Wednesday, 30 October 2013
Gazing at the Gazettes - beta site
I've been looking at the new beta site for The Gazette which is set to replace the three separate sites for the London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes. It looks very different.
I am a big fan of the Gazettes, and the London Gazette in particular. It is a wonderful source for family and local history, and not just for bankruptcies, changes of name and gallantry awards, for which it is fairly well-known. In fact, as part of the day job, I gave a talk called 'The London Gazette: not just the brave and the bankrupt' in 2010 which you can still download as a podcast.
The fact that you can now search across all three Gazettes at once is an improvement. As before, you can search by key word, date range or Gazette page reference. Although there is no 'Advanced search' or 'Search builder' option, You can still do all these things on the beta site. Previously, there were boxes for all words, exact phrase or any word. You can still do all these searches in the new single search box, using double quotation marks for "exact phrase" and OR between your key words for an 'any word' search, ie the regular Boolean operators. You select the date range using a calendar feature, not a drop-down menu, which works well. The pre-set selections for particular events, notably the two World Wars, have disappeared, which is a pity.
There are several new filter features, some of them very detailed, starting with 'Notice type', but based on a few trial searches I have made, these only seem to work from 1998 onwards - editions up to 1997 appear as pdf files of whole pages, while the later ones are text versions of individual notices. There is also a place filter, using place, postcode or local authority, which also seems to return only recent results. I have no insider knowledge, but my educated guess is that this is why the post-1997 filters can be so detailed. So neither of these tools will be of much help for historic searches, but there is one new feature that will be useful for everyone; you can register with the site (it's free) and save your searches in an area called 'My Gazette'. You can also share your findings using Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
The beta site and the old site will run alongside each other 'Until we have migrated all the notices and are completely confident the new site is flawless' so there may be some changes to come. There is one vital feature that I can't find on the new site, which I very much hope will be added before long - the PDF versions of the printed indexes to the London Gazette. These are particularly helpful when searching for gallantry awards, which can be very tricky to find using the usual search methods.