Saturday, August 8, 2015

A grumble and a workaround

I want to love FindMyPast, really I do, but sometimes they make it hard.

Don’t get me wrong - I am excited about and grateful for all the material from various archives that is now becoming available online as digital images (and a big shout out to Ancestry here too!).

However…

…as I said last year…

….the Merchant Seaman records are not plain sailing!

FindMyPast has digital images of various series of Merchant Seaman’s records from The National Archives. This time I was interested in Series BT113 – Registers of Seaman’s tickets. Both BT113 and the index to it, BT114, have been scanned, indexed and made available on FindMyPast. Fantastic! So far so good.

The grumble

Here’s where it starts to go wrong.

The series number and the subseries number are included in the transcription display, as they should be, but they are not a lot of use if you want to use them to find records on the website! 

  • You can only filter on the series number if you’re using “Old Search”.
  • You can’t filter on the subseries number at all.
  • You can’t page through the registers.

That’s right. Even if you have the correct archival reference details, you can’t browse your way to a particular entry. As a user of the collection, I’m not happy about that.

This time around, I found the person I wanted in BT114 (the index series) but I couldn’t find the corresponding record in BT113 by searching the database no matter how imaginative the spelling variations and search criteria combinations I came up with.

Although I had the ticket number from the index series, and The National Archives catalogue indicated that ticket number 68599 was in BT113/35 there was no way provided to move to BT113/35 and page through to the item I wanted.

I was left with no idea why I couldn’t find the entry. Mistranscription? Damaged page? Missing page?! No idea.

The workaround

After searching, failing, getting frustrated and trying again with no more success, I left it for a few weeks. Finally it occurred to me to look at the URL and see if the structure that was missing from the search facility might be present in the URL.

To start with, I looked at the URL for a few random transcripts from the right series.

A record in BT113/253:

http://search.findmypast.com.au/record?id=tna%2fbt113%2f2133117033%2f1

A record in BT113/27:

http://search.findmypast.com.au/record?id=tna%2fbt113%2f2132655833%2f1

The changing part of the link, marked in red, was larger for items with larger subseries numbers. I crossed my fingers and hoped that they had scanned and named everything in a nice, orderly, sequential way!

I guesstimated the number that would put me into BT113/35, entered it into the URL, and after three or four attempts (or maybe half a dozen) found a record in the right subseries. I then continued the same process to reach the ticket number I wanted. That took at little longer as I had to click through to the images each time to see the register number. Before too long the details for ticket number 68599 were in front of me.

Now I know why I couldn’t find the entry I wanted. It was there, readable, and not mistranscribed. It’s just that the register details were filled out for an entirely different person. I was taken aback for a minute. I was sure I had the register number right. Then I realised that next to the entry was written “Cancelled” and “Reissued to Moses Mercer Mack”. Just the man I was looking for! Unfortunately that meant that there were no useful details about Captain Mack (yes I have found records of him later in his career) to add to what I know, but at least I am no longer puzzling over that register entry it and searching for something that’s not there.

 

By the way, if you’re researching Moses Mercer Mack (c1828-1883), a master mariner from Belfast, please get in touch. I’d love to compare notes with you.