I’m frustrated, unhappy, confused

Indexing project titles for English Diocesan records

The adoption of County names for indexes is proving confusing and incorrect. Feedback from users points out confusion. "Cheshire Parish registers" are in fact the Diocese of Chester and contain South Lancashire parishes before the 1847 creation of the Diocese of Manchester (and Diocese of Liverpool).
Since ecclesiatical records are being indexed the simple expedient of using the ecclesiastical jurisdiction would remove this problem.
The current indexing project for "Manchester" in fact contains very few parishes within the Ancient Parish of Manchester but virtually all parishes selected are in the Diocese of Manchester (including those in neighbouring counties).
The choice of Manchester is also unfortunate because the Ancient parish has historical reasons for not developing parishes or allowing marriages in parishes but requiring marriages in the Collegiate Church. This indexing project has therefore a larger proportion of "late" parish records which are close to the privacy policy restrictions on publication. Fow example the two Stretford parishes(St Peter & St Matthew) will only permit indexed records 1905-1910 Baptisms to be published. St Nicholas Burnage Marriage registers are all withing the last 75 years and the indexed records may not therefore be published within FamilySearch privacy policy.
I suggest that in future all UK indexing (and other image only collections) are titled by Diocese rather than county or city.
"Norfolk" is in fact the Diocese of Norwich which contains parishes in Lincolnshire, Cambridge,and Suffolk. The East Suffolk parishes are numerous in this diocese and this is particularly confusing for research in images and eventual images undera county heading.
FamilySearch wiki pages to support these indexing projects are being developed and these pages denote the deanery and diocese for each parish wherever possible. The Lancashire Parish Clerks site is being linked to each parish as the pre 1847 parishes are often transcribed, in addition the Family History Library Catalogue will not be updated to reflect the closure of Manchester central Library. The wiki page will reflect the the relocated records and references to the Manchester Archive for the Diocese.
Please rename published collections and please in future adopt the relevant ecclesiastical jurisdiction for church records to produce a clearly identifiable collection for each parish.
From a research perspective it is also important that the user can see which parishes and dates are included in the collection which has been indexed. A content table of parishes and years in the index needs to be available at the time of pulication for each component of indexed parishes. How am I to know which parish is included in the index and which years the index has covered so far without a content table?
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  • I made an attempt to get this forwarded to those who can act upon it.
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  • Could I have an acknowledgement that this suggestion is under consideration please?
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  • Another example in the wiki, a page now called England, Lancashire – Cheshire – Yorkshire Church of England Parish Registers (FamilySearch Historical Records) was recently renamed from England Manchester Church of England Parish Registers (FamilySearch Historical Records) which was perfectly fine and described the contents of the collection.

    The new name suggests to the casual reader that it would contain all parish registers from the three counties named, wherein all the parishes are within the Anglican Diocese of Manchester, but not all with the historic county of Lancashire. There are 5 from historic Yorkshire and 3 from historic Cheshire.

    Naming these parishes collections after the diocese makes the most sense. Articles can then be created to explain the parish makeup of the diocese pointing out where parishes from neighbouring counties are included.
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  • Cullen Brimhall (Help and Support Product Manager) December 01, 2010 16:55
    Henry, the product manager for Indexing told me he'd get on here and address this soon. He says he's investigating the issue and working on a response. He said apparently it's a complicated issue.
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  • I’m grateful
    Thanks Cullen,
    The Lancashire-Cheshire-Yorkshire Church of England Parish Registers (FamilySearch Historical Records is an image only collection awaiting further development. The wiki page for this collection outlines the development of future collections.
    The image only collection makes the images available for research in advance of the accompanying index which was only completed by volunteer indexers within the last 28 days.
    The history of parish development in the Ancient Parish of Manchester is slightly unusual prior to the 1847 creation of the Diocese of Manchester. Lancashire parishes were previously in the Diocese of Chester (which also included some parishes which were in the County of Yorkshire). The wiki article about the image collection and the individual wiki pages attempt to explain the historical progression of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and the civil parish/historical county boundary changes for those small number of parishes.
    The majority of parishes available do not lie within the Ancient Parish of Manchester but from 1847 were Diocese of Manchester parishes. Herein lies the complication on titling a collection.
    Wherever possible in Britain I believe the Diocesan name for the collection should be adopted. However in the case of Manchester the practice of the Collegiate church within the Ancient Parish, the association with the Diocese of Chester and other factors complicates life.
    There are also some issues about images in this collection for some parishes being suspended (they will appear as "Image unavailable" messages) These need to be notified to support@familysearch.org to investigate the problems.
    The publication of images offers access to original records rapidly and later amendment of the title for consolidation of the collection index components is not unusual. Over 157,000 images online and linked to the Manchester Archives catalogue makes me grateful.
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  • Scott Flinders (Sr. Product Manager) December 27, 2010 17:41
    Henry,

    I am the indexing product manager. Sorry it has taken so long to respond, but this is a complicated issue and I've had several discussions with multiple groups in an attempt to give you an answer that makes any sense. I think the best way to summarize is to say that the way we name projects for indexing and the way we name published collections for searching do not always align and there are reasons they differ.

