Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Online military searches

If your relative served in the British armed forces there are two websites which must absolutely be at the top of your list: Ancestry and (FMP).

Ancestry has the best WW1 collection: WO 363 (burnt records), WO 364 (pension records) and WO 372 (campaign medal index cards).

Find My Past has the best pre-WW1 collection: a superior Boer War offering, WO 97 (Chelsea Pensioners discharge papers) and WO 96 (militia attestations - due on-line in late spring 2011).

Both Ancestry and feature datasets from the Naval & Military Press stable - Soldiers Died in the Great War (SDGW), Ireland's Memorial Records, WW2 Army Roll of Honour etc - and both sites also have other minor data sets licensed from third parties. For some reason, FMP doesn't include the regimental number field on some of its N&MP datasets - like SDGW for instance - and this can lead to frustrations. On the upside however, FMP's version of SDGW features often features much useful additional information about the unit a man served with. See below as an example.

When it comes to the on-line search experience, Find My Past is way up front, and here's why:

1. Transcription accuracy is way ahead of Ancestry when it comes to accuracy of transcription. What's more, if you do spot a mistake you can suggest a correction. Ancestry offers this facility too, BUT, you can only correct limited fields AND there appears to be no system of checking a customer's correction. This is foolhardy because customers get it wrong too. With FMP, you can correct multiple fields and your corrections are checked by a third party before they're accepted for publication. Furthermore, whilst Find My Past strives to improve on accuracy of transcriptions, Ancestry gives the impression of being content to let glaringly obvious transcription errors languish on its database when a simple find-and-replace action by a half-knowledgeable software developer could cure all of that at a stroke.

2. Speed service records download roughly four times faster than the Ancestry records. So if you're a heavy user, as I am, it means that you can squeeze far more findmypastrecords into a day, than you can Ancestry's. The WO 97 series is a joy: speedy access and full colour scans.

3. Search
There are far more search options on than there are on Ancestry. Ancestry's WO 364 records do not allow you to search on regiment, a catastrophic failing that beats understanding. Thankfully they got it right by the time the WO 363 records came on line and on this record set you can now search on:

first name
last name
estimated birth year
residence location
birth county
regiment name
regiment number

The search would be perfect if it gave the option of a keyword search. It doesn't, and so it doesn't get ten out of ten. It does however offer the following search options:

first name
middle name
last name
country of birth
county of birth
year of birth
town of birth
parish of birth
regiment [drop down list]
year served from
records to search [presumably for when the WO 96 series is added]

What's more, you can sort the records by name or year of birth AND you have the ability to include variants in the search. So, search for Simon Smith, tick the variants box and you'll also get Simeon Smith and Sime Smith.

4. Wildcard searching
It's always been a frustration for me with the Ancestry searches that you can't conduct a wildcard search on less than three characters. It's not so bad with name searching, but for number searching - which I use a lot - it can be a right royal pain in the backside. So to give an example, if you're looking for a man with a number beginning with 3, you can't just type in 3*. And if you just type in the number 3, you'll get every number under the sun that contains that number (even though you've ticked the "exact matches only" box). On Find My Past it's a doddle. Wildcard search on one, two or twenty twenty-two numbers (and remember, on Ancestry, if you're just searching on numbers you can ONLY do a wildcard search on numbers of three digits, nothing more, nothing less.

and finally...

5. Results' screen
Call up an original image on Ancestry and it opens in the same window. Call up an image with FMP and it opens in a new window. What's more, even if you've called up the 38th image in a set and have forgotten the name of the man you've been looking for, there he is, transcribed in a handy summary at the top of the page. Want to open a new record? Easy, just go back to the original search screen and find somebody else. With Ancestry, it can be a laborious process getting back to that original screen.

So all in all, FMP wins the search wars as far as I'm concerned AND it's MY great great uncle Bertrand Elam who features in FMP's latest campaigns. See HERE to read more about him. Now if only FMP carried more WW1 records...

Friday, 1 October 2010

Five new datasets from FMP

The folk over at have been busy this week. The UK-based genealogy company has launched five new military datasets and completed the uploading of the WO 97 Chelsea Penisoner records. subscribers will be familiar with some of these new arrivals which in turn have come from the Naval and Military Press stable. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences between both Ancestry's and FMP's offerings which I list below. Furthermore, FMP's Boer War data set, licensed from Casus Belli, is by far superior - both in volume, scope and content - than Ancestry's offering which was published earlier in the year.

DCM citations 1914-1919
More than 25,000 citations to other ranks who were awarded the coveted DCM. Second only to the Victoria Cross in terms of prestige, this award was prized as much by the soldiers of the time, as it is by medal collectors today. The database was originally published in book format by Naval & Military Press and comprised four sections:

Section 1: DCMs won by members of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force; the Foot Guards; and the Yeomanry and Cavalry.
Section 2: Line Regiments.
Section 3: The Territorial Army Regiments including the RGLI/RNVR/RMLI and RMA; the Royal Engineers and the Royal Artillery.
Section 4: The Corps and the overseas forces of the Crown in alphabetical order: Australia; the British West Indies Regiment; Canada; India; Newfoundland; New Zealand; Rhodesia; South and East Africa

Henry Smith, a patient at Chailey, won the DCM during his brief time in France. You can read about him HERE. His DCM citiation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry in action, and for his devotion to duty in finally assisting at the end of the engagement in carrying a wounded officer from the firing line, although wounded himself.

Private Frank Richards of Old Soldiers Never Die fame is also here. His citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry. During a successful attack, Privates Richards and Barrett took their telephone over the parapet, established and maintained communication. They lay in the open for three hours, and repaired the wire whenever it was cut.

There are some real gems here and this data series is NOT available on Ancestry.

Ireland's Memorial Records of The Great War
Ancestry has had this one for a while. The difference here though, is that on Find My Past you can search by the man's number, on Ancestry you can't. There are 49,000 records here, not to mention some beautiful and touching illustrations.

Naval Casualties 1914-1919
Another Naval & Military Press publication and another data set that can't be found on the Ancestry site. Another of my Chailey men - 16 year old Cecil Langridge - is here, along with nearly 45,000 other sailors who lost their lives during the war to end all wars.

WW2 Prisoners of War
This is a database of PoWs in Europe. Ancestry does have this N&MP data set but you can't search on the man's number. On FMP you can.

Anglo-Boer War Records 1899-1902
This is a stunning database of men and women men and women who served in the British Imperial Forces during the war in southern Africa: soldiers, sailors, nurses and civilians. The database comprises quarter of a million records including a corrected roll of 59,000 casualties. Ancestry published a roll of 54,000 UK casualties earlier in the year but the FMP offering is five times larger and a good deal more detailed.

So all in all, some fantastic records that have been added to FMP's military stable, and it's worth pointing out too that the speed with which images download on the FMP site is infintely faster than those which are available on the Ancestry servers. A back of the matchbox calculation by your truly reckons that the FMP downloads are between three and four times faster than those on the Ancestry site.