Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2005 01 Volume 13 Number 2
 
 
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
January 2005     
 
 
 
 
 
 
     Vol. 13 No. 2
 
  Contents of this issue.
 
View from the Chair
News from the Secretary
Requests for Genealogical Help
Reviews of Monthly Talks
Changes to Legislation
Publication of Staffs Parish Registers
My Genealogical Adventure
What a Relief!
Preserving the Past for the Future
Greater Manchester Past Finder
Indexes Online
 
 
View From the Chair

Dear Members, Good news to begin with this time! Two of our members, John and Jenny Hodson, have offered to take over the organisation of the fiche and reader hire from April 2005. I know lots of people have been waiting for this to happen so that they can do research using our fiche in their own homes. Please give them all the help you can by returning things on time and in good order. By the time you read this, the Christmas season will be just a memory; but at the moment of writing I have just heard that we have enough people to make the trip to London viable, which is quite a relief as we didn’t want to disappoint people by having to cancel for a second time this year.

As I write this, the first of Pam Woodburn’s internet tutorials is due to take place tomorrow evening (the November Thursday meeting). If they are well supported and there is a demand, she will do something similar in the Spring, so watch out for an announcement in the New Year.We continue to add census CDs for the Midland counties as and when they become available. As you will appreciate, it is an expensive project and it will be some time before we have a complete collection. A few members who have no research to do in the Midland counties are feeling a bit left out but, as you can imagine, we cannot offer to buy for the whole of the country, much as we would like to. However, they can always come on the London trips and use the films at the Family Record Centre, which has the nationwide coverage on film. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and peaceful New Year and good hunting in 2005.

News from the Secretary

Since the last Journal was published in October, a number of events with which the group has been concerned have taken place. On Saturday 30th October, Jane Leake and I were invited to be present at the Mormon Church Library in Purcell Avenue, Lichfield, where an open day was being held. Members of the public were invited so that they could learn more about how to research their family history and about the facilities on offer to assist that research in the Lichfield area. We were able to assist a number of the visitors in various ways and were also able to promote our group’s activities and publications. Several new members have been recruited following this event.

On Saturday 5th December, the BBC hosted an event at Millennium Point in Birmingham in connection with the series of programmes entitled Who do you think you are? Five Committee members attended with a table display of the group’s activities and publications. Most visitors were interested only in the Birmingham area, but there were a few enquiries about membership and one or two sales of floppy discs. We all managed to listen to all or part of Carl Chinn’s presentation in the small theatre, which we found both informative and entertaining. When Carl went on air with BBC WM at 2.00 pm, he interviewed a number of people from the family history contingent about their societies and groups, including our Chair, Jane Leake, and Pam Woodburn. If anyone was listening to WM on the afternoon of Sunday 5th December, and heard the interview, perhaps they could write a review of what was said for the next Journal.

Other recent events

On Thursday 9th December, members of the group and their guests enjoyed Christmas dinner (a little early!) at the Park Gate Inn. A good time was had by all, and it was nice to see Len Wenman there and looking more like his old self. As this has become a regular feature in our programme, it would be nice to see more members supporting it in 2005. Our thanks to Alan Betts for doing most of the organising.

Our usual practice of having the December meeting as a Christmas Social was followed once again this year and, again, a good time was had by all. Everyone brought along some kind of festive fare and the usual excellent quiz was devised and presented by Jane Leake, with the help of Jennie Lee and Pauline Stanley. The winners of the quiz were Pam Woodburn, Jan Green, Jeff Wilson and Alan Betts, known collectively as ‘The Remnants’.
 
On 29th December, a party of 34 members and friends travelled to London, where most of them spent several fruitful hours of research at the FRC. One or two made the journey to the National Archives at Kew, and the rest spent their time and money on shopping in Central London. Unfortunately the coach trip was less well patronised than is usual at this time of the year but, so long as we do not make a loss on the coach trips, we shall continue to offer them. Thanks to Pam Woodburn for organising the trip.

