Let’s start this issue with something really close to home. The Society has published transcriptions of Bristol Diocese parish registers from 1754 to 1837, and beyond that date in the case of marriages outside the city.
Gaps in coverage are now being filled by volunteers transcribing records for the LDS website Family Search. There are two search sites - http://pilot.familysearch.org and https://beta.familysearch.org/, although I am not sure how they differ in the data they access. Finding out exactly what data is available is not easy, and in some cases the records are incomplete, but the site may help you find the records you need.
A more accessible site is that provided by GloucestershireBMD at http://ww3.gloucestershire.gov.uk/bmd. This has a different format from the other local BMD websites like those for Bath and Wiltshire, but it has the same information. Using the local registration records of Births, Marriages and Deaths, it includes the full name of spouse for marriages, maiden name of mother for births, and age at death for all years. Coverage is incomplete as yet, but there are charts showing what has been done. Although the site covers the present County of Gloucestershire, it does include some of the parishes in our Society area.
More local information about the area just outside our borders has been published on the Forest of Dean website at www.forest-of-dean.net. I found some useful burial records there from Wotton-under-Edge, and the latest development is the wills index, which helpfully includes beneficiaries as well as testators. Note that this is a work in progress, and the database is being gradually expanded. You do need to register to get full benefit of the site, but it is free of charge to use.
Although FreeBMD is well established as a resource, its companions of FreeREG and FreeCEN are much less complete and less well used. This may soon change. The 1861 census for Sussex has now been completely transcribed, as have the 1841 census for Wiltshire and Warwickshire and several others. It’s always useful to have an alternative transcription, although you will need to use the pay sites to view the original document. FreeCEN is at www.freecen.org.uk.
Ancestry continues its releases of important new databases, of which the most useful is the probate calendars for England and Wales. These cover wills proved since 1858 when the civil administration of probate started. The period covered is from 1861 to 1941, but there are several years missing, as Ancestry has been unable to obtain copies of the original printed calendars. The database is only of the calendars, not the wills themselves, but there is sufficient detail given to identify the people listed. Look under “England & Wales, National Probate Calendar” at www.ancestry.co.uk. Other recent developments on Ancestry include Australian birth, marriage and death records, although you will need a world-wide subscription to see more than the index entry for these.
In 1904, the Registrar General advised local registration officers that where a child was born in the workhouse, there should be no longer be any indication of this on the child's birth certificate. Instead, the place of birth was to be recorded as a euphemistic street address. For example, births at Liverpool Workhouse were now recorded as having taken place at 144A Brownlow Hill — no such street address actually existed. Similarly, Nottingham Workhouse used an address of 700 Hucknall Road for this purpose. Clifton (Barton Regis from 1877) workhouse used the address 100 Fishponds Road, Eastville, Bristol. The same practice was later also adopted for the death certificates of those who died in the workhouse. Often, only local knowledge will reveal that an ordinary-looking address was actually the workhouse. Further information about workhouses can be found at www.institutions.org.uk/workhouses and at www.workhouses.org.uk.
Those with Scottish ancestry may be interested in the redesign of the Scotland’s People website at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. Most of this covers improvements to the search options, including an enhanced free surname search, use of wild cards, fuzzy searching, etc.
If you have connections with the early history of Upper Canada (basically Southern Ontario) then you may want to search the database of Upper Canada Land Petitions at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/upper-canada-land/index-e.html. Part of the Canadian Archives website, this is just an index of names of people who petitioned to be allocated land. The petitions themselves are not available online, but you can order copies, arrange for a researcher to obtain them for you, or visit the archives yourself. While the index may help you find what you want, I am aware of other settlers in the area of that time who are not listed.
Finally, three websites which may help you with particular problems.
A gravestone or family bible may state an exact age at death in a form such as “75 years, 3 months, 16 days”. This seems to be particularly popular in the United States, but it does take some work to calculate a birth date accurately. The RJT date calculator at www.taubman.org.uk/datecalc/index.html will do the job for you. It is a small program that you download onto your computer.
Do you have interests in the surname COPE in Berkeley, Westerleigh, Pucklechurch and other villages in southern Gloucestershire? You may find useful information in Mike Cope’s website at www.copefamilyhistory.uwclub.net. It contains family trees, transcripts of wills, information about places, and much more.
The “Addressing History” database is a searchable, historical database of the people of Edinburgh. It takes the information in the Post Office Directory for various years and places it on three maps - Alexander Kincaid, 1784, Bartholomew Post Office Plan, 1865 and Johnston Post Office Plan 1905 – which are overlaid on a modern street plan. For example, you can find Miss Ann Ballingall, provision merchant of 71 Kirkgate, Leith, see her listed in the directory and then identify on the map where she lived. In 1865, she was living by a railway line, but this has now closed. The website is at http://addressinghistory.edina.ac.uk/.