The Soc.genealogy.britain FAQ


Below is a list of the most Frequently Asked Questions and Answers posted to and summarised from the Soc.genealogy.britain newsgroup and its associated mailing list GENBRIT-L. Many other questions can be answered by accessing the GENUKI, a Virtual Reference Library of UK & Ireland Genealogy that has been specially set up to support the Soc.genealogy.britain newsgroup. The URL is

Please take the time to read this and the other FAQs available (details at the end of this document) before submitting your query to the group. The answers to the queries below, follow:

The latest version of this document is posted to the soc.genealogy.britain newsgroup and mailing list on the tenth of every month.

If you have any comments or changes, or any suggestions for new topics to be included, or you would like to write a note for inclusion in the FAQ, then please contact John Woodgate, ( This FAQ was created from an Original FAQ created by Shannon Lovelady

Contributions by:
Shannon Lovelady, Phil Preen
Changes for this version (9th September 1999)
Updated IGI entry.

Copyright and Disclaimer

Copyright (c) 1999 by John Woodgate. All rights reserved.

This document may be freely redistributed in its entirety without modification provided that this copyright notice is not removed. It may not be sold for profit or incorporated in commercial documents without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. Permission is expressly granted for this document to be made available for file transfer from installations offering unrestricted anonymous file transfer on the Internet.

This document is provided AS IS without any express or implied warranty.

The author may be contacted at 50 Great Meadow Road, Bradley Stoke, Bristol, BS32 8DA, England.


  1. Is there such a thing as an Email Virus?
  2. What is a 'cockney'?
  3. What is Britain, and how is it sub-divided?
  4. What is an IRC? Snail mail to and from the UK.
  5. Is there a list of old Occupations online that can tell me what a French Polisher does? A Cordwainer? A Whitesmith, etc?
  6. What county is (...) in? Is there a Gazetteer of UK placenames online?
  7. What is the IGI? Is it going online? Can I buy it on CD-ROM?
  8. What are the actual dates the UK Census was taken?
  9. Is the UK census online?
  10. What do full-age/fa/ofa/bofa/minor/mi/do/DO mean in Public Records, etc?
  11. Is there a list of Causes of Death online? My gggf died of 'Asthenia'.
  12. What is Jno short for?
  13. What naming conventions are there?
  14. Is there a coat of arms for SMITH family (or other surname?)
  15. Why are parent details missing from the certificate?
  16. Where does the term Black Irish originate?
  17. Are 'World Books of (Your Surname)' worth buying?
  18. Posting Guidelines
  19. Where do I find other FAQs?
  20. What is the charter of this group?

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is there such a thing as an Email Virus?

    First up, simply reading an email message cannot destroy your system. Email viruses have been around since 1988 under many names you may recognise; Irina, Penpal Greetings, Ghost.exe, Deeyenda, Good Times, etc. Most email 'viruses' are hoaxes, and there are several ways you can identify them as such:

    Do not circulate virus warnings. The flood of virus warnings clogging private mailboxes and newsgroups is actually the virus. They slow down your email and take up your time. They can elicit varying degrees of panic amongst both the uninitiated and sometimes, the experienced. Some who should know better, have also been duped.

    However. It is possible to get a virus by reading an attachment to an email message that contains a macro virus, or by running a 'virus' program attachment to your email, known as a Trojan Horse.

    One of the latest currently causing apprehension is AOL4FREE.COM. This is a Trojan Horse program that you would firstly need to download, and then run, before it could do any damage. Even if you actually had it sent to you as an email attachment, you can still read the message without damage. You need to run the program before it can destroy anything. See the US Department of Energy's Computer Incident Advisory Capability (CIAC) site below, if you're interested in more detailed information on the three different components of AOL4FREE.

    Use your common sense to discern a virus. Would you choose to a) download; or b) run a program, when you don't know what it is?

    If you are concerned about any new virus; for your peace of mind; confirmation of your worst fears; or a good laugh over the 'Good Times' spoof message, visit CIAC's site, on They are among the first to know and alert Internet users to potential problems.

  2. What is a 'Cockney'?

    A cockney is a slang term for a Londoner, originally said to be someone born within the sound of Bow Bells. These bells were those of the church of St Mary Le Bow in the City of London, (not that you'd hear them above the roar of the traffic these days). The term is now used more widely to describe a Londoner.

