This is a shorter article than usual, because some of the time and space has been taken up with a separate review and commentary of the Bristol parish registers which are now on Ancestry. That review and commentary can be found at the end of this article.
In the last issue, I mentioned the reduction in price of copies of wills after 1858 from £10 to £1.50. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in the building of a considerable backlog in the supply of requests, and, although this is now said to be easing, I am still waiting after 3 weeks for wills I have ordered. The acknowledgement said the order would be supplied within 10 days.
If you have ordered wills online previously, you may notice that the website at https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills has been redesigned, and that the procedure for wills probated before 1996 is slightly different. Having found the entry in the index, you place an order and choose a probate registry from a drop-down menu. In some cases, there will be a hand-written number against the entry, and this should be included in the box marked “Folio number”. No, I don’t know what it means.
In the last issue, I suggested that the index on Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) , which covers the wills for the period 1858-1995 was the most convenient to use. That has now changed, as Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) now has an index which covers 1960 to 2019. This therefore includes the post-1995 wills, which were recorded using a computer system. It is very simple to use, and the results of a search are presented in the usual Findmypast way. It is easy to specify the date range you want to search. However, you cannot at present access this data using the “Wills & probate” option within the birth, marriage and death section. You need to select the specific dataset within “A-Z of datasets”, and there is a separate index for the period 1858 to 1959. I should remind you again that the probate registry used has no relevance to the usual address or place of death of the deceased. It was the place most convenient for the executors.
Another website that has had a bit of a redesign is the GRO site at https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/. The functionality of the site is little changed, but you may notice a brighter look, and more helpful wording and layout.
As the focus of many people’s research moves from the first to the second world war, so more data is being made available, and the following may be found useful in specific circumstances.
The International Bomber Command Centre is just outside Lincoln and commemorates those who served in Bomber Command in the Second World War. It has exhibitions and events, but for the family historian who cannot get to the centre there is also an online database of the 57,861 who lost their lives. This database contains much detail of how the losses occurred. https://internationalbcc.co.uk/.
Those who worked at Bletchley Park were sworn to secrecy. Many did not know what their friends and workmates there actually did, and they died without revealing their secrets. Fortunately, details of those who worked both there and at other stations now appear on the Bletchley Park Roll of Honour, which can be found at https://bletchleypark.org.uk/roll-of-honour/search.
Children (and families) of Far East Prisoners of War (COFEPOW) was set up over 20 years ago by the daughter of a British soldier who died in Burma (Myanmar) in 1943, and can be found at https://www.cofepow.org.uk.
It contains lists of casualties, together with lots of letters and personal documents and information. However, access of some areas requires membership, and payment of a subscription.
Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) has various lists of British casualties from specific wars such as the Crimean War and the Korean War, and also has a dataset of over 3½ million prisoners of war from 1715 to 1945.
I was helping recently for information on a man buried in Frenchay churchyard whose memorial stated that he fought in the Burma campaign. A breakthrough came when a relative revealed the existence of an envelope which had his regimental number, and the pass certificate for a course which showed he had been in the Wiltshire Regiment. This reminded me of a website called The Wardrobe, which has the history of the Wiltshire Regiment. It is at http://thewardrobe.org.uk/.
The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum is located in Gloucester’s Historic Docks and has a website at https://www.soldiersofglos.com/ while I recently received a flyer for the Mercian Regiment Museum at Worcester, whose site is at https://worcestershireandmercianregimentmuseum.org/.
The Somerset situation is slightly different, in that the Somerset Military Museum is housed within the Museum of Somerset at the Castle in Taunton, while the regimental archives of the Somerset Light Infantry, as well as some North and West Somerset Yeomanry records, are held at the Somerset Heritage Centre, also at Taunton, but on the outskirts. Details of both can be found at https://swheritage.org.uk/. Details of the military exhibition can be found by selecting The Museum of Somerset, and then explore.
Bristol parish registers on Ancestry
The launch by Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) of Bristol Diocese parish registers is a major leap forward for local family historians. The registers have been re-transcribed, and they are accompanied by images of the originals which are of very good quality, and much more legible than were previously available on microfiche. The following notes are based on fairly limited experience, and I have not searched all parishes at all periods for all types of record.
The information recorded in the registers varies, sometimes according to the whims of the local clergy or churchwarden, and there is no guarantee that all events were properly recorded, or that individual registers have survived. The periods covered are baptisms 1538-1918, marriages 1538-1935 and burials 1538-1994, so details of living people are excluded. Only Church of England registers are currently included; Roman Catholic and non-conformist registers will follow over the next few months. However, some nonconformist events are already included on Ancestry because detailed were recorded centrally, and are now in The National Archives. The Church of England registers included are for parishes in the Bristol Diocese, and church boundaries follow their own rules. For example, Yate is in the Bristol Diocese, while Chipping Sodbury is in Gloucester Diocese. Alveston is included, but not Thornbury. Fortunately, parishes in the Dioceses of Gloucester and Bath & Wells are already similarly available on Ancestry, and one can search across the diocesan boundaries by using the right search terms.
