Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Glamorous Job Writing About Western European Civil Registration Records

The other day I was checking out at the grocery story and for some reason (I can’t remember exactly), the clerk asked what I do for my job. I told her that I write for magazines.

“Oh, wow,” she said, her eyes wide. “That sounds so exciting….” I could see her looking at me - wrestling my toddler, with my hair tied in a knot on the back of my head - trying to figure out how I got such a “glamorous” job (people have actually even used the word "glamorous" before). “So what kinds of things do you write?”

“Right now, I’m working on article called ‘Using Civil Registration Records in Western European Research,’” I told her. I could have just said, “I write for history and family history magazines,” and left it at that, but I just couldn’t resist.

She stared at my blankly for a minute – maybe to see if I was kidding. When it was obvious I wasn’t, she said, “Oh.” Her moment of being impressed with my glamorous job was now over. Suddenly, it didn’t seem too exciting anymore.

But, it IS exciting! I submitted my article yesterday morning and absolutely thought it was interesting. So I wanted to share a few things I wrote about here with other people who might also think civil registration records are exciting and glamorous! For a full account, you’ll have to wait for a forthcoming issue of Internet Genealogy Magazine. (I’m sorry to leave you in suspense until then.)

Here’s some random (and interesting) tidbits about civil registration records in Western Europe:

1) Civil registration records usually don’t go back nearly as far as parish records, but some do date back fairly early. For example, in France they begin in 1792.

2) Napoleon brought civil registration to many of the countries he took over, but these countries weren’t so sold on the idea. As soon as he left, most of them quit recording the information. But many places have these brief, early records sometimes written in French – and possibly using the French Republican Calendar.

3) In the Netherlands, civil registration records are the most important records for post-1811 research. And, they are coming online at Genlias (a fee-charging website).

4) Civil registration records began at different times in different states of Germany and Italy since these countries didn’t form until relatively late.

5) The Scandinavian countries do not have very good or very useful civil registration records.

6) Scotland has great civil registration records that begin in 1855 and can be accessed at ScotlandsPeople.

7) Civil registration records can often be more complete than parish records, and in many areas are indexed (sometimes even with ten-year indexes).

8) I haven’t written anything here about English civil registration records, because I find them annoying. (Don’t worry, I did include them in my article – and I didn’t say I thought they were annoying). You can find the indexes several places online, most notably FreeBMD – which is, surprise, surprise, FREE. But, the records are not open to the public and must be ordered. And if you have tried using these indexes and have an ancestor with a name like James Harris like I do, you will understand why they annoy me. That said, civil registration records provided the key to unraveling a mystery on my family. But that’s a story for another day. Here’s the record that did it though:


Now, if that’s not glamorous, I don’t know what is.

Tomorrow we leave for the DC area. I will be speaking at the Fairfax Genealogical Society Spring Conference on Friday evening and Saturday. I will be giving a total of five lectures and doing some consultations too. I’ve never done five different lectures all at once like this. I’ve done four a number of times. I’m worried about all that information fitting in my brain at one time….But, I’m excited for the conference. And I’m excited to be a tourist with my kids on Thursday. We’ve been to DC a number of times before, but there’s always more to see. (I’m not excited about spending seven - or more - hours on I-95 on Wednesday night though...)

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