    It is thought to have its origin from 'cock's eye' where the second word means an egg (the German word for egg is 'Ei'). The culture was typically working class with a distinct dialect using rhyming slang, e.g. 'apples and pears' (stairs), 'trouble and strife' (wife), 'china plate' (mate). Cockneys were such strange people, with their unusual speech, that some impossible phrase had to be dreamed up to describe them.

  3. What is Britain and how is it sub-divided?

    'Britain' is usually used as a shortened form of Great Britain, which was the result of the union of the Crowns of Scotland and England in 1603, the 'Great' being added to signify the expanded realm.

    geographically, the British Isles are made up of:

    Politically, the British Isles currently contain:

    The Isle of Man (and the Channel Islands) make their own laws, subject to being overruled by the Westminster Parliament, although more usually, Westminster only passes applicable laws with their agreement (e.g. British Summer Time Act).

    Little Britain (Brittany) is a province of France (politically) that sticks out into the Atlantic at the top left hand corner of that country. People from Brittany are 'Bretons'. People from Great Britain are 'Britons', although that word is sometimes used to mean a UK citizen these days.

    Britain is many culturally distinct areas, even though they are all governed from London. Although there has been widespread migration within the UK, each area still maintains some differences in names, religion (almost indistinguishable to outsiders) and tradition.

    Great Britain is further divided into shires and counties. The counties of Ireland are usually known as 'County X', (for example County Kerry or County Cork). That is not the case in England, Scotland and Wales, where the counties are usually known as 'Xshire', (for example, Lancashire or Stirlingshire) with the one awkward exception of County Durham. For instance, to refer to 'County Somerset' would be incorrect.

    In 1974, the borders and even the names of many counties were changed, for no adequate reason. This can cause confusion to genealogists, especially where a town has 'moved' to a different county. Recently the names changed again, in many cases back to the older areas.

    To make your research easier, it is essential to either own an atlas, or have access to one. There are many inexpensive ones available to buy, or alternatively, most genealogical/family history libraries will have one. See question 6 for further information on maps.

  4. What is an IRC? Snail-mail to and from the UK?

    IRC is the abbreviation for an International Reply Coupon. They can be purchased from your local Post Office or Genealogical Society at modest (but unregulated and fluctuating) cost. One or two are usually enclosed as a matter of courtesy, with any overseas enquiry.

    The purpose of the IRC is to exchange it at the local Post Office for that country's postage, and the respondent is therefore, not left out-of-pocket for the postage to reply to your enquiry.

    You do not have to exchange IRC's for return postage stamps if you do not wish to. If you receive one, you can send it on to someone else, who in turn can send it to yet another person, but in the process each sender is still providing 'funds' for a return letter.

    IRC's are supposed to assist in achieving a response to your query with minimal inconvenience. This is particularly important when snail-mailing (smailing) an individual rather than an institution.

    When smailing to the UK, do not send non-UK stamps for the recipient to use for your reply, as they will be rejected by the post office.

    If you don't know the correct post code for mail to the UK, leave it off. It will still get there, only a little bit slower. A good idea is to include a self-addressed envelope with your query. If nothing else, this ensures that the respondent's reply will be addressed correctly.

    In regards to putting your return address on the front/back of the envelope - do as you would prefer, or as is the practise in your country. It won't hinder your letter's arrival.

    There is a great web site covering things like UK Postage and more detail on International Reply Coupons at:

  5. Is there a list of old Occupations online that can tell me What a French Polisher does? A Cordwainer? A Whitesmith? Etc.

    Two excellent web sites that give many comprehensive descriptions of old occupations commonly listed in the census and other forms can be found at and at

    If the occupation you are seeking is not on either of these lists and you post a query to the newsgroup, please state that you have visited these web sites, otherwise you will be told to do so. If you later find the definition from another source, your contribution of this definition for inclusion in the lists, is welcomed. A simple addition to your genealogical tools is an everyday dictionary, which is extremely useful to have on hand for this purpose.

