Monday, 24 February 2014

Trying to find historical data using family history databases

This is just a quick post on some current digging-down deep research I'm doing at the moment.

I'm trying to find out more radicals and men arrested in 1798 and 1817. The Home Office papers contain lists of their names and addresses, so I want to cross-check whether they lived where they said they lived.

As this period is before the detailed 1841 and 1851 censuses, I'm reliant on other family history databases to cross check the names and addresses. I'm mainly using which has the censuses but also many parish records, muster lists, prison lists, and other sources that the most well-known family history site, does not.

The family history boom and the digitisation of useful resources has been a great help to historians. There are some disadvantages however:
  • cost - part of the purpose of these sites is to make money. Of course it costs to keep these sites running, but most of the sources have always been available in local libraries for free. You're paying much more for easy access from your living room rather than the bus fare to the library. University libraries often however don't have subscriptions, so you have to take out an individual subscription (nearly a tenner a month for findmypast, and £18 for ancestry).

  • apart from the census, they're not comprehensive - many of the resources rely on the enthusiasm and effort of local history societies and family historians to transcribe and catalogue them. So hence in findmypast, you can get the confirmation records of Wrightington, and the landtax for Billingshurst, the 1831 census for Nether Hallam, and the rate books for Manchester, Plymouth, Southwark and Westminster, but nowhere else.
  • more importantly, the search facility has deconstructed the archive structure and reconstructed it by name rather than place - This is the most intriguing feature of digital resources that are shaped by the needs of family historians. Their main purpose and their main feature of their search facility is to search by name. But this often completely deconstructs the original order of the primary source, which is normally organised by place. And the search facility therefore makes it very hard for academic historians who are more likely to search for place rather than name.
For example, I'm trying to find out who lived on particular streets, and whether the residents changed over time. Luckily some of those streets are in Manchester, for which I can use the excellent ratebooks. Back when I was doing my DPhil, I did this by going to sit in the drafty corridor of the microfilm section of the central library, look up the street name in the card catalogue, which would give me the district it was in and the microfilm number it was in, and then I would look it up.

Now online, however, it's more complicated. Luckily I can search 'no name' with the street in findmypast, and it comes up with everyone who lived in the street, though I have to go through an extra step of just clicking on a random name to see the original image. But in ancestry it is much harder to do this.

  • finally, mispelled names. I'm particularly interested in Irish names. Interestingly, I'm finding that whoever wrote the names down did so phonetically. So 'Ryley' is spelled 'Royley', and 'Magee' is spelled 'Miggy'. I can just see the ennumerators coming across some gruff Irishmen and trying to decipher their accent. 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Fully funded AHRC collaborative PhD studentship with the National Archives

Apply now!
PhD Studentship: Popular radicalism in the age of reform: government and localities, 1782-1832
supervised by me, Dr Robert Poole (UCLAN) and Paul Carter (The National Archives).

Deadline for applications: 14 March. 

The University of Hertfordshire (UH) (, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) (, and the National Archives (TNA) ( seek applications for one fully funded Thames Consortium PhD studentship. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the PhD will be joint supervised by Dr Katrina Navickas (UH), Dr Robert Poole (UCLAN) and Paul Carter (TNA). 

At a time when the nature and future of democracy and citizen engagement in politics is the subject of public debate, this project will investigate the role of popular protest in the origins of British democracy in the age of reform (c.1782-1832) by means of the first systematic exploration of the Home Office disturbances papers in TNA. The Home Office disturbances papers are the principal source but they are sprawling, complex, uncatalogued and difficult to use, a problem which has previously limited the scope and ambition of work in an area which has long been at the heart of ‘people’s history’. The 1790s have recently been catalogued in detail by TNA, with a projected extension to the cataloguing reaching into the early 1800s. In 2013-14, Poole, Navickas and Carter are engaged on a British Academy funded pilot project at TNA, digitising and recataloguing the Home Office disturbance papers for 1816-17.

The PhD project will focus on the development and the policing of popular political movements in the capital and selected English or Welsh regions in the period c.1800-1820 – that is, from the aftermath of the radicalism and rebellions of the 1790s to the end of the post-war upsurge of radicalism in 1816-20. 

Research questions include:

  • ·         How did popular protest develop over the period 1800-1820, and what was its relationship with radicalism?
  • ·         What was the relationship between government, military commanders and magistrates and their spies in the provinces, what was their effect on the movements they infiltrated, and how did radical organisation and methods change in response?
  • ·         How did conceptions of protest, unrest and democracy change over this period?

This is a highly prestigious studentship, supervised by experts in this field, which offers the opportunity for the student to benefit from some specialist training in archival research and present to the research seminar at TNA. Public engagement is an integral part of the project, with the student is expected to work with and assist volunteer cataloguers, write a short guide for TNA users on how to use the Home Office disturbance papers, and to assist with the development of a website to the digitised Home Office files. There will be opportunities for dissemination at the 2016 and 2018 Manchester Histories Festivals, in connection with events to mark the bicentenary of the risings of 1817.

The studentship will cover home fees (full time) and a stipend of £13,863 per year (current rates) for UK students or EU students who have lived in the UK for three years prior to the award. Overseas students may also be eligible if they fulfil a range of residency requirements stipulated on the AHRC guidelines. 

More information on the AHRC's doctoral maintenance and fee rates for 2014/15 can be found at
The student will be eligible for an extra £550 per year CDA allowance, in addition to (up to) £1,000 per year from TNA to cover research and travel costs.

The application should include:

The award will be subject to approval of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 

Applications should be sent directly to:
Mrs Janice Turner, SSAHRI Research Degrees Administrator, ,or by post, SSAHRI, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, AL10 9AB.
For more information, please contact Dr Katrina Navickas, (or 01707 285624), Dr Robert Poole,, and Paul Carter,

Deadline for applications is 14 March. We aim to interview in the week beginning 17 March, though please contact us if you have dates when you are not available.