Recent announcements about websites have brought both good and bad news for the family historian. While most developments bring better search features and bigger databases, sometimes things just don’t work out as we would like.
One of the reasons for closing the Family Record Centre was the imminent availability of full birth, marriage and death information from the General Register Office website. The records were to be reindexed under the DOVE project, and a contract was given to Siemens to carry out the work, mainly outside the U.K. The latest news from the GRO, which was published in the August “Ancestors” magazine is that Siemens have pulled out of the contract, and that an urgent review of the project is underway. Further details can be found on the Federation of Family History Societies’ website at www.ffhs.org.uk/news/news080703.php.
The GRO has now transferred from the Office for National Statistics to the Identity and Passport Service. My concern is that IPS will not be so enthusiastic about publishing information online, and will argue for confidentiality over free availability. However, the GRO announcement is that “IPS and GRO remain committed to delivering the project to digitise Births, Deaths and Marriage records.”
You may remember that Findmypast was bought by Scotland Online earlier this year, and that Scotland Online has the contract to digitise and index the 1911 census. Scotland Online has now decided to rebrand itself as Brightsolid, a name which has been “developed after extensive research among major customers and other key stakeholders”. For the time being at least, the website can still be found at www.findmypast.com. Brightsolid is part owned by the publishers D.C. Thomson, better known in England for the Beano and the Dandy. Although Scotland Online currently has exclusive rights to publish Scottish data on the internet, the GRO for Scotland is currently considering offering licences to other companies.
FamilySearch, the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has announced an agreement with Findmypast, British Origins and Intelligent Image Management Inc to provide enhanced access to the English and Welsh census on the FamilySearch website. The first two companies will be known to you, while Intelligent Image Management is a Utah-based company which carries out digitising and data conversion work at facilities in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The new access is available now, but you need to go to http://pilot.familysearch.org/, rather than the former website at www.familysearch.org. The Pilot search page offers new ways of using FamilySearch, as well as access to a variety of new databases. Before you get too excited by this development, free access is only given to brief personal details and there is no household or address information, while payment is required to see an image of the census page.
In another example of cooperation between providers, Findmypast and FamilySearch have been awarded licences by The National Archives to digitise and make available both the 'Chelsea Pensioners' retired soldiers records between 1760 and 1914, and the Merchant Seamen's collection of records dating from 1835 to 1941. The Chelsea Pensioner and Militia records consist of over 8 million images, while some of the later seamen’s records include photographs and much personal information. FamilySearch will be carrying out the digitisation, while Findmypast will do the indexing, with the results available on both websites.
Now for some websites that you may have missed.
Bath in time (www.bathintime.co.uk) “aims to create a comprehensive archive of historic images of Bath, to help increase awareness, understanding and appreciation of Bath and its environs”. The site contains an enormous number of photographs, maps, plans, portraits, prints and other graphic images of Bath, arranged by category and with an effective search option.
If you have criminal ancestors, you may like to try the Old Bailey website at www.oldbaileyonline.org. All types of cases are included, from petty theft to bigamy, with over 197, 000 cases listed. They can be searched by name, keyword, offence, verdict, punishment and date, and cases have connections all over the country. One case with a Keynsham connection from 1893 concerns a man who gave himself up there and confessed to having been part of a group who threw a policeman over the Thames Embankment. Constable Robert Baker and Detective Charles Beard of Keynsham had a day out in London to give evidence, while the prisoner was sentenced to twelve months hard labour.
The name index to Bristol wills 1793-1858 has been available on the Bristol Record Office website for some time. The BRO staff are now working on earlier wills and have produced indexes for 1792 and 1791. These indexes include parish and occupation to make identification easier. The Record Office website can be found by going to www.bristol.gov.uk, and looking in “Leisure and Culture”.
I am always interested in hearing about websites for local towns and villages. One that came to my attention recently is for Frampton Cotterell and is at www.framptoncott.co.uk/. The website includes present-day matters like the Parish Council and bus routes, but there is also a lot of historical interest, including indexes to memorial inscriptions at three village churches.