Make the most of Findmypast and its special indexes: finding the elusive C G S Hirst, artist
Findmypast is not as large a database as Ancestry, but it has some distinctive features worth using. Among these are special indexes found in the A-Z of record sets, blogs and point-of-need strategy suggestions together with recommended record groups. It is free to access, onsite at State Library. Book a computer space on Level 3 to access Findmypast.
What are some special indexes?
Findmypast includes military records found in Ancestry’s Fold3, a collection of military records searchable only at a higher subscription level not available via State Library. Findmypast includes:
- British Army service and pensioner records
- British Army Pensioners - Royal Hospital Kilmainham Ireland, 1783-1822
- British army documents and associated birth, death and marriage records in India.
Other helpful sources are English parish records and Catholic parishes for each Irish county with links on the sidebar to name search option.
These were invaluable in the search for the missing years 1842-1869 of the artist C G S Hirst, “an itinerant artist about whom little is known” as he was repeatedly described. Details about him had already been found:
- a Hirst pedigree chart
- a Surrey baptismal record
- the 1841 census record
- his arrival in Brisbane as ship’s crew in 1870
- his wanderings and work as an artist and his death in 1890 in Brisbane.
He frequently wrote to the newspapers on various topics with interesting allusions such as to “a long and nomadic career in the Far East” Brisbane Courier 25 Sept 1874 p5.
The strategy for finding this missing period of C G S Hirst is worth considering. I knew his name variants included C, C G, and Charles Gordon as well as Charles Gordon Sebastian. I knew his age seemed to vary, so minimal information only went into the advanced search form. This search picked up a wonderful starting point for this stage of his life: his army service record 1846-1866.
In essence, Charles Hirst (C G S Hirst in Australia) had started his military career in the Madras Artillery of the East India Company Army as a gunner in 1846. When the East India Company was disbanded, he returned to England where he joined the British Army, once again as a gunner and bombardier. His service record details his activity in the British army from which he was discharged, at his own request, in September 1866.
This clue of a military background led to a search of the A-Z of record sets for British Army records and two relevant record sets not apparent in the broader search.
Using minimal information again, it was possible to find another copy of his service records as part of his pension claim. About British Army Service Records WO 22 & WO 23 explains the background and content of these records. His pension was collected in Australia and, most relevantly, in Queensland in the period when he was known to be working here as an artist. His pension claim in Queensland was confirmed by his entries as C G Hirst in Queensland State Archives Index to Imperial Pensions 1872-1915 under the heading of government. His pension finished when he died in 1890.
The British Army worldwide index 1861 confirmed his presence in the army in England at Warley. His service record indicated that he did not perform overseas service while in the British Army. It also provided a service number for this period of his service.
Findmypast is a context rich database: information about records and blogs
A strength of Findmypast is the information supplied about records. It is possible to access that information without a paid subscription simply by searching the internet. Details include not just record contents, but also a context for the records within military records and the census, in this case. Usefully, this information is placed close to the search. It does, however, require a paid subscription to access the individual’s record.
Another helpful feature is the blog. In this case ‘Finding your British military ancestor’ provides tips relevant to the soldier search. Another broader approach is that in ‘11 tips for finding out someone's military history’
‘Useful links and resources’ is another item on the search site of British Army records. Links to The National Archives partner page and, A guide to UK military records are included.
Findmypast was specifically helpful in supplying information I could find no other way after checking Ancestry and Queensland databases. After I found Hirst’s British military and pension records on Findmypast, I was able to confirm further information via Queensland State Archives and the British Library. I found some pension records in the Australian Joint Copying Project War Office records mainly because I was guided by the Findmypast search.
Findmypast is not a ‘one stop shop’ database, but then no other database is either. It is best to know its strengths in terms of content and search strategies. I have found it helpful in the search for the elusive ancestor who might be a soldier keeping his background discreetly to himself, and for the Irish for whom every tool in the box might be required (a search for another day).
I have found that with this database a very broad, flexible search has been a good way to start, and the use of the A-Z of record sets has been an excellent way to follow through. The specific record sets might not emerge in the first general search as hits, but critical features may develop when the relevant record sets are specifically targeted after checking the major clues offered by the army service record. I found Hirst in the British Army Worldwide Index 1861 and the pension records with a critical link to Queensland this way. The resultant information surrounding the records provided record content and a meaningful context. Hirst started his working life as a gunner in the East India Company Army, joined the British Army, came to Australia as crew and worked as an artist in South-East Queensland and New South Wales.
C G S Hirst
Find out about the initial discoveries relating to the artist C G S Hirst in the blog Charles Gordon Sebastian Hirst 1826-1890: “an itinerant artist about whom little is known”
Read about the latest acquisition and restoration of Hirst’s painting Starmount at State Library.