Things happen quickly and unexpectedly in the world of on-line information, which means that sometimes what I write is out-of-date by the time you read it. That is the case with some of things I described in my article in the December 2002 issue of the Journal. Here is an update.
FreeBMD continues to expand, and now contains over 46 million entries rather than the 41 million available in October 2002. All of the U.K. births, marriages and deaths for 1902 are now included. A major innovation is that you can now do a phonetic search on surname, which is a great help with surnames like mine where there are several different spellings. Teams of volunteers are doing the transcription work, so the coverage is sometimes uneven. You can access FreeBMD at http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/ .
If you want to check an image of the original microfiche entry, you will soon be able to do this at the Family Research Link pay site at http://www.1837online.com/ . Family Research Link is a sister company to Title Research Ltd, which provides probate and succession genealogy services to lawyers and corporate and public trustees around the world. I do not know what the coverage of this service will be, but it will be especially useful if it goes beyond the 1902 limit of FreeBMD.
The latest changes to FamilySearch are the inclusion of online indexes to the UK 1881, US 1880 and Canada 1881 censuses. You can search the indexes individually, or can do a blanket search if the name you have is not too common. The information provided in the result of the search varies from country to country, but can still be a quick and easy way of tracing a missing relative. If you have already bought the 1881 census on CD, your money has not been wasted. The regional index on CD is still useful, since you can search by birthplace. However, when all is going well, searching online is a lot quicker than shuffling CDs. FamilySearch is at http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/ .
After you have used the records of births, marriages and deaths, and searched for your family on the census, the next most useful information source is wills, and we are now very fortunate in having various indexes to wills available online.
The PRO has an online index of 420,000 PCC wills proved between 1740 and 1858, which is a lot easier to use than the calendars and microfilms at the Family Record Centre. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury was the principal national court involved in proving wills, and it dealt with people from across the country, not all of whom were wealthy. Joseph Cooper of Almondsbury, brother of my ancestor Thomas, had his will proved at the PCC. The will of Thomas, whose adjacent tomb in the churchyard at Hawkesbury is much larger, was proved at Gloucester. If you find a will you want, you can download it for a fee of £3. The address for this service is http://www.pro-online.pro.gov.uk/ .
If you think that an ancestor’s will was proved at Bristol, then you can download an index to wills from 1793 to 1858 from the Bristol Record Office website. You will need the Acrobat reader to use this index, but this can also be downloaded via the BRO website. As Bristol City Council frequently change the addresses of their web pages, it is best to go to http://www.bristol-city.gov.uk, and follow the links to the Record Office.
The Genealogical Database available through the Gloucestershire Record Office includes wills from 1541 to 1858, as well as the gaol registers and nonconformist baptisms. It is an easy search engine to use, and you can order copies by post at a cost of £2. The web address is http://www.gloscc.gov.uk/pubserv/gcc/corpserv/archives/index.htm
All wills since January 1858 have been proved by the state rather than through church courts. Although there are local probate registries, the indexes are generally in the form of bound volumes listing all wills proved nationally. The bound volumes since 1900 can be checked at the District Probate Registry, The Crescent Centre, Temple Back, Bristol, BS1 6EP, which is open office hours. The indexes for the most recent wills are on microfiche or on a computer database, but these can also be used at the District Probate Registry. Let’s hope that the bound volumes will soon be transcribed to create an on-line index, and that this is the correction I need to make in my next article.
Bob Lawrence, Webmaster