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By Di Bouglas

Following discussions with other professional genealogists, it has become apparent that we all want to know more about how to deal with taxation matters related to running a small business. I have now been able to arrange a talk by leading HMRC expert, Fiona Heritage. Fiona had 29 years experience with HM Revenue and Customs and now runs her own consultancy, TaxClever. She will cover self assessment, what expenses can be claimed, record keeping and NI contributions and there will be ample opportunity to ask questions. With the 31st January deadline looming for filing your return for 2012/3, this is an ideal opportunity to make sure you are claiming everything you can, whilst staying on the right side of the law.

The talk will be at the Society of Genealogists at 2pm on Thursday 9th January 2014. Directions can be found on the SoG website.

For anyone who is an SoG member, Thursday is their late night, so you will also have the opportunity to stay until 8pm and use the library.

For those who are not SoG members, or are not familiar with what the library has to offer, we are going to arrange for an optional free tour of the library after the talk has finished.

Places are limited and I’m expecting that this might be a popular topic, so advance booking is advised. The cost is £6, to include light refreshments, which can be paid in advance by cheque (payable to Diana Bouglas). It might be possible to turn up and pay on the day, but please check with me first to make sure there are still places available. All are welcome. You don’t have to be an AGRA or SoG member, or even a genealogist. Please contact us using the tab at the top of the page (not the SoG) for further details.




by Di Bouglas

Following the last sessions in April, a further meeting of users was held today at First Avenue House, home of the Principal Probate Registry and London search room. There was very little new information, but the following is a summary of what was discussed.

John Briden will be leaving on 31 May 2012. There is no direct replacement for him at the moment. We were introduced to Mark Burdon and Di Rice who are based (I think) at Newcastle and Oxford registries and oversee the northern and southern areas respectively. They will be taking over from John for now.

Despite some concerns voiced by users, we were told that there are no current plans to close the London search room, although there were also no guarantees that it will remain open in the long term. Plans are being developed to drastically reduce the need for a face-to-face interview in order for a probate to be granted. The current oath will be replaced by a ‘statement of truth’ in non-contentious cases, which will require only a signature. If the numbers of searchers is also reduced following the introduction of the online calendar, then clearly it will be difficult to see why the premises now in use on the 7th floor at First Avenue House will still be required. There was no mention of providing a service for those who cannot or do not want to use the online calendar.

As suggested previously, the one-hour copy service will not be reintroduced. It is likely that the current 48 hour service will become 24 hour, once its delivery can be guaranteed. The postal service for London orders might be reduced from 10 working days to perhaps 3-4 days. A review of the charging system might result in a higher fee being charged for a faster service. This seems to be a new idea. We have always understood that the cost would always be the same, irrespective of production speed. The counter clerks will still have some discretion to produce an urgent copy in an hour, where they can be persuaded of a pressing need.

A multi-tier system might be considered for online orders as well. We were told that the current delivery time for orders produced via Leeds was three weeks and that this was now being met in almost 100% of cases. This is an acknowledged improvement on the problems experienced when Ancestry first put the calendars online and orders placed through Leeds (and previously York) jumped from 1500 to 4500 a month. The level is now about 1100 a month, with no apparent rise yet noticed since Ancestry’s latest increase in their coverage to 1858-1966 just last week. It is hoped that systems will be in place to cope with any increase in demand when the online service begins. A ‘soft’ launch is planned, to try and avoid a ‘1901 census’ type system failure.

One thing which was revealed today was that the Probate service is charged differing amounts by their archive provider, Iron Mountain, depending on how quickly a copy is required. They have three levels: 45 minutes, 24 hours and 10 days. So clearly the current £6 we pay for any copy is not based on cost recovery, or our fees would also have to be tiered to reflect the differing fees which are paid to Iron Mountain.

It is still hoped that the online calendar will start rolling out later in 2012, with the Soldiers’ Wills being the first to be released, followed by the most recent period (1996 to the present). The method of searching the older, scanned calendar books will be by year and then a number of letters of the surname. This has now been increased from the first three letters of the name. What to has not been decided, but 7-8 characters was mentioned as a possibility. The final decision will depend on cost. Apparently, the more letters included in the search, the more expensive it is to set up.

Once the online calendar is finished, there are plans to make it available under licence, including the Soldiers’ wills, so it is likely that versions will appear on the big data providers’ websites. The end date of licenced calendars has not yet been decided, but very recent data will not be included. Following on from this, consideration may be given to scanning older wills and grants. Currently, only 2004+ and the Soldiers’ Wills have been scanned completely.

We were assured that the online calendar will be totally complete. In other words, checks have been made to ensure that every page of each book has been scanned. The books used include all annotations and folio numbers. The online version will also serve as one of the Probate Service’s own copies of the full calendar, so they need it to be reliable.

Willfinder will continue to be used in the search room. In any case, it is the system used to by staff to order the copies from Iron Mountain. They have the capability to override any apparent negative search result and it is possible that this might be extended to users, in order to further automate the ordering system at First Avenue House.

Further meetings for users were promised, with another perhaps in about September, prior to the online launch, so that the system can be discussed in more detail. There might also be the possibility of involving users in beta testing.

Oh yes, and we were also promised that the bell on the cashier’s counter will be fixed and replacement bulbs will be stocked so that both fiche readers will be available for use! We shall see…….

Who Do You Think You Are? Live

Yes, it’s almost that time of year again. Who Do You Think You Are? Live  will be at London’s Olympia once more, on 25, 26, 27 February 2011. This is the biggest event in the UK calendar for family history and much more.

All the big names will be there, including AncestryFindMyPast  and FamilySearch.  There will be a military pavilion and DNA workshops. The Society of Genealogists will be running its 18th Family History Show, with stalls hosted by many family history societies. The Society’s team of experts will be offering advice at bookable one-to-one sessions throughout all three days.

Celebrities from the TV series will be sharing their behind-the-scenes stories and there will be over 100 workshops on a huge range of subjects and aimed at all levels of experience.

I shall be there on all three days, dispensing advice in the Ask the Experts area and also running workshops on how to break down your brick walls.

The full price of  tickets is £20 per day, but there are lots of deals available, including a two for £25 offer from the Society of Genealogists, so there’s no need to pay the full admission price.

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