If you find poor law or census records indicate that members of your family spent time in the workhouse, Peter Higginbotham’s workhouse website at www.workhouses.org.uk provides details of each such institution together with a lot of general information about workhouse life. Peter has now produced a similar website for children’s homes at www.childrenshomes.org.uk . It is still a work in progress, and although many homes are listed (68 in Bristol, for example), only a percentage have full details. However, you will usually find a map, information about who ran the home, who attended and when, as well as a list published items about the running of the school.
Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) continues to add new datasets, with recent examples being U.K. naturalisations 1870-1912, and the maps of parishes and other jurisdictions within each county that are usually attributed to their publishers Phillimore, but which were actually prepared by the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. There are also new parish records from Surrey and West Yorkshire, and I have read that Gloucestershire parish records will be coming soon. Another new development is a direct link to Discover, the catalogue of The National Archives. I looked for information about a family member who was in the Royal Marine Artillery, and was transferred to details of his service record held by TNA. A search on Ancestry will also now find data on the useful Findagrave website. One Ancestry-owned site which is still separate is Fold3 (www.fold3.com) which specialises in U.S. war records. It does offer short-term subscriptions if you only have a few details you want to check.
Meanwhile, Ancestry has been upsetting many of its American subscribers with its announcement of the closure of the MyFamily MyCanvas and similar websites which it currently hosts. It is also dropping all DNA testing.. It is an indication that £1 billion companies like Ancestry are mostly concerned with profit, and loyalty to existing customers comes second.
As Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) have worked to restore the functions and ease-of-use lost in their recent upgrade, they have also added 100 new datasets, containing over 38 million new records, 25 million of which are U.K. records. Use of the overseas records does require a worldwide subscription, but there should be something useful here for everyone. Recent releases include parish registers from Wiltshire, Devon and Dorset, Navy, Army and RAF records from the First World War, marriages from a selection of U.S. states and Irish dog licence records.
Findmypast has also been on the takeover trail. They will eventually be integrating the data from Origins.net (www.origins.net) , a British site with a wide range of transcriptions and indexes, including a new one of the 1881 census, and Mocavo, an American site which specialises in scanning and indexing old documents. Mocavo (www.mocavo.com) does regularly find useful information about British people in the documents it scans and you can ask to be informed when new information is available about particular individuals. Unfortunately, this means that Levi Ames, eighteenth-century Bristol banker and merchant, is easily confused with Levi Ames, hanged for burglary in America in 1773. It would be useful to have such information available as part of a Findmypast subscription.
The centenary of the start of the First World War is the reason so many of Findmypast’s new records are service related. It is also the impetus for the revamp of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website (www.cwgc.org). This was one of the first really useful website for family history, and showed how research could be done efficiently at home. Better still, the site was free. There have apparently been some adverse comments since the site was redesigned, but I had no real difficulty in finding what I wanted, with one exception. That was that names are best input without punctuation. As with Findmypast, you need to relearn how to use the site to get the best from it, but there are some obvious improvements. First names are used more widely than previously, and copies of the grave registrations and headstone documents add further detail, even if some does not agree with what was formerly provided. My great uncle John Lawrence is recorded as a private on one document, and as a Lance Corporal on another. If you have already searched the CWGC site, it is worth looking again to see what new information is available.
Service records are not always easily located, and the pay site Forces War Records (www.forces-war-records.co.uk) may be useful because it can search multiple databases simultaneously. Another source are the pension record cards now held by the Western Front Association. These contain details such as the names and addresses of widows and children, including the children’s dates of birth. This information is not available online, and the initial look-up fee is £25. There are also some data protection restrictions. Further details are on the very interesting website at
The Imperial War Museum has recently reopened after its refit, so I will remind you of the “Lives of the First World War” project which the Museum is running in partnership with D.C. Thompson Family History. This offers an opportunity for you to record what you know about members of your family who took part in the conflict. Details are at https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org. A similar project in Australia is Mapping Our Anzacs at http://mappingouranzacs.naa.gov.au/. For a website with narrative details of the conflict, rather than lists of those who served, the CWGC website “Discover 14-18” at www.cwgc.org/Discover1418 provides some good background information.