Emigration was a fact of life for many families in the nineteenth century. I have ancestors on both my mother’s and father’s side who emigrated leaving children behind in England. If you cannot find a family member in the census, or the registration of their death, then emigration should be one of your first thoughts.
Some migrants did not like life in their new country and so returned, and the lists also include those who may have made many trips for business reasons or to set up their new life. Some people may therefore be listed more than once.
Fortunately, an increasing amount of migration data is now becoming available on the Internet. Migration records can be either of people leaving or people arriving, and the latest addition at Findmypast.com (formerly 1837online) is passenger lists for people leaving the U.K. These currently cover the period 1890-1899. You can search a transcription of the list, and also see an image of it, although this is more expensive and would only be justified if you were reasonably confident that you had found the right person. Findmypast is at www.findmypast.com and it is well worth looking at the site to read about the shipping lists and see images showing the information available. It costs 50p to see a transcription, and £3 to view an image.
Most people will be aware that of the different websites at Ancestry.com and at Ancestry.co.uk. In fact, there are several other Ancestry websites, covering Canada (Ancestry.ca) Australia (Ancestry.com.au) and Germany (Ancestry.de). All can be accessed from links at the bottom of your usual log-in page. In some cases, you may be able to access information using your existing subscription, while at other times you will have to pay a top-up to see a transcription or an image of the original document. Your existing login should be valid on all sites. The U.S. site (Ancestry.com) has extensive information about migrants arriving in the United States, and this complements that available free of charge at the Ellis Island site (www.ellisisland.org/) and Castle Garden site (www.castlegarden.org/). Both the Canadian site and Australian site also have lists of immigrants, and I found members of my family in the list of Bounty Immigrants to New South Wales 1828-1842.
As always with Ancestry, you will see more if you have logged-in, and if you have a current subscription. A pay-per-view upgrade of $US9.95 (about £5 Sterling) will let you see 10 original documents over a 14 day period, but will also give you better access to indexes and transcriptions. You can also access all the records of Ancestry free of charge at libraries in the former Avon area, and this facility will be available at the Society Research Room when our three new PCs have been installed.
Another free website with immigration data is that of the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild at www.immigrantships.net. The transcriptions here have all been done by volunteers, and although most are of American migrants, other ships and countries are included.
If you are a member of any of the public libraries in the former Avon area, then you can access a number of online databases free of charge at your home computer. The most useful for family historians is the Times Digital Archive, which has indexed pages from The Times newspaper 1785-1985. The index has been prepared electronically, so mistakes are common as individual letters can easily be scanned wrongly. However, you may find an obituary or court case of interest. Other libraries may also offer this facility. Go the website for your local library service, and you should find a link there to the online databases. You will need to have your library card handy to log in.
The coverage provided by FreeBMD is increasingly comprehensive, and there are now only a few periods between 1837 and 1911 which have not been transcribed. For example, there are some births in 1845, 1857, 1863 and 1881 which have not yet been done. You can check the coverage by looking at the charts at http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/progress.shtml .
The Office for National Statistics has announced that they will start putting their own BMD indexes online from early 2008. These are the result of their re-indexing exercise, so that all deaths from 1837 will contain age at death, all marriages the name of the spouse, and all births the maiden name of the mother. They also plan to improve the ways of obtaining certificates electronically, but no details have been given. It is expected that the Family Record Centre will close completely in April 2008, and that access to the BMD indexes will be provided at The National Archives at Kew. We have already had an announcement that the censuses at the Family Record Centre would be moving to Kew. As access to BMD and census records on the Internet has grown, so the use of the Family Record Centre has declined. It has now reached the tipping point where access by computer is so much easier than the use of microfiche and microfilm, that the whole service is being changed.
The number of options available to search the census is always increasing. The first census website was the 1901 census www.1901censusonline.com, and this is now managed by GenesReunited. Their site now also has the 1851 census and BMD information. The 1851 census index is not nearly as flexible as other offerings – you have to use both first name and surname as search terms, for example – but it may find an individual when other options fail. The BMD search gives access to images of the GRO indexes.
Findmypast (www.findmypast.com) now has the 1841 census available for all English counties, and Welsh counties will be available soon. They already have the 1861, 1871 and 1891 census. One of my favourite surnames for checking databases is TOGHILL, which is frequently transcribed wrongly. I checked the name in both Ancestry and Findmypast for the 1841 census. Ancestry had 41 separate entries, of which 13 were ones where a correction had been submitted by a user. Findmypast had 75 results, including all of the ones which Ancestry had got right initially. A subscription to Ancestry can be very seductive. It has lots of data, and will keep you busy for days on end. But it is worth remembering that you will need to use some of the other websites to get full coverage.
Wiltshire and Swindon Archives have started to make their collection of wills available online. The full index is currently available, with images of about 25% of the wills. The site is free of charge, although the images appear in your web browser, so it is a little more cumbersome to download and save them. The quality of the images is good, and the period covered is 1640-1858. The collection is not restricted to the County of Wiltshire, since the Probate Court was a church court. In fact, there are 6 Bristol wills listed, and 12 wills for Bath residents. Searching is very easy and flexible. The Wiltshire wills can be found at http://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/heritage/index.php .