Research Co-ordinator's Report April 2002
By Tony Storey
Our main research project this year is to extract all relevant entries from the Principal Probate Registry Index from its inception in 1858 to 1950.
Once known as the Somerset House wills, they are now kept at First Avenue House. We have made an excellent start and already I must thank Fred Sole and Bob Sheldon for their work on Sole, the Saul team of Christine and Michael Muschamp and Norman Saul and the Sewell team of Brian, Eric and Mike Sewell. Norman is currently leading the charge, having completed 42 years of Saul entries although Eric has captured more than 30 years of Sewells and gets my vote for ‘most innovative use of technology’, namely a digital camera.
For the last two or three years our research efforts had necessarily been concentrated on the GRO births, marriages and deaths. I hoped that once this mammoth task was complete the momentum would continue into other fields of research, and so it has proved.
Apart from the wills project, work is progressing on British Consular records, regimental baptisms, Royal Navy lists, Commonwealth War Graves, trade directories, pre-1837 marriages, clerical directories and soldiers’ documents at the Public Record Office. There are many as yet untapped sources, some as close as your public library, so volunteers are still most welcome. If you would like to help us, please get in touch with me or your surname co-ordinator. Contact details are on the cover.
Nowadays, a good deal of our information is gathered from the Internet and some of you might wonder why we bother. After all, people can always look up the website themselves. My answer is that not all of our members have access to the Internet and in any case, websites can change or even disappear overnight so we need to capture any data while it remains available to us. The truth may well be out there, but be warned. Don’t take as gospel everything you see. As with the IGI, there is no substitute for checking the original source. Mistakes can be made in any medium, however advanced the technology.
A catalyst for the boom in research activity is without doubt the CD-ROM project. It sometimes seems as though the four surname groups are competing to get the most data on the forthcoming CD. It was never our aim to start a competition but I’m very happy to be kept busy! Thanks to all the contributors and also to Tim Soles who is designing the disk and has so far has taken everything I’ve thrown at him in good part.
Since I became research co-ordinator I have concentrated on increasing the Society’s store of knowledge, but this is not an end in itself. A team of volunteers have worked extremely hard but it would all have been wasted effort had it not been for the surname co-ordinators who have used the data collected to develop family trees.
Learning about our families is what we’re really about, but applying the research we have gathered to build a picture of our ancestors, however rewarding, is nonetheless a painstaking and time-consuming task. As the material available to us grows I believe we get further and further away from the time when a single person could handle all the enquiries and still find time to research and develop the family charts.
Arguably, as the most widespread and numerous of our names the Sewells had the greatest need for a network of county co-ordinators and the Sewell team led by Diana has shown what can be achieved. At our present rate of progress the time will surely come when the other names will need to stand back and consider whether they might learn from the Sewell example
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