Wednesday 15 November 2017

Thither FHISO

I want to temporarily break my blogging hiatus to summarise the progress of everyone’s genealogical friend: FHISO.

There can’t seriously be anyone in the community who hasn’t heard of FHISO (Family History Information Standards Organisation), but how many of you might have written it off? If so then look again! I want to raise awareness of its recent substantial progress, and to challenge pundits to evaluate its relevance.


To put this article in context, let’s just wind things back to 2010. Pat Richley-Erickson (alias DearMYRTLE), Greg Lamberson, and Russ Worthington, had become so fed up with the problems of sharing basic genealogical data that they created the BetterGEDCOM wiki: its goal being to produce an internationally applicable standard for the sharing and long-term storage of genealogical data.

Although this wiki garnered huge support — 134 members within its first year, contributing over 3,000 pages and 8,500 discussion posts — no actual standard emerged. The reasons for this were manyfold: there was no real structure or assigned responsibilities in the membership, the goal was too poorly defined (what genealogical scope? what level of backwards compatibility?), and there was no technical strategy (what technologies? what file formats?). As a result, discussions — valuable as they were — became mired in minutia, no consensus was reached, and nothing was formally written up.

Early in 2012, a small group of BetterGEDCOM members formed FHISO with the goal of overcoming these failings. They spent considerable effort designing an organisation that would accommodate a large and diverse number of contributors, and in planning for consensus-building and digital organisation.

In April 2012, it received a grant from genealogist Megan Smolenyak to help get the organisation started, and during the remainder of 2012 it pulled off an incredible coup by getting industry support from the following high-profile Founding Members (in chronological order of announcement):

During the summer of 2012, there were a number of blog-posts related to GEDCOM-X and to FHISO, including those of Louis Kessler (Whither GEDCOM-X?, 7 Jun 2012), Randy Seaver (Whither FHISO and GEDCOM X? Observations and Commentary, 18 Jul 2012), Tamura Jones (FHISO and GEDCOM X, 18 Jul 2012), and Pat Richley-Erickson (Whose sandbox is it anyway?, 19 Jul 2012). Randy’s subsequent Follow-Up Friday (20 Jul 2012) provided a more complete summary.

These posts were mostly concerned with proprietary versus community standards. GEDCOM-X was new and people believed that it would be a competing de facto standard — exacerbated by the fact that FamilySearch weren’t in the list of Founding Members, above. This turned out to be ill-founded paranoia (more on this in a moment), but even FHISO was defensive and quietly concerned, as can be inferred from GeneJ’s contribution to Randy’s summary.

During March 2013, in order to try and keep membership attention in the absence of technical work, FHISO began its Call For Papers initiative. The idea was that people could send in their ideas and proposals in preparation for more consensus-based work. Although quite a few papers were submitted, and on a wide range of topics, the number of distinct submitters was small — possibly an unrecognised warning to FHISO that few people would find the time or inclination if the effort was onerous.

The investigations into software tools for the burgeoning organisation showed that good ones were too expensive for FHISO and the cheap (or free) ones didn’t deliver what was needed, and this work dragged on for too long. Over the years, Board members have had to reach deep into their personal pockets to help move the organisation to the point where it would be fair for members to subscribe for another year (original memberships have been continually extended, for free, since August 2014).

During 2013–14, there were a number of team changes, and it would be a fair criticism to say that FHISO dropped the ball during these changes. There was little visible activity to people outside of FHISO (as explained by Tamura: Genealogy 2013: events & trends, 31 Dec 2013) and so it was to be expected that the community would lose interest in it.

During 2014, FHISO finally established its TSC (Technical Standing Committee), and so began the real technical work. This included the creation of the TSC-Public mailing list, and the creation of several exploratory groups, each of which had its own mailing list. However, the mailing lists demonstrated the same issues that were previously experienced in BetterGEDCOM: topics digressed and discussions meandered without formal conclusions. Such discussions must necessarily resort to a bewildering and ever-evolving technical vocabulary, and software people generally find it hard to explain their concepts in familiar terms without losing technical accuracy. It was truly amazing, therefore, that some well-known non-software genealogists participated, and I genuinely take my hat off to those that succeeded in balancing the discussions with real-world genealogical issues.


When the flurry of posts on these mailing lists began to fizzle out, and the exploratory groups all floundered, FHISO took a deep breath and a long look at the reality of standards development. If it was going to achieve its goals then it needed to better-understand why other initiatives had failed, and it clearly needed to adopt a quite different approach.

It became evident that the hardest part of standards development was not the technical side but the commercial and/or political side. Creating a new data representation has some technical challenges, but it’s doable; there were several examples out there, ranging from the old GEDCOM to more recent data models, file formats, database schemas, and APIs, all coming from a range of commercial products and private research projects. But despite its age and deprecated status, GEDCOM was still the most widely-used way of exchanging data. There were those who believed that the industry could stay with GEDCOM, and that its problems and equivocality could be fixed in a new version. Then there were those who believed that this would restrict the evolution of genealogy, and that we must leapfrog lineage-linked data to include non-person subjects of history, or to integrate real research-based narrative. In reality, none of these viewpoints were entirely correct, … or incorrect.

If a new data representation were to be produced — even just an updated GEDCOM — then it would be unlikely that the industry would immediately embrace it for the simple fact that commercial stakeholders would have a financial commitment to their current internal data models, and to their supported modes of import/export. Companies and their products would have evolved along with their internal data model; any new data model with larger scope — no matter how powerful or modern — would have no impact if it required companies to abandon their existing products and to start again. For instance, taking advantage of the powerful analogy between persons and places as historical subjects would not help companies whose import/export was entirely via GEDCOM, or whose internal data models had not recognised the analogy. Data models such as GEDCOM-X were designed around the specific requirements of the parent organisation, and not as future-proofed models to be shared by all genealogical software.