New members and their interests

In the past three months we have been pleased to welcome the following new members to the group:

Ø Mike Woolridge, Valerie Sheldon, Thomas Dicken and Mr & Mrs Sharratt, all of whom live locally

Ø Patrick Donellan of Scropton in Derbyshire

Ø Susan Phillips of Rothwell in Northants

Ø Elsie Crombie of Heywood in Lancashire

Ø Robert Lawrence of Leeds in Yorkshire

Ø Christine Thurmer of Sutton Coldfield

Ø and Robert Gilbert of Campbell River, British Columbia, Canada.

Some of these new members have asked for particular information, and details will be found elsewhere in this Journal.

As the 2005 Members’ Interests List is being sent out to everyone early in 2005, further details of these new members and their surname interests will be found there, rather than in the Journal.

Members’ Interests List 2005

This is now ready for publication and should contain the surname interests of all currently subscribed members of the group. If your name and interests are no longer there, please check that you have paid your subscription for the current year, as we delete entries for those whose membership has lapsed. On this occasion a line was drawn for subscriptions at 30th November, on the assumption that everyone who intended to retain their membership would have paid by then. Anyone joining or re-joining the group after 30th November will now have to wait for the 2006 Interests List, but will have their surname interests published in the Journal following their joining the group. Everyone should remember that subscriptions to the group are payable on 1st August each year and that the concession subscription (half of the full annual amount) is only for new members who join after 1st February – not for existing members who omit to pay on or shortly after the annual renewal date and then decide to renew halfway through the year.

‘Help required’

I have received an email from Mr HJ Bevan, who is looking for local connections as regards the Emergency Military Hospital, 1940-1946 (within St. Matthews Hospital). Mr Bevan was adopted at 5 months of age in 1941, and his efforts to identify his birth family have led him to Burntwood. He already has a wealth of information, but these are his queries:

There were houses directly opposite to the main entrance to the old hospital, which I believe have since been demolished. Can anyone remember who lived at these houses? Mr Bevan’s mother’s name was Florence Smith and, although there was a Florence Derry (née Smith) who worked at the hospital, he believes that she is not his mother. His mother came from the West Bromwich area to nurse in the Emergency Hospital, and is said to have been very friendly with the lady who lived at one of the houses opposite the hospital entrance.

Unfortunately, Mr Bevan can find no records of the staff who worked at the Emergency Hospital; records seem to exist only for the Asylum staff. These latter files show that both his adopted mother (Bevan) and grandmother worked there. It is possible that his father was a visiting RAF doctor who had patients at Burntwood but who may have been from RAF Cosford. He lived in the Midlands, but not in Burntwood, retired around 1980 and died a single man (born in 1912). Mr Bevan has it on good authority that ‘Phil’ was well known in the Burntwood area and that there was a memorial service for him at Burntwood, Christchurch – but so far he has not been able to confirm this.

A lady who was formerly employed at St. Matthews and who remembers the Emergency Military Hospital well has provided some additional information, which I have extracted as follows.

She knows of someone now living in Solihull whose aunt and uncle also lived in a house opposite the main gate to St Matthews Hospital. Her maiden name was Albutt, and married name Brush or Bruce. She does not give the surname of the uncle, but he was a chemist or pathologist at the Mental Hospital. The nurses for the Emergency Hospital were apparently brought out from Birmingham, Wordsley, Bromsgrove, etc, so Florence Smith could have been one of them and on their payroll. She confirms that there was a large medical centre at RAF Cosford and that consultants and specialists from many other places came to treat patients at the Emergency Hospital. She queries whether the memorial service was in Burntwood Church or the St Matthews Chapel. Her own family has connections with Smiths who at one time were resident at Nag’s Head Farm, but I doubt any connection with Florence Smith.

Mr Bevan thinks his father was called Phil by those who knew him, and one of the pictures he has of his mother shows him sitting with her in the garden mentioned previously. His surname is not known as yet but he must have been well known in the Burntwood area (see above re: memorial service). I have deduced from all this that what Mr. Bevan would dearly like to know is ‘Phil’’s surname. So if anyone has any clues, please contact me in the first instance and I will put you in touch with Mr. Bevan. Geoff. Sorrell (Hon. Sec.)

