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Online GRO Indexes

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Online GRO Indexes

Postby HardWork » Fri Mar 23, 2018 3:09 pm

Has anyone else had problems with the GRO Index site and difficulty getting a sensible response from them?

I recently went through the birth indexes for a particular surname in all the various Reg. Districts in Suffolk from 1837-1851 and found several omissions, as well as mis-transcriptions. In itself that is to be expected. However, several of those omissions I reported were still not searchable on the index even though the response was that the database had been amended. Even more worryingly, some with clearly legible forenames from the scans of the original index pages at FreeBMD have been marked, " Investigated – No amendment required ", when they are patently incorrect.

There are several complete omissions, when compared to the scanned indexes, also marked "Investigated – No amendment required". In one instance two separate registrations both of the same name but with different page numbers, were in the scanned index but only one featured online. This was also marked "Investigated – No amendment required", so leaving matters completely unclarified.

Altogether, I reported 30 errors over the course of three days. Seven were updated but most still unsearchable. Some were responded to with as "Indexed data not available, where it was clear everyone with that surname is omitted from the online GRO index (in that district and quarter) but were in the actual register index scans. Indeed, it could even be that everyone with surnames beginning with the same initial letter are omitted.

On writing to the GRO via e-mail the response I got essentially was a form letter with the salient quote being, " We are unfortunately unable to enter into any correspondence in respect of reported errors, except for an acknowledgement of your report. All reports will be investigated and where an error is found, we will update the Index to reflect the correct information. Updates to the indexes will be made on a weekly basis" This was after receiving no response at all to my mail for two weeks, until I followed up my enquiry. My initial enquiry detailed each example of the error as reported and their initial response, asking for clarification as to its meaning.

In my third contact with them I emphasised once again that I mainly wanted clarification of what the responses meant where unclear and also clarification of whether those missing online yet in the indexed scans meant the original indexes were faulty in all these cases. Today I received exactly the same style of response from the GRO. Can anyone suggest a way forward, as currently it seems impossible for these public servants to understand that I am not trying to dispute the accuracy of the individual online indexed entry as such but trying to ascertain enough information to understand what their response actually means, especially with regard to "unavailable" - and why entries deemed to have been corrected were still not searchable?

The upshot is that it seems one should be ultra-cautious in the veracity of the online database and that using Free BMD indexes and scans as well, where possible, is essential to at least identify the GRO's errors even if we cannot get them to correct them or report back adequately upon them.
HardWork
 
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Re: Online GRO Indexes

Postby AntonyM » Sun Apr 08, 2018 9:20 am

The "old" indexes as available via FreeBMD and the "new" indexes have been compiled differently. The new ones being taken from transcription of the digitised (GRO copy) entries themselves, not just a reworking of the old indexes that were created using a complicated copying process that introduced many opportunities for mistakes.

The original indexes have plenty of known errors and omissions in them, as no doubt does the new version - anything that involves transcription of unclear records and interpretation always will. This is made more complex because they have used slightly different rules to determine the information the new index contains, so it is inevitable that they will differ in some cases.

I believe when an error is reported, the image is checked, and a decision taken whether an amendment is necessary. Generally, error reports based on finding a discrepancy with the FreeeBMD index is not sufficient - it might be that the old index was wrong or it may just be due to the differences in the way the two indexes have been compiled and the rules being used.It is also quite common for "errors" to be based on a misunderstanding of the registration (and indexing) rules.

But keep reporting any error you find - especially if you have a certificate , and therefore know what is on the entry.

In cases of any doubt - I always order from the local registration office. They hold the original documents, GRO only have copies.
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Re: Online GRO Indexes

Postby HardWork » Sun Apr 08, 2018 11:16 pm

Thank you very much for your response AntonyM but it doesn't quite explain things fully.

It isn't the FreeBMD indexes I am referring to anyway but the GRO index images on that site. And what does it mean, "Indexed data not available" if taken from the original copies rather than the index? In the FreeBMD index scans all the people with a common surname - from memory about five or so people - are missing from one quarter for Suffolk reg. districts. As I said, it may even be all people with surnames beginning with the same initial letter are missing too. Frankly, the lack of a useful explanation from the GRO leads me to think that the 19th century clerks are likely to have made far fewer errors than their 21st century counterparts, unless the former created a batch of totally fictitious entries, of course.
It seems to me, from what you say that the new online index should have been created from the locally held copies rather than the central one if the latter is known to be inferior, i.e. taken from copies. If the GRO indicated that the unavailability is temporary I could accept that but they are not that informative and so quite honestly I feel the site is no more dependable than the current index register scans at Free BMD and elsewhere, and probably a good deal less so. As a central register, the GRO's should be the yardstick. How else can we find events if we don't know where in the country they occurred? We cannot contact a local registration office. If we rely on the GRO online index as the authority we wouldn't even know if entries have been omitted.
Until they can be more informative I will not waste my time reporting errors, and even if I did, I have to say, I'd be more likely first keep reporting ad nauseam, the same ones which as yet have not had a clearly explained response.
HardWork
 
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Re: Online GRO Indexes

Postby AntonyM » Mon Apr 09, 2018 8:35 am

Most of the errors I have seen have been explained by the different indexing rules being used to index the data.

Most importantly, because birth registers don't show a surname for the child (until 1969), then what name the entry is indexed under is decided by a set of rules that have changed over time - the old index and the new index differ completely in the way they treat maiden names and also records of births to unmarried parents (where both are named) for example.

No system is perfect, and no doubt there are some real errors, but if you understand those rule differences, comparing the two indexes can actually be helpful in working out what is likely to be on the register entry.

If you find an entry on FreeBMD but it doesn't exist on the GRO index (allowing for possible transcription differences) then order a copy of the entry - why the index is different can then become apparent.
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Re: Online GRO Indexes

Postby HardWork » Mon Apr 09, 2018 10:11 am

My error reporting only concerned the period 1837-1851. If I only use the GRO online index I cannot order a certificate in the example I cited because according to the GRO the entry is unavailable. I can only take that to mean it doesn't exist or nothing exists for them to issue the certificate, unless further explanation is given. If I had only used the GRO online index rather than the published GRO indexes (as on scans at FreeBMD for example) I could have happily gone on my way, believing that the online index is complete. If that isn't a major deficiency in the online index, I am not sure what is.
I've no desire to order the certificate - I am only trying to report what appear to be errors in the index. Even if I did order, would I be able to order one certificate and on the strength of that assume the reason for the entry to be missing/unavailable is the same for each of the other missing entries? Sorry, but I think they need to give a key on their website to exactly what their responses mean.
As for the example I gave previously, where there are two people of the same name in the same quarter but with different page numbers, their response left me no clearer as to if there were two events or only one event, and if the latter, which page number was the authentic one.
The issue isn't about errors being made per se. As you point out, they are bound to occur and you are right in saying different methods of assembling the index only exacerbate that. It is the lack of useful information in the rigid feedback they give that leaves one not knowing how to interpret their response and the absolute firewall they have created in trying to get them to explain their responses. I only provided them with examples so that they could follow my queries, not to enter into a debate with them.
HardWork
 
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