Find My Past miss-judges its Kittens, I mean Customers

Dear FindMyPast

I am concerned about your treatment of my fellow felines, aka. FindMyPast website users. Until recently most of us were pretty chilled and enjoyed ancestor hunting forays with FMP.

I am sure you have heard that a healthy genealogy diet includes a range of tasty sources not just pop-tarts alone. I was in need of the nutrition provided by a nice juicy apprentice promised on the menu months ago.

So I entered the dining room (aka. search) and met with a very nasty surprise – a dowsing in horrid cold water. Only a few felines like water, and those that do only like it on their own terms. Such nasty surprises put us in bad humour and make us irritable.

By this time I was hungry, so made my way into the kitchen (aka. Facebook) to make my views known to the FMP monkeys. The monkeys expected me to play that kitten game of chasing a toy/laser. The attention span of little kittens is limited, but the monkeys expect us all to play for 100 days.

Teasing a tetchy, hungry feline is never a good idea, especially grown up big cats. FMP, your customers aren’t little kittens or docile moggies, we highly skilled hunters like these:

Big cats, all Creative Commons. Leopard, Steve Jurvetson; Lion,  Martin Fisch;  Tiger, Shahadat Hossain

Big cats, all Creative Commons. Leopard, Steve Jurvetson; Lion, Martin Fisch; Tiger, Shahadat Hossain

We don’t look please do we? You’ve got work to do before we will purr again.

© Sue Adams 2014

Is a Rare Surname easy to find? Searching for Barrowclift with Ancestry and FindMyPast

This week’s 50 Marriage Mondays post concerns finding more information on a bride with an unusual surname. This marriage certificate[1] was acquired during the settlement of Raymond Coulson’s estate, so I already know the ancestry of the groom.

Marriage certificate - Charles Spencer Coulson & Gladys Rose Barrowclift

Marriage certificate – Charles Spencer Coulson & Gladys Rose Barrowclift

Bride: Gladys Rose Barrowclift, aged 25
Groom: Charles Spencer Coulson, aged 28
Date: 8 June 1935
Location: The Register Office, Birmingham
Father of Bride: Samuel Barrowclift
Father of Groom: Spencer Coulson
Witnesses: W J Sleasby, C L Barrowclift

Barrowclift is a very rare surname.  Consequently, neither PublicProfiler nor British Surnames offer statistics on the number or distribution of people bearing this name.  Both websites suggest that Barrowcliff and Barrowcliffe may be name variants, but these two names are also very rare.  The most common frequency was 9 per million for Barrowcliffe based on 1998 data.

As the Barrowclift name combined with the groom’s middle name, Spencer, had made it easy to identify this couple, you might expect tracing the bride’s family would present little difficulty.  Aged 25 in 1935, I calculate that Gladys Rose Barrowclift was born ca 1910, so she should be recorded on the 1911 census.  If her age is misreported, I should find her father, Samuel.  So, a search on the surname likely will turn up both in a short list, won’t it?


A search on FindMyPast for just the surname yielded 2 results, a John and a Susan.  The nearest equivalent search on Ancestry, specifying exact matches on the surname only, yielded 10 results.  6 of these, the family of the John in the FindMyPast result, Charlotte, Florrie, Frederick, Bernard and Ernest had been indexed as Barrowcliff, but later corrected by users.  The other 4 results named Mary, Thomas, Joseph and Henry are a second family.  But, no Samuel or Gladys Rose.  I should fare better by widening the search to include variants of the surname, shouldn’t I?

Wrong again!

Alternative Search Tactics

Ticking the ‘include variants’ box on FindMyPast’s search, yielded the same 2 results.  Choosing the ‘Use default setting’ option on Ancestry also yielded the same result as before.

After trying some variants (e.g. Barrowcliff, Barrowcliffe) and wildcard searches (e.g. Barrowcli*), and getting hundreds of results, but no seeing any good matches on the first page, I started to wonder if Barrowclift was really Samuel and Gladys Rose’s surname.  The FreeBMD indexes confirmed I had the right name.  Gladys was born in the Oct-Dec quarter of 1909 (Birmingham district, vol. 6d, p. 6), and Samuel married either Sarah Louisa Higham or Mary Ann R Hughes in the Oct-Dec quarter of 1895 (Birmingham district, vol. 6d, p. 275).

Barrowclift might have been illegible or miss-spelt on the 1911 household schedule, or mangled in the indexes, so a search for Samuel and his wife on the 1901 census might prove more successful.  This approach found a Mary Ann R Barrowcliff living with a husband indexed as Tammy.  Examination of the census image soon confirmed this as the correct family.  I have a mental image of a burly Samuel displeased with being called Tammy.

Another approach, entering only forenames of several family members eventually did the trick with the 1911 census.

How accurate are the census indexes?

Extract of Census 1911 - Samuel Barrowclift & family

Extract of Census 1911 – Samuel Barrowclift & family

Compare the 1911 census above with the names in the indexes below.

Ancestry FindMyPast
Samuel Burroway Samuel Barrowclif
Mary Ann Rose Burroway Mary Ann Rose Barrowclif
Elise Burroway Elise Barrowclif
Leah May Burroway Leah May Barrowclif
Alice Burroway Alice Barrowclif
Fredrick Burroway Frederick Barrowclif
Glads Rose Burroway Glads Rose Barrowclif
Extract of 1901 Census for Samuel Barrowclift & family

Extract of 1901 Census for Samuel Barrowclift & family

Likewise, compare the 1901 census above with the names in the indexes below.

Ancestry FindMyPast
Tammy Barrowcliff Samuel Barrowclift
Mary Ann R Barrowcliff Mary Ann R Barrowclift
Elsie Barrowcliff Elsie Barrowclift
Leah Mary Barrowcliff Leah May Barrowclift
Alice Barrowcliff Alice Barrowclift

What do you make of the census images compared to the indexed names?  Is the error rate acceptable?

© Sue Adams 2013

[1] Superintendant Registrar, Birmingham Register Office. Certified Copy of an Entry of Marriage. England, Birmingham county borough, Birmingham district, 1935/06/08, no 116.  Coulson, Charles Spencer & Barrowclift, Gladys Rose. issued 1 August 1997, incorporates an image of the original register. Sue Adams, personal collection RWC/1/9/1/3.