Another issue was that there were many stakeholders out there (including every user who simply wanted to exchange data without error or loss), but fewer people prepared to openly contribute on mailing lists, and fewer still who had the time and skills to produce formal written material. FHISO’s impressive Founding Members seemed content to sit on the sidelines, and there was little (if any) engagement with them following the original announcements.

This was a tough problem. There was no doubt that the industry needed not just an open standard but an evolutionary path: one that would permit ‘software genealogy’ to mature, and to become part of the modern digital world. However, there was clearly some apathy to doing the heavy lifting, and there could be later resistance to anything too radical.

If ever the term catch-22 found its true mark then it was in the field of software genealogy.

The first thing to be done was to modify the organisational structure to one more appropriate to the reach of genealogical standards — FHISO was not a general-purpose ISO or ANSI. FHISO already had the concept of an Extended Organisational Period (EOP), now embodied in article 24 of its by-laws, during which the membership would be populated (including the Founding Members), new officers appointed and roles filled, and the TSC established. The EOP also allowed the Board to amend the by-laws as necessary, and without the need for an Annual General Meeting (AGM). It may have been envisaged that the EOP would only last for maybe six months, but it was still in effect at this time of change.

From a technical perspective, FHISO needed a focus: something concrete that could be debated, cited, and built upon. It would therefore be necessary for a core of dedicated people to form a Technical Project Team (as allowed by the TSC Charter) to establish a technical strategy and to publish a selection of draft component standards in order to kick-start subsequent work.

These processes could all be done within the remit of the EOP, but it would have to keep the membership (and the public) aware; certain organisations would not acknowledge any third-party standard unless it was developed through a proper transparent process by an incorporated organisation. FHISO does publish regular Board minutes and TSC minutes, but it would only be allowed to publish draft standards for comment during this period (not official standards) since there would be no voting mechanism. Until this work had reached an acceptable level, and elections and AGMs could be resumed, then it was deemed inappropriate to require existing members to pay for each year.

During this phase, FHISO produced a technical strategy paper that amplified on these points, and a policy document on the preferred nature of software vocabularies. The vocabularies document was updated during Feb/Mar 2016 to incorporate public feedback.

Wheel Hubs

Part of FHISO’s technical strategy was to focus on what might be called component standards: standards related to specific parts of genealogical data (e.g. personal names, citation elements, place references, dates), and allow these to be integrated into existing data models. This would not preclude the future publishing of a single FHISO data model that embraced all of these components, but for the shorter term it would allow existing data models to incorporate them more quickly, while minimising the impact on their core software. The basis for this was that, within certain limits, it should be possible to have distinct proprietary data models cooperating if they shared a common currency.

FHISO had previously used the analogy of car design to explain this strategy; rather than standardise what cars we can drive, there would be benefit in standardising the parts from which all cars are made. Well, there’s a real instance of this that can be cited: all the cars around the world (with a few exotic exceptions that can be ignored) share the same wheel hub sizes. There is a standard set of accepted sizes, and they’re all measured in Imperial units — even in countries that use the metric system. This means that the same range of tyres can be used for all our cars, no matter which model or where it was manufactured.

The plan, therefore, was to work on a number of these component standards, each of which would include details of how it should be integrated into existing data models — the so-called “bindings”. But there was a problem here: GEDCOM-X could never supplant GEDCOM because there were probably millions of GEDCOM files still out there, and software products that were tied to the GEDCOM model. These problems for FamilySearch effectively mirrored those of FHISO’s standardisation effort, but for the component standards to work then it required a version of GEDCOM that could be taken forwards. If those companies that were bound to GEDCOM were not to be left behind then there had to be a new version of it, one for which bindings could be defined for FHISO’s new component standards. The two initial data models of interest, therefore, would be GEDCOM and GEDCOM-X.

The following diagram illustrates how these component standards would be assimilated by the various data models, including a supported GEDCOM continuation (shown here as “ELF”).

FHISO Component Standards
Figure 1 – FHISO Component Standards.


GEDCOM hasn’t been updated in decades, and there are acknowledged weaknesses and ambiguities in its specification. Furthermore, the name is still the property of FamilySearch.

FHISO would, therefore, define a fully compatible format called Extended Legacy Format, or ELF for short. ELF v1.0 would be compatible with GEDCOM 5.5(.1), such that ELF could be loaded by a GEDCOM processor, and vice versa. This means not only that stakeholders could declare support for ELF v1.0 with not too much effort, but also that there would be no reasonable excuse for not declaring support.

Of all FHISO’s draft standards, ELF is probably the most important since it presents a future for GEDCOM data and software, a future that would support enhanced movement of data both between compliant products and between differing proprietary data models.

Figure 2 – FHISO ELF.[1]

As well as being a supported and more tightly-specified version of GEDCOM, ELF would include an extension mechanism that would be employed in later versions to embrace the FHISO component standards, and any third-party extensions by using proper namespaces.

During the preparation of the first ELF draft, FHISO engaged with members of the German group GEDCOM-L, which represents over twenty genealogical programs over there. Their goal since 2009 has been to reach agreement on the interpretation of the GEDCOM 5.5.1 specification, and to extend it to include a number of “user-defined tags”. For instance, high among their priorities was support for the German Rufname, or “appellation name”, which is an everyday form of personal name.

FHISO intends to utilise the knowledge and experience of the GEDCOM-L group in making a better GEDCOM.

Milestones and Signposts

Industry contacts had identified a citation-element vocabulary — a representation of the discrete elements of data within citations — as filling an important niche in today's standards, and so this became the focus of the first component standard.

