RISC World

Genealogy and Ancestor+

Eric Dobson


I suggested a series in RISC World on Genealogy and Ancestor+, from experts at the task, giving advice and hints and tips on how to get information off the internet using RISC OS, when all sites have been set up to use Windows PCs. I had the response "was I offering to start it?" so here is my attempt at an introduction.

My wife and I are beginners at genealogy, only starting 2 years ago, when it was almost too late to collect information together. With family history being personal it is easier to approach this introduction from my experiences, hoping it may encourage others to come up with advice and solutions, and others perhaps to start recording their own personal information. Why and how did I start?

I am a East London cockney, born in the Shadwall area of Stepney. My parents were from large families with one uncle born 1890, and an unmarried aunt born in 1915 who is still living but regretfully totally senile. My mother threw out most of my family photos but I persuaded the aunt 5-6 years ago to let me go through what photos she had, which I found in a large plastic bag at the bottom of a cupboard. Although shw was losing her memory, I tried to get the aunt to identify them, many from nearly 100 years ago, so I had "that's Dad's nan from Ely", "that is Aunt Tilly from Millwall, Dad could not stand her". These large extended families remain mainly shadowy, with the blitz and then development destroying their homes and dispersing them widely. Who were they all, and where and how did they exist?

A photo of "Dad's nan". Has anyone a better image to make you wonder "who she actually was?".

First rule of family history. Even if you do not think you will be looking back at your own ancestors, sometime someone in your family may become interested. So if you have family photos, find out who they are and write names, dates and places on the backs. Second rule. Take time off occasionally to write down the odd note or two about these relatives.


For me this was rather a haphazard exercise! Being brought up in a world of papers stuffed into cardboard folders piled up in offices and on desks, that is still my filing system. It is in any case required, as all past records are things that have to be kept. We can photograph them, scan documents and photographs, list names etc, but the originals have to be stored safely. It soon became obvious that some filing system was needed as the bits of information grew. PipeDream helped, I pondered using MasterFile. A more dedicated database was the only answer, hence Ancestor+.


RISC OS users have little choice, unlike Windows PC users. However for storing information Ancestor+ does all that I want it to do (so far as I can see). My wife and I started with a single database but that got complicated, with different attitudes on how to use it! So we decided to split the data up. Now that we have separate databases, each at present can be stored on one floppy. At some point the data will overflow the floppy, especially as we continue to store more and more JPEGs of photos and scans within Ancestor+ 'filing cabinets'. There will be a solution to this (use two floppies?) when that time comes!

From Ancestor+ I can get an HTML copy, put it on a floppy and pass it to my relatives to display on their MSPCs. Simple!

You can have a play with Ancestor+ as a fully working demo version is on this issue of RISC World. As I said in the introduction, even if you are not into family history, for others who may be, write some notes down; you can store them in the demo copy of Ancestor+. .


Give each person a generation number eg {G4}, in my case this is my parents' generation. This allows {G0} to cover all of the great great grandchildren generation.

Put the person reference number and generation number at the top of the notes for that person.

These help when looking at the HTML output, and knowing which John Smith your relative is talking about when going through the HTML.

The 1901 Census

Finally online and accessible but not finalised yet.

Many people in the census will be within the memories of elderly relatives still alive. If there is a name, with a family, who should be in the census this can be entered directly using a reasonable age range. A key word can be entered, eg Essex to reduce the number of results received. But these results may be deceptive, for the Census recorder may not have written down Essex or the transcribers (done in India I am told) may have copied it wrongly! The first name entered into the census may not be what memories said it was. Even worse the recorder may have used shorthand or misspelt it.

Using WebsterXL Version 1.99j

This is not happy accessing the site. Are there fundamental problems or is there a way round them?

Oregano Version 1.10 (js) 9 Aug 20002

This accesses the site very well, but advice on how to get Oregano to download and then extract the information contained in the census was one of the reasons for suggesting this series.

When writing this (December), you can only search for person names although by the time it is published in RISC World a lot more may be possible. With initial searches free, if you have not yet tried, then have a go looking for someone you know was alive in March 1901. However, searches hunt for exactly what you put in as a name of a person, birth place, etc. Wildcards can be used but the transcribing errors can stop a search being successful. I have yet to find my Dobson grandparents but as my father had yet to be born I know they existed! There is an Advanced Person Search which I tried without success but it may not have been fully operational when I tried it.

Using Oregano.

Go to the website, select 'Person Search' in the left hand column. This displays the page for entering information. If the spaces for entering information are blacked out, press menu on the page, go to Display and then untick 'Use document colours'. For a more permanent change press menu on the icon bar icon, click on Choices, then on Text and finally untick 'Use document's colours' at the bottom left.

Enter a last Name eg Redburn, a First Name James, Gender select Male, Age 50 +/- 5 years.

Leaving "Where Born" blank, "Place Keywords" blank, select 30 in [Limit result list to __ entries per page].

Select on Search.

Note that using Adjust to keep the search page on the screen, does not work, you need to use Select to move around the census. Adjust does work on the right hand help icons.

Just one result appears for James Redburn living in Bromley, London in 1901. Save the source HTML using a suitable name.

With a screen resolution of 1024x768 moving the mouse pointer over the name produces the databank person reference number in the top iconbar. More useful with the pointer over the icon to the left of the name, is the family reference number 434138.

