The first development to report is that Knowyourplace ( has been extended again and now includes the County of Devon. Many Devon people came north to Bristol in the early nineteenth century, and the site can now help you locate more precisely where they came from, with its collection of Ordnance Survey maps, tithe maps and town plans.

As well as wider geographical coverage, many of the other Knowyourplace areas are now covered by further series of maps, and North Somerset, for example, now has tithe and enclosure maps as well as Ordnance Survey maps. This example is of the Cottage Hospital in Clevedon.

Clevedon cottage hospital

 Beyond the area covered by Knowyourplace, old maps of the whole of Great Britain are available online at the National Library of Scotland website at The website has specialist maps as well as maps of a range of scales and dates, and you can easily enlarge particular sections to examine an area of interest. You need to get to know how the site works to get the most out of it, but the effort brings considerable rewards.

Maps of old Bristol, and for a number of other towns and cities, can be also found at the Historic Towns Atlas ( This project was started over 50 years ago and has been re-established more recently. The maps are newly drawn, using information from older sources, and are invaluable for showing the street layout, the location of buildings and the boundaries of inner-city parishes. The focus is on the early and mid-nineteenth century.

By now, most of you will know that the 1939 Register is available on Ancestry ( as well as on Findmypast ( Ancestry has its own transcription of the original data, so there can be differences in the indexes and if you cannot find a person in Findmypast, then it is certainly worth trying the Ancestry version, especially if the surname is an unusual one. The Register references on Ancestry are different from the ones on Findmypast, and Ancestry does not offer searching by street or by using a map.

There are many updated records on Ancestry, but a useful recent addition is the Somerset Gaol Registers, which can lead to some surprising discoveries. The three gaols listed are Ilchester, Shepton Mallet and Wilton, which is near Taunton. The original County Gaol was Ilchester, where the prison was also described as a house of correction and accommodated both felons and debtors. The last prisoners were transferred from Ilchester gaol at the beginning of 1843, the site being sold in 1848. The house of correction at Wilton became the County gaol in February 1843, when debtors were admitted, while Shepton Mallet gaol continued as a house of correction, serving the eastern part of the county. Some debtors were also imprisoned there. Quite young children were sentenced to terms of detention, sometimes including whipping, but the ages recorded are not always reliable. Whatever the punishment, it does not appear to have deterred further offending.

Did Roman Catholics become Freemasons? Most articles about Freemasonry state that the Roman Catholic Church was traditionally opposed to Freemasonry on religious grounds, and that there were explicit prohibitions against joining. However, I have been researching the life of Martin Hutstein, a Catholic from Nassau, now in western Germany, who came to Bristol in the 1820s and opened a tailor’s shop on College Green. Martin Hutstein was such a loyal Catholic that he disinherited any of his daughters who married outside the faith, and he himself was married in St Joseph’s church, Trenchard Street, Bristol at a time when such a marriage had no legal standing. Nevertheless, he is recorded as having joined the Sussex Lodge of Hospitality in Bristol in 1834, transferring to the Beaufort Lodge in 1836. Another man who joined the Freemasons in Bristol at the same time was the wine merchant Frederick Husenbeth, who was also a Catholic. As so often in family history, you find an exception to every rule. The Freemason records can be found on Ancestry and cover the U.K. and other countries.

There have been a number of recent developments on Findmypast. Amongst the many new Wiltshire records are a group named Wiltshire Social & Institutional Records 1123-1968. This collection, compiled by Wiltshire Family History Society covers a wide range of topics including local censuses, obituaries, court documents, tax records and estate papers. I found some records of court prosecutions that were not listed in any other online sources, as well as descriptions of households on the Longleat estate with some interesting personal detail. “Joel MAGGS, turner, married Step TROLLOP's daughter. 1 son under 7. Barnes Lane, Horningsham. House in good repair. Very idle lazy fellow, uses his wife's ill. House dirty and slovenly condition.”

Two other interesting collections on Findmypast are of First World War soldiers’ medical records and of suffragettes and suffragists. There is not much information in the medical records, and you will need to have the soldier’s regimental number. I have sometimes found a lot of medical information in the ordinary military records. The suffrage collection contains criminal records and cuttings from suffragist publications, including the following about self-denial money. Does anyone know what it means?