Other Requests for Genealogical Help

Roger Grimley (roger.grimley@tiscali.co.uk) writes:

I am researching my family history and have discovered  my grandfather William H. Grimley was sent to members of his family at Irstone Road, Edail and Woodhouses (listed 1881 census) after the death of his mother (who lived in Bilston where WHG was born). He lived with James Weldon who had married Mary J. Grimley of Willenhall. I am seeking my great grandfather Thomas Grimley who may also have moved to this area. Is there anyone with whom I can communicate who might help please. More details available. Contact: Roger Grimley, Old Ost, Bigbury,  Kingsbridge, Devon. Tel:  01548-810 423.

Pelsall Local History Centre

The new Pelsall Local History Centre opened to the public on 4th December and is proving very popular, with new material coming in all the time. Andrew Weller, secretary of Pelsall Civic Society, says that with the £660 left from their grant they are planning to purchase from Stafford Archives some microfiche readers and microfiche of all Pelsall births, deaths, baptisms and marriages since the 1800s, plus censuses. Winter opening times are as follows: Mondays 11am-2pm Thursdays 3.30pm-6pm Saturdays 11am-3pm

Reviews of Monthly Talks by Jan Green

In October Dr Trevor James gave a talk about the history and significance of Lichfield’s St Michael-on-Greenhill church site. He explained that the seven-acre cemetery contains early Saxon burials and was one of the earliest dedications of cemeteries to St Michael. When St Augustine came to England in 1599, he was instructed by Pope Gregory to take over the religious sites of other faiths, and one way to do this was to dedicate them to St Michael, captain of a heavenly host which drove Satan out of Heaven. However, Dr James’s research suggests that the Greenhill site was in fact a centre of Christian activity long before the arrival of St Chad in Lichfield.

The land around St Michael-on-Greenhill is now managed as a wildlife sanctuary, having been closed as a graveyard in 1977. In the New Year, Trevor James will be conducting a guided tour of St Michael’s Church and its historic graveyard. In November John Yates, Genealogist at Birmingham Register Office, returned to give the group another of his helpful talks, this one called ‘Helping us to help you’. He handed out a very useful information sheet, ‘Understanding Birth Certificates’, and explained how these documents can be used to further our search for our ancestors.

He recommended that when enquirers contact Birmingham Register Office, they should provide at least a surname and probable forename, as well as a likely date and other available information, keeping this as simple as possible. He also advised that if an ancestor’s birth couldn’t be found, it should not be assumed that it was not registered, but that all possible angles should be explored; the child may have been given a different name at a later baptism, or the informant may have given her husband’s second Christian name rather than his first name. The talk ended with a lively question-and-answer session on General Registration.

 
An Evening with Carl Chinn

This talk, an extra addition to our programme for 2005, will take place on Thursday 12th May 2005, 7pm for 8pm, at Burntwood Memorial Institute, Rugeley Road, Burntwood. Full details, including the cost of tickets and where to get them, will follow in the April issue of the Journal.

Changes to Legislation

Pamela Hinton enquired on a Rootsweb mailing list: ‘Does anyone know if it’s true that we will soon be unable to purchase copies of certificates – all to do with data protection? If so, what will this mean to those of us trying to trace our family history?’

The response she received was that the current proposals (which may be further modified) are:

1. On a certificate relating to a birth less than 75 years ago, the following information will be withheld:

(a) the child’s place of birth, if this is the normal address of the mother or informant;

(b) the mother’s usual address;

(c) the informant’s usual address.

2. On a certificate relating to a death less than 25 years ago, the following information will be withheld:

(a) the place of death, if this is the normal address of the deceased or the informant;

(b) the usual address of the deceased;

(c) the informant’s usual address;

(d) the cause of death.

