Deciphering Cryptography for Family Historians

Marriage indexes

Birmingham marriage page range tables

Do you often get puzzled, nay perplexed by family history research? If only it were as simple as when shown on the television and wouldn’t we all love a PA answering to our every whim for warming lattes and restorative brioche butties. You agonise, you fret, you convulse over whether great aunt June wasn’t really a member of the KGB because you can’t find any reference to her breathing on the GRO (General Register Office) index and what do all of these esoteric codes and hieroglyphics relating to a marriage in eighteen o’ dreadful actually mean. Well, discombobulate no longer, people of the genealogical fraternity because assistance is at hand, propulsive yet sophisticated like Bond himself in a vintage Aston Martin DB5.

Let me introduce you to the wonders of the GRO Birmingham Marriage page range tables complied by P.L. Loach with assistance from David Fall where credited –

  •  Marriages registered in the Aston Registration District,1837 – 1924.
  • Marriages registered in the Birmingham Registration District, 1837 – 1924.
  • Marriages registered in the Birmingham North Registration District, 1924 – 1932.
  • Marriages registered in the Birmingham South Registration District, 1924 – 1932.
  • Marriages registered in the Kings Norton Registration District, 1837 – 1924.
  • Marriages registered in the West Bromwich Registration District, 1837 – 1932 (includes some north west Birmingham suburbs).

Once you have located the entry for the marriage you seek via the GRO index (which is accessible to view free of charge in Archives & Collections Service via Ancestry) and as long as the event occurred in the period covered by the marriage page range tables as outlined above, you should in theory be able to highlight which church the service took place at, although there are some noticeable exceptions which are identified when inspecting the tables. The tables are primarily arranged in yearly order and then by quarter –  March, June, September and December. The final part of the puzzle you require is the page number from the GRO citation found on Ancestry and all being well, the magical algorithms of the page tables will calculate their way to a revelation of which church the service took place in. You are then at liberty to explore other related resources held in our collections which may lead you to a copy of the parish entry for the marriage.

Quick ReferenceThe page range tables are available to view in the Heritage Research Area’s  Quick Reference section located on Level 4 of the Library of Birmingham at any point during the course of our full service hours of 11 am  – 7 pm Monday & Tuesday and 11 am  – 5 pm Wednesday to Saturday.


Happy espionage every one!

Paul Taylor
Archives & Collections Coordinator


The following items have been added to the various bookstock collections housed in Archives & Collections  –

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Humbly, sir, I thank you.


Here at the Iron Room, we are very happy to report that our pop -up exhibition to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the opening of our new gallery exhibition was a huge success! 

Over 100 people came up to see us in the Wolfson Centre on Saturday to see some of the delightful (and unusual) references to the name Shakespeare across our collections. We were very honoured to have William Shakespeare himself stop by to say hello and listen to a bit of 20th century Shakespeare!

William Shakespeare - searching for ancestors in the Guild Book of Knowle

William Shakespeare – searching for ancestors in the Guild Book of Knowle


Old meets new. Listening to a radio ballad of Romeo and Juliet from the Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000]

Old meets new. Listening to a radio ballad of Romeo and Juliet from the Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000]

Thank you to everyone who came, it was a fantastic day!

If you missed our pop-up exhibition, you can catch up online through the Birmingham Images website.  A brand new exhibition Our Shakespeare in conjunction with the British Library is now open in the gallery on level 3 and runs until September. Admission is free so why not come along!

It’s almost here!

Our Shakespeare

To mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, the Library of Birmingham will be hosting a family day of activities this Saturday, 23rd April.

A brand new exhibition Our Shakesepeare,  presented in partnership with the British Librarywill be opening on Friday, 22nd April, in the gallery on level 3 of the Library of Birmingham. The exhibition will be running until September and as part of the launch, there will be a range of activities in the Library on Saturday, including our own pop-up exhibition in the Wolfson Centre on level 4.

You can download the Our Shakespeare Family Day leaflet for details of events across the library.

“A hundred thousand welcomes!”

Celebrating 120 years of Balsall Heath Library

Balsall Heath Branch Library, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. 1910. [WK/B3/29]

Balsall Heath Branch Library, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. 1910.

Balsall Heath Library was officially opened 120 years ago on 18 April 1896.

You discover some odd things while looking into the Birmingham Free Libraries Management Sub-Committee minutes, in order to flesh out the first year or so.

In January 1896 it was recommended that ‘noiseless chair pads’ be attached to the chairs at Balsall Heath as they were regarded as very satisfactory in the School of Art.

The first Librarian appointed in October 1895, a Mr Shuttleworth, left within a month to go to Rotherhithe and the post was re-advertised. A Mr Mould was then appointed, previously a librarian at Harborne, aged 23 and a half, with 8 years of service and a good exam result. His starting salary was 30 shillings a week.