In 2016, the Technical Project Team began to draft possible standards text, releasing an early draft micro-format for a citation-element ‘creator name’ for comment in the spring. During June 2017, FHISO was able to publish a number of high-quality draft standards for public comment, and during the September it incorporated public feedback from its TSC-Public mailing list.

This milestone puts FHISO ahead of all previous standards initiatives! The level of detail and accuracy in these drafts, combined with the choice of technologies, establishes a future-proof model that could take genealogical data as far as is needed, and so it sets the bar for all future FHISO work.

The next phase will involve releasing draft citation-element bindings for both GEDCOM-X and GEDCOM. Already released is a draft bindings document for RDFa. Rather than being a genealogical data model, RDFa defines a set of attribute-level extensions to HTML. This is especially interesting as it allows pre-formatted citations to have their embedded elements marked-up. The industry norm is to first define the individual citation elements as discrete items, and then rely on some citation template system to build them into a formatted citation. Traditional genealogists, and anyone who prefers to hand-craft their own citations (including me), should welcome this inverted alternative as it recognises the power and flexibility of citations as sentences rather than formulae.


Although currently acting chairman on the FHISO Board, I write this article as someone who has always believed that standardisation absolutely must happen in our field. It borders on hypocrisy that users are expected to collaborate on unified trees, and to play fair with each other, when the large organisations have been unable to set a precedent with their data sharing.

[Backup copy of the BetterGEDCOM wiki has recently been restored at: BetterGEDCOM Archive. The original site has been locked by]

[1] Original base image used with kind permission of SuperColoring ( : accessed 26 Jun 2017).

Monday 2 October 2017

More on SVG Family Trees


Following my previous post on Interactive Trees in Blogs Using SVG, a number of people have signed-up to try the free utility for designing and generating their SVG trees.


These people have explored the possibilities and made valuable suggestions, including some with developer experience, and including one person running it under the WINE compatibility layer on a Mac (it was designed to run under Windows).



With the release of v3.0, the utility became a proper product rather than just a POC, and a number of enhancements and fixes were applied during the sub-releases of v3.0. These culminated in thumbnail images being supported in the browser output, and by the Tree Designer’s Edit-Person form, in v3.2.0.


An installation kit, documentation, and samples were placed in a Dropbox folder from where they can be downloaded by people who sign-up (either by contacting me via email, or from the right-hand panel of my blog).


The main purpose of this post is to announce the release of v4.0 of the utility, and to demonstrate a couple of the new features. The following is a summary of the new features, in roughly chronological order:


  • Implemented 'id=' attributes on person-boxes so that they can be referenced by URLs and scrolled into view. This allows narrative text to reference specific person boxes in an SVG tree.
  • Support for images and captions together in the Tree Designer person boxes, as per the browser output.
  • Implemented multiple-selection of persons via Ctrl+Click operations. Affects interpretation of Copy-Person and Delete-Person operations.
  • Implemented menu options to copy and paste persons or families (e.g. between different sessions).
  • Include optional pan-zoom support for browser from external source. This allows the contents of specific SVG images to be panned and zooomed (see user guide).
  • Changed border and text of empty boxes to faint grey to avoid them being too obtrusive.
  • The Tree Designer’s window size and position are now saved and restored. It is no longer always maximized.
  • Implemented zoom control in Tree Designer via menu options, and Ctrl/+ or Ctrl/- keystrokes (very similar to Web browsers).
  • Added simple HTML toolbar to help with editing person and family notes.
  • Implemented a RootKey parameter to emphasise the direct-line of a particular person up through ancestral generations.


One of the features I especially want to present is the Pan-Zoom feature. This uses open-source Javascript code to allow a user to navigate around a specific SVG tree image. It eliminates the need for both clunky scrollbars and the standard browser zoom support, which affects the whole page.


The first example is a tree that includes both images and captions in each of the boxes. Tooltips are enabled if you let the mouse hover over a box or a family circle. The +/Reset/- control in the bottom-right corner shows that the Pan-Zoom code is active, and so you can navigate around the tree and magnify/shrink it. Also, clicking on a box expands the picture into a separate tab.


Generated by Parallax View's SVG Family-Tree Generator V5.1.4. See Married 2 Oct 1858 at Nottingham St Nicholas. married 21 Nov 1872 at Gloucester St Catharine. Married 29 Nov 1891 at Nottingham Emmanuel. b. 1833 in Nottingham; Bpt: 20 Jan 1833 at St. Mary's, Nottingham. d. 1910 in Nottingham aged 77. Bur: Church Cemetery, Nottingham., common grave 8123 in St Ann's Valley, on 24 May 1910. Henry Proctor b. 1833 in Nottingham; Bpt: 20 Jan 1833 at St. Mary's, Nottingham. d. 1910 in Nottingham aged 77. Bur: Church Cemetery, Nottingham., common grave 8123 in St Ann's Valley, on 24 May 1910. b. 1834 in Maidstone, Kent. d. 1905 in Nottingham. Elizabeth Turton b. 1834 in Maidstone, Kent. d. 1905 in Nottingham. b. c1833 in Bishops Cleeve, Gloucestershire. Licensed victualler at Worcester Arms, Worcester St, Cheltenham. d. 1883 in Cheltenham. William Stanton b. c1833 in Bishops Cleeve, Gloucestershire. Licensed victualler at Worcester Arms, Worcester St, Cheltenham. d. 1883 in Cheltenham. b. 1834 in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. d. 22 Apr 1924 at 59 Norland Rd, Nottingham. Emma J. Ashbee b. 1834 in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. d. 22 Apr 1924 at 59 Norland Rd, Nottingham. b. 21 Apr 1870 in Nottingham. d. 12 Dec 1950 aged 80. Addr: 33 Young St. Bur: 15 Dec 1950 at Wilford Hill. Gr: G34/51. William H. Proctor b. 21 Apr 1870 in Nottingham. d. 12 Dec 1950 aged 80. Addr: 33 Young St. Bur: 15 Dec 1950 at Wilford Hill. Gr: G34/51. b. 1873 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. d. 10 Jun 1956 in Nottingham. Bur: 13 Jun 1956 at Wilford Hill. Gr: G34/51. Annie E. I. Stanton b. 1873 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. d. 10 Jun 1956 in Nottingham. Bur: 13 Jun 1956 at Wilford Hill. Gr: G34/51.