Certain persons will be allowed certificates with full information:

1. Any person who is the subject of an entry.

2. The parents, step-parents or guardian of any person who is the subject of an entry, if that person has not attained the age of 16 years.

3. As regards any person who is the subject of an entry:

(a) that person’s spouse or partner, a partner being a person with whom the person the subject of the entry lives as their husband or wife or as their civil partner (whether registered under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 or not);

(b) that person’s children or step-children;

(c) that person’s siblings (including half or step siblings);

(d) that person’s grandparents or step-grandparents;

(e) that person’s grandchildren or step-grandchildren;

(f) that person’s uncles or aunts;

(g) a properly appointed representative of that person.
 
Other people can access information if they get permission from:

(a) any person who is the subject of an entry;

(b) the parent or guardian of any person who is the subject of an entry, if that person has not attained the age of 16 years;

(c) where any person the subject of an entry is dead, the next of kin of that person;

(d) a properly appointed representative of any person the subject of an entry.

There are also provisions for adopted persons wishing to use certificates to help trace a natural parent.

Marriage certificates are to be unchanged for the moment, but will be the subject of different legislation.

 
Publication of Staffs Parish Registers

The Staffordshire Parish Registers Society, in their Newsletter (dated December 2004), have indicated the following regarding the latest position of publications of Staffordshire parish registers:

1. The register for Clent is currently with the printers.

2. The first register to be printed in 2005 will be Fulford, covering the period 1800 to 1837.

3. The Society has received the Mavesyn Ridware transcript which, after indexing, will be ready for the publishers sometime in 2005.

4. Cannock registers have been transcribed from 1764 to 1837 by a member of the Society, Arthur Aston.

5. Colton History Society, in a joint venture with the SPRS, have made a start on Colton registers.

6. Colwich and Dilhorne have been typed up from earlier handwritten transcripts and are being checked.

7. Progress on Abbots Bromley, Brewood, Cannock, Chapel Chorton, Eccleshall, Great Barr, Kinver, Roleston, Shareshill, Shenstone, Stone and Tutbury continues.

8. Transcriptions have been received for Gayton, Bucknall and Endon.

For members who may be interested in joining the SPRS as an individual member, the annual subscription is presently £5.00, payable on 1st January. This should be sent to Mr. P. Bloore, 35 Middlefield Lane, Hagley, Stourbridge, West Midlands, DY9 0PY.
 
 
My Genealogical Adventure by Barbara Williams (Membership No.43)

When I first joined Burntwood Family History Group, something like 18 years ago, I was convinced that I wouldn’t find anything interesting about my family; after all, we were just ordinary working folk, as my father and grandparents had been miners.

I think it was on my second visit to the group that someone came to give us a talk about the Armed Forces. I already knew my maternal grandfather had been killed in the 1914 war, and when I was a little girl I had gazed many times at his picture, which adorned the wall of our staircase. That picture went off with my grandmother, when she left us to live with my aunt, and I never saw it again. As usual, the speaker had brought along a number of books for us to peruse, and I picked up a book about the South Staffs Regiment. After checking through several battalions I was lucky enough to find the record of my grandfather, giving his name, number, where he enlisted, his birthplace and where he was ‘lost presumed dead’.

On one of our visits to London, I was able to obtain his death certificate. This led me to other sources of information about him, including the Helles Memorial on the Internet and a photograph of him in a newspaper at Walsall Local History Centre. So now, once again, I could gaze upon his face, and I could also read the stories of the terrible inhumanities of war.

When I discovered that my grandfather was born in Derbyshire, I joined the Derbyshire Family History Society, hoping to find out much more about my family, but for a long time I was disappointed. Then, one day, I noticed a small article requesting anyone tracing the ‘Taylor’ line to get in touch with the writer. Of course I did so, as I knew my grandfather’s mother’s maiden name was Taylor. It turned out that our families were not the same, but this lady did put me in touch with a gentleman in Nottingham who was researching my family. I was amazed when he told me that he could take me back a further five generations, to the mid-17th century.
 
