The major family history websites continue to add new resources to their holdings. The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/) has added over 2000 pages from the Bristol Observer in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s and a number of South Wales newspapers, which frequently include news from Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire. Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk/) has an extended list of England & Wales death 2007-2020. This list comes from a partnership with Wilmington Millennium and has been “compiled from civic records and funeral homes”. In my experience the records are usually accurate, but the list is not comprehensive. The GRO website (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/) offers its own list for the years from 1984 to 2019, but it may be worth checking both.
The Genealogist (www.thegenealogist.co.uk/) has added its own version of the 1939 Register, while Findmypast has changed the format of its own version. I am not sure what advantages it thinks it now offers. Findmypast has added 2.9 million entries to its electoral register listings, and these include Bristol, Bath and the surrounding area, but you need to remember that not everyone is included on the publicly available list. Findmypast has added over 3.4 million new records to the National Burial Index, which has been compiled by family history society members. Note that the dates of coverage for each parish are different.
Information is gradually trickling out about the 1921 census, which will be available next year. Findmypast have the contract to digitise and index it, and it will be published in early 1922. As it will be very popular and in high demand, it will not initially be available as part of a Findmypast subscription, but through a pay-per-view system. It’s worth starting to think now about one’s own priorities, and which searches will be most beneficial. For example, I know where my father and his parents were living in 1921, since the family was at the same address from the 1880s to 1956. However, my mother’s mother died in 1919 and her father remarried shortly after the census was taken, so their addresses are much less certain. Family history surprises are always nice, and who knows what we will all find.
A friend recently asked for my opinion on a family history matter. He had two families with the same surname and both using an unusual first name. The period was the late 17th century, so records tended to be scant, although various members of the family had left wills. One family was recorded in Wapley, near Yate, and the other family was in Christian Malford near Chippenham in Wiltshire, about 18 miles away. Did I think they were the same family? I thought they probably were, and had found other examples of families moving similar distances for reasons that are not clear. The common belief that people did not travel far in the past is not true.
My friend is an experienced and knowledgeable historian, and has been researching his family history for over 30 years. I did not doubt the information he had given me, but thought I would check a particular baptism in Wapley. The surname was BATTIN and the first name of the daughter baptised was Friswid, a name I had not seen before. Now Ancestry has scanned and indexed all the Bristol Diocese parish records, but it was not easy to find the particular one I wanted to see. Ignoring the first name, which could be easily transcribed wrongly, I initially searched for the surname Battin within 5 years of 1695 and specifying the place as Wapley from the drop-down list. There were no results. Widening the search to Wapley and surrounding counties, brought up a list including Friswid and her siblings, and clicking on the image gave me the one below, taken from the Bishops Transcripts.
I have mentioned before that it is often good to widen the search to include the county if you specify a particular parish. There is another way to search on Ancestry, and that is by choosing the relevant dataset in the Card Catalogue. Using this method, you can browse the parish register, but curiously, using this method, you are only offered the pages from the original register, not the Bishops Transcript.
The baptism is also listed on Findmypast, and is actually rather easier to find. However, there is no image of either of the originals, and the data came originally from FamilySearch. Friswid is an uncommon name, and one variation is Friswith. FreeBMD lists a number of events of people with the first name Friswith, the majority in South Wales. Variants of the name can be found in various parishes in Wiltshire, and probably derives from Friuswith, who was an English princess and abbess. She is the patron saint of Oxford and of Oxford University. Thanks to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page) for that information.
Wiltshire is one of our neighbouring counties, and various Wiltshire records, including wills, are available on both Ancestry and Findmypast. A recent addition on Ancestry are Wiltshire nonconformist baptisms, marriages and burials.
Tracing First World War records is always a bit hit and miss, with the problem of many service records being burnt in the blitz and the need to look at a variety of sites to compile a summary of what happened when. While the Commonwealth War Graves site (https://www.cwgc.org/) is always a good starting place if you know that someone died, it can be harder if someone is missing in action, taken prisoner, or wounded. These should all be included in the War Office Daily Casualty List, or its weekly summary, and these are held by the National Library of Scotland, who have digitised them and made them available for download. However, they have not been indexed, and searching them can be a laborious process. The example below is from the list for 31st July 1917, and is part of the list of those reported wounded.
The list covers all those in the armed forces of the British Empire, so includes Canada, Australia and India. It does not tell you where the person was when the wound happened, nor what the wound was, but at least confirms the date. I found it interesting that the origins of the person listed bore no relation to the name of the regiment, so the Gloucestershire Regiment had someone from Birmingham and the Hampshire Regiment someone from Leeds. I assume that this War Office list was used to compile the lists that were printed in local newspapers. These Weekly Lists appear to start in 1917, and are not easy to find on the NLS website. They are at https://digital.nls.uk/british-military-lists/archive/144481815.
When I first started writing these articles twenty years ago, the availability of family history resources online was in its infancy, and the advice from old family history hands was often that you couldn’t believe anything you found online. Times have changed, and online resources are now the first place one goes to check BMD records, census records, wills and much more. That’s fine for original information, but it is still wise to be wary of what other people say they have found, and the conclusions they have drawn. Although I still prefer to do my research from original sources, usually online, there are still occasions when other people have found something you might never think of looking for. I recently decided to track down my paternal grandfather’s first cousins – there were over sixty of them, on his mother’s side alone. One of them was Bessie May Bailey, who married Walter Honeybun at Dorchester, Dorset in 1901. I found the births of their four children, but there was no sign of the family in the 1911 census, and no trace of Bessie’s death. Fortunately, I checked Bessie in the Ancestry Family Trees and discovered that the couple had divorced in 1914, an unusual event for an agricultural labourer at that time. The family tree on Ancestry had the divorce documents, although I have not been able to find them later. I tried checking on the Ancestry card catalogue under “divorce” without success, but they are listed under “England & Wales Civil Divorce”, which seems an odd piece of indexing.
Note that the form includes the faint phrase “in causa pauperis”, which I understand to mean that the petitioner was too poor to pay any fees. The divorce papers give the full story of the break-up of the marriage, and include a copy of the marriage certificate.
Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society have an impressive new website (https://www.bgas.org.uk/) which is well worth a look. There are pdf files of many of their publications, which can be downloaded free of charge, and also data files of use to family historians with Gloucestershire ancestry. These include the Gloucestershire Hearth Tax 1672 and the Gloucestershire Lay Subsidies 1581-95 for the South-West Division. Both cover parts of our area. For those not quite so far back in their family history, there is the Lloyd George 1909 Survey of land values, ownership and occupancy. This is work in process, and the Bristol files are being transcribed by BAFHS member Peter Newley.