On the Internet – June 2022October 15, 2022
The most important local news from Ancestry is that they have added to the parish births, marriages and deaths information from the records at Bristol Archives. These now have baptisms to 1921, marriages to 1937. and burials to 1994. All are accompanied with images from the original records, and more recent records tend to have clearer images and more accurate transcriptions than many of the early records, since the handwriting is more legible. In fact, it is interesting to see the handwriting in burial entries from the 1980s and compare with nineteenth-century equivalents.
Burials at inner-city churches had stopped well before 1974, but have continued up to the present day elsewhere. The municipal cemeteries have largely taken over, and church baptism has become less popular during the twentieth century. However, these records can offer an alternative and cheaper alternative to certificates in the search for family information.
The Women’s Royal Air Service was established in 1918 and was disbanded in 1920. About 30,000 women were in the service, and their records are now available on Ancestry. Most of the women were young and single, and were classified as either mobile or immobile, which meant that they worked near to their home. One local married woman I found was Mrs Florence Weeks, of Poplar Farm, Iron Acton, who worked as a fitter at the aircraft repair depot at Yate. As often with military records, interpretation takes time. Recruitment seemed to be very local and unreliable. I tried to track down Florence Weeks in other records, but was unsuccessful with so little to go on.
Meanwhile, Findmypast have been adding to their collection of Wiltshire records, including tithe registers, WW1 Hospital registers, and asylum registers as well as parish records. Findmypast have also added records from the 1939 Register which were previously redacted, and also many other useful records from outside our area. I know some of you have resisted looking at the 1921 census on Findmypast because it is not included in the normal subscription, but use of the records at half-price is offered from time to time, usually for quite short periods. You need to be registered with the site to receive notifications of this.
One of the websites mentioned by local genealogist Caroline Gurney in her talk to the Bath Group on 26th April was Digital Panopticon (https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/). In the words of the site itself “This website allows you to search millions of records from around fifty datasets, relating to the lives of 90,000 convicts from the Old Bailey. Use our site to search individual convict life archives, explore and visualise data, and learn more about crime and criminal justice in the past.” The project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council and involves a number of British and Australian universities. Information seems to date from the late eighteenth century. As usual with data from that period, the difficulty is in identifying the origin and any family connection of those listed, although some are shown, as in the excerpt below.
Many family historians like the idea of setting up a website about their family, and there are a number of software options to enable you to do it. It still requires more energy and enthusiasm, let alone skill, than most of us can muster, but John Antill of Leicestershire is someone who has, and you can see it at https://antill.org.uk/ Some of the people listed come from our area.
I started writing these columns over twenty years ago, when the amount of material available online was small but growing. In one of the earliest pieces, I reported that the Public Record Office, forerunner of The National Archives was going to make the 1901 Census available online, and intended to follow that up with the 1891 census. Since then, there has been an avalanche of material, websites have come and gone, and we have now got used to indexes covering the whole of England and Wales, parish records as well as Government ones, and high-quality images of original documents which we can enlarge if we wish. Initially, there was a lot of suspicion about the development of this resource, with some believing it had been taken from family history society publications. The advice was to discount any information you found online. The situation now is that material like the 1939 Register is only available online and for payment. However, one still has to be very wary of family trees posted online, and even if the same information is posted in several trees, it may be a case of people copying one another.
There are times when what others have found can help suggest dates and places which you would struggle to find yourself. In recent years, I have researched various wealthy Bristolians who are nothing to do with my own family. Although there is a lot of emphasis at the moment on the iniquity of the slave trade, the ownership of Caribbean plantations, and the involvement of the Merchant Venturers, the activities of Bristol merchants and businessmen were much wider than that. A large house on The Downs named Crete Hill recently to be had its gardens open to the public, and the information produced stated that in 1841 the property was occupied by Thomas Hill, who is described as a Prussia Merchant. Thomas later moved to Cote Bank in Westbury on Trym, a large house demolished when Falcondale Road was built. He was made Sheriff of Bristol in 1845, and it was at Cote Bank that a grand ball was held in 1852 when Thomas’s daughter Maria was married. It was attended by all the great and the good.
Bristol Times and Mirror – Saturday 24th April 1852
The 1861 census showed that Thomas’s birthplace was St Petersburg, and that Russia elsewhere might have been misread as Prussia. Shortly after, the family left Bristol.
Following up other leads, such as the identity of Thomas’s executors, and of George James Hill, curate of Oldland, whose infant son died at Cote Bank in 1851 and who was Thomas’s nephew, all revealed a web of family connections leading back to a James Hill who married an Ann Haydock in 1703. Their descendants roamed far and wide, and I found births, marriages and deaths in St Petersburg, Archangel, Riga, Bonn, Cologne and Wiesbaden. They are included on hundreds of family trees on Ancestry, and on other family trees published on the internet, but many trees are incomplete and I try to verify everything with other records before I include it in my own database.
Thomas Hill’s wife was Amelia McGeachy, who said she was born in Windsor, North America in about 1801. Other researchers have located this as being in Canada, Vermont, Massachusetts and California, the last being especially unlikely in view of the date. I have tried without success to identify if she was connected in any way to Fo(r)ster Alleyne McGeachy, a Conservative candidate in the 1852 Parliamentary election for Bristol. He had an interesting background, being born in Bristol in 1810, while his mother’s birthplace was Barbados. His father was an Army officer and former Acting Governor of Barbados who was killed at the siege of Badajoz in 1812.
This is all very different from the lives of my own ancestors, and probably yours too, but it requires the type of research which includes looking at what others have done, while not accepting it without question. It can make an exciting and challenging change.
Sources for Thomas Hill information
The Bristol Poll Book 1852, edited by John Stevens. Bristol Record Society, 2020
Family Tree of Rev Nicholas Isaac Hill, posted on Geneanet (https://gw.geneanet.org) by Julian Tyson-Woodcock
The Clergy Database (https://theclergydatabase.org.uk/)