Excel, Internet Explorer and VB6

Following on from this week’s earlier post, I’ve moved on a little bit, and added VB6 to the mix!

I discovered (thanks to the LostCouins.com newsletter) that the English death indices listed the deceased’s date of birth on deaths from 1969. This was a new piece of information I thought could be useful. I already have the year of birth and year of death in the database, so I used the methods previously described to call up a search for the record. I now added a further step – I found a way to “click” on the search button from the macro, so bringing up the list of individuals matching the name (usually just one, but there’s always an exception). Selecting the appropriate record by manually clicking brings up the data, dragging the mouse selects the useful text and finally Control+C sends that text to the clipboard.

I now revived a technique I had used before and had a VB6 programme running which monitored the clipboard, and when its content changed wrote the data to a file. It’s very complicated, and needs several brain cells to keep track of what’s going on.

Despite being ever so much easier than doing it all manually, I’ve still got bored with the process, so I’ll see whether the new data is actually useful when I merge what I’ve done so far into the database.

One final thought – one of the individuals whose death I processed in this way was my father – it was a bit spooky thinking “that data is there because I was the one who registered that death”.

Using Excel and IE together

After years in computing, I get very frustrated when I have to retype data that is already in a file somewhere. When I needed to find images for the census records of some people in my One Name Study this was exactly what was happening – I would look at the record in the spreadsheet, retype the names into the browser (browsing one of the subscription sites), find the right person, then find the right image, download it, type in a filename and save it, then copy that name back into the spreadsheet record. Given my tendency to make errors, I’m surprised I’ve found so few so far.

I eventually realised that Excel can call up an Internet Explorer browser object (I normally use Firefox, but if I can save energy I can forego my principles!). So a couple of hours later I had a couple of Excel macros. The first one runs at the start of the session to initialise the IE browser object – otherwise you end up with hundreds of instances of the browser objects and your system eventually crashes. The second macro is called from a keyboard shortcut and copies the first name and surname, and year of birth (there are always too many John Micklethwaites to choose from) from the record where the shortcut was called and calls up the subscription site page in the browser object and fills in the fields with the data from the record. It also creates a filename for the image and pastes it both to the record and to the clipboard. I then task switch (Alt+Tab) to the browser, check the search fields (sometimes exact search is useful, sometime it isn’t) and click Search. From the list I select the right image and when it comes to saving it, I can paste in the filename from the clipboard. Then I task switch back to the spreadsheet and use the shortcut on the next record.


Simples! Job done!


Part of a One Name Study is what the Guild of One Name Studies calls “synthesis” – that is trying to put together who fits where in the various branches that bear the name. To me this is the most enjoyable bit!

Fashion is a great hindrance to this. Eric was a very fashionable name back in the 1920s and 30s. So trying to work out which is which is pretty impossible.

That’s where obits and death notices come in useful – they give you some clues, although usually they refer to wives and children, so don’t help you work out who the father was. Just occasionally, and today was one of those occasions, you hit the jackpot – in this case an Eric put in a notice about his brother and mentioned his (Eric’s) wife. As brother had a more unusual name, that enabled me to connect Eric to his rightful place!

The boring bits occasionally bear fruit! Now I wish there were lists of divorces like there are lists of marriages…