    I believe you are really more interested in the naming of the published collections for searching, so I will focus on our naming policy there. The group responsible for naming collections is sensitive to the concerns expressed by you, but has chosen to follow the hierarchical locality standard from the Family History Library Catalog which has been adhered to for years – that is, county & town.

    In this case, using the county is problematic for the reasons you stated. However, a novice patron, without a supplemental guide to parishes in each diocese, would be unlikely to know the Diocese, and more likely to know the county or town. So which do you pick? The ideal solution would be to provide both hierarchies, but our system doesn't support multiple hierarchies today.

    We appreciate your suggestion and will add this enhancement to our list of improvements for the site.

    Thanks,

    Scott Flinders
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    Scott, Thanks for your reply.
    The feedback of many users would disagree with your approach that they are searching by county. In English parishes we would search by parish and diocese. The feedback about the hierarchy in the Library Catalogue in recent months also complains about the county and town approach but is less problematic.
    The most user friendly approach to British parish registers is not being adopted for published collections.
    The feedback of literally hundreds of people when you describe as" England,Norfolk Parish registers" the diocese of Norwich parishes in a large part of East Suffolk is how can I tactfully put this... to suggest that this is a very American approach to British records presentation!
    In Britain in my years of teaching novices about family history I have not encountered your approach. The novice looks at something like the Phillimore Atlas and index to locate which parish etc Record Office and to what extent the parish may have been transcribed or be included on the IGI. In going online the novice is therefore not adopting the approach you suggest but is expecting to see the parish search in the context of a diocesan archive leading to a deposited record in a County Record Office. The hierarchy encountered at Familysearch is uncomfortable for many British users. In the example given to describe Suffolk parishes as in Norfolk is not acceptable (local rivalries can take offence at such things!) and in many of your index presentations you are overlooking the extent of the diocese in more than one county. For this reason users are complaining that they do expect to find records in the correct places.
    The County and town approach also has drawbacks in presenting British parishes within the major conurbations. Feedback about way points to images tells us that the presentation of browse images is user unfriendly in towns and cities because it is not being presented in the way in which British users expect.
    I reiterate that if one is searching for a parish record, the parish is more conventionally presented within a Diocesan framework rather than by county. The hierarchy you are adopting will continue to frustrate users for these reasons.
    I would urge re-consideration of your presentation of published collections in this way, reflecting the feedback expressed to FamilySearch.
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    The hierarchical locality standard from the Family History Library Catalog definitely has an American world view. I can understand the reason to use it, as a means of categorisation, but why not name the collection for what it is, rather than using a name derived from how it is to be catalogued? I'm sure the original records keepers would not recognise the name currently used.

    In a digital world I believe there must be a way for indexing/cataloguing to be improved. A physical book can only be stored on one shelf in a library, but digital images can be "tagged" with many descriptors that would help researchers.

    Why not let each image be indexed not only with specific details about the persons named, but the specific/granular details about the location? The record itself may not included this information, but for example a marriage record could be "tagged" with information about the church (building), parish, town, diocese, district, county - according to the date of the event.
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  • I’m happy to have opportunity and ability to put my feelings into words.
    1
    I don't like participating in this sort of forum, but I've been driven to it occasionally! I liked the original point and was interested in following the discussion, so now I've got involved!
    Scott's answer seemed to be "we continue doing what we've always done" which was a bit irritating. Angel's response is confusing because I only agree with him halfway, so I thought I'd add my angle. I am only referring to research over 100-150 years ago - more recent research depends mainly on civil registration districts, negotiating data protection legislation, and the purchase of certificates. For that period of time, living relatives are generally more valuable than archives and there is often a multiplicity of sources available.
    Looking at both opinions together, I agree and disagree with both AngelofNorth and Scott, so I'll just try to follow a sequence of topics in what I write.
    Scott mentions a difference in naming for indexing and naming for publication. That was a bit surprising at first, but makes sense since I suspect from what I've seen that the true nature of some collections is only being revealed as they are indexed. It would be nice to actually see the name of the town/parish we are indexing, as being able to refer to an atlas/gazetteer would help with deciphering place names - but it's not important. So if indexers are made aware that the name is just a temporary label, I couldn't care less what they are called for indexing purposes.
    However, I think Scott is confusing 'naming a published collection', the 'cataloguing hierarchy', and the 'searching hierarchy' (of which there are two - searching for a collection and searching within collections).