 Suffragettes self denial fund

Following the release of the new GRO indexes to births which have the mother’s maiden name as part of the record, the same information is now beginning to appear in the Findmypast transcription of the GRO indexes. They appear to be working backwards from 1911 with these, and as an example of how far they have got, my great-aunt Ellen Lawrence, born 1884, has her mother’s maiden name of Pollard shown in the Findmypast index, but the entry for her older brother Charles, born 1881, does not. The search screen still warns you against trying to use the parameter where the birth happened before 1911.

Although there are no GRO records generally available after 2006, Findmypast now has an index of over 2.5 million U.K. deaths from 2007 to 2016. I am unsure of the official source of this information. Findmypast only states These records, provided by Wilmington Millennium, include over two and a half million entries with just under two million records pertaining to the years 2007 to 2013. The remainder of the records cover the years 2014 to 2016. The majority of these records will either contain the date of birth or age at death for the deceased individual. Death records included in this collection span the United Kingdom and include England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Island, the Isle of Man, and Jersey”. The collection is not complete. I found the deaths of my cousin and my mother-in-law, but not that of my aunt, all three of whom died in 2009 or 2010 and all of whom left wills. The two entries I found contained the date of birth and the date of death, both in full, plus part of the postcode where the death occurred.

Searching online indexes is not always as straightforward as one would expect. Sometimes you cannot find some information when you look for it a second time, and there seems to be no rational explanation. On other occasions you forget to delete some qualifier in the search screen from a previous enquiry, and that is limiting the results you will get, and perhaps means you get no results at all. While we all know that baptisms do not always take place soon after a birth, the majority of them do and the two terms are thought to be synchronous. They are not, and as part of a general search on Ancestry, entering a year of birth will not bring up an individual where the only record is a baptism in that year. The remedy, especially for the period before general registration is to search a database of baptisms rather than a general one. You will also find that a search of a specific census year, or a specific dataset, will let you enter parameters (names of other household members, for example) which are not available in a general.

I was recently contacted by someone in Illinois who was researching the names on graves in a cemetery in a town called Libertyville, including a George Lawrence who was killed by a horse in 1878. Somehow, he had got my contact details and I was able to provide evidence that George was a member of my family and could give more information about him. This information is now on the Findagrave website ( and led me to look afresh at what the site contains. Many of the individuals listed, especially those in the United States, have a lot of information about them, including obituaries and excerpts from printed biographies. As an example, look at the entry for George’s son John Lawrence (1844-1923) who is buried in the same cemetery. The entry contains links to wives and siblings, and you can also search for family members buried in the same cemetery or the same town. The information is being continually updated as volunteers research the stories of those buried. The website can now be a very useful source of family history information beyond the simple details of death and burial.

The General Register Office ( has recently announced that it has extended for an indefinite period its service of providing cheaper pdf copies of birth and death certificates when those events have been covered by its digitisation and re-indexing programme. The pdf records cost £6 rather than the usual £9.50 and are despatched via e-mail, normally within a few days. The period covered by this service is birth entries from 1837 - 1917 and death entries from 1837 – 1957. The advantage of the new indexes is that the birth information includes the maiden name of the mother for all dates and the death information includes the age at death.

Most of us spend most of our time on family history website looking for census records, or records of births, marriages and deaths, that we sometimes miss some of the other treasures. Ancestry, for example, has a whole collection of photographs, postcards and drawings which you can search by putting the place name in the keywords box, and ensuring that you only access the picture files called UK, City, Town and Village Photos 1857-2015 and United Kingdom & Ireland Historical Postcards. Many date from the early years of the twentieth century, so there is a view of Park Street, Bristol with only horse-drawn vehicles and no Wills Tower, and one of the Dutch House on the corner of Wine Street and High Street which was sent to an address in Massachusetts with the brief message “Love from Dad”. There are also many of Bath. Some photos are from the Francis Frith Collection, and are late nineteenth-century, such as Bristol Cathedral without the towers at the west end and Arnos Vale Cemetery in 1887, when it was still surrounded by fields. This photo is of St Andrew’s Church in Clifton, which was lost in the blitz.

St Andrews Clifton