Last time, I gave details of a new wills website and expressed the wish that it would be expanded to cover all wills from 1858. I must have been good in 2014, because my wish has come true, and you can now search for wills in Eng land & Wales from 1858 to the present day at https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills.
I used the site to find the death of a former work colleague. It only took a few minutes to establish that she died in 2009, and it was easy to register and order a copy of her will. I ordered the will at 1.30 p.m. on a Saturday, and it was available for download by first thing Monday morning. There were two pages. The grant of probate told me the exact date when she died, her address at death, the value of her estate, and the names and addresses of her executors. The will itself was very short, and simply told me that her executors were also her legatees. The total cost was £10.
The wills database is in three sections. One section searches wills from 1996 to the present, and uses the computer file created at the time. The section from 1858 to 1996 is an index to the original printed calendars, and takes you to scanned images of these, while the third section is for the wills of soldiers who died in service. The operation of the site is still clunky, and not as efficient and easy to use as it could be, but it is still in beta. For example, you can currently only search one year at a time. However, it does offer an effective way of finding and ordering wills online, and is an example of what could be achieved with GRO certificates. It also makes it possible to search for the deaths of most adults after 2006.
A useful new file on Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) is the Army Register of Soldier’s Effects 1901 – 1929, which adds a further layer of information to what we may already know about those who died in service. Reuben Hansford died at the Dardanelles, and is listed on the Helles memorial there. His date of death is given as 25th August 1915. This latest database states that he died of wounds at sea on 27th August, but also shows the money received by his step-mother Bessie and sister Lucy after his death, and these help distinguish him from another Reuben Hansford in the Dorset regiment. Reuben came from the village of Little Bredy, and is listed on a memorial in the churchyard there. I was surprised to read in a newspaper report that this memorial was dedicated in April 1918, several months before the war ended, and wondered if this was common.
Also recently added to Ancestry are the WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920, which offer an alternative to the Medal Cards which are also available on Ancestry. As always, the information on the two sets of records is not exactly the same. Another interesting database on Ancestry contains lunacy records from The National Archives and is of patient admissions and discharges. I found that a (distant) relative of mine, previously recorded in the census as a congenital imbecile, spent 17 years in Coney Hill, Gloucester before her death in 1918.
In recent months, both Ancestry and Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) have added millions of parish records which were originally on the FamilySearch website. This could be a mixed blessing. If you search for the baptism of Charles Toghill, born 1828, son of Thomas and Jane, you will find a record for 18th January 1829 at Williton in Somerset. Unfortunately, although the date and parentage are correct, Charles was actually baptised at Saltford near Bath. When the records were originally transcribed, the records for Saltford appear to have been attributed to Williton. In many cases, one can resolve an inconsistency by checking the original register, but looking at the register for Williton will only show you the transcription is wrong. It will be no help in finding the right information. Fortunately, on this occasion, FreeReg (www.freereg.org.uk) has transcribed the record correctly, and the registers for Saltford are on microfiche in the Society Research Room. Generally, however, if you suspect that records originate from FamilySearch, I think you should treat them with caution.
Findmypast are adding new data constantly, although nothing recent has been specific to our local area. Among those of interest are the 1871 Worldwide British Army Index, trade union membership books, Peninsula War Army officers, a county gazetteer and maps for 1895, registers of prison hulks 1811 to 1843, school registers, and wills indexes. The recent Irish records include Griffiths Valuation, and there are many new U.S. records. Unfortunately, these are not available with a U.K. subscription.
For old photographs of Bristol, there is now a Facebook page called Bristol Then and Now which has a large readership and offers something new virtually every day. It is at https://www.facebook.com/groups/bristolthenandnow/. Also, don’t forget Paul Townsend Flickr site at www.flickr.com/people/brizzlebornandbred/
Although Google Books sometimes can only show part of a text for copyright reasons, many organisations have put the whole text of their publications online via Google. These include Bristol Record Society (http://www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/History/bristolrecordsociety/), Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (www.bgas.org.uk) and Lloyds Register of Shipping (http://www.lr.org/en/research-and-innovation/historical-information/lloyds-register-of-ships-online/)
I first started writing these articles in 2001, and over the years many members have suggested sites to be included, or have commented on how useful they have found what I have written. I would like to thank all of you for your help and encouragement. Looking back, it is amazing how much family history has changed in such a short time.