The big data release for us locally in 2019 was the publication of the Bristol Diocese parish registers on Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk). These were described at length in the December 2019 Journal, but experience of using these records has highlighted some problems and peculiarities. Now Ancestry has taken the next step with publication of over 400,000 nonconformist records held by Bristol Archives. These will be a useful resource for many people, but to avoid disappointment you need to be aware of what is included and what is not.
As with the Church of England records, there is an index and transcription, together with a high-quality digital image of the original document. However, the coverage of this later batch of records is significantly different from the Church of England registers. “Nonconformist” includes Quaker and Roman Catholic records, and the originals of the latter are often in Latin. A much wider geographical area is covered, so Methodist records from Shepton Mallet and Burnham on Sea are included, although the coverage depends very much on the denomination. While Anglican records for the Bristol Diocese are as comprehensive as the survival of records has allowed, and date back to 1538 in some cases, the nonconformist records tend to be later in date, although there are both Quaker and Baptist records from the mid-seventeenth century. In addition, some records for important local churches are not held locally, or may have been lost at some time. There are no registers for the Moravians, for example, although these are available elsewhere online While Broadmead Baptist church is included, there are none from Counterslip Baptist Church, Tyndale Baptist or Horfield Baptist. There are similar gaps in the Congregational and Methodist coverage. To find out which churches are included, use the Card Catalogue option in Ancestry and choose the set labelled “Bristol, England, Non-Conformist Baptism, Marriage and Burial Registers, 1644-1981” If you sort the list by “Date added”, these registers should be near the top.
Unlike Church of England parish records, where the format has gradually standardised over the years, with more information becoming available, the nonconformist records vary enormously in their style and the detail they contain. Also, many chapels did not have burial grounds, and some denominations placed little or no importance on baptism. A marriage in most nonconformist churches could only be legally performed from 1837 onwards, and only became commonplace much later. Despite these limitations, these new records will be a valuable addition to the sources available to local and family historians, and will often resolve gaps and difficulties in research. They can also provide the sort of information that you would be unlikely to find in most Church of England baptism records.
For the March 2020 Journal, I wrote about Reginald Ames, who included his pedigree in his will. Reginald Ames’ parents attended Lewins Mead chapel, so his baptism is included in the records now available.
You will see that Reginald was baptised, not at the chapel, but at his parents’ home, Cote House on the Downs, Westbury on Trym. He was born 9th May 1844, but not baptised until 11th December. The entry below is for another child, baptised on the same day and at the same place, but Richard Acland Armstrong was nearly two years old. The two baptisms were performed by George Armstrong, the then minister of Lewin’s Mead. The two mothers, Anna and Frances, were sisters, which explains the double event. Their family name was Acland. One strange feature is that the minister of a church waited nearly two years to baptise his own son. The other is that Reginald Ames’ father was a West Indies merchant, and had received over £60,000 compensation when slavery was abolished in the British Empire. George Armstrong, however, was a fervent abolitionist, and later campaigned vigorously against slavery in the United States. This is a good example of the advantages of seeing the original record, rather than an index or even a transcription. It also shows how the abolition of slavery could be seen very differently by members of the same family, but they could still share the celebration of a baptism.
Further experience of the Church of England parish records on Ancestry has thrown up a number of oddities, which should encourage an intelligent appreciation of the different records available, their strengths and weaknesses.
I was looking for the second marriage of William Henry Mills (1856-1945), who was born in Hawkesbury but spent most of his life at Hamfallow near Berkeley. His first wife was the half-sister of my great-grandmother, but she had died in childbirth in 1880. I found his second marriage on Ancestry. That showed that the couple were married at Holy Trinity, St Philips, on 25th August 1881, but there was no link to the image of the register page. I then checked the register by selecting the parish via the Card Catalogue.
It is difficult to understand why no link has been provided to the image, and it is worth checking when one appears unavailable. I have previously written about the difficulties with Holy Trinity, St Philips. While St Philips & St Jacobs is one of the oldest Bristol parishes, dating from the twelfth century, Holy Trinity was built between 1829 and 1832. It was within the parish of St Philip & St Jacob and was originally a chapel of ease, built to provide space for a growing congregation in what was a developing part of the city. St Philip & St Jacob was an unusual parish, although not unique in Bristol, in that part was within the city boundary and part outside, in what was the County of Gloucestershire, a separate local government area until much later in the nineteenth century. If you look for Holy Trinity St Philips in the index section to the Ancestry list of Bristol Diocese parishes, you will find it listed under both Holy Trinity, St Philip and St Philip Holy Trinity in the Bristol section, while St Philip itself is listed under Gloucestershire. Parishes like Horfield and Shirehampton are also listed under Gloucestershire, so there is clearly some confusion about the date and location of the boundary.
