Findmypast seems to have been making the running in recent weeks as regards new releases. Ancestry in contrast sometimes claims something as new when it has already been announced. They proudly announced Gloucestershire Electoral Registers on 20th February, although I covered the same dataset in my article in the December Journal, which I wrote some time in October.
One new release from Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) that some of you may find useful is Wiltshire Wills 1530 to 1858. The early wills may challenge your deciphering skills, although they can be easier to read than the PCC equivalents, but they can be a great help in sorting out the families of yeomen farmers and the like. In some cases, there are inventories attached to the will, adding more interesting detail. One thing I noticed in relation to my wife’s ancestor William Kelloway, a blacksmith in West Lavington who died in 1854. He died without leaving a will so his son, the executor, had to swear various oaths regarding the administration. I had always thought that this would have required a visit to the Bishop’s court in Salisbury, but in fact it was done before the local vicar in West Lavington, who acted as the Bishop’s surrogate. That saved them the journey and a day away from work.
A major development for Bristol and Gloucestershire researchers is that Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) now holds indexes and images of Bigland. Ralph Bigland’s Historical, Monumental and Genealogical Collections Relative to the County of Gloucester was published in various formats and editions, but Bigland started his work in about 1750 and the original publication was 1786. The edition used by Findmypast appears to be the one published about thirty years ago by Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, which we have in the Society Research Room. This edition mentions Westbury on Trym Village Hall, which was built in 1869, so must be a later one. It has always been difficult to find one’s way around Bigland, and the new index is a great improvement. For the family historian, the major value will be the information about memorials both within churches and in churchyards, since many of these have now disappeared or are illegible. An example is this from Stapleton:
Or how about this for unexpected and useful information about the birthplace of a Bristol Burgess, whose memorial is in Henbury church. You could easily waste time looking for his baptism in Bristol.
For those whose research is more recent, Findmypast is now offering a new way of searching the 1939 Register using maps. You enter the name of a street you are interested in, and the program shows a map with the location of the street and the names of surrounding streets. Clicking on the name of any of the streets listed brings up a list of the households and the principal surname. This facility will obviously be particularly useful for those doing house history, or in identifying houses in particular circumstances. The obvious drawback is that the system uses modern maps, not 1939 ones. That is fine for most suburbs, but means that it is impossible to use the system for city centres like Bristol where there has been bomb damage or redevelopment.
Other welcome new resources from Findmypast include some Somerset parish records, Bishops’ Transcripts and monumental inscriptions and British Army Officers’ Widows’ Pension Forms 1755-1908. There is also a new set of electoral registers for England and Wales for 1920. These not only fill a gap in our knowledge of who lived where between 1911 and 1939, but also shows some of the results of the extension of the franchise to many women after 1918. My only caution is that identifying places can sometimes be difficult and some areas appear to be missing from the data. I could not find someone who I expected to see living at Barrow Gurney, or other family members from near Evercreech in Somerset.
Something Findmypast seem to have started doing without saying anything is adding the mother’s surname to pre-1911 civil birth records. The GRO records include this information from the third quarter of 1911 onwards, but I have checked my father’s birth in September 1908 and his mother’s surname is shown. This information is already available from the new GRO indexes, but Findmypast has a more flexible and friendly search system – you don’t have to specify gender, for example.
Findmypast offers various types of subscription, and the Society has a full world-wide one for use at the Research Room. One of the sources it offers is “U.S. & World Newspapers” which includes nearly 120 million scanned pages, many from U.S. regional newspapers. The ease of searching, and the quality of the images, is not as good as that found in the British Newspaper Archive, but it does include some obscure items, such as this advert which appeared in a rural Illinois newspaper, the Rockfords Posten of 23rd March 1906. Johnson Lawrence was the first cousin of my gt-gt-grandfather, and as far as I know only spoke English. What can you find?
An interesting source of information about industry and manufacturing, including biographies of many of the individuals involved is Grace’s Guide (https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Main_Page). You will often come across pages from the guide as the result of an internet search, but it’s worth browsing the site itself to look for details of people, many in the twentieth century, who have had a major impact on our present-day lives. The information is generally taken from directories, technical journals and the like, and appears authoritative. It is well illustrated and has full source information.
Finally, I had an e-mail recently from a website called Family Relatives (http://www.familyrelatives.com/). Some time ago, Family Relatives offered transcriptions of some GRO index entries before those years were available on FreeBMD and other sites, but as coverage improved elsewhere I had forgotten about it. It now offers a wide range of sources at a lower price than the major family history websites, but it does not have the 1911 census, let alone the 1939 Register, which must limit its usefulness. Another long-established websites that may also be worth looking at is Lost Cousins (https://www.lostcousins.com/) , whose purpose is to put cousins in touch with another, and which publishes a useful and informative newsletter. Genes Reunited (https://www.genesreunited.co.uk/) is part of the same group as Findmypast and has access to some of the same records, but its main aim is also to put people in touch with one another. The major website that I seldom mention in these articles, because it is one I don’t regularly use, is The Genealogist (https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/) . It has the same major data sources as Ancestry and Findmypast, but with different indexes. It does not have the 1939 Register, but it does have tithe maps and may include military records of interest and parish records for the county your ancestors came from.