Without a Hitch

What would you say is this first name?

Hitch

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know. One of the major online genealogy organizations didn’t know either. Here’s a screen shot of how the record was transcribed in FamilySearch.

Jitel screen capture
https://familysearch.org/search/record/results?count=20&query=%2Bgivenname%3Ajitel~%20%2Bsurname%3Acasbon~ : accessed 11 January 2017.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Did you think the name was “Jitel”?

So, what is FamilySearch? Here’s what the entry in Wikipedia says:

FamilySearch is a genealogy organization operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was previously known as the Genealogical Society of Utah (or “GSU”) and is the largest genealogy organization in the world. FamilySearch maintains a collection of records, resources, and services designed to help people learn more about their family history. FamilySearch gathers, preserves, and shares genealogical records worldwide. It offers free access to its resources and service online at FamilySearch.org.[1]

FamilySearch is the website I used the most for genealogy research. It’s easy to use, has millions of records, and it’s free. I also have a paid subscription to Findmypast, and I use a version of Ancestry at my local library. According to one source, as of January 1, 2017, FamilySearch had 2,180 historical record collections online containing 1.2 billion searchable documents and 5.57 billion searchable names; Ancestry had 32,795 databases with over 19 billion records; and Findmypast had 2,049 databases with over 2.0 billion records.[2] In addition, there are many other companies and organizations that provide online genealogy data, either for free or by paid subscription.

Where and how do these genealogy websites get their data? They purchase or borrow it from archives and repositories. These data sources exist at the national, state, and local levels. Some belong to governments, some belong to private organizations. In the case of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they have copied and microfilmed vast quantities of records and stored them in a massive vault dug into the side of a mountain.

Most if not all of these archives consist of paper records. In order to make them available online the information in them has to be converted to searchable digital information. The process for doing this is referred to as indexing. At a minimum, indexing requires someone to transcribe the data from individual records and enter them into a database. Most often the records are scanned or photographed so that a digital image is created. Then someone transcribes the information into a database.

Records that are typed or printed might be scanned with optical character recognition (OCR) software. But OCR is not able to read handwritten records, so they must be transcribed by hand. FamilySearch relies on volunteers to do their indexing. I’ve done some indexing for FamilySearch. It can be challenging trying to read older styles of handwriting. Often the records are badly damaged from water, fire, sunlight, age, insects, etc.

Ancestry sends much of their data to other non-English speaking countries for transcription. Although they have good quality control mechanisms in place, you can see where errors might arise when non-native speakers try to interpret handwriting.

I’ve gone into this rather detailed explanation to try to make a couple points: 1) online genealogy databases are only as good as the quality of the indexing. This is not a criticism of the online providers – they provide a wonderful service and have made research much easier than the days when you had to visit the actual data repositories for research. 2) There is no substitute for being able to view the actual record, or at least a digital image of the record.

Which brings me back to the entry for “Jitel” Casbon. I originally found this entry when I was using FamilySearch to find descendants of James Casbon (1806-1871), son of James (“James Casbon of Meldreth (~1772-1833)”). This particular transcription is contained in a database called “England and Wales Non-Conformist Record Indexes (RG4-8), 1588-1977.” The index was “created by The National Archives in London as an online access to digital images created from the original records.”[3] Whoever transcribed the records for The National Archives came up with the name “Jitel.”

What is a nonconformist? In England, these are considered to be “people who did not belong to the established church,” i.e., the Church of England.[4] More specifically, in these records, nonconformists are members of other non-Anglican protestant denominations. “Jitel’s” parents (James and Ann) were nonconformists.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the FamilySearch entry did not have access to an image of the actual record. At the time, this was the only information I had, so I entered “Jitel” into my genealogy software program, hoping to get access to the actual record someday.

That day came this week, when I repeated my search in Findmypast, looking for anyone with the surname Casbon born between 1826 and 1830. It turns out that Findmypast has a collection named “England & Wales Non-Conformist Births and Baptisms.” Unlike FamilySearch, this collection includes digital images of the actual records from the National Archives. Here’s the record that turned up in my search.[5]

Hitch Casbon birth baptism detail
(Click on image to enlarge)

Also unlike FamilySearch, whoever indexed the record for Findmypast correctly transcribed the first name as “Hitch.” Can you see it?

Because of the handwriting, I can also see how the indexer for FamilySearch would have interpreted the first part of the “H” as a “J,” and the “ch” as “el.” The second part of the “H” looks like a small “l” to me. I might have transcribed it as “Jlitel.”

What kind of a name is “Hitch”? Well, it turns out that the child’s full name was Alfred Hitch Casbon. Hitch was his middle name. His mother’s maiden name was Ann Hitch. It was common at the time to use a family surname as a middle name. It was also common to use middle names or nicknames when registering births.

Of course, once I had access to the original record, and knowing the mother’s maiden name, it was easy to recognize the word “Hitch.” But without that information, it’s easy to see how a transcriber could make a mistake.

Another mystery solved. I’ll have more information about Alfred Hitch Casbon in a future post.

[1] Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org : accessed 10 January 2017), “FamilySearch,” rev.14:26, 29 December 2016.
[2] Randall J. Seaver, “Genealogy Industry Benchmark Numbers for 1 January 2017,” Genea-Musings, 1 January 2017 (http://www.geneamusings.com/2017/01/genealogy-industry-benchmark-numbers.html : accessed 10 January 2017, items 1, 2, and 9.
[3] FamilySearch Wiki, (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_and_Wales_Nonconformist_Record_Indexes_(RGA_4-8)_,1588-1977_(FamilySearch_Historical_Records) : accessed January 12 2017); “England And Wales Nonconformist Record Indexes (RGA 4-8) ,1588-1977,” rev. 13:00, 26 Oct 2016.
[4] “Nonconformists” (2017), The National Archives (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/nonconformists : accessed 12 January 2017).
[5] “England & Wales Non-Conformist Births and Baptisms”, transcriptions and images, find my past (http://findmypast.com : accessed 10 January 2017), entry for Hitch Casbon; citing The National Archives (U.K.) reference RG4/155.
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