    French Polisher
    A French Polisher is a person who applies a type of wood finish consisting of varying parts of shellac and alcohol (solvent). It is wiped on by hand with the grain of the wood with a special lint-free cloth pad, (called a 'rubber' also lubricated with linseed oil) and rubbed until dry, usually in less than a minute. Many additional coats were added until the desired effect was achieved. The final very high gloss is attained by 'spiriting off' with neat alcohol. It requires a lot of skill and practice to get the best (glossiest) finish. Being very labour intensive, this type of work is only done on more expensive furniture, as a rule.
    cordovan [kor'do-van], cordwain [kord'wan] n. goatskin leather, originally from Cordova (Cordoba) in Spain. -ns. cord'wainer, cord'iner a worker in cordovan or cordwain: a shoemaker; cordwainery.

    The term 'cordwainer' was originally restricted to those who worked in fine Spanish leather (Cordoba = cordovan), and not just in shoes. The early cordwainers dealt in luxury goods, and their customers were the nobility and the wealthy. Considered highly skilled craftsmen, they also made hats, furniture coverings, wall coverings, tack, light infantry 'armor', boxes, leggings, coats, belts, purses, and so forth. Some of the more industrially oriented cordwainers made wagon slings, buckets, pipes (to carry water), ropes, interwoven straps to serve as bed-springs, shoulder pads, quivers, horsecollars and the like.

    Whitesmith - also called a tinsmith, as they worked with tin, polishing and finishing metal goods. Some also worked with lead pipe for gas and plumbing.
  6. What county is (...) in? Is there a Gazetteer of UK placenames online?

    Yes, at:

    This will show you which county your placename is in, and the corresponding Ordnance Survey Landranger Map on which it is shown. Details on how to purchase the maps you need are available on the web site.

    If you're interested in Yorkshire, there's a very comprehensive gazetteer specific to Yorkshire online. 'A Topical Dictionary of Yorkshire for the year 1822' by Thomas Langdale gives the location and a sometimes brief, often detailed description of the placename you are researching. It can be found at:

    Also online and very helpful for an overview is a map of UK counties prior to 1974 boundary changes. Another useful section of the GENUKI hierarchy, it's URL is

    A great site for detailed street maps is which has searching and street map facilities for Greater London.

    Not online, but Cecil Humphery-Smith's 'The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers' (widely recognised and highly recommended, but expensive at 50 pounds), is also very useful. Many libraries will have the hard cover book, which contains maps of the pre-1832 parishes of England, Wales and Scotland by county, and an 1834 topographical map of each England & Wales county. The index shows where the records (originals or copies) for each parish are held and the dates available for each.

  7. What is the IGI? Is it going online? Can I buy it on CD-ROM?

    The International Genealogical Index (IGI) is an index of births, baptisms and marriages which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) have devised. It contains over 200 million names and dates that have been extracted from parish registers, bishops transcripts, and also from files of names submitted by church members. It is accessible on both microfiche (by surname, within county) and CD-ROM (by surname) at LDS Family History Centres, or most Genealogical Societies. You can download pertinent IGI entries from the CD-ROM for use on your own computer. You will need several disks for multiple downloads.

    Whilst it is an invaluable tool in your family history research, all IGI entries found should be checked from the source, even if the information fits perfectly into your tree. Not every parish register has been included and errors are not unknown. Be wary of entries that read 'About/Abt 1792', as these entries are part of a family file that has been submitted by people who are only guessing when the event is most likely to have taken place. The generally reliable entries which are extracts from parish registers, can be distinguished from the generally unreliable private submissions, by looking at the Batch number of the source for that event. Batch No's beginning with the letters C, K, J, M, E and P are from controlled extractions from parish registers and are generally reliable. Anything else should be treated with extreme caution.

    The IGI is now available on-line at the URL

    No, the IGI is not available for purchase on CD-ROM. There was a time over a year ago when it was sold via Dynix Library Systems to bona fide research organisations and libraries (but not to individuals) for an exorbitant price. Dynix are no longer distributing it.

  8. What are the actual dates the UK Census was taken?

    The first official UK Census was taken in 1801, and at 10 yearly intervals after that, with the exception of 1941. They were conducted for all the population as at midnight on the below dates. Those taken between 1801 and 1831 are not generally of much genealogical use. Those of greater interest are from 1841 to 1891. The 1901 Census has not been released and will not be released until 2002, as it is protected by the '100 Year Rule', which is that information was provided to the census enumerators on the promise that it would not be made public for 100 years.

