Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 - what a year! Part 2

In a previous post ( I recalled my experiences of 2012 - now here is a summary of some of the stories you may have missed affecting British genealogy in the last year! Note that as British GENES did not start until September, there is more of a Scottish and Irish flavour to the earlier months of coverage. To visit the original stories in full - and considerably more! - visit both and

Your Family Tree reached its one hundredth edition and also launched a new digital edition for iPad. FamilySearch very briefly uploaded the Scottish 1881 census to its new embryonic website, and just as quickly removed it again. Ancestry controversially announced the end of its Expert Connect service, which many genealogists had come to rely on to source clients, although a handful had perhaps placed their eggs in too small a basket. The ScotlandsPlaces website added clock and watch tax records to its site, and the Irish government announced its was going to create a certificate of Irish heritage, with no legal validity whatsoever, but one which would grant benefits to tourists visiting Ireland which the Irish themselves could not enjoy.

Who Do You Think You Are? Live took place at the end of the month, and I managed to grab video interviews with many of the great and the good – Audrey Collins, Karel Kiely, Debra Chatfield, Jeanette Rosenberg, Tom Dennis, Janet Hancock, Alasdair MacDonald, Sherry Irvine, Robert Blatchford, Nigel Bayley and others – which can be watched on my YouTube channel.  Deceased Online announced it was hosting records from Helen Grant’s Scottish Monumental Inscriptions service, and Fine Gael announced it was considering the release of the 1926 Irish Free State census early. Ancestry launched its New Zealand collections, and the National Archives of Scotland announced the closure of the West Register House search room in Edinburgh. The US version of WDYTYA opened its second season with Vanessa Williams, in possibly the American version’s best episode, and the BBC threatened to delete many of its websites, including its popular WW2 People’s War site – lessons from the wiping of old BBC programmes on video clearly not seeming to have sunk in after forty years.

PRONI opened its new search rooms at Titanic Quarter in Belfast, heralding a bright new – and much cheerier – dawn for family historians in Northern Ireland (the old premises were a dump!). The new Scottish Public Records Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament, the first major piece of legislation in 70 years, which now forces all public bodies to have a strategy for the care of their records. Advanced Search was rolled out to all counties bar two (Sligo and Limerick) on the RootsIreland site, thankfully almost rendering the original Standard Search facility obsolete. FindmyPast Ireland also launched, and Ancestry launched its Irish collections. Family Tree Maker became available for Macs, and Ancestry launched an app for iPad. The University of Bristol uploaded a range of Chinese trade directories. Rootstech got underway in the US and Unlock the Past launched its first genealogy cruise down under. The NAS finally agreed to allow photography of records in its search room at General Register House.

The National Library of Scotland completed its free release of 700 Post Office directories for Scotland on its website. The National Archives at Kew rejoined the publishing race with a new partnership with Bloomsbury Publishing, which also acquired TNA’s back catalogue. The 1911 decennial census for Scotland was released online and the 2011 UK census was recorded. The NAS and GROS announced they were to merge in Edinburgh, and military historian Richard Holmes, who I had the pleasure of working with many years ago at the BBC, tragically passed away.

John Grenham launched a new online Irish genealogy course in partnership with the Irish Times, whilst Glasgow University placed its historic student newspapers online. The Society of Genealogists rewarded Glaswegian executive producer Alex Graham for his contribution to the TV series Who Do You Think You Are. The Titanic Heritage Trust announced it was creating a new database of all who died, and their descendants, in time for the 2012 centenary. The 1911 census was released on Ancestry, though initially without an index. BBC Alba finally became available on FreeView and Virgin and The Genealogist released POW records online. The BBC’s 1986 Domesday project was brought back from the dead, and the Pensear website was relaunched as Ireland Genealogy, carrying 1841 and 1851 census extracts from across Ireland (previously for the north only).

Industrial action hit archives across the UK, closing TNA and restricting many others. The SAFHS conference was held in Edinburgh, and a hoax briefly scared everyone that the 2011 UK census data had been stolen. FindmyPast added militia records to its military holdings, and Todd Knowles was recognised for his work on his Jewish database. Google signed a deal with the British Library, and BBC TV Centre was put up for sale. FamilySearch reintroduced batch numbers to its new site.

WDYTYA returned with one of its strongest series in many years, and new leadership was announced at the University of Strathclyde’s postgraduate genealogy course programme. ScotFamTree held its AGM in Perth and the National Museum of Scotland opened once more in plush new digs. Rudolf Hess’s grave was destroyed by vandals, and Ancestry released Postal Service appointment books and London wills online. The former BBC Scotland digs at Queen Margaret Drive were placed on the Buildings at Risk register, and Nick Barratt and Laura Berry released the first instalment of the Family History Show via YouTube. The end of Windows XP support was announced for 2014 by Microsoft. I stumbled across a Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae database on FamilySearch’s Community Trees site, and MyHeritage announced a novel split subscription initiative.

