Families Database FAQ
Our Families Database is one of the largest online databases of genealogical data on pre-modern British & Irish families – and it is still growing. I have tried to provide answers to all the questions about it that you are likely to come up with but, to do so without swamping any one page, I have spread them around as follows:
* For questions about Genealogy in general, see Genealogy FAQ and the Genealogy lead page linked to above. Exceptionally, because it is the page which newcomers to the site might look at first, the latter includes a large section entitled ‘What is special about my database?‘.
* For general questions about the Families Database, see below but don’t forget that the Families Database drop-down menu (above) also has some pages that are there to help you get the most out of the Database.
* For specific questions about the Families Database, such as identification of the abbreviations used in the database, see About the database which is linked to from the Families Database Menu just above. There is some overlap between that page and this one so, if you expect to find information below but do not, that is probably the next page you should try.
See the section called ‘What is special about my Families Database?’ on the lead Genealogy page.
1. The database focuses on British & Irish families but requires there to be a connection to someone already in the database before a family is included.
It does include some early Continental Europe families but only if they include ancestors of many British & Irish families. The database normally does not follow families that emigrated from the British Isles but I will consider linking to other web sites that do follow such branches.
2. The database normally does not come more forward in time than generations which have at least one person born by 1800.
It includes many people who lived into the late 1800s but few thenafter. It is likely that many of the most recent people included appear in one or more of the censuses which were carried out in the 1800s.
3. It is not and never will be ‘complete’.
The database is regularly being expanded & improved but, even if work on it continued for centuries, it would never cover all members of all families who ever lived in the British Isles. Such would be impossible! Nevertheless, the coverage is already considerable. I welcome suggestions on which other families should be included (subject to the limits mentioned just above) though please remember that, as mentioned on the Contact us page, I cannot always be quick to respond to suggestions.
1. Many generations of a family are shown on each page. Most other online databases show just one generation at a time.
This makes our site easy to use, providing an ‘at a glance’ indication of how far back we can take you and what other families connect to that family.
2. I maintain editorial control over all the data that is input.
Some well-known sites allow anyone to input data. Whilst that has some major advantages, it has meant that at least parts of those sites can’t be trusted because some people have inserted data that is completely wrong. I do not pretend that all of my data is correct (such would be impossible) but I do try to ensure that the data is as reliable as possible. An exception to this is with the ‘Ancient & Mythical’ section where data is included for interest & fun rather than because I believe it likely to be true (it includes Greek Gods and descents from Adam & Eve). This approach has received many more compliments than it has criticisms (see here for examples) but I am not complacent and, subject to the constraints of available resources, intend to continue working to improve as well as expand the database for many years to come.
Viewing of the data pages within the Families Database is interrupted unless you have logged-in as a Member. To become a Member you must have either paid for or been granted membership.
In order to keep working on this site I have had to develop a Membership Scheme which people can join either through paying a modest fee or by invitation. I do offer Free Membership (for a period) to anyone who has made a ‘meaningful contribution’ to the site but the rules for that are quite tight. The fees are set out just below and are clearly displayed within the Registration process (just click on the Login/Register link at the top of the page to enter that process) and may also be seen at Subscription fee history.
The present subscription fees are £10 for 14 days of uninterrupted viewing, £15 for 31 days, £30 for £93 days, and £60 for 365 days. Stirnet does not have its own payment clearance system but instead uses PayPal as its collection agent, offering payment by debit/credit card or PayPal account. If you normally pay in a currency other than pounds stirling, the collection agent will sort that out for you. For more information why we use PayPal, see Collection Agent.
Everyone has different interests, so the following is not certain to help you, but I do suggest that you:
– take note of the section above on ‘What limits are there to your Families Database?’. I do believe that, because of the way that genes spread around communities, everyone with any recent British blood in them is descended from not just one family which has been documented but several. I provide one of the largest collections of documented British & Irish families on the Internet. For those who have already found a link to a documented family, the database can save a huge amount of time & effort in tracing family connections. However, the database cannot be all things to all people and the limits set to the database do mean that it is not likely to be particularly relevant to those people who are interested only in tracing their near-ancestors.