    The actual dates the census were taken:

    1821 - 28 May     1831 - 30 May
    1841 - 7 June     1851 - 30 March
    1861 - 7 April    1871 - 2 April
    1881 - 3 April    1891 - 5 April
    1901 - 31 March   1911 - 31 March
    1921 - 19 June    1931 - 26 April
  9. Is the UK Census online?

    No, the complete UK census is not online, except for the following:
  10. What do full-age/fa/ofa/bofa/minor/mi/do/DO mean in Public Records, etc?

    Full-age = fa = ofa (of full age) = 21 or over.
    You did not need your parents approval to marry when of 'full age'.
    Bofa = both of full age = both parties 21 or over.
    Minor = mi = under 21.
    If minor, until very recently when it was reduced to 18, parties needed parental consent to marry. Except in Scotland, where anyone 16 or over could/can get married without parental permission.
    DO/do = ditto.
    Same information as the above entry applies in this entry.
  11. Is there a list of Causes of Death online? My gggf died of 'Asthenia'.

    There is a wonderful glossary of 'old diseases' like Bright's Disease, Consumption, Effluvia, Hectic fever, Milk sick (and many more) on The Olive Tree's web site at: This list may well give you the answer to the cause of death of your ancestor. Your humble dictionary may also be worth a look.
  12. What is Jno short for?

    Abbreviations for Jno and others are:
    Alex/Alexr - Alexander
    Bernd      - Bernard
    Chas       - Charles
    Dy/Do      - Dorothy
    Edw        - Edward
    Eliz       - Elizabeth (not to be confused with Eliza)
    Em         - Emma/Emily
    Fredk      - Frederick
    Geo        - George
    Hon        - Honour
    Hum/Humy   - Humphrey
    Jas        - James
    Jno        - John
    Jonth      - Jonathon
    Jos        - Joseph
    Josh       - Joshua/Joseph
    Marg       - Margaret (not Mary)
    Mart       - Martha (not Margaret)
    Mattw      - Matthew
    My         - Mary
    Ric/Richd  - Richard
    Robt       - Robert
    Saml       - Samuel
    Ste        - Stephen
    Tam        - Tamsin/Thomasin
    Tho/Thos   - Thomas
    Wm         - William
    Xian       - Christian
    Xpr        - Christopher

    There is an excellent tutorial by Sabrina J Murray on deciphering old handwriting online, which also provides other examples of Christian name abbreviations, plus information on the 'leading s', occupations, numbers and letters. It's at

  13. What naming conventions are there?

    It can appear as if the names in a family have not been chosen at random, and the question we ask is 'Have they followed a particular Naming Convention, and if so, what is it?'.

    One explanation can be that some families choose from the same small pool of names from generation to generation. They may be meticulous: 'the first son is always named Alexander, the second, William...' and so on; or in no discernible order, with abundant Roberts, Johns and Samuels.

    At times we come across a child with a middle name that is a surname, or the mother's maiden name. Many families have used a forebear's maiden name as a middle name for their children, but this is personal preference, not convention. Nor is it by any means guaranteed to be a family member's name. So while assuming that Arthur Bell SMITH's mother was someone BELL may occasionally be true, to always assume so would be a mistake. It may be the surname of a previous benefactor the parents wish to honour, or someone they simply admire or respect.

    Although certain families may choose and follow their own naming conventions, there are no prevailing naming patterns for most of the UK. However there is one convention strongly followed in Scotland and by families elsewhere, usually those with some Scottish ancestry. This standard convention named the:

    First son
    after the Father's Father
    Second son
    after the Mother's Father
    Third son
    after the Father
    First daughter
    after the Mother's Mother
    Second daughter
    after the Father's Mother
    Third daughter
    after the Mother
  14. Is there a coat of arms for (SMITH) family (or other surname?)

    A coat of arms belongs to the family to whom it was granted and *only* to male heirs. The son and heir inherited the right to bear those arms, while the younger sons often differenced (changed in a minor way) the arms and then passed them on to their heirs. The male descendants of the eldest son have the right to use the arms. The male descendants of the younger sons have the right to use the differenced arms. King Henry VIII was concerned by the misuse of armourial bearings and commissioned Kings of Arms to travel throughout England and Wales to survey and record all arms. From 1530 until the late 1680s, heralds travelled the countryside on horseback on a regular basis that became known as the heralds' visitations. The control of coats of arms is still in the hands of heralds today.