If the years you want are not listed on the Ancestry list, that does not mean they do not exist. If you look for the registers for Winterbourne, you will find the Bishop’s Transcripts listed under St Michael for the years 1673 to 1860, and the registers themselves under St Michael the Archangel for the years 1813 to 1918. In fact, there is only one page of Bishop’s Transcripts for 1673, which is followed by the years 1813 onwards. Fortunately, the records Winterbourne St Michael from 1600 are available on the Frenchay Village Museum website, at https://www.frenchaymuseumarchives.co.uk/NewArchives.htm although their records for 1673 are not identical to the ones on Ancestry.
Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) has two major releases to report. The first is of electoral registers for England & Wales for the years between 1920 and 1932. Over 116 million more names have been added, making over 123 million in all. Before you leap for your keyboard, the only local records are for the City of Bath, and I have yet to find any members of my own family, wherever they were living. Because there were often two registers published each year, the number of individuals listed is comparatively small, but full first names are generally shown, which can be helpful. An index takes you to an image of the original register page, which is highly legible since it is printed, and can also reveal the names of those living at the same address.
The second change on Findmypast is another one where the full name is generally shown and indexed. Their file of probate records has been reconfigured and now covers the years 1858 to 2019 in a single file, giving access to either printed records or the Probate Service database. This makes it the most convenient website to use when looking for a will, especially if you are unsure of the date of death. However, there are problems. Mike Slucutt has pointed out that some of his Slucutt family who left wills are missing from the index, and I have checked a couple of these, comparing them to the index on Ancestry and the original calendar. I looked at Elizabeth Jane Slucutt, who died 28 December 1967 and whose will was proved 8 January 1968. She is listed in the Ancestry index, but not in Findmypast. However, John Edward Hayden Slowly, the one above on the list and Mykola Slusaruk the second person down are both in the Findmypast index. Similarly, Henry Lawrence Slucutt (died 1985) is indexed on Ancestry, but not on Findmypast. Walter Frederick Slugg, the one after, is listed, but Wladyslaw Sluckin is not, although Edith Grace Sluce, the one before Wladyslaw is listed. Another difference between Ancestry and Findmypast is in the page images that you see. Until 1972, the probate calendars were typeset in the traditional hot metal manner. From 1973, the records were kept on a computer or similar automated system, and the output used a rather clumsy typeface. Ancestry has obviously scanned the old images originally published on microfiche (see the shape of the page), while Findmypast and the Findawill website (https://www.gov.uk/search-will-probate) have taken the same automated records and produced a clearer and more elegant image.
New records have also been added to the GRO website (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/). These are records of births and deaths from 1984 to 2019, some of which are not available elsewhere. You will find, however, that the death records show only the year of birth, while the Findmypast has the full date.
If you are sometimes bewildered and cannot remember what to look for where in BMD or probate records, there is now a table on the BAFHS website (www.bafhs.org.uk) which lists the different advantages and disadvantages of each website.
If you have ancestors who were in the Gloucestershire police service, then you may like to contact their archives at https://gloucestershirepolicearchives.org.uk/. Records of Royal Navy seamen can be found at https://royalnavyrecordsww1.rmg.co.uk/. This is a collaborative project involving volunteers and The National Archives (TNA), The National Maritime Museum (NMM) and the Crew List Index Project team. It is a work in progress, so the information you want may not yet be available. If it is merchant navy crew that you are interested in, then the Maritime History Archive at the Memorial University of Newfoundland https://www.mun.ca/mha/index.php may have the information you need.
The coronavirus crisis meant the cancellation of Family Tree Live on 17th and 18th April. One of the speakers was to have been Gill Draper of the British Association for Local History, whose topic was “Living the Poor Life”. If you want to see details of that talk, and of others that she has given to local and family history groups, go to https://www.balh.org.uk/education-conference-presentation-material
Staying on the subject of poverty, a new website on the administration of the Poor Law can be found at https://thepoorlaw.org/. The Poor Law is a project to look at those who ran the Old Poor Law (1601-1834) or who supplied the goods and services used by the poor, and uses volunteers to examine and transcribe the expenditure vouchers. It is geographically based, and relies on the survival of suitable vouchers. The first counties involved are Cumberland, East Sussex and Staffordshire.