The end of year brings with it a further crop of new websites of interest and value to the family historian, as well as further developments at some established sites.
The1851 census has now been added to the list available at Ancestry.co.uk. This site already includes indexes to the 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses, and I expect that by the middle of next year all of the U.K. censuses will be available from this source. For those who have not yet used Ancestry, I would stress that, although the indexes have their faults, you do have access to images of the census pages. If you find the family you want on a page of the census, any errors with the index are unimportant. Ancestry can be used either as a pay-per-view or a subscription site, but the extent of the census indexes now makes a subscription better value, and I have been busy over recent weeks locating the more distant members of my family. Ancestry can be found at www.ancestry.co.uk.
Ancestry is not the only choice for using the census over the Internet. The whole of the 1861 census for England and Wales is now available at 1837online, and British Origins (http://www.britishorigins.com/) is continually expanding the range of counties indexed for 1841. These now include Wiltshire, Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, as well as Gloucestershire (including Bristol) and Somerset, so we are well served locally. British Origins also has indexes for 1871, while a further range of indexes and transcriptions, sometimes with access to images of the original documents, can be found at The Genealogist (http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/). All these are subscription or pay-per-view sites.
Much progress has been made in the last year in indexing the registers for Bath and North East Somerset. All marriages have now been indexed from 1837 to the present day, and all births from 1837 to 1895. This site is free to use, and can be seen at http://www.bathbmd.org.uk/. This work is being done by volunteers locally, and new helpers are always being sought. The index will only tell you the year when an event occurred, and you will have to order the certificate to get the full details. However, searching for a record is quick and easy.
Before Ellis Island began to receive immigrants to the United States, the main arrival place was Castle Garden, and a new site at http://www.castlegarden.org/ lists arrivals at Castle Garden between 1830 and 1892. The site is free to use, and work on the digitisation is continuing.
One of the principle sources of official information is the London Gazette, together with its companions the Edinburgh Gazette and the Belfast Gazette. They are most useful for subjects like military medals and awards, bankruptcies, intestacies, etc, and you can now view the Gazettes online. The index can be found at http://www.gazettes-online.co.uk/, although I should warn you that the website is not well designed and finding the event you want is likely to be a long task, especially if the surname is a common one. The site is free to use
The National Archives is continuing to expand the range of documents you can access through its method of free index with charged-for download of document image. The latest are the service registers of more than 500,000 Royal Navy seamen between 1853 and 1923. The site is easy to use, and you can search by name and place of birth. I downloaded a very full record of all the ships which my grandfather sailed on. The site can be found at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/ and downloaded documents cost £3.50.
The Boddyparts website at http://www.boddyparts.freeserve.co.uk/bristol.htm contains some good photographs of present day Bristol, especially of churches and historic buildings. Most of the photographs are the work of the anonymous author, although some have other acknowledgements, but if you poke around you will find a lot of family history and the identity of the person behind the site.
The London Burials Grounds website at http://www.londonburials.co.uk/ takes as its base a book with the same title published in 1897 and written by Mrs Basil Holmes. The website then expands that information with present-day comments about the burial grounds. It also has a useful list of websites about London cemeteries, and a short bibliography.
The number of mailing lists and chat rooms seems to be on the increase, although the development of online information would appear to make them less necessary. Too many of the messages seem to be people wanting others to look up information for them, or to be from people with naïve expectations of the sources available. I have always been a fan of RootsWeb (http://www.rootsweb.com/), but you may like to try British-Genealogy.com, which is part of ArchiveCD Books and can be found at http://www.british-genealogy.com/. It has some useful forums for particular places, including one for Bristol, as well as for each county in the Great Britain and for other topics. Another option is Rootschat, which can be found at http://www.rootschat.com/.
While it is good to help other people when you can, and what others tell you may sometimes help you break through that brick wall, it is important to treat all information with suspicion. This applies particularly to what you may find on the Internet, but can be true with other sources too. I spotted the following recently in Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter which can be found at http://www.eogn.com. “Wherever you turn up information about your ancestors, always check the “facts” that you find. Many times you will obtain a piece of information that later turns out to be inaccurate. Never believe anything until you can verify it! You need to treat all verbal information — as well as most of the genealogy information on the Internet — as “clues to what might be true.” Then, armed with this newly-found information, seek out an original record of the event that corroborates what you found earlier.”
All I would add is that much of the information in original and official sources can also be classified as “clues to what might be true”. No collection of facts about your family will be completely consistent, whether they are found on the Internet or in an original document.