The second example shows a tree in the vertical orientation. This has the information panels enabled so clicking on a box or family circle will pop-up a panel with historical or biographical details below the tree — Ctrl+Click or Shift+Click on the boxes or circles will dismiss those panels. This tree also incorporates the Pan-Zoom code.


Generated by Parallax View's SVG Family-Tree Generator V5.1.4. See William Ashbee (1803–1870) Ann Hayward (1801–1869) Thomas Ashbee (1826–1891) John Ashbee (1831–1912) Emma Jane Ashbee (1834–1924) William Stanton (1833–?) Mary Sandford (1834–1871) William Ashbee (1836–1907) Mary Ann Hale (1844–1890) Annie Emma Isabel Stanton (1873–1956) William Henry Proctor (1870–1950) Helenor Gertrude Norton (1868–1902) William Henry Ashbee (1866–1922) Evelyn A. Graham (1884–1918) Mary Phyllis Ashbee (1905–1984) Evelyn Ashbee (1909–1997) Patricia Ann Ashbee (1910–1973)


Notice that the panel for Mary Ashbee includes links to blog articles that mention her, as well as an image of her. Because such content is HTML-based then it can also include footnotes, tables, document scans, and more.


A larger example of Pan-Zoom that also incorporates the new direct-line RootKey feature may be found at Fieg & Sheehan Family, courtesy of Robert Fieg.


The tool to generate these trees is now freely shared with the genealogy blogging community. Since the time of writing, it has undergone many improvements, including thumbnail images and searchable photos. See SVG-FTG Summary.

Saturday 15 July 2017

More on Margaret Hallam, née Astling

Back in Impediment to Marriage, I made a case for Thomas Meads, of Epperstone, Nottingham, having never married Margaret Hallam because (a) she was born Margaret Astling and was already married to Thomas Hallam, and (b) that Thomas Hallam was a prisoner of war in Napoleonic France, so absent but not deceased. I now want to follow-up on some the suggested further research, and show how this became an exercise in correlation and visualisation.

Figure 1 – Battle of Fuengirola, Spain, 1810.[1]

Parish of Settlement

The previous article noted that Margaret’s illegitimate children could have become a financial burden on the parish of Epperstone, and so the parish officers would have taken a keen interest in knowing who the father was. It also noted that Margaret later seemed to be accepted in that parish, which was the parish of settlement of Thomas Meads (her partner), rather than Screveton, which was the parish of settlement of her husband.

A search for maintenance orders and bastardy bonds at the Nottinghamshire Archives found nothing, but there was evidence of a removal order for Margaret Hallam from Epperstone back to Screveton.

The original removal orders have not survived but the removal order minute books have. The following two entries document a removal order having been served, and a successful appeal against it by the parish of Screveton.

10 Jul 1815:

Whereas a warrant on order of removal under the hands and seals of Francis Evans Esq., and the Rev’d John Kirkby, Clerk two of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace in and for the County of Nottingham (one being of the Quoram) bearing date the 28 day of June last, Margaret Hallam the wife of Thomas Hallam and their three children born since her marriage, James aged about 8 years, Mary aged about 6 years and a half and Henry aged about 5 years, were removed from the Parish of Epperstone in the County of Nottingham to the Parish of Screveton in the said County as the last place of their legal settlement and the said Parish of Screveton appealing at this sessions against the said warrant or order of removal. The same was ordered to be filed among the records of this sessions and such appeal to be respited to the next General quarter sessions of the Peace to be holden at the Shire Hall in Nottingham in and for the said County of Nottingham.[2]

16 Oct 1815 (appeal):

Whereas an appeal was entered at the last General quarter sessions of the peace holden at the Shire Hall in Nottingham in and for the County of Nottingham on the part of the Parish of Screveton in the County of Nottingham against a warrant of removal whereby Margaret Hallam, the wife of Thomas Hallam and their three children born since her marriage James aged about 8 years, Mary aged about 6 years and a half and Henry aged about 5 years were removed from the Parish of Epperstone in the County of Nottingham to the said Parish of Screveton as the place of their last legal settlement and the same was respited to this sessions and the merits thereof being now tried and counsel and witness heard on both sides, it is ordered by the court that the said warrant or order of removal so far as respects the settlement of the said Margaret Hallam the mother be confirmed and so far as respects the settlement of her said children be discharged.[3]

Although the minuted details were brief, these entries do confirm Margaret’s situation, and her relationship to Thomas Hallam of Screveton. More interesting, though, is what was not recorded.

The words describe Thomas Hallam in the present tense, implying that he was not deceased, but they also talk about her first three children as though they belonged to Thomas and Margaret Hallam. The Epperstone parish register clearly shows that no father was recorded on their baptisms, and that the clerk had added annotation of “base [born]” (see previous article). If Thomas Hallam had been present then he would have strongly contested the suggestion that they were his, and so we can infer that he was not only absent but uncontactable.

