This year is unlikely to see the release of any information as important to family historians as the 1911 census, but all of the online providers are promising new databases in an effort to retain your loyalty, and the January 2010 issue of “Who do you think you are?” contained an interesting summary.
FamilySearch (http://pilot.familysearch.org) will have new transcriptions of some English parish registers, while the Origins Network (www.origins.net) is incorporating lots of English probate records. Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) will be further developing its partnership with London Metropolitan Archives, and we may see some London school records online this year. Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) will be publishing more military and naval records, while a large collection of non-conformist and non-parochial records will be found soon at The Genealogist (www.thegenealogist.co.uk). Beyond England and Wales, ScotlandsPeople (www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk) will be adding more Catholic registers and improving search options, while National Archives for Ireland (www.nationalarchives.ie) will have the 1901 census for the whole 32 counties. With all these goodies on offer, the hard part for the family historian is working out the value for money of the various subscription and pay-per-view offerings.
An indication of the popularity of online records comes from the Irish National Archives. Although the Irish 1911 census records have been available for inspection in Dublin for some time, the use made of them was small. Last year, they were placed online, and are available free of charge. During November 2009 alone, the website received 200,000 visitors, and it is interesting that 45% of those were from U.K. researchers, four times as many as from the United States. The Irish census is at www.nationalarchives.ie, and covers all 32 counties.
Researching English and Welsh ancestry since 1837 has got a lot easier now that Ancestry has completed the transcription of the General Register Office records. Birth, marriage and death records are now easily searchable up to 2005, although I have to say that I still prefer the FreeBMD search screen format. FreeBMD currently has transcriptions of the GRO birth and marriage indexes up to the 1940s, and the death index up to the 1930s. FreeBMD is at http://freebmd.rootsweb.com and Ancestry is at www.ancestry.co.uk. All of these records are based on the existing GRO indexes, and you may remember that in 2005 a contract was awarded to Siemens to digitise the original records and create new, more complete, indexes. At some point in the future, and after changes to the legislation, it might even become possible to download certificates online. Unfortunately, this project stalled after about half the records had been digitised, and the contract was not extended by mutual agreement. The Identity and Passport Service, which is now responsible for the GRO, is hoping to restart the project, and you can find further details at www.ips.gov.uk/cps/rde/xchg/ips_live/hs.xsl/1090.htm.
During the Second World War, the majority of Devon wills were destroyed when the Exeter Probate Office was bombed, and this has hampered family historians ever since. Many of the wills had been previously indexed or calendared, and a project has now been started to compile a finding aid in the form of a consolidated list from the various sources. The project is not concerned with transcriptions or copies of wills. Further information on this useful project can be found at http://genuki.cs.ncl.ac.uk/DEV/DevonWillsProject/.
Some brief notes now about new sources that have become available. BMDRegisters (www.bmdregisters.co.uk) have expanded their range of overseas data, while Family Relatives (www.familyrelatives.com) have new records of doctors and midwives and the registers of some independent schools. Ancestry (www.ancestry,co,uk) have improved and increased their range of First World War records, although it is very much pot luck if you will find the record for your particular soldier. If you are lucky, a lot of information is provided.
The Bitton Families website (www.bittonfamilies.com) has been updated with transcriptions of Bitton marriages 1721-1753. These predate the marriages covered by the Society’s marriage CD, and it is worth remembering that Bitton was a large parish covering much of the Kingswood coalfield. This can sometimes be a confusing area to research, and the website provides a lot of useful information about the area and its history.
The past ten years has seen a huge growth in the number and size of commercial family history information providers, and I have always been fascinated by the economics of this new industry. It is reflected in the success and profitability of our own Society’s publications programme. Ancestry is now a publicly quoted company in the United States, and in it s latest financial report states that it has over 1 million subscribers. About 3.6% of subscribers cancel each month. Meanwhile, Brightsolid, the company which runs operates Findmypast, Scotland’s People and is bidding for Genes Reunited has reported net profits of £2 million for the year ended March 2009, on revenue of £13 million. The previous year, they made a loss of £2 million on turnover of less than £7 million. This was mostly before the release of the 1911 census, which must have increased their profits considerably. Findmypast is the only website with all the available censuses for England and Wales, but interestingly their data for 1841 and 1871 is taken from the Origins Network site. Findmypast now has a new web address at www.findmypast.co.uk.