For some time, the only way to see General Register Office records of births, marriages and deaths online was through FreeBMD (http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/). This volunteer project is transcribing the GRO indexes, starting at 1837. Now that Ancestry, Findmypast and other online sources have got indexes to the same records, it is time to take another look at FreeBMD and see what progress has been made, and whether it is still useful.
At the time of writing, FreeBMD contains all births up to 1938, with some entries up to 1959 also available. Virtually all marriages up to 1951 have been done, with some entries up to 1959 but a small gap in 1920. Virtually all deaths up to 1950 have been transcribed, but there are gaps in previous years, including some as early as 1863. Entries are separately transcribed at least twice, and it is only when there is agreement that an entry is published. FreeBMD is a purist when it comes to transcription, so things are written exactly as seen, even, for example, if there is a mismatch in the original between the registration district and its code. Coverage charts are found under “Information” on the FreeBMD home page.
Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) has GRO BMD records from 1837 to 2006 (2005 for marriages), while the Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) records stop at 2005. Ancestry uses the FreeBMD indexes for the period up to 1915, and does not charge for access to them. Both sites have images of the original GRO index books, as does FreeBMD. For most ordinary searches of pre-1939 events, it does not matter much which site you use, but each site has its particular advantages. FreeBMD lets you search by Registration District or County. Findmypast comes up with quick results for marriages when you know the surnames of both parties. Both Findmypast and Ancestry let you search the GRO indexes at parish records at the same time.
A major development for those with merchant seamen in the family are the records now available on Findmypast. I was fortunate to find the record of the father of a neighbour of mine, complete with a photo she did not already have. Findmypast also now has transcriptions of the Scottish census, but not images of the actual pages, because of copyright problems.
Occupation records now available on Ancestry include railway staff records, Post Office staff records and apprentice records. I was fortunate to find my great-grandfather’s record as a London postman, and also that of his son, who was a postman in Sussex.
Two useful sources for information on burials are Deceasedonline (www.deceasedonline.com) and the Gravestone Photographic Resource (www.gravestonephotos.com/). Deceased Online is a database of information submitted by cemeteries across the country, and its value depends on the area you are researching. It is a pay site, but you can carry out a basic search for free. The Gravestone Photographic Resource is an index of burials from both the U.K. and other countries. The index gives sufficient detail to identify a memorial and images of individual memorials are available on request.
If your interests in burials are in the Bath area, there is a CD of burials in Widcombe cemetery. Details are at http://www.widcombeassociation.org.uk/publications.html.
Most of us will have heard our ex-chairman Shirley Hodgson speak about the Bristol Home Children, orphans and others who were sent to Canada. Our Society website at www.bafhs.org.uk contains information from Shirley’s research, but many children from other parts of Britain also went to Canada. The Home Children Database at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/home-children/index-e.html has recently been updated. It is free to use and simple to understand.
Who was the first member of your family drive a car, and when did they first own one? Many of the records of vehicle registration are now held by record offices, although the availability and ease of access may differ. The Kithead Trust is gathering information on this topic, and you can check details at their website at www.kitheadtrust.org.uk/.
Many readers will have used Neil Dun’s very useful website at www.bristolbmd.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/ to trace the church where a marriage occurred, using the reference obtained from FreeBMD or one of the other family history websites. The full record of the marriage can then be found in the parish register held at Bristol Record Office, saving the cost of a certificate. Neil Dun’s website also covers many districts in Somerset and South Wales. The same principle is being used by the Marriage Locator website at www.marriage-locator.co.uk. This initiative of the Guild of One Name Studies will eventually cover the whole country, but at present has 270,000 entries, mostly from East London.
Finally, three websites which contain what is known as user-generated content. Mocavo (www.mocavo.com) is a bit like Google, but covers only genealogical and historical documents. It will search for words or terms in various types of documents, and is especially good at finding obscure postings on message boards. These can be helpful in locating other people researching the same family as yourself, but you need to check that the information is not out of date. I found postings of my own that were twelve years old. We Relate (www.werelate.org/wiki/Main_Page) is an attempt to a unified family tree from submissions by members of the public. You will have to make up your own mind about how possible or worthwhile that is, but I was surprised that none of the enormous number of Lawrence relatives that I am aware of, mostly in the United States, have yet contributed. Ancestry is full of them. Finally, British Genes (www.britishgenes.blogspot.com/) is a news blog about developments in British genealogy. Well-written, simple and accessible, it will help you keep up to date with the family history world.