From the Settlement Act 1662 until Removal Act 1795, the Overseers of the Poor could remove anyone entering a parish that might become a burden on it. That removal could happen within 40 days of a notice being published. From 1795, no non-settled person could be removed from a parish unless he or she actually applied for relief. Also, a person would acquire settlement rights if they managed to stay for 40 days, and any illegitimate children were granted settlement where they were born.[4]

This raises an interesting question: what was the trigger for this removal order. Margaret’s children were all baptised, and presumably born, in Epperstone, and so she had been there for several years without an order being served. It wasn’t the death of Thomas Mead’s wife, Martha, as she was buried later that year, on 8 Dec 1815. The previous article makes the case that her husband, Thomas Hallam, had returned from France in the spring of the previous year (1814), but had re-married (illegally) to Sarah Astin on 19 Dec 1814 in Nottingham. The obvious conclusion is that Margaret had applied for parish relief during 1815.

But the appeal suggests that the order was confirmed for Margaret but not for her children — enforcement of which I cannot imagine. If Margaret was deemed to be settled in Screveton still then it implies that her husband was known to be alive and that the parish of settlement associated with him had greater weight than her having resided in Epperstone for some years. Maybe she was removed because it was another four years before her and Thomas Meads had a further five children together in Epperstone, and where the baptisms openly recorded the names of both parents.

One last mystery: the minute book only mentions three of Margaret’s children; Charlotte was baptised in Epperstone on 31 Jan 1813, so why wasn’t she mentioned? No evidence of her dying could be found, and it appears that she eventually married a William Brand on 23 Sep 1832 at nearby Lowdham St. Mary the Virgin.[5]


Two of the parish register extracts used in the previous article had a note indicating “family details on fiche”. These registers, and their fiche copies, are available in the Nottinghamshire Archives, and those details were as follows:

Figure 2 – Baptism entry for Margaret Astling, 1784, Coddington, Nottinghamshire.[6]

Margaret Asling daughter of James Astling
of Coddington Taylor son of James Astling
of Coddington labourer by Mary his wife
Elizabeth the wife of James Astling daughter
of Wm. Dickinson of Long Bennington in
Lincolnshire labourer by Rebecca his
wife Born on Tuesday the 28th September [1784]
Baptised on Sunday 10th October[7]

Elizabeth the wife of James Asling of Coddington, Taylor, daughter of Richard Taylor of Coddington, Labourer by Elizabeth his wife died 30th January [1783], buried 1st of February, in the church yard/aged 52 years/Distemper fever.[8]

In pre-modern medicine, an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids known as humors (blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm) directly influenced their temperament and health; hence distemper. What it equates to now can only be conjecture.

These two notes give plenty of information about the lineage of James, and of the two wives: Elizabeth Taylor and Elizabeth Baker/Dickinson. For the latter — the mother of Margaret Astling — we have her father’s surname as Dickinson but we’ve already established that James had married an Elizabeth Baker. It was not hard to show that Elizabeth Dickinson was baptised on 4 Jul 1743 to William Dickinson and Rebecca Goodbarne in Long Bennington, Lincolnshire,[9] and had been previously married to Thomas Baker in Coddington since 25 Aug 1766.[10]

Looking at James, we have a typically frustrating problem because the same given name was used in different generations. Not only that, there was at least one case of multiple marriages, and several instances of spouses called Elizabeth or Mary. Trying to reconstitute families based purely on their names and parish is not a good plan, and you really have to correlate the event dates with their ages and any other details such as register notes, witnesses, being a widow(er), being of a different parish, etc. I already had a feeling that this was going to be a cat’s cradle.

So, James Astling2, the father of Margaret Astling, had parents James Astling1 and Mary. Looking for a potential marriage to a Mary revealed a strong candidate Mary Hall, in Averham — only five miles W of Coddington — but the specific details depended on which database was consulted.

Jacob Asling
"England Marriages, 1538–1973", FamilySearch
6 Feb 1726
Jacob Asling
Nottinghamshire Family History Society (NottsFHS), Parish Register Marriage Index, CD-ROM, database (Nottingham, 1 Jan 2013), database version 3.0; CD hereinafter cited as NottsFHS-Marriages.
6 Feb 1725/6
Jacob Asling
Jacob Asling
“England Marriages 1538-1973”, Findmypast
6 Feb 1725
Jacob Holing
“Nottinghamshire Marriages Index 1528-1929”, Bishops’ Transcripts, Findmypast
6 Feb 1726
Jacob Asling
“Nottinghamshire Marriages Index 1528-1929”, Findmypast
James Ashling
“England, Boyd's Marriage Indexes, 1538-1850”, Archdeaconry Marriage Licences, Findmypast
6 Feb 1725-6
James Ashling
“Nottinghamshire, England, Extracted Church of England Parish Records”, Abstracts of Marriage Licences, Ancestry
6 Feb 1725
Jacob Asling
“England & Wales Marriages, 1538-1988”, Ancestry
Jacob Asling
“England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973”, Ancestry
Table 1 – Marriage details for Mary Hall, c1726, at Averham St Michael & All Angels, Nottinghamshire (all sources accessed 4 Jul 2017):

Here, we have two different years, and at least two different names — we can easily rule out “Holing” as a transcription error. It’s difficult to tell exactly which of the databases are independent and which are copies of each other, but there are clearly two sources of information having contributed to them: details of the marriage itself, and details of a marriage licence.

