When I first started writing about the internet, many of the family history sites which I described had been set up locally and included transcriptions and information compiled by an individual or by a small group. Over time, the people involved have lost interest or been unable to maintain or grow the site, and the sites have closed down as the fees to host them went unpaid. Two local sites that have become unavailable recently are The Portbury Hundred, which covered the Gordano valley, and Scribes Alcove, which was based in Thornbury. In the case of Thornbury, much of this information is now available on the Thornbury Roots website at www.thornburyroots.co.uk/, but note that some is on a sister site Thornbury Roots 2.
Fortunately, there are still locally produced websites with family history information, sometimes not where you would expect to find it. You may remember that in the previous journal I mentioned the Polysulphin Company, who had a factory near Keynsham which manufactured laundry chemicals. This prompted a letter from member Tony Bodman who had a family connection to the factory, and one thing led to another. The Polysulphin factory had been started by Friedrich Ludwig Bartelt, who was born in Prussia in 1852. You can read all about him and his family on the website of Clifton Rugby Club at http://cliftonrfchistory.co.uk/index.htm, which contains various interesting biographies of club members from the 1870s onwards. From there, I learnt that one descendant of the Bartelt family was Ivo Peters, well-known as a photographer of the Somerset & Dorset Railway. The Bartelts lived at Corston, between Saltford and Bath, and are buried in the churchyard there. A very full account of the memorials in the churchyard has been done by Phil Bendall of Bath, and can be downloaded from the website of Bath Record Office (www.batharchives.co.uk/) as part of the Bath Burial Index. This Index contains information about many cemeteries in the BANES area, with plans, illustrations and transcriptions.
A new site which will also be useful for those with Bath interests is Bath Historical Directories (http://bathhistoricaldirectories.org.uk/). These cover the period from the 1840s to the 1930s, and have been digitised and organised by members of the History of Bath Research Group (http://historyofbath.org/) with the support of ArchiveCD Books, the University of Leicester, and Bath Record Office.
While researching a Bristol landowning family recently, I made use of two websites which are a little out of the mainstream, but which could be helpful to some of you. The first is History of Parliament Online (www.historyofparliamentonline.org/) which includes biographies of members from 1386 to 1832. Information included is details such as relationship to other M.P.s, parentage, name of wife and number of children, plus a summary of the person’s career and anything notable about their personality. Entries on this Parliamentary site can often be found using Google or other search engines. The second useful website is the Clergy of the Church of England Database (http://theclergydatabase.org.uk/). This doesn’t have as much family information, but does include education and posts held. The period covered is 1540 to 1835.
Wills in England and Wales have been proved in civil courts since 1858, and there has been a single calendar which lists them all. This is now available online, but the most accessible format – that on Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk) - used to have one disadvantage. Although it covered the period 1858-1995, the years 1967-1972 were missing. It’s good to be able to report that this gap has now been filled. Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk) also has an index to these wills, but only from 1858 to 1959, and the index does not take you directly to the page you need. The principal other source is the official one at www.gov.uk/search-will-probate. The index has been computerised since 1996, so this website has information up to the present day. It is also the place to go when ordering a copy of a will, which currently costs £10 and can be done online very easily. In the case of earlier wills in particular, the calendar itself contains a lot of useful information.
Herbert Baker died when he was knocked down by a motor van at Totterdown. His obituary in the Western Daily Press contains a lot about his early life, education and career, his activities as a major in the Gloucestershire Regiment volunteers, and his sporting achievements.
On the topic of wills, it is never easy to be totally sure before 1858 where a will might have been proved. Wealthy people, or those who had property in more than one diocese of the Church of England, would have their will proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury if they lived in the south of England. Someone who was less wealthy and lived in the Bristol Diocese might have their will proved in Bristol, but this was not always the case. Gloucestershire Archives (https://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives) hold over 1300 wills from Bitton parish and nearly 600 wills from Westerleigh, with smaller numbers from other Bristol parishes. There are even five from Henbury, although three of these are from the sixteenth century. These Gloucestershire wills can all be viewed and downloaded on Ancestry.