– look at the data pages in the database: without membership, viewing of those pages is interrupted after a few seconds, so you will have to click on links quickly to move around the database, but you should have enough time to get a good feel on whether or not any of its contents will be relevant to your research.
– look at the alphabetical sub-indices: viewing of those pages (and the dataase’s other support pages) is not interrupted so you may view them at your leisure and identify which families are included in the database.
– use our Search facility.
The time I provide is a compromise between being so short that you cannot see roughly what is there and click on links so that you can move around the database and being so long that there is little incentive for you to subscribe for Membership. I apologise if you find it too short yourself but I believe that it is long enough for most people to get a good feel for the database, seeing what type of data it includes, seeing how easy it is to move around, etc.. People who have a slow connection to the Internet will be disadvantaged on this but, as increasing numbers of people worldwide have good connections, that should affect only a decreasing minority.
Don’t forget that viewing of the alphabetical sub-indices of the database is not interrupted so that you can look through them at your leisure, finding out what families we have covered so far.
There have been a few people who have been disappointed that I have not managed to solve, in just a few years, all of the genie problems that have been around for centuries. Otherwise, the general response has been very positive indeed. Had that not been the case, I would never have worked so many thousands of hours on it! I have corresponded with quite a few respected genealogists, professional & amateur, and gained a number of online friends from it all.
I have never pretended that the Families Database is other than what it is, a compilation of data that is likely to help many people but which cannot be all things to all people. I am pleased that it does seem to have helped a large number of people. Some years ago I compiled a page called Compliments and criticisms which provides some examples of what I have received/seen about the database. I shall update that in due course.
Internet-based genealogical databases are renowned for their inaccuracy and unreliability. I am trying to make my database as accurate, reliable & secure as is reasonably possible but I know that complete reliability is simply not possible. This is because many of the sources I am obliged to use are not themselves fully reliable. I deal with this problem, and draw your attention to it, as well as I can, often showing insecure data in italics. Over the years I have identified & corrected many inaccuracies but it takes time and sometimes I have had to put investigations on hold on one particular individual in order not to slow down the expansion of the database to cover whole new families. This is the main reason why I welcome input from those who are willing to help me improve the database.
Most of the data in the Families Database may be viewed as secure but some are not. That is the way it has to be. To restrict included data only to information that has been independently professionally scrutinised & verified not only would kill the idea of sharing the information that I have (I simply do not have the resources to check every datum properly, who does ?) but in any case would in practice be impossible since, for many connections, ‘primary record’ proof no longer exists. I have to rely on ‘secondary’ records (other people’s reports on primary records) and ‘tertiary records’ (other people’s reports on secondary & tertiary records). No differently from other genealogists, I face the problem that it is not always easy to judge the reliability of our sources. Consider Burke’s Peerage which often reports a marriage twice, once in the record of the husband’s family and once in the record of the wife’s. In most cases the information given in the two records is consistent but sometimes it is not. Which record is right? Although I sometimes report both, I sometimes have to make a choice, albeit normally only after considering yet another source.
Should I differentiate more clearly between data that I believe are secure and data that I believe are risky? I did think of this but only for a moment. There is a risk not only of getting bogged down in details but also of giving the impression of investigative skill that simply cannot be applied across the whole database. Rest assured that, except for data in the ‘Ancient & Mythical’ section of the database some of which is obviously mythical and really should not be taken seriously, I only include data from sources that I have reason to accept as being normally reliable even if not always so. This can be risky, particularly as this view sometimes comes only because I have seen most of the data given by that source repeated elsewhere for they may both be repeating the same errors from an earlier source. However, there is no easy answer to this problem. Do not believe anyone who says that there is! I do the best that I can and leave it to you to decide which data you want to accept and which you wish to query and investigate in more depth. If you find that we have included data that are wrong then please bring them to our attention, giving your reasons for doubting the data and (if possible) suggesting alternatives. There is not much more I can do other than to slow down the rate of uploading data to give me more time to double-check everything but even that option is not open to me for most of the ‘small landowners’ that are central to the database and for whom only one data source has been found whilst, for families for which there is more than one source, there remains the problem that the sources may be tertiary sources that repeat errors made in an earlier source. I think I have got the verification level about right for the job I am trying to do which, don’t forget, is simply to take information that I have found elsewhere and share it with you.
