It is two years since the 1911 census first became available, and until now it has only been available on the Findmypast website, and its associate 1911census.co.uk.
The 1911 census is now on general release, which will be good news for those who subscribe to Ancestry, The Genealogist and Genes Reunited. Ancestry currently offers access to only the household summary sheets, while The Genealogist only confirms that the census will be available shortly. Genes Reunited has a full index and images of the whole census. Since Genes Reunited is owned by Brightsolid Ltd, who also own Findmypast, it is probable that the two sites use the same indexes and images. Ancestry and The Genealogist will use a different index, which may help you find missing relatives. Findmypast is at www.findmypast.co.uk, Ancestry is at www.ancestry.co.uk, and The Genealogist is at www.thegenealogist.co.uk.
Following the availability on Ancestry of the will calendars for England and Wales from 1858 onwards, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland is publishing the similar records for the District Registries of Armagh, Belfast and Londonderry. The period 1858 to 1943 is covered, with some exceptions, and in addition digital images of copy wills from 1858 to 1900 are provided. This is all available free of charge at www.proni.gov.uk/index/search_the_archives/will_calendars.htm.
Of all the basic information sought by family historians, burial records are the most elusive, especially for the late 19th and 20th centuries. The Deceased Online website at www.deceasedonline.com seeks to make burial records available, especially from large Victorian cemeteries. The have recently added 286,000 records from the London Borough of Camden and 412,000 from Islington.
Findmypast continue to expand the range of material available, and also improve search facilities. They have recently added parish records for Dorset, Warwickshire, Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland and Yorkshire and 223,160 burial records for Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney, Australia. The new Marriagematch search option makes it easy to find possible marriages where you know some or all of the names of the two parties. This is something that FreeBMD already offers, but Findmypast has a full searchable database for the period 1837 to 2005.
While the major sites have concentrated on publishing original records, with indexes and digital images, Family Relatives at www.familyrelatives.com has opted for secondary sources – directories, military and naval lists, and older transcribed records like those originally published by Phillimore. The latest addition is over one million records from Post Office directories of the Victorian era. This is one of the cheaper sites, with an annual subscription of £30, and there are also pay-per-view options.
Last Chance to Read at www.lastchancetoread.com/ contains a searchable collection of pages from British and Irish newspapers, mainly from the years 1710 to 1870. The indexing has been done by optical character recognition, which makes it vulnerable to error, but you are able to view a thumbnail image to help you decide if it is worth paying for a digital copy of the full page. Searching is free, but pages cost £2-3, which may be expensive for the sort of information that is available. Although the range of newspapers covered is limited, it is worth remembering that local newspapers often reprinted news from much further afield. For example, the Salopian Journal of 9th October 1811 reported that the new Mayor of Bristol was William Inman, who was elected in place of L. Ames Esq. Ames had been fined £500 for declining to serve in that office. Last Chance to Read is similar to The Original Record (www.theoriginalrecord.com), where I discovered that there were 351 results for the surname “Ames”. Viewing them all individually would cost £1982, beyond the enthusiasm of most family historians, but one could have access to the whole series for £100. This may be better value, but it is hardly instant gratification, since many of the entries will be irrelevant. Searching for a more common surname would be very frustrating.
The British Listed Buildings website at www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/ combines information from official sources with O.S. maps, Google street view and views from Google and Bing. The site rejected a photograph that I attempted to add, but accepted some text. I found that identifying buildings was easier in rural villages than in a city like Bristol, but the site is easy to use and could develop into a really useful resource if there is sufficient input from those who know about the buildings listed. A similar official site can be found at The Heritage Gateway (www.heritagegateway.org.uk/gateway), but this has less features and less obvious scope for adding information about buildings you know.
I really try to get on with the new Family Search websites, in all their manifestations, but still find them frustrating. The search screens never seem to make it easy to specify what one is looking for, and the search results, although interesting (and there is a lot of Bristol information available), never seem to quite correspond to what one has asked for. The results seem to vary from time to time, as does the information given. Baptisms may not include the actual place of baptism, for example, yet that is of fundamental importance. The information provided is presumably an accurate transcription of the original, but there is always a lingering doubt that one is really seeing the whole picture. Checking the original record is more important than ever, if you can establish what the original record actually is. The original FamilySearch database is still at http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/frameset_search.asp while the pilot search of the new data is at http://pilot.familysearch.org and the substantive new search option is at https://www.familysearch.org.
Finally, a local website for the parish of Clutton. It can be found at www.clutton.org.uk and contains useful information such as a short history of the village and its industries, a list of burials in the churchyard, and a place for you to post your family history queries. If you know of similar village sites for our area, then please let me know so that I can spread the word.