Although you will read this in March, when hopefully the worst of covid is behind us, the days are longer and the skies brighter, it is being written in those dog days between Christmas and New Year. Just the time perhaps for some on-line research, and I am certainly finding that the recent new releases are giving me the opportunity to push back through the years and find some details from the eighteenth century that were not available previously. It is always good to go through one’s old research and see what might have been unavailable the first-time round.
The major national sites have not released anything recently of real importance to research in our local area, but there is new material that will be useful to some people. Findmypast have a big new collection of Welsh probate and parish records from 1544 onwards, which could help resolve a few problems. There was a lot of migration from South Wales, especially Monmouthshire, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Another useful addition on Findmypast (www.findmyast.co.uk) is an index to the records on the Billion Graves website (https://billiongraves.com). Both this and the Welsh records benefit from the simpler search methods available on Findmypast. The Billion Graves data includes coverage for Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, United States and other countries. There is a link to Billion Graves itself so that you can see a photo of the gravestone, but you may need to register with Billion Graves to see the full details. A recent development on Billion Graves is a smart phone app which will help you locate a particular grave in a cemetery, and the cemetery itself.
The birth record indexes on the General Register Office website (https://www.gro.gov.uk/) have been extended to 1934. The principal information this website will give is the second and any subsequent forenames. What it will not tell you, and a field you cannot search on, is the maiden name of the mother. That information is provided on other sites such as Ancestry, Findmypast and FreeBMD. Although the newly available records are for certificates which have been digitally scanned, at the time of writing it is not possible to order the cheaper pdf copies.
The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/) has recently added three files of local interest. They are Somerset Guardian and Radstock Observer (1899-1962), Cheddar Valley Gazette 1957-1980 Gloucester Mercury (1861-1884). Don’t be misled by the titles of these newspapers. Many covered a much wider area than their names suggest. The Cheddar Valley Gazette, for example, had news from villages to the east of Shepton Mallet.
Although Bristol Archives has been closed to the public for much of 2020, the staff have been busy, many of them working from home. One of the results is the introduction of a new and much improved catalogue of holdings. It can be found at https://archives.bristol.gov.uk/. The new catalogue appears to be much more comprehensive, especially with documents like photographs, leases and building plans. It is well worth doing a new search for topics and places that interest you. There is also a useful help page with information on how to use the new catalogue more effectively. You may not find many personal family history records, but I was pleased to find a lot of very helpful information about relationships in the documents about the Jackson Family, who owned Sneyd Park, Stoke Bishop and many other properties in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Peter Insole is the Principal Historic Environment Officer for Bristol City Council, but is probably most familiar to family and local historians as the lead person behind the Knowyourplace website. Amongst his other work outside the City Council, there are two websites which you may find particularly interesting. One is The Floating Harbour (https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/ff6cbc08fa3b4046b164eaf8580e8510), which tells the story of the development of Bristol’s Floating Harbour and the other is Bristol Homes for Heroes (https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=da280f6845904d37a0f1d88995941076), which deals with the design and construction of the houses built by Bristol City Council between the wars.
Although I have not had much time for research lately, I have come across something I would like to share, since it may help some of you. These are some annotations to the burial register for St James, Bristol, available on Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk).
The image is of burials in February 1800. What do the symbols mean? My guess would be that Mt indicates there was a memorial erected and that OP means out of parish, either that the burial was out of parish, or that the deceased came from another parish. But what does N.G. mean? It’s always worth looking at the image of the original register, since it may have information like this which is missing from a transcription.
Many people have heard bad stories about Facebook, (https://www.facebook.com/home.php) and have understandably not wanted to get involved. Others have an objection to the way the company operates, or the profit it makes. However, if used carefully, Facebook can be a wonderful resource for those with an interest in family or local history, as a way of keeping in touch with family, or involving oneself with all sorts of other hobbies or interests. Facebook can be intrusive and infuriating at times, but you just have to ignore or skip past what doesn’t interest you, or take steps to exclude it. You have to join Facebook as an individual, and you will almost certainly find it all a bit baffling – I know I did. But then you can look for Groups (topics that interest you) and Friends (people you know who are also on Facebook). Facebook will also suggest Groups and Friends that may be relevant, but it is up to you to accept or reject their suggestion. Some Groups are open, while with others you have to apply to join.
Facebook groups can be very popular, with thousands of followers. One of my regular favourites is Bristol Then & Now Photographs, with over 52,000 members. Every day you will see old and new photographs showing how Bristol has changed. The Bristol Then & Now Questions pages can be very useful if you need help to identify something, and I was pleased recently to receive information about a pub in Baptist Mills, which was given as an address in the 1851 census. Nearly every town and city has a photographic site as do many villages. I recently came across the Gloucestershire Wartime History pages, in which people post their queries and others respond with information. Groups can be highly specific, like Andrew Plaster’s group about the Organ family of North Nibley, or those for former students of a particular school. Whatever your interest, there will be groups which will inform or entertain you. There is nothing to stop new groups being created, so some topics, like family history for the Bristol area, have more than one group with similar coverage, including the page of our own Society. The following are just a sample of what is available:
Bath – Then and Now Photo Comparisons
Descendants of Ann Morgan (She said that she came from Bristol)
Westbury on Trym – pubs, churches, history
Bristol Naturalists Society
Bob Speel has a website about sculpture and memorials which contains a lot of information and illustrations of public statuary and memorials in old Bristol city centre churches. St Stephens, Christ Church, Temple and St Peters are included, and the site also covers other British towns, including Gloucester. It can be found at http://www.speel.me.uk/sculptplaces/bristolbroadquay.htm.
There are a number of websites of photographs, some of which are specific to a subject and some like Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/) or Geograph (http://www.geograph.org.uk/) which are more general in scope. Search engines like Google and websites like Wikipedia also give access to a wide range of images. In that context, the announcement of a new photo website called Memory Lane seemed to be jumping on a crowded bandwagon. However, there are differences. First, it is part of Reach the media company behind newspapers such as the Mirror and Express, and local papers like Bristol Post and many others. This ownership gives it certain advantages. It has access to the photo archives of those newspapers, which include “human interest” items as well as scenic views. It includes the Francis Frith archive, and you can also contribute your own photos. Searching by place name is easy, and the site automatically extends your search to the surrounding area, so looking for Fishponds will include Frenchay, Mangotsfield and Staple Hill. I found the site was very good at locating photos of places I knew as a child. You have to register to access the website, but that is easy and it only asks for your e-mail address. The site is at https://www.memorylane.co.uk/.