If you are a serious genealogist who is interested in a particular family, I suggest that you view my database as providing a good starting-place for your research but that you remember my cautions about the reliability of what is shown here. The database pulls together what various (mostly well-known) sources report about a large number of families and so it may be able to save you much time & effort with your research. However, I have done little more than to report what others have reported and to highlight any discrepancies that have come to my attention. I am a generalist who is providing a framework into which other people’s research is poured. I do not pretend to be a specialist who has proven that research.
I thought it only fair to provide some comment on this but stress that the following should not be viewed as anything other than a combination of the personal views of a few people. My personal opinion has, of course, been of much influence but, except where it is ‘obvious’, I am not qualified to bless some sources & condemn others and would be cautious about accepting the word of anyone who says that s/he is. Academics are sometimes the best people to listen to on this but sometimes they should not be fully relied on, for too often they are more prone to personal bias than they should be.
I am open to the criticism of not always being consistent with what is noted below! This is largely because the database has been developed over time during which my access to certain sources has varied. However, it is also because different sources vary on the amount of detail they provide so, depending on what I have at hand, I may start with one source one time, another source another time. Over time I hope to be able to double check most of the data pages against all available sources but I do not have the resources to do that quickly. If you are not familiar with the abbreviations used in this section then look at Sources and Acknowledgements where they are explained/identified.
In general I rank our sources as follows:
- for British Peers (including old Irish), ‘The Complete Peerage’ (“TCP”) is ranked highest.TCP has a drawback in that it normally provides information only on the Peers, their spouses, and heirs. Only on occasion does it include other children. Nevertheless I give precedence to TCP because it was clearly prepared by a group of experts working to very high standards of professionalism. It is good at identifying its sources and contains interesting parcels of information which give added evidence to the depth of the research that was undertaken. Even though it is known that TCP contains some errors, it is widely viewed as one of the best sources around.
- for Scots Peers, ‘The Scots Peerage’ (“TSP”) is excellent.TSP normally covers all known children, not just the heirs, and so is particularly useful. Edited by the Lord Lyon King of Arms and released in 1908, it is viewed as more reliable than its predecessors. It was based on Wood’s Edition of Sir Robert Douglas’s ‘Peerage of Scotland’ and is understood to have made many corrections to those earlier works. It contains a wealth of interesting information. It is shown below TCP only because TCP has a slightly greater ‘aura of professionalism’. In practice it is very rare that they disagree with each other.
- Books (and other media) that specialise on particular families or small groups of families.Some specialist books give confidence that they are even more reliable than TCP or TSP, others do not. The range of interest value and reliability covers the full scale from excellent to appalling so such books are judged case by case. Books that are compilations of work on different families can be particularly difficult to judge. For example, Douglas’s ‘Baronage of Scotland’ appears to be a mixture of work that Sir Robert Douglas did himself (usually excellently, but his resources were limited and he must have been reliant on the documents that were made available to him) and other people’s work that he edited with little input. His books are known to have contained many mistakes yet they remain the bases for many family trees.
- Books (and other media) that report on wide groups of families. Whilst this category covers a few other sources also, I am thinking here in particular of the various books by ‘Burke’ – the various editions of BE, BEB, BLG, and BP. They are usually excellent in the broad range of material provided although they vary significantly on the reliability of the detail on different families. Their popularity over many years provides testament to their value. For extinct British aristocratic families I have used BE1883 and BEB1841 quite a lot, even though they (particulary BE1883) are known to contain errors, simply because (unlike TCP) they name most of the children & siblings (and their marriages) and not just the heirs. For non-aristrocratic families, Burke’s Landed Gentry (or its predecessor, ‘Commoners’) is often the ONLY accessible source of data although many families appear only in a very few of the many editions. Remember that there is a major difference between Burke’s Landed Gentry and the other Burke publications – the articles in BLG were prepared (and paid for) by the individual families concerned but the articles in the other Burke publications were prepared by the publishers, sometimes without checking with the relevant families. I should also mention the records of the Visitations of the Heralds made in the 16th and 17th centuries around England. These have proved invaluable for many families, for some of whom no other source has been found. The records vary in the extent of information provided, presumably having depended not least on the amount of information made available to the Heralds by the relevant families. Noting this, and noting that (as with any group of people) the range of independence and expertise shown by individual Heralds varied significantly, I view the records as reasonably (but not wholly) reliable except where there is reason to think otherwise, whether for better or worse.
