About a year ago, the General Register Office (www.gro.gov.uk) launched the provision of new indexes of some births and deaths, and also trialled, for a limited period, the supply of certificates in pdf format at a lower price, something that family historians had been requesting for many years. They are now repeating the previous trial but for a period of at least 3 months (and possibly indefinitely?). The pdf versions will cost £6 and will be supplied electronically, which will be a particular advantage for researchers living overseas. Official certificates currently cost £9.25.
Note that the only records available as pdfs are those where the new indexes are available – Births 1837 to 1916 and deaths 1837 to 1957. The reference numbers needed are those which you will get when you do a search using the new indexes, and may be different from those found when using other sites such as FreeBMD (www.freebmd.org.uk). The best procedure is to use the new indexes and then click on “pdf”, or “certificate” if you want the officially recognised type, and the website will automatically populate an order form with all the necessary information, including your e-mail address.
The new indexes include the maiden name of the mother for births, and the age at death for deaths from 1837 onwards, and this can help ensure you order the right certificates. They also show all the forenames which are included on the certificate, helping to identify the right person. The probate register also usually includes all forenames, and the two records combined should make it easier to match up a birth and a death.
Now for a round-up of recent additions to the major websites which are of particular interest to those with ancestry in our area. Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) have added Gloucestershire electoral registers 1832-1974. These cover areas like Westbury on Trym which were outside the Bristol city boundary for much of the period, and can help place when a family moved house. For example, they reveal that the wealthy George Henry Ames was renting Stoke House (now Trinity College) as a tenant in 1838, but by the following year had purchased Cote House. In the earlier years, only a small percentage of the male population could vote, and holding land as an owner or tenant was a qualification. If you held land, you might not yourself live in Gloucestershire to have a vote there. Moses Toghill, who lived at Surrendell Farm, near Hullavington in Wiltshire, had a vote in Gloucestershire because he held land in Tetbury Upton. The Rev Dundas Battersby lived in Keswick, Cumberland but owned a house and land on Durdham Down so had a vote there.
Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) has recently developed some new search options for births, marriages and deaths which make it easier to specify if you want civil or church records. They now have a collection of Bristol church records which have been taken from FamilySearch, and also a large collection of Somerset church records. Although their collection of National School Admission Registers and Logbooks has over 8 ½ million records, it does not appear to have anything of local interest, although I did find the register and log book for Nettleton in Wiltshire and some of the pupils are recorded as moving into Bristol.
The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/) continues to add new titles, and the site now includes the Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard, 1837 to 1910. This local newspaper has good coverage of village events in places like Malmesbury and Chipping Sodbury, and includes all sorts of news not reported elsewhere. I was interested to discover that my ancestor Thomas Cooper of Hawkesbury was the victim of arson in 1849. Another Wiltshire newspaper on the same site is the Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser (1855-1956, with gaps).
If you have enjoyed using Knowyourplace (www.kypwest.org.uk/) for maps and information about the local area, you may have looked for similar resources for other parts of the country. For some time, The National Library of Scotland has been scanning the 25 inch Ordnance Survey, and other, maps and this programme is now complete. The site takes a little working out, but is a wonderful resource for examining where your ancestors lived. The example below is of Nailsea, and you can do your own search at http://maps.nls.uk/ .
British Army Ancestors (http://britisharmyancestors.co.uk/) is a new site which specialises in photographs of those who served. It covers the period from the middle of the nineteenth century to the end of the First World War, and seeks to collect photographs from the public. It is free to use, although you have to register before uploading or downloading photographs. It has links to Findmypast military records and The National Archive medal cards, and some other record sources, and is the work of Paul Nixon, who is presumably the same Paul Nixon who has been the military expert at Findmypast.
During the Second World War, the Government established Auxiliary Units, a secret resistance network of highly trained volunteers prepared to be Britain's last ditch line of defence. They operated in a network of cells from hidden underground bases around the UK. The members of these units were all sworn to secrecy about their activities, and even their membership of the units. Many kept these secrets all their lives, so researching the history of the units is difficult. You can find out more, and perhaps contribute information yourself, at the British Resistance Archive (www.auxunits.com).
No article on internet searching would be complete without an example of the errors and pitfalls which can be found, and shows the need for care and caution. I was recently looking for details of the marriage in 1888 of Emily Grace Williams and Thomas Wellington Hodges. FreeBMD correctly identifies this as taking place in the Barton Regis Registration District in the September quarter.
Findmypast has four entries for the marriage in its church registers section. The first gives the date and the names of the fathers of both bride and groom, but omits the names of the husband and wife and the name of the church. The second entry provides fuller details, including the names of bride and groom, but still omits the name of the church. The source of both these entries is FamilySearch. The third option is totally accurate, identifies the church as St Barnabas, Bristol, Gloucestershire, and quotes the Bristol Archives microfiche reference. It is the fourth entry which is most curious. It has the fullest information, in that it includes the addresses of bride and groom, together with their occupations (the bride is described as a “certificated mistress”), as well as the occupations of the fathers of the two parties. Unfortunately, it has the name of the church as St Barnabas, Knowle, Somerset. There is a church dedicated to St Barnabas in Knowle, Bristol, but the registers do not start until 1932, since the church was built to meet the needs of families moving into the new estate. The source is quoted as the Somerset Marriage Index, which is “a combination of transcripts created by Findmypast from original registers held by the Somerset Archives and transcriptions gathered and created from original records by the Somerset & Dorset Family History Society”.
I also checked the church marriage records on Ancestry. There was one which did not work properly, and one which was the same as the third Findmypast result above. However, Ancestry did also have the reading of banns for the marriage in Oxford, the home of the groom.
Thanks to those who have told me about records, and helped with their own experience of using them.