Family History Society coverage in Lancashire


Family History Societies are year by year seeing a fall in membership as researchers use just the web for information to help them with their research. But Family History Societies continue to be one of the best sources for local information and in providing help with difficult research problems. Advertising is important in making the FHSs more visible and so I am working to associate them with individual places in Lancashire with links the the FHS websites. The initial approach to the societies is being done via the North West Group. If there are other Lancashire societies that want to take part, please contact me via the link at the foot of this page.

It is frequently difficult to work out exactly which places a society or a section of that society covers. The web sites usually mention the name of place which becomes the starting point, and in some cases there is a brief description of a surrounding area. Even if we have extensive local knowledge this does not provide a complete picture but it is a reasonable starting point. I've served a number of years on the council of one of our societies and we never needed to know the exact area we covered as there were too many other items to consider. The only real need for knowledge of the area covered was for project work.

But if we consider the requirements of people who don't live in the area and maybe live overseas it can't be an easy task to work out if a particular society will cater for their research interests. I presume the name of the society must influence them in this case and that doesn't always clearly reflect the area that the society covers nowadays. So one of the outcomes of this project should be a much better view of the area covered by a society which will hopefully help encourage membership.

Information for FHSs

There are a different types of societies that are useful for people undertaking Family History research. Some have their main focus on meetings for people living in the area with such an interest, and these may just be living in the area with ancestors from elsewhere. There are those that may cover just a speciailsed subject which may be area specific. We need to provide information about them all, but with a different emphasis according to the facilities they provide.

Societies can be classed into two main groups, area specific and interest specific such as one name studies. This work is just covering those that are area specific. For these there is a further breakdown into those covering the whole of the pre-1974 county, such as the Lancashire Parish Register Society, and those covering just sections of the county. As some of the larger societies have another level of branches which cover smaller areas these have also been catered for.

The information about a society is recorded in a single database table when they cover the whole county, and within the Genuki gazetteer entries when they cover a smaller area. If neighbouring county wide societies want to become visible on the online maps, then you can also contact me via the link at the foot of this page as I can easily add them in. Unfortunately we can't add in details for non-Lancashire societies that do not cover the whole of neighboring counties, but hope to in the future.

The information that will appear in the Genuki pages will be the name of the society or branch with a link to the FHS website. So you will need to encourage new members at that point. For branches there will be the option of linking to a branch page within the FHS website. So bear in mind that they may arrive directly there without seeing the FHS home page first and so it's best if there is sufficient information on those pages to encourage new members and to indicate what else they are getting from other branches if they join that society.

John Marsden has made an interesting suggestion to provide a page aimed at attracting new members, rather than use the home page for the scoiety or section of it. Existing members don't need this information and go to the home page to find out about meeting and society resources, whilst for prospective members part of the sales pitch will be to describe what is available, and within a section of the society what else they get from the membership as a whole.

Information about FHSs will be provided via gazetteer searches and via the individual Genuki town/parish pages. The dynamic 'Gazetteer entry' pages are the easiest to configure as these are dynamic pages and a single change was required to do this. County wide societies just need to be defined to get them in these pages. To see them you need to do a gazetteer search. The default shows places plotted on a Google map and for Lancs you need to click the map icon which shows a bubble with a link to the 'Gazetteer entry'. The links on the right of that page take you to the Genuki town/parish page with information about that place. For some counties where the gazetteer does not have small places linked, e.g. a lot of Cheshire, the right hand link will be to the 'gazetteer entry'.

At the moment the LPRS appears in all the gazetteer entries as it is 'county wide'. Others need entries changing in the gazetteer. Examples that have been done at the moment are Denton and Lytham for a society branch.

All the Lancs town/parish pages have now been updated so that they will show fhs information as soon as it is added to the database. At the moment though you can look at Denton as an example, and also Lytham which also has other relevant societies as well.