The first cleaner appointed in February 1896 resigned within a month on health grounds, and the second, Mr Whittle, appointed in March 1896, also resigned within a month. He already held the job of caretaker at the Wesleyan Chapel, Moseley Road, and the Chapel authorities would not give permission for him to hold another post. A previous candidate, Mrs Annie Smith was therefore appointed at 15 shillings a week, to find all her own materials and necessary assistance. This was 5 shillings less than the sum offered to Mr Whittle.

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The Shakespeares are coming!


“Shakespeare” from Archives & Collections

As part of the Library of Birmingham’s programme of events to mark 400 years of Shakespeare, Birmingham Archives & Collections has put together a pop-up exhibition to showcase some of the diverse and surprising items you can expect to find that “relate” to Shakespeare!

Theme’s include:

  • What’s in a name… the Birmingham Shakespeares… (yes there are lots!)
  • Inspired by Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare’s “Beauties”
  • Shakespeare at Stratford
  • Miniature Shakespeare
  • Reading Shakespeare

    … and more!

Staff will be on hand to talk to you about the items on display, and you might get to spell your name out in Shakespearean letters…

Come along and see us!

23rd April 2016, 12-3pm in the Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham. Free event.

‘Allotments for the unemployed’

WK-M6-49 Moorgreen allotments 1933

Moor Green allotments 1933 (WK/M6/49)

During the inter-war years, when unemployment was rising, one method of support to unemployed men and their families came from the Religious Society of Friends. The ‘allotments for the unemployed’ scheme was set up in South Wales in 1926 to allow unemployed miners to provide fresh vegetables for their families, as well as providing them with a sense of purpose and what Joan Mary Fry, clerk of the Central Friends Allotment Committee described as ‘useful creative interests’ (Report of some of the work of the Society of Friends in distressed areas in Great Britain, 1926-1932).

The scheme proved extremely popular, and supported by a government grant, spread throughout deprived areas of Great Britain. However, in 1931, the scheme came under threat when financial support from the government ceased. The Central Friends Allotments Committee issued an appeal for funds. In December 1931 in Birmingham, in response to the appeal, Hall Green Quaker meeting suggested to the regional Friends Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting that a local appeal could be made via a radio broadcast. The Monthly Meeting asked Florence Barrow (1876 – 1964), a Quaker relief worker who was involved in many social welfare activities in the city in this period, to arrange the radio appeal.

Hall Green PM minutes Dec 6 1931 re allotments

Hall Green Preparative Meeting minute concerning a radio broadcast appeal, 6 December 1931 (SF/3/12/1/1)

In the same month, Alderman Thomas Quinney, a member of the Society of Friends and also chair of Birmingham City Council’s Allotments Committee, proposed to that Committee that they discuss how the council could help unemployed men establish themselves as allotment gardeners. He put forward the idea that ‘an unemployed man should be assisted in connection with his rent for a period or that he might be helped with the provision of tools at a moderate cost’ (Birmingham City Council Allotments Committee minute 2594, 10th December 1931, BCC/1/CA/1/1/4). Continue reading

A Decadent Catsup

Bromide print. Photographed in 1901. Interior view showing oyster stall. [WK/B11/1227]

Bromide print. Photographed in 1901 by George Whitehouse. Interior view showing oyster stall.


It is thought that British explorers brought back Kê-tsiap or kĕchap, a brine of pickled fish or shell-fish, from China and the Malay states in the 18th century and called it Catchup or Catsup. As the Brits have often done with foods from other cultures, we experimented and adapted it to suit our cuisine so there were recipes for cucumber, mushroom or walnut catchup. It wasn’t until a hundred years later that the Americans began to make tomato catsup or ketchup and it began to resemble the tomato ketchup we know today. Oysters and anchovies were cheap in the 19th century and I particularly like this recipe for oyster catchup which requires large quantities!

‘Take 100 of Large Oysters with all their liquor 1lb of anchovies 3 pints of the best white or smyrria raisin Wine, a large Lemon sliced with half its peel let it boil gently for half an hour then strain it off, then add of Cloves & mace & ¼ oz; of nutmeg sh[e]l[le]d a ¼ oz: of black pepper, let it boil a quarter of an hour very gently, then add 2 oz: of shallot, when cold bottle it & put in the spices and shallots’

MS 2757-5-2-3-1 P69

Recipe book from the collection of papers relating to the Dixon and Hornblower families, Great Barr Street, Birmingham. [MS 2757/5/2/3/1 P69]

 If you’re feeling brave, why not have a go? It might make an excellent condiment for a dinner party!