As usual, since my last article there have been some major developments in the availability of family history information online, so much of what I write this time will be to update things that were in the last Journal.

The big news is that the GRO has agreed to lift the 100-year restriction on the publication of information on births, marriages and deaths.

This means that the two major projects to provide on-line access to the national registers of births, marriages and deaths can now publish information from 1837 virtually up to the present day. FreeBMD is still concentrating on transcribing the pre-1904 indexes, and by 29th April had done over 57 million records. It is now handling over 125,000 searches each day. FreeBMD can be accessed at http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/ and is both very easy to us and free of charge. It is especially useful when searching for marriages, since having identified one partner you can easily check who else is listed with the same district and page number. The latest changes to the FreeBMD site include a more detailed listing of Registration Districts and the dates when they were operational.

The other means of accessing GRO data is through 1837online, which is now available at http://www.1837online.com/ .  This pay site has images of all the GRO indexes from 1837 to 2001. I am not sure if the images have been taken from the printed volumes at the Family Record Centre or from microfiche copies, but they are generally clear and easy to read. You can enlarge the image very easily, and print copies of pages as you wish. It is a pay site, and paying £5 in advance by credit or debit card gives you access to 55 page images over 45 days. For £50, you have access to 880 page images over 1 year. It is worth working out how the site operates so that you minimise your expenditure, and it could work out expensive if you are searching for a common surname like Williams.

My first use of 1837online was to find the deaths of my great-grandparents, Henry and Sarah Ann Woodfield. They lived in Warwick, where Henry worked most of his life as a labourer in a gelatine factory. They were born in the 1850s, and were both alive in 1901, living in Paradise Street.  The website gives you the range of surnames covered by a group of pages, so I could see, for example, that in a particular quarter there were about 10 pages of deaths covering surnames WOO-WOO. I guessed that Woodfield would be on page 4 of that range. This was usually correct, but sometime I had to move to the previous or to the next page. Each page viewed cost me about 10p. I fairly quickly found a Henry Woodfield age 59 in the December quarter of 1913. It seemed that this could well be my gt-grandfather, so I downloaded a certificate request form from Office for National Statistics site (http://www.statistics.gov.uk - follow the link to Registration) and sent it off to the GRO at Southport. The address at death, occupation and name of informant all confirmed that I had found the right man.

I am still looking for Sarah Ann Woodfield, meanwhile transcribing any other Warwick Woodfields that I came across. So far I have found one possible Sarah Ann Woodfield, who died in Coventry in December 1920. Some members of the family did move to Coventry, but I think it worth continuing to check to see if I can find a suitable Warwick death. Incidentally, it was useful to be able to check the 1901 census online, where I found 7 women named Sarah Woodfield of about the right age, 2 of them living in Warwick and 2 in Coventry. This was a useful reminder that the first Sarah Woodfield found might not be the right one.

I have still only spent £4, and about one hour on the computer, in looking for my great-grandparents. The alternatives are visiting Bristol Central Library (where in any case many of the fiche containing W surnames are missing), or going to the Family Record Centre. Both options are less convenient for me, and probably more expensive overall.

For one piece of research, I had to use both FreeBMD and 1837online. For many years I have been looking for the marriage of two other great-grandparents, Arthur John Lawrence and Elizabeth Jane Pollard. They probably married about 1878 in their home counties of Hampshire or Dorset, and they were living in Bournemouth in 1881. I searched FreeBMD and found the marriage of Eliza Jane Pollard in Southampton in March 1880 but with the page reference blank. I was able to use 1837online to check the image of the original index, where it was clearly 2c 28. I wonder if FreeBMD will use 1837online to provide the images for their transcriptions.

Using the 1901 Census site, I noticed that this now offers the option of searching by address. This is not quite straightforward, since you have to be sure of the name of the road in 1901, and also how the census place was described. You need to be aware that a search for Paradise Street will not find Paradise St, if that is how it is listed. An address that I thought of as being Hankinson Road Bournemouth was described as Hankinson Road, Winton, Southampton, since the Bournemouth boundaries had not been extended into all the suburbs by 1901. In this case, Southampton is the old name for the County of Hampshire. The 1901 Census can be viewed at http://www.census.pro.gov.uk/

Another new website which promises to become more and more useful is Family History Online, run by the Federation of Family History Societies. This is a pay-per-view site containing material submitted by family history societies, and can be accessed at http://www.familyhistoryonline.net/. At present the coverage is patchy, but this will change as more societies add their databases. Bristol & Avon has yet to make a decision on whether to submit databases, but this could be a useful source of income for us, and it will make information more readily available to casual users who do not wish to buy a CD or microfiche. The costs of information can vary, but I was able to check surnames on a Sussex burial index for 5p each.

In my last article, I commented on the possibility of an online index to wills after 1858. I was pleased to see recently on the Court Service website that the “Postal Searches and Copies Department at York is also completing a long period of computerisation, which should see a much-improved service to family history researchers, with clearer and more comprehensive information and quicker supply of documents.”

And finally, here are details of two new sites, one of which will develop into a useful resource, while the other is a reminder of the harsh lives led by some of our recent ancestors. Your Maps Online at http://www.yourmapsonline.org.uk/ contains high-resolution copies of out-of-copyright maps of the British Isles, arranged by county. They may take a while to download if you have a slow connection, but they are both useful and very attractive. An 1880 map of Bristol is included.

The second site is that of the Buckinghamshire Record Office, which has added details of prisoners at Aylesbury, gaol in the 1870s at http://www.buckscc.gov.uk/bucks_prisoners/index.htm.  These are all minor criminals, but the interesting part is that each page of details has a photograph attached. William Cook was 13 years old and sentenced to 14 days in prison   for stealing a haddock. William West, age 66 was convicted of stealing coal and was photographed in a smock. Albert Turner, aged 9, stole a watch and was sentenced to 14 days in gaol, followed by 4 years in a reformatory. All this was less than 150 years ago, in the time of my great-grandparents.

Bob Lawrence, Webmaster