The big expansion in online family history resources in recent months has been the availability of more military records. Findmypast now has the British Army service records from 1760 to 1913, covering nearly 1.5 million men.
Many of them served for quite short periods, and there may be no other evidence that they were ever in the army. However, the records, which can extend over many pages, are very informative.
I found details of William Bush, formerly a hatter, who was born in the Parish of St Nicholas, Bristol, and enlisted in the artillery on 8th December 1871, aged 18. He was discharged at Cork, Ireland, on 16th April 1872, less than four months later, on medical grounds. The grounds were that, because of a previous injury to his right thumb, he was unable to perform satisfactorily as a gunner. His address on discharge was 22 Jacobs Well, Bristol. The usual military details of height, weight and appearance are given – everything of interest to a family historian. The index to the records is not complete, and you may need to browse several possible entries to find the man you want. All good reasons to take out a subscription to Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) rather than just use pay per view. It is also well worth adding information to the index so that other users will find the man they want more easily.
I noticed several fascinating aspects to these records. One is that the medical officers who examined the soldiers on discharge were quite sympathetic towards them. I saw one man described as “a worn out old soldier”, while another who was discharged for poor eyesight as a result of venereal disease was similarly described as “this poor man”. The “worn out old soldier” was specifically said to be suffering from hepatitis C in 1880, and I had not realised that such a precise diagnosis was then possible. Another interesting fact was that soldiers who were serving overseas at the time of discharge were medically examined at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, near Southampton. Men serving at home were processed at their regimental depot.
For World War 1 Army records, Ancestry is the site to go to, since it holds what are commonly known as the “burnt records” since so many were lost in the blitz. These can hold some surprisingly interesting information. Checking on a distant family member, I found the maiden name of the French woman he married in Paris in 1916, together with her address, the date, and the name of the Mairie. I also learned that he arranged for his wife to receive one pound and three shillings (£1.15) per week.
The Ancestry website at www.ancestry.co.uk also holds records of casualties of the Boer War. You will have to dig around on the website to find this particular database, and it is only an index – there are no images to provide corroboration. The database is amongst those available at www.military-genealogy.com, although they are all included in one or more of the major family history websites. Military-Genealogy does contain some useful information about the source of many of its databases, but does not at present give the source of its Boer War records.
The Family Relatives website (www.familyrelatives.com) contains many files of military and naval information, much of it scans of directories published over the years, and you may find one which meets your particular needs. The latest addition is of naval records, particularly copies of the Navy List. Most are twentieth-century records, but there are some nineteenth-century editions as well. This data is only available to subscribers, and an annual subscription currently costs £30.
More information is now available online for those with Irish ancestry. The Ireland National Archives website (www.nationalarchives.ie) now has both the 1901 and 1911 censuses for the whole of Ireland, while the Ireland Genealogy website (www.irishgenealogy.ie) has indexes of parish registers, together with images of the originals. The indexes include all the names in each entry, so you see if your relative was the witness at a wedding, for example. Although only a limited range of parish records is currently available, the site is easy to use, and like the census website, free of charge.
Both Ancestry and FreeBMD (http://freebmd.rootsweb.com) now offer transcriptions of the GRO BMD indexes for England and Wales, and Findmypast are going to do the same. The birth records are already available, and a single search screen is used for researching the whole period from 1837 to 2006. Marriages and deaths will follow later this year. Interestingly, I found that my mother’s surname is misspelt in the GRO index entry for my own birth.
The London Lives website at www.londonlives.org brings together “a wide range of primary sources about eighteenth-century London, with a particular focus on plebeian Londoners”, and provides access to over 3 million names. The documents include wills, insurance, electoral, poor law and hospital records, and it does cover some people from outside London. I found insurance documents relating to Bristol, for example. Sometimes there is just a transcription of the available information, while at other times you can see an original image as well as the transcription.
Two hundred years ago, the success of Bristol as a port was reinforced with the building of the floating harbour, which gave a constant depth of water throughout the dock area, and enabled boats to stay upright at all states of the tide. Recent books have been published about the history of the floating harbour, and there is now also a website. Found at www.bristolfloatingharbour.org.uk, this website is a collaboration by several different organisations, led by Bristol City Council, and it includes part of a television programme with Julian Richards.
Finally, something for those with connections to pioneer families in the United States. The Ancestry.com website has records, both documents and maps, of the land where pioneers settled between 1796 and 1907. It’s never easy to find what you want on Ancestry these days, so I suggest you type “county land ownership” into the search box for the card catalogue. Note that for some townships there are maps of more than one year, and that the images may need to be cropped and enlarged to print out well. This particular Ancestry website (www.ancestry.com) is available at the Society Research Room.