You can now see the areas covered plotted on a Google map around towns/parishes. This will look better once the data on society coverage has been provided. At the moment only a few obvious places have been labelled as a starting point. The Google maps have a click interface to notify us of the areas covered by each FHS. This will send an email to the gazetteer maintainer for the county who will need to make the appropriate changes before the information is available to users.

Some places are covered by more than one society and each is listed on the appropriate town/parish pages. On the Google maps if a place is covered by more than one society, more than one coloured icon is used, each with a colour for that society. These are placed at random around the actual real location of the place otherwise they would mask each other. There are only twelve colours of icon on the web site involving many images each with their own number on them, so it is too much effort to define any more. So when there are more than twleve societies or society sections then some may have the same colour. The code that builds the maps initially orders the entries by latitude which helps ensure that adjacent socities do not end up with the same colour.

The map script will also has an option to just show the area covered by a particular society, or a section of it.

Defining the places covered by a society or society section

First see if your society has been recorded in the Organisation table. See the bottom of the Spider report for that. If not use the link at the bottom of this page to provide the details and get it defined in, along with a place to use as a starting point.

Go to a place in the area and display the Google map showing FHS coverage e.g. from the link on the Genuki town/parish page for it. You can click the icons for the appropriate places, and then select the Add/change FHS link and then select the society from the menu and click the buttons to send a message requesting the change. It is a little faster though to ask for a display of the area covered by the section of the society or the society, and work from the icons on there. It thyen knows which society or society section to use as a default.

This results in a number of emails being sent to the gazetteer maintainer who needs to make those changes. Once done that data will then reflect the changes required.

A little more work is required handling county wide entries, but as that doesn't really affect Lancs, it is now at a stage where FHSs can start defining the areas they cover. -->

Information for the Genuki county gazetteer & web page maintainer(s)

Organisation database table

The Organisation database table is used to hold basic information about FHSs. At the moment this can only be updated by Phil who has to be given any changes to it. The fields in this table are:-

  • Chapman county code.
  • A code for the FHS which is used in the gazetteer entries to mark the places the FHS covers. This needs to be unique so its best to start it with the Chapman code. E.g. LANmlfhs is being used for the Manchester & Lancs FHS. A branch of a society needs to have the society code with a dash and some identifying characters. E.g. LANmlfhs-old is being used for the Oldham branch of Manchester & Lancs FHS.
  • The name of the society and branch information if it is a branch entry. Aim for a full name and avoid abbreviations as that makes it much easier for everbody to understand.
  • The url for the FHS or branch. If it is a branch then the FHS may want to just direct people to their home page.
  • A numeric flag which is set to 1 if the society covers a complete Genuki county. If it covers more than one then we need multiple entries in the table with the appropriate Chapman code fields. The society code field though needs to be the same and the prefix in that code does not need to match the Chapman code although it probably will in one entry. An FHS can be countywide in one county and just have area specific entries in others.
  • A flag to indicate whether place entries for this one are visible on the online maps. For example the LPRS just covers one subject, has no meetings, and covers the whole county so it would be confusing if it appeared in individual place entries on the map. The only time they will be shown is when the area covered by the LPRS is requested.
  • The location of the centre of the area covered by this society or section of it. It is stored as a lat/lon and is calculated from the fhs entries defined in the gazetteer. This is done with a script that has to be run by Phil for the county. So when places have their fhs entry changed it should be re-run. It looks at all the gazetteer entries containing the FHS code and discovers the rectangle around them. The centre of this is the answer.
  • The radius of the area covered by the society which is again calculated from the surrounding rectangle.

We need to get these entries defined before the FHSs start clicking places they cover, as these entries will be used as part of this process. The Spider report e.g. Lancashire shows those that have been defined.

Gazetteer entries

The FHS information will be held in field O of the csv file. We only need to put information into Primary entries, those where field E contains Y or YES. Do not values into field O for 'county wide' FHSs. The value to put in is the FHS or branch code defined in the Organisation database table entry. If there is an overlap with more than one FHS covering this place use a colon character : as a separator between the codes.