Headstones were vandalised in Elgin, GENUKI’s Borders pages were updated, and North Ayrshire’s Kelburn Castle pleaded to keep the graffiti on its walls. FindmyPast regenerated, and Ancestry released apprenticeship records from TNA. American site Footnote was renamed to the easily understood (?!), and The Genealogist released some great Australian records. FamilyTree magazine’s forum regenerated, and a new digital edition of the title was made available. The BBC sold off its magazines division, including its Who Do You Think You Are title. TNA announced the forthcoming digitisation of criminal records for England and Wales. upset many of its users with a new privacy policy. Duncan McNiven stood down as Registrar General for Scotland, and a new rural broadband investment scheme was announced across Britain. Englishman Iain Turnbull, living on the Scottish Isle of Lewis, continued to refuse to fill out the 2011 census unless he could do so in Welsh (an Irish joke?!). FamilyTreeDNA announced it would now take third party results into its databases. FamilySearch launched a new YouTube channel and Ancestry launched railway employment records. A WW2 bomb scared the bejesus out of everyone at Aberdeen Airport, and Ireland enjoyed National Heritage Week.

The National Family History fair was another resounding success in Newcastle, and the Canadian Gazette digitisation was completed on the Library and Archives Canada website. Genes Reunited held a war memorial competition, and I went in search of an axe murderer in Perthshire. The National Library of Ireland announced it was seeking legal advice over the presentation of Irish Roman Catholic record material on Ancestry, whilst the simultaneous civil registration indexes for Ireland release on Ancestry allowed more flexibility for marriage searches than FamilySearch. Ancestry also released naval and convict material. School log books for St. Kilda and Mingulay went online, and a new blog called British GENES came into being. Free to access street indexes for the 1841-1911 censuses were placed on ScotlandsPeople. FindmyPast released merchant navy material. Black History Month was celebrated, and a British Home Children memorial unveiled in Peterborough. New bus routes to PRONI made life easier for Belfast folk, and Derry Corporation records were released on its website. The Certificate of Irish Heritage site went live. A WW2 SAS diary was discovered. Google Plus welcomed everyone, LMA changed its opening hours, and My Heritage consolidated its various English language blogs. There was uproar in Ireland over proposal to delist archaeological and heritage sites that post date 1700, and TNA received a Queen’s Award. Jen Newby took over the reins from Penny Law as editor of Family History Monthly.

I helped to celebrate the census at a conference at TNA in London, and Find My Past launched to much acclaim as the UK’s first ever advertiser funded television series on the Yesterday channel. The Black Watch suspended its research service, and the British Empire Medal returned. Genealogists for Families was launched as a Kiva based charitable venture, and PRONI launched a YouTube channel. Back to Our Past in Dublin was a success, as was the new Irish and Local History Handbook from the stable of Bob and Liz Blatchford, and Ancestry launched its first 1911 census indexes. FindmyPast Ireland launched prison registers online for the Republic, and Warwickshire and Dorset records joined Ancestry. A Viking boat burial was found in Scotland, and the Times Digital Archive announced it would be extending its coverage. Kerry burial registers went online, and Bletchley Park appealed for funds for its restoration, and also secured lottery funding. JSTOR provided free access to its early journals content, and scientists recreated the Black Death. A cemetery was devastated in Greenwich by the very people tasked with preserving it, ‘succeeding where the rioters failed’. Family Tree Maker 2012 was released in the UK. The Red Cross suspended searches into WW1 POW records, as the research was getting in the way of the records’ digitisation. Family Tree Magazine’s website regenerated. The first Scottish censuses joined FindmyPast, in transcript form only. Lara Watson left Your Family Tree as deputy editor, and Discover my Past England magazine sadly became an ex-parrot.

The Irish Government suggested the 1926 census might be released in 2016. There was more strike disruption affecting British archives, and the return of Heredis for Mac computers was promised. Plans for FindmyPast to go global were revealed, and the Family History Show launched its website. The Romany and Traveller FHS took part in the Remembrance ceremony at Whitehall for the first time. The British Newspaper Archive was released online, initially as a beta then a full blown release. Guns on a spitfire excavated from a Donegal bog were found to still be in working order. Ancestry added navy lists to its holdings, as well as details of Silver War Badge holders, and FindmyPast added Cheshire records. Scottish Catholic Registers were added to Virtual Volumes in the NRS Historic Search Room, and FIBIS launched a DNA project. Nursing records were released on FindmyPast and Documents Online, and the Glasgow Roll of Honour project for the First World War was completed. Adam Rees became editor of Your Family Tree.

The Lost Edinburgh Facebook page returned, having previously been kyboshed by the RCAHMS over copyright issues. The GRO in England announced a new phone number, and the redundancy of 27 staff. Ancestry and My Heritage released apps for Android and iPad, and My Heritage announced an update to Family Tree Builder. The SSDI in the USA became cannon fodder for politicians, and the European Museum of the Year nominations were revealed for 2012. Edinburgh City Archives relocated, and Scottish GENES became an ex-parrot. The JewishGEN and JGSGB databases were updated, and archaeologist Tony Pollard announced to heartfelt cheers across the nation that he wanted to dig up the Falkland Islands (OK, I exaggerated that one!). Databases from the NRS were made available in the ScotlandsPeople Centre, and the British GENES Facebook page was launched.

Here's to 2012...!



  1. Whew! I got exhausted just reading all that. When do you find time to eat or sleep? Your efforts are truly appreciated. What you do is both practical and entertaining. For a long time I gave you slight attention because almost none of my research pertained to Scotland. It is almost all England. Since you decided to include more English news, I gave you a try. Very glad that I did, too. You are fast becoming my favourite genie.

    I also enjoy and envy your use and understanding of new technology. I find Facebook almost impossible to get my head around (Google+ is so much easier, but not enough people are moving over), and I can barely Tweet -- but I'm trying. Love your videos, also.

    Thank you so much, and Happy Hogmanay.

  2. Thanks - just doing my bit! lol :)