    The name of a published collection should always be whatever it has been named in the past. A library should not attempt to re-name a collection or exclude its actual name. This allows a researcher to locate the collection if he/she knows it exists, and not get the impression that a different/new collection exists. It would be good if the catalogue entry contained a good description of the the collection (parishes/towns, dates, source, etc) but that's a bonus.

    The hierarchy of the catalogue does not bother me too much, as I think it would mainly be used by archivists themselves, to physically locate the records and to allocate reference codes. As a user, I would only be attempting to negotiate the catalogue hierarchy if a Search failed to locate something that I believed would be there. At that point, I would hope to be able to see an understandable description of the hierarchy and of the vocabulary used.
    However, the town and county naming convention used by the FHL for years has always annoyed me. Both towns and counties have varied often over the years - towns change names and sometimes disappear, counties change names and borders. However people in the UK generally have a connnection to a county, and a county is large enough to represent a section of the nation, and therefore they are a fair subdivision. BUT they are counties with county names; leaving the 'shire' off the county name is just plain incorrect! If you continue to use counties, then now is the time to correct their names. However, we've put up with the situation so far, so I expect we can just continue being irritated. (I like Angel's tactful mention of the American approach!)

    I think that Angel is correct in stressing the diocese and parish structure, as this was effectively the civil as well as ecclesiastical structure of Britain for centuries. However, I don't think the use of dioceses in a catologue hierarchy is necessary, since their boundaries are very unpredictable and 'peculiars' can be dotted almost anywhere outside those boundaries. Angel described novices using Phillimore or similar. I hesitate to say that I teach Family History, but I suppose that I do. Currently I attempt to guide researchers who have traced their family back 150-200 years, across the sea from Australia, and sometimes through several UK census entries. However, before 1851, they are totally lost in an alien country. They are not novices, but they have never looked at a map to locate their family's places of origin in Britain. We INTRODUCE them to Phillimore! It provides maps, and shows boundaries and dates, so that the researchers can get orientated to place and time. Dioceses are only footnotes in the book, and most will not notice them for years (see later). The book uses a County-Parish hierarchy and I believe this is the most user-friendly grouping and the most commonly used in UK genealogy, in books, societies, archives, and websites. Even now, people in the UK will often identify their origin by county, with some counties having very strong identities (Angel refers to 'local rivalries').
    Above all, the unit that really matters is the PARISH; often it predates all civil organisation in an area. It was tax office, police station, aged care home, welfare system, school, military recruiting agency, rather than just a place of worship. People who strayed from the parish would usually be returned there when unable to support themselves. Once we researchers get further back than 1840, searching by parish is what matters. We need a catalogue hierarchy and/or a catalogue searching system that enables us to access the records for specific parishes, preferably identified by type and date. Beyond that, it is often preferable that we browse those records using our own eyes, and sometimes using an acquired familiarity with family names and farm/locality names. So, if you provide us with chronological images from a parish, we can do our own searching, as we would do if we had the opportunity to visit the archive. As is so often said "the user is recommended to check the original source" and, for us, the digital images are effectively the original source.
    The Diocese only comes into importance when looking further afield for confirmation or missing items, e.g. marriage licences, wills, etc. At the same time, the researcher would also be looking towards the archives of non-Anglican churches and chapels, deposited records from manorial/estate archives, files from local businesses (particularly those from law firms), naval and military records. These records would not in any way be diocesan, but can often be allocated to a county and cross-referenced to other counties (as is frequently necessary in manorial records). In a physical sense, some are still held locally, and others at the national level, but a virtual archive does not need to take account of such movements.

