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Except for the famous, whose lives may be documented in the serious newspapers when they die, obituaries can seldom be found these days. It was different when local newspapers were keen to publish anything about local residents, on the basis that it was bound to increase sales. More detailed than death announcements, and less formal than funeral reports, obituaries may still linger on in more rural areas, and were still quite common in the 1980s. 

It would appear that they lasted longer in the United States, and I was pleased to find one recently that was reprinted on the Findagrave website. Findagrave (www.findagrave.com) allows virtually anything to be added to the entry for a particular person, and this was one was for Keith Williams Larzelere, my fourth cousin once removed, who died in 2017, aged 87. We corresponded on a number of occasions, but I knew little about him. His obituary told me that he had been a pharmacist in a small town in Michigan, was involved in a number of local organisations, and had himself added over 18,000 entries to Findagrave. Anyone can add a tribute to an entry, and it was interesting to see how many people were grateful for the family history help Keith had given them. It’s always worth checking a name on Findagrave. Your may just learn the date of death and place of burial, or you may find a detailed account of their life. Findagrave often shows the names of the spouse, parents and children, in which case it is always worth checking those names as well. I have found instances where the husband’s burial record contained only brief details, while the wife’s listed all their children and much more.

British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/) has recently added pages to the Bristol Times & Mirror between 1896 and 1911. The site also now has the Cheddar Valley Gazette from 1950 to 1980, in which I found various references, including obituaries, for family members living in Somerset. The area covered was much larger than what might be considered the Cheddar Valley, and certainly stretched to Shepton Mallet.

The Historic Hospitals website (https://historic-hospitals.com/mental-hospitals-in-britain-and-ireland/asylums-in-the-united-kingdom-in-1898/) has an architectural focus, but also contains a lot of interesting information about the history of hospitals, including mental hospitals. You won’t find lists of patients, but lots about the proprietors, the dates they operated, and what happened to the buildings. There are both historic and modern photographs. Individual hospitals are covered in the section headed “Posts”. Bristol Royal Infirmary and Dr Fox’s Brislington Asylum are included, as is Bristol Lunatic Asylum, now the Glenside Campus of the University of the West of England. More information about Glenside Hospital can also be found on the hospital museum website at http://www.glensidemuseum.org.uk/.

Before the days of the internet and Wikipedia, one of the ways of exchanging information about people and places was through publications frequently called Notes and Queries. These were often associated with individual counties, one of which was Somerset & Dorset Notes and Queries, whose website is at www.sdnq.org.uk. The issues for this series from 1890 to 1980 are now available on Findmypast, but the index to these articles is on the SDNQ website, and searching can be time-consuming.

It’s not often that family historians enjoy a price reduction for one of their basic records. However, for the next twelve months, the cost of a copy of a will proved from 1858 to date in England & Wales has been reduced from £10 to just £1.50. Copies of wills can be ordered at the Find a will website at https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/#wills, and are normally sent out as an e-mail attachment within 10 days. Don’t all rush at once.

You can search for a post-1858 will on the Find a Will website described above and on Findmypast (www.findmypast.co.uk/), but I find the easiest index to use is on Ancestry (www.ancestry.co.uk/). Family Search also now provides an index, covering 1858 to 1957, but theirs has a different format. As you will see below, it does not show the address or occupation of the deceased, nor the value of the estate, all of which are helpful in identification. It does show the executor, but uses the term beneficiary which is not always accurate. The advantage to using FamilySearch is that the names of the executors are indexed, which could be useful in some circumstances. The location on FamilySearch for this dataset is www.familysearch.org/search/collection/2451051.

One of the tables at the Family History Fair held at UWE in July was from the Ministry of Defence, and they were offering advice to people researching military ancestors. Details of how to do this, and an application form, can be found at www.gov.uk/requests-for-personal-data-and-service-records. Now that the centenary of the First World War has passed, and many of those records can be found online, attention is switching to the Second World War, the generation of our parents and grandparents.

If you have family members from our area who were sent to Canada as children, you probably know about Shirley Hodgson’s website at http://bristolhomechildren.co.uk/. My great-uncle, Daniel Kemp, made a similar journey at the age of 16, but he was born in London, with the family later moving to East Sussex. I have been able to research his life from various sources, and so was interested in the Canadian British Home Children website (www.britishhomechildren.com/). Although I found him on the site, the details provided are quite sparse, and the project is not at present able to accept additions and corrections. They state that this will never be possible online, and that all contributions will be moderated.

I usually only mention new sources of national interest or those relevant to our area, but there have been some major releases recently that might be useful to some of you. Because I have ancestry in both Essex and Kent, I was particularly pleased to see that Findmypast now has the parish and other records for these two counties. For Essex, they even have that rare beast a will beneficiaries index, where I unexpectedly found some members of my family. Ancestry also has an index to the Essex registers, but neither site gives you access to an image from the original register. For that you need to pay a subscription to Essex Archives Online, and that can be expensive. Fortunately, the Kent records include the images at no extra cost.

A new dataset on Ancestry is that for Welsh wills proved before 1858. Wales includes Monmouthshire.

In 2018, the Bristol Record Society published a transcription of the Bristol Hearth Tax 1662-1673 in book form, and there is a copy of this in the Research Room library. The Hearth Tax was a tax which attempted to be roughly appropriate to a person’s wealth, and was levied by counting the hearths, or fireplaces, at each property. For the family historian, the tax shows who was alive at a particular date (not always easy in the late seventeenth century), where they lived, and roughly how wealthy they were. Even the poor, who were exempt, have their exemptions noted. The tax is therefore similar to a census, but only lists householders. The Hearth Tax returns for Gloucestershire for 1672 are now available online at http://xmera.co.uk/hearthtax/index.html. There is no surname index, but you can search by place or hundred. The boundaries of the City of Bristol have always been very tightly drawn, and in 1672 places like Clifton, Henbury, Westbury on Trym, Stapleton and Horfield were in Gloucestershire, not in Bristol. For example, Thomas Speed, the wealthy Quaker merchant, lived in Stoke Bishop and had 5 hearths, while his neighbour Sir Robert Yeamans had 10. I discovered that my ancestor George Cooper In Hawkesbury had 2 hearths, while his son John had one. George’s death had always eluded me, but knowing that he was still in Hawkesbury in 1672 helped me find his death on Ancestry in 1686, with his surname misspelt as Copper.

Knowyourplace (www.kypwest.org.uk/) has good maps for our area and beyond, but for places further afield, the National Library of Scotland website (https://maps.nls.uk/), which I have previously mentioned has Ordnance Survey and other maps of various scales and dates. A facility on the site which I have never used is the ability to order copies of the maps, but this is something that Clare Hayward did recently and brought the maps in to show us. The quality of reproduction is excellent, and the price, which depends on size and type of printing, is very reasonable.

Finally, I usually restrict this article to websites that are up and running. However, I am sure you will all be pleased to know that the Bristol Diocese parish registers, together with digital scans of the originals, will soon be available on Ancestry. I understand that both the registers and the Bishops Transcripts will be included, and that the period covered will be from the earliest registers up to the twentieth century. Registers which could include living people will not be available. This is something we have been eagerly awaiting for some time, and it will be especially useful to have complete coverage for the years both before 1754 and after 1837, which are not covered in the BAFHS publications.