In order to resolve these differences, I consulted a couple of slightly older non-database sources: Phillimore’s marriage register extracts (1912), and abstracts of Nottinghamshire marriage licenses from the Archdeaconry Court (1935). They provided the following details

Jacob Asling, of Coddington, & Mary Hall, 6 Feb. “ [1725 implied with ‘ditto’, but entry preceded 5 May 1726].[11]

[1725-6 recorded at top of page] Feb. 6, James Ashling, of Coddington, yeom., & Mary Hall, at Averham. [Bond by John Hall, of Upton, yeom.].[12] (second brackets in original text)

It can be seen in both of these sources that the progression of the dated entries is according to the Julian calendar, and so the date was really 6 Feb 1725/6, where 1725 was the (Julian) civil year and 1726 was the historical year. See Synchronised Dates. This doesn’t excuse those database dates being all over the place but it does now make sense. James’s surname is slightly different in the two sources, and the use of Jacob as his given name may be explained by Jacob and James being cognates of each other.

More importantly, these sources both confirm that it was our James1 of interest, from Coddington.

Prior to the Marriage Act 1753 (26 Geo. II. c33), canon law of the Church of England had required that banns should be called or a marriage licence obtained before a valid marriage could be conducted. It also required that the marriage took place in the parish in which one of the parties had resided for four weeks, although the reality was more flexible. The Act tightened this up and the marriage had to take place in the parish where one of the parties resided; the four-week requirement was eventually reduced to fifteen days in 1823.

The banns of marriage were a public proclamation of an intended marriage in three consecutive weeks, on either Sundays or some holy day in the parish church. The Act restricted this to just Sundays, but originally — in Cromwell’s time — they could have also been called on three market days in the local market place. Either way, it was a very public affair, and one reason for taking the licence route — if you could afford it — was to keep it more private. Another reason was that it reduced the three-week waiting period, and so may have been chosen if there was some urgency, such as an impending birth. This may have been the case here as their first son (James) died just seven months after their marriage.

The databases containing parish register extracts are nearly always deficient in their transcribed details, thus resulting in many rash associations being made. Ideally, it’s best to consult the original registers, or some image copies of their entries, but in this case I used the aforementioned Phillimore marriage register extracts. In fact, I used the NottsFHS marriage database as an index, and then checked for extra details in the (dated but unindexed) Phillimore extracts. This could provide additional information to help correlate the marriages with births and burials. The goal was to account for all the James, Mary, and Elizabeth Astlings (and variants) in the local area, and so form the backbone of a family reconstitution.

15 Jun 1735
Elizabeth WILLSON
Coddington all Saints
19 Aug 1751
Newark St Mary Magdalene
27 Jul 1756
Coddington all Saints
18 Mar 1775
Elizabeth TAYLOR
Coddington all Saints
22 Jul 1784
Elizabeth BAKER
Coddington all Saints
3 Jul 1787
Elizabeth WHAITE
Barnby-in-the-Willow All Saints
24 Dec 1798
Elizabeth WATSON
Coddington all Saints
Table 2 – NottsFHS Marriage database entries for instances of James, Mary, Elizabeth Astling.

I included Mary Frandell here since it is not a common surname (even including the –del(l) and –dal(l) variants), and the only marriages were of three daughters in this Newark parish. It is quite likely, then, that James was from a neighbouring parish, such as Coddington.

These marriage dates were then checked in the Phillimore extracts to see if further details were available. Those registers use the following common abbreviations.

b. = bachelor
w. = widower or widow
p. = of the parish of
s. = spinster, single woman or son
lic.= marriage licence

James Asling & Elizabeth Willson ... 15 June 1735.[13]

James Asling & Mary Frandell ... 19 Aug 1751.[14]

Edward Asling, aged 25 years, & Mary Bowman, aged 25 years ... 27 July 1756.[15] [Calc. birth years: Edward c1731, Mary c1731]

Thomas Baker, aged 27 years, & Elisabeth Dickinson, aged 23 years … 25 Aug. 1766.[16] [Calc. birth years: Thomas c1739, Elisabeth c1743]

James Ashling, aged 47 years, w., & Elizabeth Taylor, aged above 43 years, lic.  18 Mar 1775.[17] [Calc. birth years: James c1728, Elizabeth c1732]

James Asling, aged 55 years, w., taylor, & Elizabeth Baker, aged 40 years, w., .. 22 July 1784.[18] [Calc. birth years: James c1729, Elizabeth c1744]

John Aslin, b., p. Coddington, & Elizabeth Whaite, s. ... 3 July 1787.[19]

James Asling, w., aged 40 years and upwards, & Elizabeth Watson, aged 26 years and upwards, lic. ... 24 Dec. 1798.[20] [Calc. birth years: James c1758, Elizabeth c1772]

The marriage of James Ashling to Elizabeth Taylor was by licence, but the date was beyond the range of the Blagg and Wadsworth abstracts, vol.II, in my possession. The following marriage details were obtained from the Nottinghamshire Archives.

James Ashling aged above forty seven years, a widower, and Elizabeth Taylor aged above forty three year both of this Parish in the County of Nottingham were married in this church by licence from H. Wade, Surrogate this Eighteenth day of March in the year of our Lord 1775 by me Thomas Wakefield, Vicar of East Stoke.

This marriage was solemnized between us:

James Ashling (Signed); Elizabeth x (Her mark) Taylor

In the presence of Michael Ashwell, Henry Aldridge, Samuel Birkett[21]

There were details of a corresponding marriage bond in the University of Nottingham’s online catalogue of manuscripts and special collections.

Title:  Marriage bond, Coddington 18.3.1775
Date of Creation:  18.3.1775
Extent:  2ff
Level:  Item/file

Code:  NA12405: Person Name: Ashwell, Michael, fl 1775 (Farmer of Coddington, Nottinghamshire) — bondsman, signed.

Code:  NA12406: Asling, James, fl 1775 (Taylor of Coddington, Notts) — groom, widower, aged 47, signed.

