Some recent additions to the Ancestry website will be invaluable to many of us, and a useful reminder that things are not always what they seem. The first are some documents about transportees to Australia.

Between 1788 and 1868, over 165,000 convicts were transported from Britain to Australia, and many of them will be your ancestors, or related to your family. Transportation was an alternative to execution, and could be the sentence for what would now be considered quite minor offences.

James Meecham was convicted at Bristol on 11th January 1837. On 25th June 1838, he sailed to Van Diemen’s Land (now called Tasmania) on the ship “Coromandel”. On that ship were 351 other convicts, two of them who had also been convicted at Bristol. They were Henry Anthony and George Hazle. Other criminals came from the West Indies, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, or had been convicted in Courts Martial. My ancestor William Homard also sailed to Australia in that year on a ship called the Coromandel. He was a farm labourer, and not a convict. According to some information I have, taken from contemporary account in the Sydney Morning Herald, William’s ship left Plymouth on 14th June 1838 and arrived on 2nd October. It had 25 saloon passengers and 379 in steerage. It seems unlikely that two ships named Coromandel left England within a few days of one another, both bound for Australia, but it also seems unlikely that saloon passengers, emigrants and prisoners should all be on the same ship, or that one ship would have room for 800 people. The database of transportees does not contain information about the offences committed, but is a useful and flexible source, with images of original documents held in The National Archives.

The next addition to the Ancestry site is information about those who served in the First World War. Many military records were lost in the blitz, but this collection, again with images of original documents in The National Archives, contains records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who claimed disability pensions. The images are actually of the attestation papers, so provide information about age and birthplace, while the pension details given are of current address. Some of those who received pensions must have been quite old by the end of the First World War. For example, Albert Toghill, who was born in St Pancras, London, joined The Royal Scots at Glencorse on 17th September 1883. He was 18 years and 2 months, and was a labourer.

The third new category of material on Ancestry is additional telephone directories. One of the men listed in the database of transportees is Capper Pass, who founded the firm of metal smelters in Bedminster, before being convicted of handling stolen metal in 1828. The company run by his descendants is listed in the 1925 phone book with the number Bristol 3475, on the same page as Passey & Porter, Automobile engineers and experts on Winscombe 14. All the information listed can be found at

The ease of use of census websites like should not disguise the fact that their databases are not always complete. We have recently become aware that the 1851 census for Nailsea and Yatton are not included on the Ancestry website, and there are frequently individual pages that may be missing, or have not been transcribed. I have not been able to find the 1841 census for Yatton Keynell in Wiltshire, and the 1851 census for Chapmanslade is not on Ancestry but is included in the transcription available at 1901online, which confusingly also includes all the other English censuses except 1881. It can be found at If you cannot find someone on one census index, then you should try looking on one of the others, and don’t forget the indexes available on CD (or even on fiche), and the census images that are also available on CD sets.

My own experience is that the 1861 census is most prone to have pieces or individuals missing, and this may have been that this was the first census to be carried out by the Registrar General rather than the Home Office. The Find My Past website has a useful list of missing pieces of the 1861 census at , although there is no way of knowing if this itself is complete.

The Family Relatives website has recently been redesigned, and can now be found at As well as images of the GRO indexes, Family Relatives has transcribed all the indexes from 1866 to 1920 and created a searchable database. They also have transcriptions of some Phillimore parish registers and military records, and are planning to have census transcriptions also, although these will only be available to annual subscribers. An annual subscription costs £37.50, or there are pay-per-view options at £5 for 50 units or £12 for 150 units. A search result page will usually cost 2 units and viewing an image will cost 1 unit except unless stated on the search page

The world changes so quickly that what were once familiar scenes are now lost. If you have an interest in the railways of our area, then you will like the Bristol Rail website at . It includes historic as well as more recent photographs of local trains, stations and locations, and also has useful to many other similar sites. The quality of the photographs varies considerably, but all ooze nostalgia.

The television series “Who Do You Think You Are?” is very popular, and a new series is planned for this autumn. I also found very interesting the series “Empire’s Children”, recently shown on Channel 4. There is an American television channel dedicated to family history, and it is available through the internet at You will need to have a broadband internet connection for this to work. Most of the programmes are quite short, dealing with particular problems in genealogy, or consisting of interviews. Some of the interviews were done at the Whodoyouthinkyouarelive! Show held in London in May this year, and people interviewed include our chairman Colin Chapman as well as other well-known names such as Paul Blake, Chris Pomery and Else Churchill. There is an American emphasis, but nevertheless much of interest if you have a comfortable chair by your computer.

Bob Lawrence