Now as you can imagine, I was overwhelmed by all of this, but I had to face up to the fact that it wasn’t correct practice just to accept all of this information at face value. It was up to me to follow it through, which I have since done, mostly at Lichfield Record Office.

So, for the past four years, each September my husband and I have taken ourselves off to the Local History Fair in North Wingfield, near to Clay Cross in Derbyshire, where many of my ancestors lived. We have made many friends there and acquired much more information, plus photographs of land and property which my ancestors owned.

We have stood in front of what was once a magnificent but now derelict house, with stables for breeding horses and farm buildings – the former home of one of my ancestors. We have spent hours reading many gravestones, both in that area and in Matlock, where one of my early ancestors was a mine owner and another a gentleman and landowner. This information led me back again to Lichfield Record Office, where I was able to examine and obtain copies of several wills, one of them 14 pages long.

I was excited to learn that Alison Uttley, author of the Little Grey Rabbit stories for children, was a daughter of one of my ancestors. Finally, I also now know that one of my ancestors married into a very important and influential Derbyshire family. After a lot more research, I am sure that branch will eventually provide another story for a future journal.

The message this story conveys is that you should not assume that you are just an ordinary person from an ordinary background. Just keep looking and searching, because you never know what you will eventually unearth.

 
No One Told Them

No one told them they were supposed to be static people, who were born and did not move around much in those days. This is just a piece of inaccurate folklore which has somehow gained credence, and one example of many.

We must avoid the all-too-common assumption that our 19th century ancestors were one-dimensional dunderheads who were born, married, died, and did nothing else in their lives except slave in the fields or in their homes all day and go to church on Sundays. In fact, they were just as intelligent and resourceful as ourselves and had just as many dreams, hopes, aspirations and interests as ourselves. In fact, in many cases they lived fascinatingly complex lives and travelled widely.
 

What a relief! (Found in ‘Rootsweb’)

‘On the parish’ meant that you were so poor through the death of your husband, too many children, ill health, or whatever, that you had to apply to the Overseers of the Poor for Parish relief.

In other words, you had to ask at church on Sunday for the Overseers to check out your situation with the Churchwardens, and they would decide how much to pay you each week to keep you out of the Workhouse and free from starvation . That effectively put you in the hands of the Parish Overseers, who might give you a job like sitting with someone who was dying as a means of earning your parish pennies. Your children might be sent out to kill jackdaws or squirrels or rats, and those pennies would augment your parish relief. At least it kept you in your own home and prevented you going into the Workhouse.

So, to be ‘on the parish’ meant to be in receipt of parish money. This was gathered by the same Churchwardens and Overseers from the farmers (who paid so much per acre in parish rates) and other tradesmen. If you owned 100 acres, you might have to spend £5 a year on parish rates out of your income, and that was used to support the people who in bad times had no jobs.

There are a lot of Poor Law records for villages, some going right up to the 1930s, and you can pick up a lot of genealogical information from them. They also lead to the Removal Orders and Settlement Certificates. If you were born in Parkham, then when you fell on hard times the parish of your birth must support you. If you chose to move to Woolsery, the overseers of Woolsery would check you out healthwise and jobwise, and if they considered you were not liable to be a burden on their parish, they would give you a Settlement Certificate and you could then claim on that parish. However, if you appeared unwell or feckless, they would issue a Removal Order which would send you back to your birth parish of Parkham.

It sounds grim, but it was a way of safeguarding the limited funds in the parish pot, and made sure that each village was able to support its own.

Preserving the Past for the Future

To ensure that your hard work in researching your family history is passed on for future generations, why not add the following genealogical codicil to your Last Will and Testament?

To my spouse, children, guardian, administrator and/or executor:

Upon my demise it is requested that you DO NOT dispose of any or all of my genealogical records, both those prepared personally by me and those records prepared by others which may be in my possession (including, but not limited to, books, files, notebooks or computer programs) for a period of two years. During this time period, please attempt to identify one or more persons who would be willing to take custody of the said materials and the responsibility of maintaining and continuing the family histories. [If you know who, within your family or friends, are likely candidates to accept these materials, please add the following at this point: ‘I suggest that the persons contacted regarding the assumption of the custody of these items include, but not be limited to ...’ and then list the names of those individuals at this point, with their addresses and telephone numbers if known.]

