Introducing William Vinicombe Jarman

William Vinicombe Jarman (1817-1852)

William Vinicombe Jarman is my 5th-great-grandfather. He was born in Devonshire, England, and I have been researching his family. The GRO PDF Pilot is helping me tremendously! Before I explain what the GRO PDF Pilot is and how it has helped I will provide some details of this family.

So far I have been able to track down 4 children belonging to William V. and his wife Mary Beer. One of their children was Elizabeth Jarman who married John Woodley. Sorting out John Woodley has been a chore. I found at least 4 different John Woodley’s born within a year or two with some connection to Devonshire. I will spare you all the gory details. Suffice it to say, that my 13-year-old daughter and I narrowed it down to 2 options for “our” John Woodley.

John Woodley, son-in-law

John #1: Born in London in 1851. Married to “Bessie”. Found in East Dawlish, Devon, England in several censuses as a plasterer. John and Bessie have a son named “Sidney Woodley” born about 1878 (don’t get me started on Sydney Woodley – there are bunch of them too!).

John #2: Born in Teignmouth, Devon in 1851. Married to “Elizabeth.” Found in 1871 and 1881 Census aboard ship. Not found in census record with wife and children. John and Elizabeth have a son named “Sydney Woodley” born in 1873 in Devon, England.

It was very challenging using existing records to sort these individuals out. In many cases the “records” at Familysearch, Ancestry, or FindMyPast were simply images of indexes with very little information. For example, in FamilySearch we have an index only with no image as shown here:

Sydney Woodley, grandson

I head over to to see what they have, and they have an image of the record!

Image of Civil Birth record for Sydney Leopold Woodley

Unfortunately, it turns out to literally be an “index” of births registered in the third quarter of 1873 with very little information. I do see that there are 2 Sydney Woodley’s listed – BOTH were registered in Newton Abbot, Devon in the SAME 3-month period in 1873! Not only is John Woodley hard to untangle, now I can’t even with confidence determine the middle name of Sydney. Is it Albert or Leopold?

Image of Birth Registration Index

In short, the available records online have proven insufficient to come to confident conclusions about John and Elizabeth Woodley’s family. But we must remember that a reasonably exhaustive search must extend beyond online databases!

GRO PDF Pilot to the rescue!

What is the GRO?

The General Register Office (GRO) is the name given to the civil registry in England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. In other words, it is the official government agency of the United Kingdom responsible for the recording of vital records such as births, deaths, and marriages. As such it is an important source for genealogical data in the UK.

What is the GRO PDF Pilot?

According to the GRO’s website, it is “looking at different ways of providing civil registration services to our customers and as part of that it has looked to test the customer demand for providing records in a format other than a paper copy, via a [PDF]. The GRO ran a pilot … between 9th November 2016 and 12 April 2017. It has been decided that the… Pilot will be extended from 12th October 2017, offering customers the ability to order a PDF copy of a historic birth or death record for a fee of £6.00.”

The GRO has announced that it will run this “extended pilot” for at least 3 months as they continue to gauge the level of demand for such a service. For me, the main draw for these records is additional information that is not available in the online indexes.

Time to order some records!

I did a search on the GRO website for 3 of John and Elizabeth’s children. Within 5 days I received an email saying they were available for download.  Each one of them gave me new information about their birth place, full name, and birth date. They also confirmed their father’s name & occupation, and the mother’s name and maiden name! They were EXCELLENT evidence to link these individuals together as a family.

Here are the records for Samuel Percy and Sydney Leopold (confirmed the middle name!):

In both cases, I was able to confirm the middle name, their mother’s maiden name, birth date as well as an address of where they were born and the residence of the informant (in this case their mother)! The GRO PDF Pilot was a huge help for me!

Have you used the GRO PDF Pilot program to request records? How has it helped you? Comment below!

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