Code:  NA12407: Taylor, Elizabeth, fl 1775 (of Coddington, Notts) — bride, spinster, aged 43.[22]

The following baptisms and burials of a James, Elizabeth, and Mary Astling (and variants) were found in the NottsFHS databases.

Register Notes
1 Aug 1726
Son of James
1 May 1735

18 Dec 1735
Son of James
2 Jan 1756

28 Dec 1769
Son of James & Mary
26 May 1772
Wife of James
1 Feb 1783
Elizabeth ASLING
Wife of James. Distemper fever. [Calc. birth year 1731]
10 Oct 1789
P.P. [possibly “parish priest”, which is more Catholic, or per procurationem: “on behalf of”]
17 Jul 1798
Elizabeth ASTLING
Wife of James. Of a lingering consumption. [Calc. birth year 1758]
9 Jul 1815
[Calc. birth year 1755]
11 Nov 1824
Elizabeth ASLIN
[Calc. birth year 1744]
Table 3 – Burials related to a James, Elizabeth, or Mary Astling at Coddington All Saints.[23]

Given name
17 Sep 1727
Comprises one generation of 1727–1735.
19 Jul 1730
10 Sep 1732
13 Apr 1735
26 Aug 1753
Comprises a second generation, following an 18-year gap, of 1753–1770.
5 Feb 1755
James [a]
14 Nov 1756
1 Oct 1758
2 Mar 1760
25 Apr 1762
11 Sep 1763
24 Mar 1765
1 May 1768
29 Apr 1770
10 Oct 1784
Born 28 Sep 1784. Father’s occupation “taylor”.
Table 4 – Baptisms to a James Astling at Coddington All Saints.[24]
[a] This baptism was at Orston St. Mary, but I’ve included it for reasons presented below.

I had included the “James Asling” who was baptised at Orston St. Mary — just 10 miles S of Coddington, and a mere 5 miles SW of Long Bennington — since there is a reference to such a person in the Coddington marriage and burial registers, and yet there were no other Astling references (including variants) in the Orston registers in the 17th or 18th Centuries.[25]

The following table merges these referenced personae according to various correlated properties. The birth year calculations for marriages where no ages were given, and also for childbirths, use the age of “free” marriage when parental consent was unnecessary: 21. The Church of England minimum for that time was only 12 for girls and 14 for boys, but such cases were rare; the average age was actually mid-twenties.[26]

The mathematical symbols ‘<’ and ‘>’ are used to indicate ‘before’ and ‘after’, respectively.

(< c1705)–(> 1726)
m. James Ashling
Mary Hall married James Ashling1 in Averham, and had 5 children (4 baptised).She died in 1735, the same year as her infant son (John).
(< c1706)–(> 1735)
Table 4
Baptisms of 4 children
?–May 1735
Table 3
(< c1730)–(> 1751)
m. James Asling
Mary married James2 in 1751. After baptising 10 children, she died in 1772, just a couple of years after her last child (Martha).
(< c1732)–(> 1770)
Table 4
Baptisms of 10 children
?–May 1772
Table 3
Burial. “Wife of James”
c1731–(> 1756)
m. Edward Asling

(< c1705)–(> 1727)
m. Mary Hall
James1 married Mary in 1726, but she died in 1735 after 5 children. James1 remarried to Elizabeth Willson in the same year.
(< c1714)–(> 1735)
m. Elizabeth Willson
?–Aug 1726
Table 3
Burial. “Son of James”
First son of James and Mary Hall
Sep 1727–?
Table 4
Baptised son of James & Mary
Second son of James and Mary Hall
(< c1730)–(> 1751)
m. Mary Frandell
James2 was born 1727, married Mary in 1751, Elizabeth Taylor in 1775, and Elizabeth (Dickinson) Baker in 1784.
Ashling (w.)
c1728–(> 1775)
m. Elizabeth Taylor
Asling (w.)
c1729–(> 1784)
m. Elizabeth Baker
?–Jan 1756
Table 3
?–Oct 1789
Table 3
c1755–Jul 1815
Table 3
James3, son of James2 and Mary Frandell. Elizabeth Watson was his second wife, his first (also Elizabeth) having died earlier the same year.
Feb 1755–?
Table 4
Baptised son of James & Mary
Asling (w.)
c1758–(> 1798)
m. Elizabeth Watson

(< c1714)–(> 1735)
m. James Asling
Of the same generation as Mary Hall, who died in 1735, and so must be the second wife of James1.
c1743–(> 1766)
m. Thomas Baker
Elizabeth Dickinson married Thomas Baker, and then James Asling2. She gave birth to just one child: Margaret Astling. She died aged 80.
c1744–(> 1784)
m. James Asling (w.)
c1744–Nov 1824
Table 3
(< c1766)–(> 1787)
m. John Aslin

c1732–(> 1775)
m. James Ashling (w.)
Second wife of James2.
c1731–Feb 1783
Table 3
Burial. “Wife of James”
c1772-(> 1798)
m. James Asling (w.)
James3 married an unidentified Elizabeth but she died in 1798. He then married a much younger Elizabeth Watson the same year.
c1758–Jul 1798
Table 3
Burial. “Wife of James”
Table 5 – Correlation of personae for James, Elizabeth and Mary Astling (and variants).

These results might be difficult to visualise but the following tree will help enormously.

[ Followers of my Interactive Trees in Blogs Using SVG post will notice the use of another option, here: employing browser tooltips to display background details for people and families. Just hover over the person or corresponding green family circle in the expanded version. ]

Figure 3 – Lineage of Margaret Hallam, née Astling.


This further research wholly supports the conclusions in the previous article, but adds a little more detail.

The one weak point remains the military document suggesting that Margaret’s husband, Thomas Hallam, was a POW in Napoleonic France until the spring of 1814 since it didn’t confirm his place-of-birth. All other military references to a Thomas Hallam could be dismissed, and this remaining one gave the correct year of birth.