These reference numbers are not visible with an 800x600 resolution.

To get the address in Bromley and census folio reference requires a 50p payment, to get the full family list another 50p. The payment methods are found on the website. However the names in a family can be found without payment by a general trawl. Select on Person Search. Enter Redburn, leave First Name blank, Gender blank, Age 50 +/- 50, Where Born blank, Place Keywords enter Bromley, select Search. Again save the source HTML.

In this particular case 6 people are on the list, the pointer over the left hand icon shows they are all the same family. To get the relationship between the persons needs the one pound payment or a look at the census pages.

A more general trawl with "Place Keyword" blank will produce everyone in the census named Redburn. For this surname there are only 175 in total! The more likely response will be that there are too many, so methods to limit the number need to be decided upon eg an appropriate keyword.

For MSPC owners, after saving a trawl, there is a free application which will separate the names into families and give each the family number and census folio reference, saving a lot of time if the original records can be looked at in a Family Record Centre.

For RISC PC owners using Oregano, there is a problem that when saving the lists of names only alternate pages get saved, 1-30, 61-90 etc and the final page. The only solution is to limit downloads to 60 or less, a time consuming job of guessing an age range and trying. For Redburn these were 6+/-7, 22+/-8, 50+/-19, 90+/-20. After saving each page to the hard drive as HTML and giving each a file number, you can come offline. Family groups can be matched by using the pointer over the left hand icon and pen and paper. However this can be simplified by selecting possible ancestor families and noting the Civil Parish full names. By going back online and repeating the trawl by entering the Civil Parish full name in the "Place Keyword" slot, only a limited number of families will download, making the pen and paper record taking much easier.

Has anyone found the census folio reference number for a family; saved every page in a long list; thought of writing a RISC PC version for extracting and sorting the families?

The 1881 Census

This has just appeared in December on the Church of LatterDay Saints site. In my brief look, it allows name searches only at present, but with the current Census CD-ROMs only suitable for MSPCs only, it will be a major step forward. From the website Adjust click in the left hand panel to go to the name search page and select 1881 British Census in the first slot.

The slots containing "All" can not be changed - a row of As only appears. Not having a MSPC to try this out I am not sure if a RISC OS problem. I presume these should permit limiting searches to Counties etc, at present I can only search the whole country which produces huge downloads.

Entering a surname in "Last Name" and a Birth Year and selecting a Range (keep this small!) clicking Adjust on the Search button brings down the list.

The Head of Household slots seems not to work.

Downloading works similarly to the IGI site.

IGI - International Genealogical Index v5.0 British Isles (

This website is vast and you will need to look at it yourself. It is something I have yet to investigate in detail, perhaps someone else can write about a specific area of research they have carried out using it? I have only looked for baptisms/births, marriages and deaths and there are not many of the later. It mainly contains pre-1840s information so you have to be back to ancestors of that time for the site to be of use.

Go to the website, clicking Adjust on 'Search for Ancestors' brings up the page for entering names. Follow the instructions for entering persons, search with Adjust to retain the search page.

The list of names produced can only be saved as a text file, the HTML saved is only the URL address. The list is available in groups of 200 names, and each page is overwritten by the next group downloaded by clicking on the Next button in the bottom left.

On the name list is instruction "Select records to download - (50 maximum)". I could not get anything to work, but the record for an individual can be selected - using Adjust - and saved as HTML. A check on using the site to write this showed that large changes have been made during 2002 to the result pages, eg birth dates where known are now included with christenings, and links have been set up presumably for future connections to more information when entered. The last time I went into the site it was version 4.02. As of mid-December 2002 it is version 5.0. This means I have to recheck many of my ancestor names to find out if more information has been entered.


This is a volunteer project to which the Office of National Statistics has given permission to digitize the GRO indexes of births, marriages and deaths. I have not managed to get a single result, perhaps someone else can explain how RISC OS users can access the site?

LMA - London Metropolitan Archives.

I have only very recently twice visited LMA, Northampton Rd, off Farringdon Rd. First to look through the 1000s of photos they store to see if any of the East End streets lived in by my past families had been photographed. What the blitz had not wrecked, the bulldozers and developers have finished off. Some photographers had recorded many of the houses as they disappeared, so a visit and a search of long gone streets may for you produce a success.

Then the 1901 Census produced to my amazement a great great grandfather aged 78 living in St Georges in East Institution with 925 other inmates. I went to the LMA in the hope of finding out more. I then discovered a treasure house of London history, 32 miles of archives, and all free to look at. The Institution was the Workhouse and Infirmary. All their records are in the LMA.

In the Admissions book for the Infirmary 101 years ago, I found the handwritten entry for my great great grandmother aged 74 who had been taken in sick and discharged 6 weeks later.

For anyone with a London background and reasonable access, (for me the cost is less than a pub lunch), call in and see what is there. Open every weekday (Tuesday and Thursday until 7.30pm) and some Saturdays.

And Finally

This "introduction" seems to have expanded somewhat, regretfully it has no conclusion as one discovery always seems to lead to ten more. But then that is genealogy!

My wife found a very useful book in the local library. The Genealogist's Internet by Peter Christian, this is published by the Public Record Office (ISBN 1 903365 16 3). The Web site for the book has links to all resources mentioned in the book itself.

Eric Dobson