The later nineteenth century is the simplest period to deal with for the family historian. The census shows the family unit, while the GRO records give us the details of individual lives. Ecclesiastical records provide an added source, as do wills, newspapers and military records.
As we come closer to the present day, tracing someone’s life actually becomes more difficult, and although electoral rolls have always been publicly available, searching them has never been easy. A recent addition to the Findmypast website makes that information for the past ten years easily available.
Now for the note of caution. The data must be used with care. I checked for three family members, two of them my own children, and two of whom had moved in recent years. My daughter has been at the same address since 1998, but there were electoral register entries from 2002 to 2009, but none since. My son and his wife are shown at the address where they lived between 2003 and 2007, but not at their current address in the same town. For 2002 to 2007, my cousin and his wife are shown at an address which they left in 2011, but not at their current address. The current occupants of their old house are shown for 2012 and 2013.
One confusing aspect of the database, which is basically that of the 192 website, is that the search results show you the name of another occupant at the same address. This may not be another member of the same family, but the name of a previous or later occupant. Overall, the new feature needs to be used with care and persistence, and may be promising more than it can actually deliver.
Findmypast can be found at www.findmypast.co.uk . Other databases which they have added recently include Welsh parish records, Hertfordshire parish records, and records of the Royal Naval Division 1914-1920 (men from the Navy who fought on land).
Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) has a smaller collection of new records this time. They have added records from the London Gazette, the official journal for subjects like government and military appointments, honours, and bankruptcies. Unfortunately, it can only be browsed, and you have to specify an issue by exact date. At the freely available official website (www.gazettes-online.co.uk/), you can find the Edinburgh and Glasgow Gazettes, as well as the London edition, and can search by keyword, which includes names.
Among other new records that Ancestry claim to have introduced are updates to the GRO records. Up to now, these have been generally available up to 2005 or 2006, but Ancestry are now claiming death records up to 2007. In fact, it would seem that only a limited number of 2007 records are there, and those principally from the beginning of the year. The position is confusing, since Findmypast offers birth records up to 2006, while Ancestry stops at 2005, and I actually found a 2007 record on Findmypast. It is hard to make any recommendation, as the situation is fluid and could change at any time. It would seem from the Government website at https://www.gov.uk/research-family-history that the only full index to GRO records is on microfiche and held at a small number of libraries. The closest to us are Bridgend Public Library, Plymouth Central Library and The British Library.
Although I seldom include websites with a geographical focus outside our area, London is a bit of an exception and London Lives at www.londonlives.org/ is especially useful. Covering the period 1690 to 1800, it gives access to over 3 million names from 240,000 manuscripts in various London archives, including wills, criminal records, insurance policies and parish registers.
Lives of the First World War is a project of the Imperial War Museum to create an online record of those who served in uniform or on the home front. In conjunction with Brightsolid, the database will be based on official records, but will include contributions from families and members of the public. Details of the project are at www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org/. It is not live yet, but you can register to be kept informed of progress..
While many of the parish records for the Bristol Diocese of the Church of England have been transcribed by the Society, those for the south of our area, within the Diocese of Bath & Wells have always been more elusive. Some are now included in the I.G.I., now part of FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search). Fortunately, more of them are available on the FreeReg website (www.freereg.org.uk), and I was recently able to find several to help an enquirer from the Chew Valley at the Research Room. You can check individual parishes to see what has been done, since they are by no means complete. Some records for Bath itself are included.
Another recent enquiry at the Research Room concerned the parishes which made up Sodbury registration district. This information is available on GENUKI at www.genuki.org.uk/big/Regions/index.html, but if you find navigating the options at GENUKI as confusing as I do, a shorter route is by clicking on “Information” on the home page of FreeBMD at www.freebmd.org.uk/ and then choosing “Free Registration Pages”. This should help those who are unsure when Barton Regis R.D. existed, and exactly which parishes it included.
Finally, if you have an interest in Stoke Gifford, then you should know about the History of Stoke Gifford website at http://www.sbarch.org.uk/History_SG_V3.40/Welcome.shtml. Edited by Adrian Kerton, the site includes reproductions of old maps, transcriptions of old documents and brief articles on topics of interest. Although there are signs that material has been collected indiscriminately, and misspellings abound, it is an invaluable resource and an indication of the information available about quite small places.