Anyone with local interests will welcome the recent release of new data from parish registers for the Bristol and Gloucester dioceses. Ancestry and Findmypast are both involved in this, but their offerings differ and there are the usual questions about what is actually included.
Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) have digitally scanned the parish registers in the Gloucestershire Archives, and details of this project are at http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/article/118621/Gloucestershire-parish-registers-online. The period covered is 1538 to 1988, but not all parishes have existed, or are available, for the whole of this period. Surprisingly, the registers for Cold Ashton, Marshfield and Tormarton with West Littleton are included in the Gloucester collection, although these are also included in the BAFHS CDs as being in the Bristol diocese. The scanned images are superb and will spoil you for looking at microfiche ever again, as they are very clear and can be easily enlarged. However, there are some gaps in the indexing as well as gaps in the registers. An 1811 Marshfield marriage which I found on the BAFHS transcription was not in the index, and I could not find it by scrolling through the registers, although I did find the banns register, which had the details I wanted.
A further complication is that Ancestry already has BMD records for Gloucestershire, which I believe came originally from the I.G.I., and are also available on FamilySearch. These are not accompanied by scanned images, so are a little less useful. With the multiple datasets on Ancestry, it is sometimes best to specify which one to check, rather than search across all datasets.
Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) have published what they call Gloucestershire Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, but which are actually all from the Bristol Record Office. The periods covered vary, but generally start in the middle of the seventeenth century and go as late as 1950 for burials. These records were also originally on FamilySearch, so come with the usual advice to check the original if possible, and they do not include scans of the original registers. There may be differences in detail from the BAFHS transcriptions.
While transcribing marriage registers at Bristol Register Office, Barbara Lord had difficulty in reading a name and tried to cross-check with the entry from the GRO indexes in FreeBMD. It appeared the groom’s name was indexed, but not the bride’s. Checking further, she discovered that a large number of index entries were missing for the first quarter of 1842. The parish concerned was St Michael, but Temple was also affected. All the online indexes for Bristol are currently based on those kept at the GRO. If you cannot find a marriage where you expect it, it is worth checking alternative sources such as parish registers or newspapers.
I recently looked on Ancestry for the death of Egbert Taylor, who died at Grenoble in January 1941 and found an unusual type of record. The death occurred after the fall of France in 1940, but before the United States of America had entered the war in December 1941. For those months, there was no British Consul in Grenoble, and British interests were being handled by the American consul. Egbert Taylor’s death record is therefore headed “Informal report of Death of a British Subject”, and includes details of where he was buried, something I have seen on U.S. death certificates but which is not included in English ones.
How far back does your family tree go? A database of soldiers between 1369 and 1453 is now available as part of the Soldier in later Medieval England study at www.medievalsoldier.org/index.php. Note that the search system does not look for alternative spellings, so you will need to use your imagination when searching.
Another new database which covers the medieval period is England’s Immigrants 1330-1550 (www.englandsimmigrants.com). This contains over 64,000 names taken from various sources such as taxation, naturalisation and denization. If you have an unusual surname in your family’s past, it could indicate that your early origins are outside the U.K.
Wills are a valuable source for all family historians, and a different type of wills database has recently been released on Findmypast. It is not relevant to our own area as this is a list of will beneficiaries for Essex. Listed by the name of the beneficiary, it includes the date, relationship, and name of deceased. Earlier Essex wills can be viewed online at Essex Ancestors (http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/EssexAncestors.aspx) a subscription site operated by Essex Record Office.
The Bristol Then & Now page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/bristolthenandnow/?fref=nf) now has over 26,000 friends, and is well worth looking at. Many of the “then” photographs are on Bristol-Know your place (http://maps.bristol.gov.uk/knowyourplace/) , but Facebook is better at bringing them to your attention. Know your place lacks good twentieth-century maps, but these are available for the whole country on the Old Maps site at https://www.old-maps.co.uk/#/. Access is free unless you want to view maps at the larger scales.
Do you know of children who spent the years of the Second World War in Canada? Clare Halstead is looking for details and would welcome your help is compiling a database. Details are at http://news.westernu.ca/2015/01/student-returns-identity-to-british-war-evacuees/
If you struggle with Latin words and phrases in old documents, The National Archives have a useful tutorial at http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/latin/beginners/. This is not a simple look-up table, but designed to give you a real understanding.
Some wonderful, if sometimes clichéd, colour photographs of England in the 1930s have recently been published by Retronaut at http://mashable.com/2015/03/29/england-color-photos. If you are tempted by some of the other collections, I should warn you that you might consider them unsuitable for mention in a respectable family history journal.