I start this quarter’s article with a website nearer to home – that of the Bristol Record Office. The BRO has recently received collections from two of Bristol's most famous photographers - Jim Facey and George Gallop, and has made 500 of these photographs available online.
The photographs of Jim Facey provide a pictorial record of Bristol's ordeal during the Blitz of the early 1940s. Some of these photographs have rarely been seen. They were not published at the time because they were considered to be too sensitive by the authorities who were worried about Bristolians' morale during the heavy bombing. The second collection comes from freelance photographer George Gallop (now retired) who was himself inspired by Jim Facey. The collection shows Bristol life during the 1970s, '80s and '90s. The online photographs can be found at www.bristol-city.gov.uk/archives .
For some months now, it has been possible to obtain information on births marriages and deaths at the pay-per-view site 1837Online. The site has recently been redesigned, and has a more professional look to it, although I am not sure about the relevance of the Wellington Boots image. Now included is useful advice for beginners in family history, direct links to use when ordering certificates, as well as a news and events section, and the site appears to have further ambitions in the provision of family history data. The company is sponsoring the SoG Fair at the beginning of May. When searching for events before 1984, you view images of the pages in the BMD indexes, but for births, marriages and deaths since that date you use a computerised database. This site can be found at www.1837online.com/
When the 1901 census project was carried out, the PRO had an exclusive arrangement with Qinetiq. The policy now is for licensing agreements, so the same information may be available from more than one provider. Information on births, marriages and deaths is now therefore also becoming available on the Genealogy Supplies site run by S & N Genealogy. Another S & N site, named The Genealogist, has census indexes which have been created by volunteers, and are available on a subscription basis. Few counties have yet been completely indexed, and the only local area indexed is Wiltshire 1891. This is complete, and an annual subscription for Wiltshire alone costs £14.95. The situation is changing from month to month, and I suggest that you go to the S & N home page at http://www.genealogysupplies.com/ and follow the links there.
FamilyHistoryOnline continues to expand, but the latest update contains the significant addition of the 1881 census index. This is therefore now available on multiple CDs, on microfiche, on the FamilySearch site ( http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/) and on FamilyHistoryOnline (at http://www.familyhistoryonline.net/). The two websites are free access, although the rest of FamilyHistoryOnline is pay-per-view. Each approach has its own advantages. I think the regional CDs are still the most flexible, since you can search by first name and birthplace or any other combination of fields, but they can be slower, especially if you have to change disks a lot.
Most of the U.K. pay sites are pay-per-view, where what you pay is directly related to the number of items you view. The big American site Ancestry.Com is a subscription site, and an annual subscription gives unlimited access. There are various subscription options, and the main site contains American census records, immigration records, etc. There is also a separate U.K. subscription option, and this currently includes three different sets of census indexes. The 1891 census has been completely indexed, while the 1871 census has been only partially done, and work on the 1901 census has only just begun. Use of the index leads directly to an image of the census page, which can be printed if required. My experience of the indexes is that their quality is no better than that of the other census indexes that are available, and I am surprised at the wish to re-index the 1901 census. Certainly, on a brief test with an unusual surname, including scrutiny of the images of the census pages, I found some differences between the two census indexes. However, they were all instances where the surname was difficult to decipher and the indexer had simply come to a different conclusion. Whatever the quality of the indexing, I certainly found the Ancestry census indexes easy to use, and helpful in finding people who had moved away from their home area. Whether it is worth your while paying for a subscription will depend on how many “missing” people you have, and how long you have already been doing your family history. The Ancestry databases are available free of charge in London at both the Society of Genealogists and the Family Record Centre. Strangely, you can use the Ancestry 1901 census free of charge at the Family Record Centre, while you have to pay to use the National Archives’ version. Ancestry can be found at http://www.ancestry.com/
Most of us will have used the Commonwealth War Graves site at http://www.cwgc.org/ to find the resting place of a service man or woman. If you have an American relative who served in the military, you may be able to find their memorial at the website of the National Cemetery Administration. There are major differences from the British site, however. Firstly, only cemeteries in the United States itself are included. Secondly, all U.S. service personnel are entitled to be buried in a military cemetery, as are members of their immediate family, so the list includes people who died many years after their military service, not just those died on active service. They are all included on the database, which can be found at http://www.cem.va.gov/index.htm
Finally, thank to the help of John Williams, the City Archivist, we now have Internet access at the Research Room. The terminal is part of the City Council network, for which we pay an annual fee, but it is fast and there is full access to all family history sites. With pay-per-view sites, you will either have to buy vouchers, or set up an account using a credit card. If you already have an account with a particular site, then you can use your login name and password at the Research Room.