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England, Essex Parish Registers, 1538-1900

Having used many of the FamilySearch Historical Record Collections in my genealogical research, I must comment that this is one of the most disappointing.

The "Learn More" section is nearly all general comment about parish records, with virtually no information about the scope of this specific collection.

Individual records are also far too vague. For example, a record of the 31 Dec 1890 burial for a Thomas Webb shows the event place as "Essex, England". True, the film reference supplied narrows this down to three parishes within the county, but why is it not an indexing requirement that the parish should be stated when it has obviously been identified?

Also, there are only around 500,00 records in this collection: are we to assume the current indexing project "UK, Essex Parish Records" is to be merged into this collection or are they to be kept separate?

For a collection to be an effective means for research there must be far better background information than is provided here. Collections for the English counties of Durham and Norfolk show how well FamilySearch can provide the level of detail required. Please try to maintain these standards for all collections, especially this one, which is really not up to those expected from this excellent site.
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  • The "Learn More" links in the Historical Records Collections will send you to the corresponding Wiki article about the collection. If you are aware of information that should be added to that Wiki article, there is nothing to stop you from adding it yourself!

    However, the questions you raise are not something you can answer. For that, you would have to track down the parties who are responsible, if that is the correct word, for the implementation of this collection. You might be able to contact someone involved in the (separate?) indexing project.

    I have to agree, there is little evidence of any sort of standard in the way the Historical Records Collections are implemented. It would be prefectly logical to expect that the name of the parish would be added to the index! If anyone is able to enlighten us on how these counter-intuitive situations come about, it might be possible to offer some more constructive suggestions.
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  • lb (Official Rep) February 12, 2013 18:36
    Paul, yesterday your comment about the Learn More Page mentioned above was given to one of the supervisors of the Wiki pages. This is what he wrote back: "I copied the message from the Get Satisfaction site and posted it on the England, Essex Parish Registers, 1538-1900 Collection Wiki Discussion page. It should get the appropriate attention there." We expect you will see improvements.

    Regarding your questions about the indexing, I can say that each field that is filled in multiplies exponentially the amount of time it takes to prepare the collection for publication. That is sometimes the reason that only portions of the information is indexed. As an indexer, I have myself wished I could include more information, because I could see its value. Other times, the choice is made by the custodian of the records.

    RealMac is right, it will take a response from an indexing engineer/supervisor to give definitive answers to your indexing questions. I hope one of them drops in and helps you out.
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  • Paul,

    You raise a very important issue. FamilySearch needs to do better in communicating what's in a collection so that users know what is there. This helps give them confidence on knowing they've done an exhaustive search or not.

    At FamilySearch we refer to this as collection coverage. The idea is to provide details on a collection so anyone using the collection knows what's there. These collection coverage guides (or information about a collection online) are being developed. If you have any input or suggestions I would love to hear them and consider them.
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  • Thank you RealMac, lb and Lynn Turner for your responses to my post. My main point was that an event location of "Essex, England" isn't very helpful - especially to inexperienced researchers - when there are hundreds of parishes in the county. I think the volunteer indexers do a great job, but just that tiny bit more attention to detail would make finding that elusive ancestor so much easier!

    With regards to collection coverage, most other genealogical websites detail the parishes / time periods included on their sites (under individual County / State headings), which saves a lot of unnecessary searching if you do know roughly where & when your ancestor's "event" took place. Where this information is available it should be included in the "Learn More" section of the appropriate FamilySearch collection.
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  • This discussion is somewhat off the mark because the word "index" (used as a verb) is being used in two different senses.

    When "indexers" extract data from images, what they are doing is "extracting", not "indexing". They are collecting the raw data. They are converting visual data into text. It's my understanding that the data in question include at least the microfilm number and the image number, because that is how the images were originally assigned to the individuals who extracted the data. At this stage, when the "indexers" have completed their data extraction tasks, the data are not searchable -- it is like having a book without an index.

    After the data have been collected, it is up to a database administrator, a programmer, or an "engineer", whatever the local job description is called, to "build an index". That is, the data that have been collected are manipulated and/or reformatted in such a way that they can be searched. The "index" that is built (think of it as a separate table of data, like the index at the end of a book) will typically not include all of the available data, just those elements that are provided for in the "search form" that we see on the FamilySearch web site.

    What I see in this collection is that for SOME of the records, the name of the parish was added to the index, while for other records, it was not. The actual records, however, seem to include the microfilm number, image number, etc., from which it should be possible for an "engineer" to rework the data and rebuild the index. This lucky engineer would have to review the microfilm and image numbers to establish which ranges of images belong to which parish, and thus impute a parish name for those records that currently lack this data element. Then the current database index can be "rebuilt". There is nothing novel about this process; it is what programmers do all over the world to make real data searchable.

    I really hope someone will be assigned to clean up these problems, and that management will watch carefully in order to identify the "best practices" that result in the best possible product and the least rework. The project undertaken by the FamilySearch organization is enormous, the resources are limited, and it does not make sense to use those resources inefficiently.
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  • Paul/Real Mac,

    I appreciate the feedback, and will look into this collection a little more deeply. My team will do some evaluation of this project along side many other projects and prioritize it's re-work importance. Paul, I also appreciate your input regarding collection coverage - I believe you will be seeing some improvements soon.

    -Lynn
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