The past year has seen some major changes in the number and style of family history websites, so in this issue I thought I would provide a summary of recent developments, especially for new readers and for those who have recently joined the Internet, There is also some information about other sites that you may find useful.
It is now quite possible to do substantial amounts of family history research while sitting in front of your computer at home. You may have to pay money by using a credit card or by buying vouchers, but the cost is certainly going to be similar to that of making multiple visits to libraries or record offices. No one should deny the value and pleasure of using record offices, and from scanning original documents to get the most accurate data, but it can also be enjoyable to follow a trail through a variety of online sources, and you can now make real progress on the history of a family in a short space of time. This is especially true for late nineteenth-century records.
The most valuable free resource is probably FreeBMD, which lets you search transcribed GRO records of births, marriages and deaths between 1837 and 1903. It is still work in progress, so the years you need may not have been done yet, but if what you want is there, it can be retrieved easily and quickly. Just type in the name and event you are looking for, and the search engine does the work. Success will depend on how common the name is and how closely you can specify what you are looking for. I have found that the site runs much more quickly during the morning UK time, while American researchers are asleep. FreeBMD is http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/.
If you cannot find what you are looking for on FreeBMD, then you can try 1837online. This site has images of the GRO registers, and is complete from 1837 to 2001. However, you have to do the searching yourself by looking down the image, and there are at least four pages each year to look at. There is a charge for using the site, which varies between 10p and 5p per page viewed. This can only be paid for by credit card, there is a minimum charge of £5 (55 units), and a timescale for using your units. 1837Online is at http://www.1837online.com/ .
A developing site is FamilyHistoryOnline. This is run by the Federation of Family History Societies, and includes databases supplied by member societies. Our own Society is taking part in this project, and our 1891 Census Index and the South Gloucestershire Burial Index can now be searched online at the site. New records are added each month, and at the time of writing, there were nearly 18 million records available. Recently added are 87,608 memorial inscriptions from Somerset. These include over 4000 at Keynsham and 800 at Arnos Vale, Bristol. Charges vary and range from 2p to 9p depending on the amount of information given. You can pay by credit card, or with vouchers obtainable from our own Society, which receives a proportion of the money spent. This site is at http://www.familyhistoryonline.net/
In comparison with the charging methods for 1837Online and FamilyHistoryOnline, I feel that the method of paying for the 1901 Census is rather cumbersome, but no-one can study their family history without using this now well-established website. It provides a full transcription of the 1901 census as well as downloadable images, combined with a powerful search engine. Apart from the cost, which at 75p for a downloaded image, and 50p for the transcription of household or individual details is significantly higher than other sites, the main problem with the census has been with the transcription of names and other details. The 1901 Census is at http://www.census.pro.gov.uk/ .
FamilySearch is the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). It provides access to the major database which is the International Genealogical Index, as well as other church databases, the US 1880, UK 1881 and Canadian 1881 censuses, and the US Social Security Death index. In fact you can search all the databases simultaneously, and it is free to use. The IGI has transcriptions from many English parish registers, but is not comprehensive. For UK researchers, Family Search is at http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/default.asp.
Most of us have an ancestor or relation who was in the armed services. If you have an interest in any of the constituent regiments of what is now The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, you should visit The Wardrobe, which is the website of the regimental museum in Salisbury. As well as regimental histories, the website has transcriptions of war diaries for both the First and Second World Wars. My great-uncle John Lawrence was in the Wiltshire Regiment, and died of his wounds near Bethune, France in 1918. Most of the diary entries are quite banal, but are quite revealing. Was John one of the seventeen other-ranks wounded on 3rd September? You can find The Wardrobe at http://www.thewardrobe.org.uk/main.php3 .
The quality of websites about villages and local communities can vary a lot. One of the better ones is the PuckleWeb about Pucklechurch at http://www.southglos.gov.uk/pucklechurch/index.htm . It contains separate pages on different topics and historical periods, and will be useful for those who have never visited the village but have ancestors who lived there.
If you want to find other people with connections to your family, and have had little success using our own Register of Member’s Interests, you may want to try Genes Connected, a spin-off from the successful school and college reunion website Friends Reunited. Try the site by going to http://www.genesconnected.co.uk/ and type in one of the less common names in your family. If you are lucky, you will find other people with the same interests. There is no charge to search, but if you want to make contact with listers, or post your own interests, you will need to subscribe at £7.50 per year.
Finally, if you need to locate a second-hand copy of a book, you can now do so through Abebooks at http://www.abebooks.com/ . This is an international site, listing books held by booksellers across the world, and although prices are shown in US dollars. You may find that a book is held by several different booksellers, all of whom are offering copies in different condition at different prices. In late November, I ordered a book from Canada which came safely and cheaply, but took 5 weeks to arrive. It cost about £10, including postage.