There are three ways of searching these records. You can either do a general search, while specifying the place where you believe the event took place, or you can select the exact file that you want to search. You can also browse through a particular register.
Doing a general search, while specifying a geographical area, means that you can check both Bristol and neighbouring dioceses. This is useful if you are not sure where an event may have occurred, or there is some ambiguity about the boundaries. For example, Emily Vowles who was born in Broad Street, Bristol in 1845, was baptised in Publow, the parish her mother came from. Publow is in the Somerset parish records on Ancestry. It can be the other way around. For some births registered in Keynsham registration district, the corresponding baptisms took place in Brislington in Bristol. There is an advantage therefore in not specifying just “Bristol”, but expanding the area to “County and adjacent counties”.
When you do a search using the general search function, you may see many results for the same event, and will need to decide which to follow further. Some will be described as GRO rather than church records. Others may have come from FamilySearch or a similar source, rather than from the most recent index and accompanied by an image. Typical results are shown below. The one to choose is the one with the image, and it is better to click on the image rather than the transcription.
Some index entries can be misleading. For example, some birth dates have been assumed from the age and date of death. The actual birth or baptism record has not been found.
If you want to search or browse a particular register, go to “Search” and then choose “Card Catalogue”. At present, if you sort the list by “date added”, the Bristol datasets come first. Otherwise, search with the keyword “Bristol”. There are over 5 million Bristol records listed, in four different categories. At this point, you can either search for a specific record in the whole of that particular dataset, or you can go further and specify which parish and which register you wish to browse. You cannot specify a register, and then search only that register for the name you want. You may be able to choose between a parish register and the Bishop’s Transcript, and there are also sometimes duplicate parish registers, which differ in appearance and the information they contain.
An example of an informal duplicate baptism record is that of Charlotte James, who was baptised on 11th June 1826 at SS Philip & Jacob.
The image shows that her father was a mason and the family lived in The Dings. Meanwhile the more legible formal baptism record looks like this.
Note that the two images also contain additional details which are seldom found in previous transcriptions. One tells us that the James family lived in The Dings, while the second confirms that they lived in the parish where the baptism took place – something that is not always the case.
Jane Bambury found a similar occurrence with burials at SS Philip & Jacob. She looked up Catherine Gordon who died late December 1840, and found the burial twice on the 2/1/1841. (spelt Catharine in the register)
The first was the regular burial entry,
and the second was in a duplicate book, kept in the earlier pre standard style, covering 1832-1854, also kept by the vicar, which included the causes of death.
Note that Catherine was buried in SS Philip & Jacob, and not in the parish where she lived. Kingsweston was then in the Westbury on Trym.
If you browse through the records, you may come across some unexpected entries. For example, the early 18th century Shirehampton burial registers sometimes contain lots of details about the deceased, and the circumstances of the death, as in this example:
At first, I struggled with the words after “out of A boat”, but then realised that it probably was “In hongrod” which would now be written as “Hung Road”, This is a bend in the River Avon at Shrehampton where ships used to tie up while waiting for the tide. So we now know when and where poor William drowned, and that he was buried at the expense of the parish on the order of the coroner. Presumably the “riseing” mentioned was the fact that drowned bodies first sink to the bottom and then rise to the surface.
St Nicholas burials for 1765 identify three possible places of burial – Back, Crowd and Rackhay. The first edition Ordnance Survey map shows a disused graveyard in Charlotte Street where the office building named Rackhay now is, and another disused burial ground between Rackhay and Welsh Back. The location of “crowd” is less clear, but it apparently referred to the church crypt, according to a footnote on page 68 of “Merchants and Merchandise in Seventeenth Century Bristol” by Patrick McGrath (published by Bristol Record Society and available as a free download from their website).
Interestingly, the 1828 Ashmead map on Knowyourplace shows another graveyard on the south side of St Nicholas church between the church and Baldwin Street. I wonder what that one was called?
A final surprise to come, so far at least, from the publication of these registers is the position of chapels of ease. These were secondary churches within a parish to provide a facility closer to where people lived, or to make more room available for worshippers. Sometimes there was a separate register for the chapel of ease, and sometimes the one parish register included events at both locations. In the case of St Mary’s Fishponds, originally a chapel of ease within Stapleton parish, there are two registers, and some events are recorded in both. This continued until the Parish of St Mary’s was created. There was also uncertainty how the situation should be handled, as in the case of St Anselm’s, Clifton. This was a church in off Whiteladies Road within the parish of St John’s, which opened in 1898 and was destroyed in the blitz. At first, they had their own register, but then received this letter:
But this was countermanded in 1920:
Both notes are inside the register itself.
These newly indexed Bristol parish registers and accompanying images on Ancestry therefore offer many new opportunities to go back into the city’s past, and to learn more about the lives, and deaths, of the people who lived there, and how events were recorded. The improved records will help make our own researches more accurate.