Many Bristol church records into the early years of the twentieth century can now be found on Ancestry, FamilySearch and Findmypast, but they need to be used with care, especially when you find more than one transcription being offered. For example, Marie Margaret Baker was born at Burlington Villas, just off Whiteladies Road near St John’s church. Ancestry records her baptism three times as taking place on 21st May 1876 variously at Redland, Redland Chapel, and Westbury on Trym. FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org/) has the same three places for the baptism. Findmypast similarly records her baptism three times, but replaces the Redland Green church with St Nathanael’s which was lower down Redland Road near the railway bridge. However, the source for the baptism on Findmypast is given as P/RG/R/2/b, which is the Bristol Archives code for Redland Green. A search of the microfiche at the Archives revealed that the baptism did indeed take place at Redland Green, and that the first baptism at St Nathanael was actually not until the 20th June 1876. Going back to an original source is usually the best way to resolve ambiguities like that – just like we have always been told.
Another confusing record I found was the marriage of William Henry Thomas Nicholls and Mahlah Emily Wiltshire in 1918. FamilySearch and Findmypast have one record of this, with no precise date given and the place stated just as “Baptist Mills”, rather than the name of a church. Ancestry has two records of the marriage, and gives a date of 4th August, which matches the GRO record of the third quarter. It’s all rather baffling, and the only solution seems to be to get a copy of the certificate.
Searching the census for someone living in an asylum can be difficult, as patients (but not staff) often have only their initials shown. Recent research uncovered a reference to someone being in an asylum at Brislington in the 1870s, and I tried to find if he was still there in 1881. I assumed that the asylum mentioned was the famous one established by Dr Edward Long Fox. Searching by address was difficult, but I discovered that the relevant 1881 census reference is RG11 2449 99 8, and this and subsequent pages cover not only Brislington House itself but also adjacent properties like The Beeches and Heath House which were part of the asylum. I was looking for William Baker (father of the Herbert Baker above), born 1820, who was a very successful builder and property developer building houses in Sneyd Park, Montpelier and St Andrews. There is a W.B. listed, of about the right age, who is described as a contractor and also as an imbecile, which could be him. Inmates seem to be described as either lunatics or imbeciles, and all are from middle class occupations. Many of the men are clergymen or army officers. I don’t know why only initials were used in this census, as the information was kept confidential for 100 years, and in some cases with clergymen the initials, together with the name of the place where they were vicar, was sufficient to identify them.
While the 1881 census lists each building separately, and lists them like ordinary addresses, the 1891 census treats the establishment as an institution, and also gives the names of the patients. The census reference for 1891 is RG12 1945 119 7. As well as lunatic and imbecile we now also have mania, dementia, melancholia and general paralysis as terms to describe the patients. However, the 1901 census for the Brislington asylum gives all patients the condition of lunatic. Both major websites have the option of searching by census reference, and in Findmypast you need to use the search screen for the particular census year, which can be found in the “A-Z of record sets”. The approach on Ancestry is to again select the specific census year (there are various ways of getting to that point), but make sure you also choose the England census. This means you can then select by census reference or by county, civil parish, sub-registration district and enumeration district, which will show institutions separately.
Although it is still some time before publication, it has been announced that Findmypast have won the bid to digitise and index the 1921 census. This is the last U.K. census which will be available to view in the lifetime of most of us, as the 1931 census was lost in a fire, and no census was taken in 1941.
If you saw the films of the First World War which were coloured and became much more realistic, then you may have wondered if it was possible to do the same with your own photos. A new website from the Singapore company ColouriseSG (https://colourise.sg/) enables you to do just that. It is free to use, easy and very effective. Do give it a try – it works best on photos with plenty of skin tones.