- Other web sites. As with books, perhaps even more so, the range of interest value and reliability covers the full scale and has to be judged case by case. There is every combination of presentation and content you can think of – some sites look brilliant but contain rubbish, others look pathetic but are reliable for what they cover. I tend not to name web sites that have been used for particular data pages unless they identify their sources. [This is partly to keep down the number of links in our site as, over time, links tend to fail.] If I report data as having been sourced from “various web sites” (or similar) this means that, although they are included for their interest value, I suggest that they be viewed with some caution. There are many web sites around that present data as factual even when the inter-family connections shown are based wholly on speculation. I do try to avoid that!
Everyone has different requirements but I suggest that you first build up some confidence in this site and work out for yourself how much you want to rely on it. As mentioned elsewhere in the site, I am trying to make this one of the most reliable genie databases around but I do not claim it is perfect. If you wish for ‘perfection’, I suggest you limit your research to something achievable in a lifetime, perhaps the lives of just a few individuals. If you are focusing on just one or two families and want your work to be as correct as possible, I suggest that you use this database as a starting-point which is as good as any generalist work, not least for identifying the sources we have used and the connections to other families we have found. If, like most genie researchers, you are interested mainly in tracing back as many generations as possible and finding connections to other families, I think you will find that there are few (possibly no) other wide-ranging databases around as useful as this one. That is not to say that there are no sites/databases around that are better targeted at the specific families that are relevant to you, for there are now many excellent family-specific sites around, but this site does not pretend to cover all families with as much detail as exists. It is primarily little more than a compilation of basic genie data. However, it has been pulled together in a reasonably disciplined way and its worth has come through the fact that it has already saved many people hundreds if not thousands of hours of work.
It is true that I am frequently making little (and some not-so-little) changes to the database. One reason for this is that I am slowly but steadily expanding the number of sources I use. Sometimes this enables me to expand an old page. Sometimes this helps me to find contradictions between sources and enables me to correct an error which I had previously followed. The database is steadily improving. I make no apologies for that. However, I do sympathise & empathise with anyone who thinks they have found a secure pedigree in the database only to return at a later date to find that it has been changed.
So: what notice do I provide when changes have been made to the database? The answer depends on the scale of the change. Whenever a significant change is made to a data page I change the ‘Updated’ date given for that page in the sub-index page which lists that page. For this purpose it is difficult to be consistent with how I interpret what is and what is not “a significant change” but I try to err on the side of caution by changing the date whenever I am not sure whether or not it is worth it. It certainly is not done for every trivial change but it is done (for example) where I change the attribution of someone’s children between different wives if such is likely to make a difference to many descendants. When the change is particularly significant, I also mention the relevant page in Section B at the bottom of the ‘Latest pages released’ page, although please note that it will probably be cleared out from there after 6 weeks or so.
The last 30 families for which either a new page has been launched or a ‘major change’ has been made are reported in a module at the foot of every page (though it may not appear on tablets or smart phones).
For minor changes it is trickier because I do not report them anywhere. The reason for this is simply because, if I was to commit myself to reporting every single change, it would make it much more time-consuming for me to make a change and I do not want to feel held back from making a change as and when I want to. Accordingly, all I can recommend is that, if a particular page is of particular interest to you, from time to time you should come back and check it. I started work on the database in 2002. Although some years have passed since then, it is still ‘new’ compared with many other databases. In due course I will probably reach a stage where most pages have been improved as much as is possible. Until then, I suggest you take comfort from the fact that what I am not complacent with the database and do indeed aim to make it the best possible, even though that might take some time.
