The big news this quarter is the release by Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) of Somerset parish records. These cover from the sixteenth century up to 1914. As well as baptism, marriage and burial, there are also school, confirmation and gaol records, and the records include digital scans of the originals which are admirably clear and legible, and can be enlarged to suit. The source of these is Somerset Archives and Local Studies, and although what there is is good, it is not clear which parishes are included. There are certainly entries for Bath and Cameley, but I could not trace any for Kelston or Saltford. Some entries are index only, with no image available. As always, therefore, the policy should be to make the most of what there is, but realise that there could be a lot missing.
If your interests lie in Somerset, Dorset and neighbouring counties, one of the latest releases on the British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/) is the Western Chronicle published in Yeovil between 1886 and 1927. New on Ancestry are 12 million new Land Tax and prison registers, and electoral registers from 1832 to 1974 for Gloucestershire.
A friend asked me recently about the availability of the IGI. She had found information there some time ago, but was now unable to retrieve it. In fact, the IGI can still be searched as a specific database on the FamilySearch website (http://familysearch.org/) if you go down the screen to the heading “Find a collection” and type in “IGI”. There have been several different versions of the IGI and the 1988 edition is available on microfiche in the Society’s Research Room.
A lot of FamilySearch information is now available on other websites, and this set me wondering how easy it now was to find a particular piece of information. One of the few Bristol records for a member of my family is the origins of Charlotte James, who was born in the city in about 1826. I first looked for her on Ancestry, and was offered four, nearly identical, results. Three showed that Charlotte was baptised at St Philip and St Jacob on 11th June 1826, while the fourth had the same date, but only showed Bristol as the place of baptism. Checking the origin of the database revealed that it came from FamilySearch. I then checked on Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk), and got the same four results. However, Bristol was not shown on the results screen, and none of the entries gave the name of the church. If I hadn’t already known the answer to the question, I would not have persevered. Findmypast also indicated, in very faint type, that FamilySearch was the origin of the information. FamilySearch itself gave the same results as Ancestry, with three out of four showing the name of the church, although I got a nil result when searching Family Search a few months ago. The best source was the BAFHS transcription of the parish register.
The moral of this account is that online information is not always reliable. Information that was on FamilySearch can disappear from it, and information provided anywhere can be incomplete, unhelpful and unconvincing. Also, the first record you are offered may not be the best one, even if they are on the same database.
The online records of births, marriages and deaths generally only go up to 2005 or 2006, and checking events since then is difficult. I recently wanted to check for a recent death, so tried just putting the name in Google. This took me to a website called BMDS Online (http://www.bmdsonline.co.uk/), and I was very pleased with the result. BMDS Online contains announcements from a range of local newspapers, and contained both the death and funeral announcements for Olwen Lawrence, who died in North Wales in 2010. The announcement gave the name of her late husband, her two sons, a daughter in law, her granddaughter, and various other members of the family. I have not been able to confirm some of these relationships in other records, but am happy to accept them as accurate. The website covers newspapers published by the Trinity Mirror Group, so is limited in its scope.
The coverage by sites dealing with military records is improving all the time, and it’s worth taking a second look at some of them. The Long Long Trail (http://www.1914-1918.net/) has just been redesigned and is very good at explaining aspects of the British Army, how it operated, and where particular battalions were based and fought. I was amazed to read that the 1/9th Cyclist Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment served In India but then went to Vladivostok. They went on to Omsk and Yekaterinburg, and returned home via Canada in December 1919. That must have been quite an adventure for a Territorial battalion.
Meanwhile, Forces War Records (https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/) continues to expand, and this is beginning to overcome my previous misgivings that much of its information duplicated that on the general sites, and sometimes at greater cost. In particular, you should try looking under “WWI Troop Map”, which uses interactive maps to show how individual units moved from place to place. This can help where an individual was killed or injured, as ordinary soldiers are unlikely to be named in war diaries. Note that Forces War Records is a pay site; there may be information you can obtain without paying, but it is probably best to register. They sometimes offer free weekends.
The Royal Naval Museum at Greenwich has published on-line data about First World War naval personnel at http://www.royalnavyrecordsww1.rmg.co.uk/ . “Lives at Sea” has only limited coverage at present, and appears to be principally transcriptions from the records held by The National Archives. However, it is easy to use, and free of charge.