    It is highly improper, 'ungentlemanly' and a sign of ignorance to use Arms that you are not legally entitled to and have not inherited. Just because you have the same surname as someone who was granted arms does not mean that you too, can use them. You will need to prove your descent from the original holder. Mind you, no one is going to prosecute you for casual use, although they might do if you try to use them commercially.

    In the case of Scottish Clans the above applies however, a member of the clan (not a direct descendent) is entitled to wear the Coat of Arms with the belt and buckle surround.

    To have the Coat of Arms of the Chief or of the person it is granted to, on an object is actually stating the object belongs to the Chief or owner of those Arms. In fact the Court of the Lord Lyon will legally sue any person using your Coat of Arms free-of-charge!

  15. Why are parent details missing from the certificate?

    Usually because the child is illegitimate;
    As birth, or the parent(s) died when the child was young and the person being married did not know the name(s).
    Death (Scotland only):
    As marriage, but can also be because the informant (unlike in England) can be anybody with knowledge of the death, but not necessarily any personal details.
  16. Where does the term Black Irish originate?

    There are many opinions on how this term originated, and what it means in context today. An excellent article presenting many possibilities has been written by Tom Kunesh on the subject. This can be found at
  17. Are 'World Books of (Your Surname)' worth buying?

    'Halbert's' books originate from Bath, Ohio, USA, and claim endorsement by Burke's or DeBrett's. They send a letter claiming they are publishing 'coffee table quality' (something they are not) books of your surname, and that they are awaiting your reply before printing an exact number ('limited release') of World Books of your surname.

    They contain nonspecific genealogical information on how surnames *in general* originated, how to begin your research and where to find certain records. This particular information does not change from book to book.

    However, there is a section at the back of the book that IS specific - a world listing of people bearing your surname. Whilst it is interesting to see the worldwide distribution of your surname, this information is often several years out of date and is not guaranteed to be complete.

    Cost varies from country to country, and their offer is 'money back guaranteed'. If you decided to purchase the book and it was not satisfactory, you could probably get your money back. Interestingly, they have been forced to cease the sale of these books in the USA.

  18. Posting Guidelines

    Explaining these guidelines in detail requires a FAQ of its own, (details of obtaining a guidelines FAQ are below), however, a quick summary is:

    If you want more information, there is a very good web page on Netiquette at the URL or via anonymous FTP from or via the URL

  19. Where do I find other FAQs?

    Many FAQs are available by FTP from A list of the FAQs available can be obtained by retrieving the following file It is also available on the WWW at the URL

  20. What is the charter of this group

    Soc.genealogy.britain is an unmoderated group for genealogy and family history discussion among people researching ancestors, family members, or others who have a genealogical connection to any people in Great Britain. This includes England, Scotland, Wales and the offshore islands such as the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands.

    The group is open to anyone with an interest in genealogy in any of the populations in or from this area, including, but not limited to: people who live, lived, or may have lived there; emigrants; immigrants; colonists; residents of former colonies; and their descendants.

    The scope of the group reflects language, history, migrations, and the realities of researching public records and genealogical data archives, and includes questions of local customs and history, or of regional or national history which affected the lives of these people and which are difficult to research in the present. Posts may be in any language but those seeking replies from a wide spectrum of readers (or at all) would be well advised to post in English.

    The focus of the group is on the genealogy of individuals, as members of ethnic groups, and as part of migration patterns. Postings on topics unrelated to genealogy, especially relating to current political or religious topics are not acceptable.

    Postings concerning general surnames searches are not welcome and should be directed to the soc.genealogy.surnames newsgroup or to any appropriate subgroup that may be created. Postings containing MIME attachments, graphics, binary or GEDCOM files, and program listings are also not acceptable.

    The newsgroup will be gated to the existing mailing list GENUKI-L which will be renamed GENBRIT-L. The gate will be two-way so that all messages posted on either side will appear on both sides. The postings will be archived and made searchable by email, WWW or other such means.

All on the GENBRIT newsgroup appreciate and thank you for the time you have taken to read this, and welcome your participation. / 9th September 1999 / webmaster