My article in the September 2004 issue contained information about 1837online, the pay-per-view website that gives access to images of the GRO registers of births, marriages and deaths. The way the images were indexed made searching something of a hit-or-miss affair, so it is good to report that latest improvements to the site make it much easier - and cheaper - to use.

 Images are now indexed by the full names at the start and end of each page, so you can go directly to the exact page you need, rather than having to go through a range of possibles. The alternative site for searching these indexes is FreeBMD, but that has become much slower recently as it struggles to cope with demand. 1837online is at http://www.1837online.com/, and FreeBMD is at http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/.

Without wishing to repeat the information given in previous articles, I can report that the census indexes available at Ancestry have proved very useful in recent weeks. For the past fourteen years, I have been trying to find what happened to my gt-gt-grandmother Emma Sargent, whose last record I had found was the birth of her second illegitimate child baptised in the Sussex village of Icklesham in 1840. I recently broke through this brick wall by using the Ancestry 1871 census index to look for women named Emma, born about 1820 in Icklesham, and found an Emma Worley living in Hackney, London. I soon traced her marriage, which had been incorrectly indexed under the surname Surgent, and then found her death in the workhouse at Isleworth in 1879. Ancestry is at http://www.ancestry.co.uk

I know that some of you have found Ancestry difficult to use, especially the pay-per-view option. The procedure is to carry out your search first, and then to click on "view image". It is at this stage that you will be given the choice of annual subscription or pay-per-view. Incidentally, pay-per-view now costs £6 + VAT, which entitles you to see 20 images over a seven-day period. 

I have also had an opportunity recently to compare the indexes to the 1901 census provided by Ancestry and by The National Archives. Having failed to find two brothers surnamed PROE in The National Archives index, I tried the Ancestry one, and found them as scholars at Bromsgrove School. Although this unusual name was written fairly clearly, what was transcribed as PROE in one index appeared as COWE in the other. I think it would be wrong to assume from this that one index was usually accurate while the other was not. It is more a case of there being benefits in having two alternative sources. The National Archives 1901 census can be found at http://www.1901census.nationalarchives.gov.uk/  

Many of you will have been watching the BBC series "Who do you think you are?" which features the family histories of various celebrities. I have just looked at the 1901 census entry for Sue Johnston's grandfather. Lodging with the family in Workington, Cumberland was Frederick J. Bell, age 30, brewer, born Bristol. Is he one of yours? Incidentally, the original census page shows the county names as Cland, presumably a contraction of Cumberland, but not one readily recognised nowadays, and confusing if you saw it in the transcribed index. 

Sometimes, useful information can appear in the most unlikely places, and who would have expected a site originating in Newfoundland's Grand Banks to have a list of Bristol strays from the 1851 census. On closer examination, I believe the names listed have all been found on the CD which was produced as a pilot for the LDS project to transcribe the 1881 census. The counties covered are Devon, Norfolk and Warwickshire, but this is not made clear. Nevertheless, the site is useful and can be found at http://ngb.chebucto.org/Cmisc/1851-bristol-idx.shtml .  

The Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society are currently revising their website, and have decide to make some of their publications available online. This will eventually include more than 2100 articles published in the Transactions of the Society between 1876 and 2000. A fully searchable General Index to the Transactions is already available on-line. The index covers the years 1876 to 1992 as it is based on the published cumulative index volumes, which at present only cover those years. These are scholarly articles, but they can provide interesting background material for family historians. On the Society's home page at http://home.freeuk.net/bgas/index.html , choose BGAS Publications Online and follow the links.  

Two websites which will help you keep up to date with family history developments are that of The National Archives at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ and that of The Family Record Centre at http://www.familyrecords.gov.uk/frc/ . Both are easy to use, well-designed, and full of interesting information and useful links.  

I recently received a letter from a distant relative in Kansas. It is not often that I receive information by letter, since so many people now have access to e-mail. Some of the information I receive comes from query boards, but many people fail to make the best use of these because they are not sure of good practice. A useful article on the etiquette of posting an effective query, can be found on Ted Pack's website at http://www.tedpack.org/goodpost.html , but it is also worth looking at other sections of this site. There are useful explanations on how cousins are described, search techniques with the censuses online at FamilySearch ( http://www.familysearch.org/Eng ) and even tips on writing a Christmas letter.