More than that, there was no evidence for any other explanation of why Thomas was clearly absent for those years, or why he made a subsequent appearance during 1814.

My thanks to Christine Davies, Nottingham genealogist, who helped me source information from the Nottinghamshire Archives.

** UPDATE 21 Aug 2017** A James Ashen was baptised in Coddington All Saints on 22 Jul 1726 to a James and Mary. This is almost certainly the first child of James Astling and Mary Hall, which I could not locate before as it must have been a transcription error of 'Ashlin'. [NottsFHS-Baptisms]

[1] January Suchodolski  (1797–1875), “Battle of Fuengirola”; image credit: Jan Białostocki, Juliusz A. Chrościcki, 1981, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons ( %3ABitwa_pod_Fuengirol%C4%853.jpg : accessed 8 Jul 2017).
[2] Removal order minute books, Nottinghamshire Archives, document ref: QSM 1/37, entry dated 10 Jul 1815; transcribed by C. Davies.
[3] Ibid., entry dated 16 Oct 1815.
[4] Terrick V. H. FitzHugh, The Dictionary of Genealogy: A guide to British ancestry research (Sherbourne: ALPHABOOKS, 1985), pp. 270, 273.
[5] NottsFHS-Marriages, entry for Wiliam Brand and Charlotte Hallam, 23 Sep 1832, Lowdham St. Mary the Virgin.
[6] Coddington All Saints parish, Nottinghamshire, parish register images, Nottinghamshire Archives, fiche 2 (14 May 1727 6 Aug 1809), entry for baptism of Margaret Astling, 10 Oct 1784; image cropped for specific entry.
[7] Ibid., transcribed by T. Proctor.
[8] Coddington All Saints parish, Nottinghamshire, parish register images, Nottinghamshire Archives, fiche 3 (22 Oct 1781 25 Dec 1812), entry for burial of Elizabeth Asling, 1 Feb 1783; transcribed by C. Davies.
[9] "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975", database, FamilySearch ( : 30 December 2014), Elizabeth Dickinson, baptised 4 Jul 1743; citing LONG BENNINGTON, LINCOLN, ENGLAND; FHL microfilm 421,919. "England Marriages, 1538–1973", database, FamilySearch ( : 10 December 2014), William Dickenson and Rebecca Goodbarne, 27 Nov 1738; citing Long Bennington, Lincoln, England; FHL microfilm 1,542,183.
[10] NottsFHS-Marriages, entry for Thomas Baker and Elizabeth Dickinson, 25 Aug 1766, Coddington All Saints parish.
[11] W. P. W Phillimore and Thos. M. Blagg, Nottinghamshire Parish Registers, Marriages, vol. XVII (London: Phillimore & Co. Ltd., 1912), "Marriages at Averham", p.54; PDF images on CD, Archive CD Books (20032005).
[12] Thos. M. Blagg and F. Arthur Wadsworth, Abstracts of Nottinghamshire Marriage Licences (Vol. 2) 1701-1853 (London: The British Record Society, 1935), “Archdeaconry Court 1701 – 1753”, p.244; PDF images on CD, Archive CD Books (2004).
[13] Phillimore Marriage Registers, vol. III, “Marriages at Coddington”, p.45, entry for James Asling, 15 Jun 1735.
[14] Phillimore Marriage Registers, vol. IV, “Newark-upon-Trent Marriage Registers”, p.160, entry for James Asling, 19 Aug 1751.
[15] Phillimore Marriage Registers, vol. III, “Marriages at Coddington”, p.46, entry for Edward Asling, 27 Jul 1756.
[16] Ibid., p.47, entry for Thomas Baker, 25 Aug 1766.
[17] Ibid., p.48, entry for James Ashling,18 Mar 1775.
[18] Ibid., p.49, entry for James Asling, 22 Jul 1784.
[19] Phillimore Marriage Registers, vol. III, “Marriages at Barnby-in-the-Willows”, p.41, entry for John Aslin, 3 Jul 1787.
[20] Phillimore Marriage Registers, vol. III, “Marriages at Coddington”, p.50, entry for James Asling, 24 Dec 1798.
[21] Coddington All Saints parish, Nottinghamshire, parish register images, Nottinghamshire Archives, fiche 7 (8 Nov1764 26 Nov 1782), entry for marriage of James Ashling to Elizabeth Taylor, 18 Mar 1775; transcribed by C. Davies.
[22] Marriage Bond, document ref: AN/MB/171/36, Manuscripts and Special Collections, University of Nottingham (http://mss- : accessed 15 Jul 2017); citing marriage bond, Coddington [Nottinghamshire], 18.3.1775.
[23] NottsFHS, Parish Register Burial Index, CD-ROM, database (Nottingham, 1 Jan 2013), database version 3.0, entries relating to surname As%l%n% at Coddington All Saints, filtered for references to James, Elizabeth, or Mary; CD hereinafter cited as NottsFHS-Burials.
[24] NottsFHS, Parish Register Baptism Index, CD-ROM, database (Nottingham, 1 Jan 2013), database version 3.0, entries relating to a James As%l%n% at Coddington All Saints; tabulated entry for James was actually from Orston St. Mary parish, as indicated in the tablenote; CD hereinafter cited as NottsFHS-Baptisms.
[25] NottsFHS parish databases (NottsFHS-Baptisms, NottsFHS-Marriages, NottsFHS-Burials), entries for surname As%l%n% at Orston St. Mary parish.
[26] Rebecca Probert, Marriage Law for Genealogists: the definitive guide (Kenilworh: Takeaway, 2016), pp.110, 124.