Searching for births and marriages in England and Wales has just got a lot easier thanks to developments at Ancestry.

They have transcribed the indexes to births and marriages for the period 1916 to 1984, and you can interrogate the resulting database using their new search screen. Ancestry uses the FreeBMD database for the period from 1837 to 1916, and the years from 1984 to 2005 are already part of a computer database, so we now have a complete transcription for the period for civil registration, except for the last four years. Ancestry now offers a single search screen for the years 1916 to 2005, and a separate screen for 1837 to 1915.

Personally, I still find the FreeBMD search procedure easier to use. The FreeBMD website seems to make it clearer what you are searching for and for what period. FreeBMD is itself continuing to transcribe records and is now working on the 1930s, but don’t forget that there are still a few gaps in earlier years. FreeBMD is at http://freebmd.rootsweb.com and Ancestry at www.ancestry.co.uk.

The 1911 census for England and Wales, including the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, troops stationed overseas and crew on Royal Navy ships, is now complete. The other pages of the census, including the enumerator’s summary, description of the district, and list of householders are all now available, and these supplementary pages are available free of charge when you have paid for the individual household image. Although we all grumble about the cost, and this may mean it is not used as much as it might be, this census has been made available online remarkably quickly and without the problems that affected the 1901 census. You can find it at www.1911census.co.uk.

If you have Jewish ancestry, you may be interested in the Knowles Database, which is now available on the FamilySearch website at www.familysearch.org/eng/. You will find it if you click “Sea all” under the heading “News and Events”. The collection builds upon work commenced by the late Isobel Mordy, and has been expanded by Todd Knowles of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It now contains over 40,000 names, and can be downloaded as a GEDCOM file if you wish to examine the information in detail.

Much useful family history information can be found from wills, deeds, conveyances and similar documents. Although many of these in Record Office collections, there is also a commercial market for them, and then they can get lost to researchers. A website which aims to collect this material and make it widely available is Family Deeds at www.familydeeds.org. Although there is a lot of material listed, and it is simple to check for particular surnames, the chances of finding something that matches your interest is not great. However, I found a conveyance that identified the executors of their uncle’s will and revealed relationships that were previously unknown to me. The documents are indexed by name and place, and the site is well worth a look.

Most of us will have had ancestors who spent at least some time in a workhouse, even if it was only towards the end of their life when they were incapacitated by illness or dementia. I have previously mentioned the Rossbret workhouse site at www.institutions.org.uk/workhouses which is very good, but there is more and different information now available at www.workhouses.org.uk. In particular, this site has good photographs of many of the workhouses in our area, including St Peter’s Hospital, which was lost in the blitz, and some aerial ones of Southmead Workhouse, which is still the old part of Southmead Hospital.

Now for some websites for those with overseas interests. In January 1852, Margaret Abbott was found guilty of theft at Bristol Quarter Sessions and sentenced to seven years transportation. She left for Van Diemen’s Land on 25th November of that year, and her details are recorded on a database of transportees which can be found at www.slq.qld.gov.au/info/fh/convicts. The information is actually a transcription of files in The National Archives of the U.K.

Latimer Little William Thomas was a Congregational minister who lived from 1864 to 1951. He attended Bristol Grammar School, and spent his ministry in the Bristol area, at churches at Avonmouth, Bristol, Whitchurch, Doynton and Hotwells. His details are in the Surman Index, which is now available online at http://surman.english.qmul.ac.uk. If your interest is in Church of England clergy, then Ancestry now has six years of Crockfords Clerical Directory available to search - 1868 1874 1885 1898 1908  and 1932. More professional information is available now on the Family Relatives website at www.familyrelatives.com, which has Dramatic List 1879, Institute of Chartered Accountants 1925, and Engineers' Who's Who 1939 as well as the Canadian Civil Service, Oxford Alumni, owners of land 1873, and many other databases.

Many of us make good use of the Nineteenth Century Newspapers which are now available free of charge on the public library websites in the Avon area, as well as elsewhere. If you are looking for American newspapers, and are willing to pay, then the Newspaper Archive site at www.newspaperarchive.com may have what you are looking for. It has forty newspapers for Arizona alone, as well as others from around the world, including Britain. Annual Subscriptions cost from $120 (£75). There are many different U.S. family history sites, and one I tried recently was Footnote at www.footnote.com. It has many document images, including the 1930 census, military records, town directories and FBI case files. An annual subscription is $70 (£44), and you can add your own information to the Footnote records.

Finally, if you have wondered about the origins of the English, how they might be differ from the Welsh, and if DNA can add to our knowledge of history, then take a look at an article in the Harvard Magazine at http://harvardmagazine.com/2009/07/who-killed-the-men-england.

Bob Lawrence