It is likely that I have made some mistakes in recording data. I apologise for them in advance. However, I do believe that most of the inconsistencies in the database (one page showing something which is not exactly mirrored in another page) are not down to me. Many are either the fault of one or more of the sources I am using for the different pages (with it not being practicable for me to do the research needed to work out which is right) or do not in fact evidence an error. I mention below a few examples of why the latter may be the case. For the first of those ‘excuses’ (contradiction between our sources), please remember that part of the reason why I decided to work on the database in the first place was to provide a platform for such contradictions to be identified and sorted out. I have already sorted many by myself but I do need help to sort others. If you think you can help me sort out some more inconsistencies, please do let me know.
There are many cases where apparent inconsistencies (and other forms of discrepancy) between pages in the database are in fact not evidence of error. Instead they are evidence of omission/simplification or alternative description/interpretation. Here are some examples:
- Someone being described as of one place on one page but as of another place on another page. This will be quite common simply because many landowners owned more than one place. Even people who came to be strongly associated with one particular place may, perhaps when they were younger (perhaps at the time they married and so were ‘booked’ into their spouse’s family records), were (also) known as of another.
- People were often identified as being ‘of’ the place they were brought up in even though they later moved away from that place. In particular, it was quite common to describe people who were younger sons/brothers of squires as being ‘of’ the family seat even though they never lived in that place after they reached maturity.
- Some people had more than one first name, being generally/informally known by one of them but with formal records showing another.
- Some sources say that someone dsp (died without issue) whereas in fact they should have said dsps (died without surviving issue), dspm (died without male issue) or dspl (died without legitimate issue) or even dsplms (died without surviving legitimate male issue).
As for inconsistencies between some of the spellings used and dates given in the database, I have included notes on our approach to such things on About the database.
I have been working on the database for quite a few years now and over that time there have been several changes to the HTML editor I use for the database, Dreamweaver. Unfortunately, although each edition of Dreamweaver has been able to use the produce of earlier versions, this led to there being some messy code with it seeming to me that some new versions of Dreamweaver have treated some coding elements slightly differently to earlier versions. Added to that, I must admit that, until (about) 2011, when some of those differences became more apparent, I did not pay as much attention as perhaps I should have done to how efficient the page coding was. This led to a few minor visual issues but also to files sometimes being much bigger than they needed to be. Since May 2011 the templates used for the Families Database data pages have been ‘simpler’ than the versions used before then. Over the period May 2011 to August 2015 I went through each of the earlier pages and tidied up and simplified & standardised their code, the main consequences of which were smaller file sizes and (in many cases) a change in the font used. I think that all of the data pages have been ‘done’. If you find an exception, please let me know.
Yes indeed. Please do. I welcome suggestions for families to work on PROVIDED THAT you give clear direction as to where the data may be (or has been) sourced (remember that Sources and acknowledgments identifies many of the sources I already have copies of) AND you allow properly for the fact that I operate to the following constraints:
(1) with very few exceptions, I do not come more forward in time than generations with at least one person born by 1800 (which at least means that, for many families, there is some overlap with the early censuses which can be found online elsewhere); and
(2) I focus only on British & Irish families so, unless a family comes back into the British Isles by 1800, it is very rare for me to follow a line which has emigrated from the British Isles (see below); and
(3) I shall not include a family in the database until I have found a connection between that family and another family which is already in the database.
A few people have been particularly helpful with this, not least with suggesting useful sources I had not used previously, and so have obtained long-term Free Membership.
Remember that, if you would like to share information that extends a family that is included in the database but which I do not follow because it emigrated from the British Isles, I offer The Stirnet Portal as a means of linking to other web sites.
You are welcome to cross-refer from your own site to this site. In fact, as advised on the Copyright issues page, people who use data from this site may be obliged to identify this site as the source of that data. However, the Families Database has a multi-level folder structure for our Families Database so the URLs (Internet addresses) of the pages in the database are quite complicated. If it is too long for your purpose, alternatives may be:
– for a one-off cross-reference: “page XXX within the Families Database at Stirnet.com”.
– when several cross-references are used: “Stirnet/XXX” with it being explained elsewhere that “Stirnet/XXX stands for page XXX within the Families Database at Stirnet.com”.