later accept the name at baptism or even at marriage, repeatedly using the "wrong" name.  So one has to adopt some flexibility.  The important thing is to try to ascribe to everyone in the same family the same mother's maiden surname.


There are many Whitehouse births apparently missing from the new (online) GRO (England & Wales) index.  I sent to the GRO for investigation a sample of these, from 1860 4th quarter, where searches under Whitehouse failed to reveal any entry, one in Bromsgrove Registration District (RD), one in Kings Norton RD and 18 in Dudley RD.  Back came a typical bureaucratic and unclear reply "Indexed data not available".  Presumably they were missed when the new index was constructed, but the original certificates must be there.  To prove it, I ordered successfully a .pdf of one of them.  One cannot order the much cheaper .jpg as this only operates from the new index.  It would seem that the GRO don't have the staff resources to look up the missing entries and put them online.  I have found a total of 76 Whitehouse entries missing from the new index.  Anyhow, I have written them a letter, which calls for a proper reply.

(5) I hope to work on Oldbury, but have been held up by the Society of Genealogists who hold microfiche of the parish register, but have not yet removed microfiches from offsite storage.

(6) Here are the updated statistics on the WFHC Whitehouse marriage files:

Total marriages in England & Wales (1837Q3 to 1911): 8875

Number with full details ("f"): 7389 (83.26%)

Number with partial details ("p"): 56 (0.63%)

Number with only a small amount of details ("s"): 10

Number with an assigned spouse: 8744 (97.54%) in England & Wales; overall (all British Isles): 8744 (98.52%).


The bare cheek of it

As many readers will know, "Ancestry" displays some weird transcriptions of Whitehouse.  Among the most prized of these must be Whitebaress (Benjamin, Rachael & family at Bilston, Staffs in the 1851 census).


"Home" wanted for Maud

Peter Loach has contributed a baptism from a register newly-deposited at Smethwick Archives :

"NC 97/1/1/2  :  Primitive Methodist Chapel, Camp Street, Wednesbury

Baptised 1885 June 16  Maud dau of Richard & Rebecca WHITEHOUSE of Terrace Street, moulder (born May 30)."

This couple were married on 27th May 1883 at Wednesbury St Paul, Rebecca's maiden surname being DAVIES.  They do not connect with any WFHC tree.  Are there any claimants among my readers ?


Just off the A120 and round the bend

Coggeshall is a village between Chelmsford and Colchester on the old A120.  The saying "A Coggeshall job" was used in Essex from the 17th to the 19th century to mean any poor or pointless piece of work, after the reputed stupidity of its villagers. There were numerous stories of the inhabitants' ridiculous endeavours, such as chaining up a wheelbarrow in a shed after it had been bitten by a rabid dog, for fear it would go mad.  The phrase is said to have originated one day when Coggeshall's town clock chimed 11 times at noon. When the villagers heard that the town clock at Lexden had struck 12 times at 11 o'clock, they rode to the town to collect the missing stroke. Other jobs included winching up a cow onto the church roof to eat the grass growing there, knocking down one of two windmills as there would not be enough wind for both of them, attempting to divert the course of the river with hurdles, hanging sheets over roads to prevent the wind from blowing disease into the town, chopping the head off a lamb to free it from a gate, removing stairs from a house to stop flood water entering."  (from Wikipedia) 


Cigs with a short expiry date

A man was facing a firing squad and was asked whether he would like a cigarette

"No thanks" he replied, "I'm trying to give them up".