Wills are one of the major sources used in genealogy, and since 1858 all wills in England and Wales have been proved by the civil authorities and recorded in a central calendar. Until recently there was no online index where quick and easy searches could be made. Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) originally compiled a partial index based on a selection of calendars they had obtained, but this has now been expanded into a full index covering the years 1858 to 1966. Look for the National Probate Calendar under “View all new records”.
Ancestry has recently added the index to Civil War Pension Records to its database. There are index cards for over 2½ million men who claimed a pension because of their service on both the Union and Confederate sides of the American Civil War, so a high proportion of the population was involved. If you find a family member listed, you can apply for photocopies of the pension application, which can be immensely valuable in confirming details of marriages, children, and background. These photocopies cost $75 (about £50) but can be money well spent. To check if a record exists, go to www.ancestry.com (the U.S. Ancestry site) and look for “Civil War Pension Records” in the card index.
Both Ancestry and Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) have expanded their collections of BMD and other local records. For example, Ancestry has indexed images of Land Tax Returns and Calendars of Prisoners for Dorset, with images of original documents from the Dorset History Centre. I discovered that my great-grandmother’s brother was convicted of night poaching, surprising perhaps because another brother was a gamekeeper. Findmypast has added a large number of parish records from various parts of England and Wales, too many to list here. Some are only transcriptions, while others also have images of original documents. This is an expanding collection, and complements the parish records available of FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/)
The British Newspaper Archive is expensive to subscribe to, but can provide lots of additional detail to add to the bare bones of your family history. Two reports which I recently found relating to my own family referred to a Golden Wedding anniversary in 1930 and a bankruptcy sale, which listed all the household furniture and other items. The range of newspapers covered is expanding and now includes the Western Gazette, a reliable source for local trivia, unexpected deaths and human distress generally. The archive can be found at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/.
It’s always interesting to see photographs of the places where your ancestors lived, and there are various ways to do this. I have previously written about Bristol – Know Your Place (http://maps.bristol.gov.uk/knowyourplace/) and this site was demonstrated at our recent Society AGM. Other useful sites are Flickr (www.flickr.com) Old UK Photos (www.oldukphotos.com/) and Geograph (www.geograph.org.uk/). A new site is Britain from Above (www.britainfromabove.org.uk/), a Government and Lottery Funded project using images from the Aerofilms collection dating from 1919 to 1953. The site is free to use, and you can download images and add comments. History Pin (www.historypin.com) is a site where you “pin” your own photos to a map of the country. This is an international website, so it includes interesting images from all over the world. The authoritative site for images of listed buildings, and information about them, is Images of England (www.imagesofengland.org.uk), which has links to The National Heritage List for England. An independent site about listed buildings throughout the U.K. is British Listed Buildings (www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/). On this site, you can add your own comments and provide further information about a property.
If you are unsure about anything connected to marriage records, you may be interested in Marriage Records (www.marriagerecords.org.uk/). Although it is unclear who has published the site, it contains a miscellany of information, including details about the various marriage acts, sources of marriage records, etc. Some of the information may be unreliable, and I was surprised that their list of websites did not include UKBMD (www.ukbmd.org.uk) which lists local Register Offices like Bath, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire which are putting their indexes online.
The Somerset Routes website (www.somersetroutes.co.uk/) will be invaluable to anyone planning a holiday or day out in the County of Somerset. It covers the historic county, and lists museums and historic attractions together with planned events and activities.
Some websites contain far more information than you expect, while others disappoint with their brevity and unreliability. A site in the first category is Naval-History.Net (www.naval-history.net) which contains a vast amount of data about the Royal Navy from 1914 onwards. There are lists of casualties, details of vessels, and transcriptions of ships’ logs. There are pages on the build up to the First World War, naval statistics, war diaries, and much more. The site is invaluable for both the enthusiast and the person who just wants to check a few facts.
News from The National Archives includes the online indexing of records for First World War airmen (the records themselves can be digitised on request), a new catalogue called “Discovery”, and the online publication of the Manorial Documents Register for Gloucestershire. More information about all of these can be found at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk. On the topic of manorial documents, I was surprised to find that many of the early documents for Hawkesbury are in East Sussex Record Office, which shows the value of a central online record.
If you have family who went to Canada in the early twentieth century, there is an interesting contemporary film which can be found at http://youtu.be/HsTigiK_r5I. I wonder if everyone was quite as happy as they appear, and the prospect of butter making on the Canadian prairies may have been a little daunting for a new bride.
If you are sometimes confused by the cause of death shown on old certificates, a useful website for giving the modern meaning for old terms is Rudy's List of Archaic Medical Terms at http://www.antiquusmorbus.com/Index.htm.