    And so I come to the 'Searching Hierarchy WITHIN a collection or larger database'. This is not actually relevant to the subject, except that talking of it separately makes it clear that it's a different subject to searching FOR a collection. Websites seem to be competing with one another to tempt beginners to put a name in a box and click Search. This is fine for relative beginners looking for people born in the last 100 years or so - as long as they haven't entered a very common name, they will get an interesting collection of results. However, it's not how actual research usually needs to be done. Computers and websites don't find our ancestors; they are tools which help us to find them. Like a telescope, we have to point them in roughly the right direction, scan the area, focus in more closely, compare similar things, etc. A search hierarchy which goes no further than the county is not usable unless you are researching an extremely rare surname and can be certain that it would have been indexed correctly. Search parameters specified should be exact, unless a different level is requested. "Peace, Marriage, Staffordshire, 1810" should give a Nil result if there weren't any marriages in the county for that name in that year. From there, I can either try 1811, 1809, etc, or choose an option such as "+/- 10yrs". I certainly don't want to see results from 1600 in Scotland or 1920 in the USA, etc. If I want to see a wider range of results then I can leave fields blank.
    Searching for individuals really needs to go to parish level and enable the use of relationships and dates as search parameters. As far as possible, researchers should be enabled to search within a collection if that's what they want to do. It will be a far quicker and simpler search. The Hugh Wallis website made the old FamilySearch into a powerful search tool, because it enabled us to see entries by parish. I know it wasn't a complete answer but it made a huge difference to finding family groups, especially when I could transfer the results into spreadsheets for sorting! Although not going to parish level, the old FamilySearch CDs were great for searches because they enabled a search on just a father's name by date and county (even multiple counties).
    I think there is too much emphasis on indexing very old records by name. Often we don't know enough about individuals to identify them from a name in an index anyway. We might be looking for the parents and siblings of a 75yr old grandfather who appears in the 1851 Census. We know he must have had at least a mother, and we assume that he probably had siblings - but identifying those people is not done with a search engine alone. We need to go through the parish assembling the family groups to discover who is there and track each group forward into the 1851 Census. Similarly, if we find a possible marriage, then it would be good to find children with matching parents' names born within the parish in the next 30 years, and then move on to check the neighbouring parishes. Often only a father's name is given in the christening entry so searching with just a father's name is necessary. All of this is further complicated where/when patronymic usage is the norm. I have ancestors in the late 1700s, where the children of the first wife used their father's first name as a patronym in the old style, but the children of the second wife used their father's patronym as their surname. I was only able link them up (correctly I hope) because they lived on a farm with a very distinctive name!

    I think more sampling needs to be done of how researchers at various levels of ability actually use archives and websites; what information they already have, what they are seeking, what they expect to see, where they expect to look next if they are or are not successful, which formats suit them, which terms confuse them, etc. Criticism and praise of other websites, including non-English ones, is also informative, as the opinions of those who use several different styles of presentation would probably be informative.

    I apologise for writing at such length, but I'm in holiday mode this week and have time to sit and think my ideas through!! To anyone who reads it "Thank you for your time".
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  • There are some great ideas and suggestions provided here. Let me introduce myself. I lived in England from 1983-1986 while serving with the U. S. Air Force. This was when the genealogy bug really set in. I have worked for FamilySearch since April 1992. In August of 2010 I started work as a "Collection Operations Specialist". I'm still learning the job but finally feel a little more confident in this new assignment.

    I don't expect to address all the issues and suggestions at once but want to make a start.

    I think the first thing to go after is the way titles are set by FamilySearch. This is not set in stone but there are some constraints. Your comments and suggestions have already been a great catalyst. The first attempt at an adjustment was inadequate but based on feedback that multiple counties were included in the Manchester Parish Register collection. I was able to convince some of the magicians behind the scenes to change a title from England, Manchester Parish Registers to England, Lancashire - Cheshire - Yorkshire Parish Registers. I don't like the new title much and plan to have it changed in the future but changing a title once a collection has been published is not as simple as changing one line of text. It seemed like people would be able to see that Yorkshire parish registers were available better this way than if the title stayed as "England, Manchester Parish Registers". Unfortunately many researchers would not expect or recognize that some Yorkshire parished are in the Manchester diocese.

    A lot fo what happens, I think, depends on tradition. The Family History Library Catalogue has a strict heirarchical structure that has been a constraint for longer than I've used it. After learning more about the catalogue and those developing it I took back most of the bad things I'd been saying about the catalogue. Your comments may actually help move things from a strict library classification mind set to one more useful to an online world.

    Another constraint we have is that many of the British collections being published now were put together for digital publication two and sometimes three years ago. That is a long time in internet years. A lot has changed in the way FamilySearch is looking at digital publication in the last two or three years. When many of these English projects were started everything captured at a record office was lumped together and the title reflected the repository of the original records more than the content of the record collection.

    I have a small set of 1,000 images from Dobcross, Friarmere and Lydgate parish registers in Yorkshire being separated out for a variety of reasons but I expect the title will end up as England, Yorkshire Parish Registers 1845-1930. These come from records digitized at the Manchester Central Library. It still doesn't address the issue of identifying the diocese but for now I don't know how to even start on that except to highlight that detail in the wiki article.

    I think the good news right now is that we are looking into how the England parish register collections already published can be adjusted so that they fit into a category or super collection which will allow the correct counties to be identified as in the case of the Norfolk and Bristol collections we now have up, and Cornwall which I hope can be republished soon.

    One point that Rachel brought up refers to what I hope the end result will be. At some point tags could be used so that a person searching for a christening could find the correct list of records whether they search for information by the name of the town, parish, diocese or county and possibly even the farm name! The engineers working on our search features are doing a lot to improve search results. I don't know them well but expect great things from them in the coming year.

    I will work on the titles and anything else I can to improve the browse capabilities. Please keep the ideas coming. If you're interested I'll share information about the super collection plans as soon as I learn how to copy what is being done for another part of the world.
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