The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Research Co-ordinator's Report

By Tony Storey

This article was originally published in the April 2004 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society

Most of you are now in possession of our CD-ROM. The project took over a year to complete but I hope you will agree it was well worth the effort.  My sincere thanks to all those who contributed information and to Tim Soles for providing the technical expertise to transfer the research onto disk.


The exercise enabled us to take stock of how much information we have gathered in recent years in order to help our members expand their family history. Although most of our research is based in the UK, we do have a database of 4,700 births, deaths and marriages in Australia and around 400 similar entries for Ontario, Canada. I would be interested in hearing from any Canadian members who might be able to help us further.


When the Society was formed in 1991, some of our first charts were based on the IGI, currently comprising some 39,000 entries. We have since added a further 2,200 parish records such as burial and marriage indexes. Nowadays our largest source is the GRO index from 1837 onwards and we currently have some 86,500 entries. We also hold over 1,800 military records which include Commonwealth war graves, soldiers documents from the National Archive in Kew, Army baptisms, the Royal Navy index and the odd militia list.


In the last three years we have put particular effort into collecting information on wills and now have details of more than 3,700 of which the majority are from the index of the Principal Probate Registry from 1858 onwards. We also have a list of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills (1411-1858) which we gleaned from the website but a notable omission from our collection is Prerogative Court of York wills which can only be obtained from the Borthwick Institute in York. We suspect there are many Saul and Sewell wills in the PCY and I would love to hear from anyone who is prepared to spend a few days in the Borthwick on our behalf.


Add some censuses, a few gaol register entries, hearth tax returns and nearly 800 mentions in trade directories and in total we have approximately 158,000 pieces of information, each item interesting in itself but which becomes even more so when placed in the context of a family. This is where the surname co-ordinator’s role is crucial, building on the hundreds of family charts which are the bedrock of the Sole Society. It must be like trying to do dozens of jigsaws at once from an enormous pile of pieces!


The ‘Joseph begat James begat John’ family tree has its place, but life becomes so much more interesting when we discover that our ancestor worked a farm at Beachy Head, was wounded at Waterloo, spent time in prison, owned a bookshop in the Strand or lived over the road from Isambard Kingdom Brunel! The Sole Society has two hundred members and it would be nice to think that we were all rummaging through our local archive discovering snippets of information that help to bring our family trees alive. So if you think there might be a source of information we haven’t covered or find a helpful website that we could use, please mention it to me or your surname co-ordinator. 


Finally, I hope that you have been able to make further progress with your family tree, but if your research seems to have hit a brick wall, remember that two heads are better than one. Your co-ordinator may be able to suggest a new line of enquiry and there is a good chance that we may have discovered additional information since your last contact. We are constantly adding to our database, so even the figures in this article will be out of date by the time you read it. It would therefore be a good idea to keep in touch with your co-ordinator, perhaps exchanging charts every year or so, both to keep us up to date and to ensure that you have the latest information available.

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