It is my opinion that genealogy websites should provide full source details and coverage dates for each of their databases. They should also clearly state where a database is not yet complete.
While there is a wealth of genealogical and historical data now available online courtesy of websites such as Findmypast, Ancestry, TheGenealogist and FamilySearch it is becoming increasingly difficult to accurately determine what exactly the various databases include and, in some cases where they came from, thanks to the inadequate or inconsistent detailing of their sources.
This is caused by several factors but the main two are as follows.
• A lack of information as to where the information came from and the coverage dates and any gaps within the coverage. Source data should be clearly visible for anyone using the database or at least for anyone who wishes to make the effort to check the details.
• Inaccurate or unhelpful title names indicating complete coverage where coverage is not in fact complete are misleading.
Let us take parish registers as an example. Neither Ancestry nor Findmypast has a complete county-by-county listing of what they hold. If I am searching for a missing baptism, burial or marriage I need to know exactly which parishes for a certain county or counties are available online and for which dates. Once I know this I can work out which are not and will potentially have to be searched in the record office. However, since neither company provides a county-by-county listing of which parish registers they hold it’s not easy to check this.
I emailed Findmypast to ask if they had such a listing on their website as I know that they do sometimes issue such lists when new databases are released. This is the reply I received:
‘We are sorry but the website does not have a full list of coverage for the parish registers. You would have to check the search form for the parish and then carry out a blank search. Once you have done this you can change the results page by clicking the sort order at the top right – relevance. If you change this to ascending/descending you will see the years covered.’
This seems a very long-winded way of established county coverage, especially when they must have such listings in existence! Ancestry collections are better detailed but they still have no means of checking county coverage in one go. Similarly, the Family Search Wiki is a quite good way of determining which parishes have online coverage, but I don’t believe this is entirely up-to-date and this is again not as useful as a county-by county- listing, as each parish has to be searched individually to determine online coverage.
To my knowledge the only major commercial website to offer a county-by-county listing for parish registers is TheGenealogist which has its ‘List of all datasets’ at the bottom of its home and search pages. This provides a full list of which parish registers it offers and the coverage dates for each type of event and, for logged in users, this can also be accessed from the ‘Search’ tab, entitled ‘What’s included in my subscription?’ The list naturally covers all its other datasets too, not just parish registers, although some of the other categories are not as detailed as they should be.
In order to prevent the online world of genealogical sources descending into chaos, I call upon the major genealogy companies to make it quite clear what information their datasets do and do not include. Surely this is not too much to ask?
If you would like to join me in my campaign to encourage companies to improve the quality of their sourcing details and a new openness about which records they do and do not offer, please spread the word and encourage those interested in family history to email the companies concerned as well with this simple request. Let’s start with a request for full county-by-county parish register listings. Please share my blog with the genealogy world and you can also follow my posts on the subject on Twitter @CeliaHeritage and Facebook. Your examples of inadequate source detailing and coverage are most welcome.