In the event that you do not find anyone to accept these materials, please contact the various genealogical organisations that I have been a member of and determine if they will accept some parts or all of my genealogical materials. [List these organisations, including local chapters of any national organisations, with their addresses and phone numbers at the bottom, include addresses, phone numbers and names of persons to contact if available.]

Please remember that my genealogical endeavours consumed a great deal of time, travel, and money. Therefore it is my desire that the products of these endeavours be allowed to continue in a manner that will make them available to others in the future.

Signature………………………………………..Date

Witness………………………………………….Date

Witness………………………………………….Date

The Greater Manchester Past Finder

If you have any ancestors from Manchester or the surrounding area, you can now search the archives of Greater Manchester online.

The Greater Manchester Past Finder is an online database containing descriptions of archive collections held in local authority record offices in Greater Manchester. A project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to promote and improve access to the archives held in local authority record offices in Greater Manchester, the Greater Manchester Past Finder aims to:

Ø provide a comprehensive source of information about archives held in Greater Manchester’s local authority record offices on one website;

Ø make it easier for users to identify and locate records relevant to their research;

Ø increase awareness of the region’s valuable archive collections;

Ø contribute to the national drive to make archive catalogues available online.

The Greater Manchester Past Finder database contains summary descriptions of over 4000 archive collections held in the 11 local authority record offices in Greater Manchester. Records include:

Ø public records, such as magistrates court records, hospital and health authority records;

Ø official records, such as local authority records, school records;

Ø religious records;

Ø business records;

Ø family and estate records;

Ø trades union and political party records;

Ø other association, society and club records.

The database can help you find out about these sources and will provide contact details and links to the record offices that hold these sources. There is no charge to use the database and you can access it from a library or record office computer, or from your own computer at home at www.gmcro.co.uk/gmpf

Searching the Greater Manchester Past Finder database is simple and can be done in a variety of ways, e.g.:

Ø any text;

Ø record office;

Ø date;

Ø type of record, e.g. business or religious records.

Archive services in Greater Manchester

The eleven local authority services in Greater Manchester house archives containing a wealth of information on the local communities they serve, with records which go back as far as medieval times. But which office do you go to? The complicated history of local government, with regular boundary changes, often means that records won’t be held where you think they should be.

Basic research into what records are held at which office can be complicated, time-consuming, and very inefficient. We are certain that many people have been dissuaded from carrying out research because of this, and that the County’s rich archival heritage is being under-used as a result.

It was because of this unsatisfactory situation that the Greater Manchester Archivists’ Group (GMAG) have worked together to produce a finding aid which would enable researchers to find, easily and from within their own homes, information about archives in Greater Manchester. The result is the Greater Manchester Past Finder database.

Contact details: For information and enquiries write to: Greater Manchester Past Finder, Greater Manchester County Record Office, 56 Marshall Street, New Cross, Manchester M4 5FU. Tel: 0161 832 5284. Email: archives@gmcro.co.uk. Web: www.gmcro.co.uk

How to Find More Time for Genealogy

1. Open a new file in your PC.

2. Name it ‘Housework’.

3. Send it to your PC’s Recycle Bin.

4. Empty the Recycle Bin.

5. Your PC will ask you ‘Are you sure you want to delete “Housework” permanently?’

6. Answer calmly ‘Yes’, and press the mouse button firmly.

7. Feel better?

 

Indexes Online by Brian Asbury

Few family history enthusiasts will deny the usefulness of being able to access the indexes to the civil registers of births, marriages and deaths. For those who don’t know, the system of recording births, marriages and deaths (BMD) in England and Wales was instigated on 1 July 1837. Prior to this, we have to rely on what is recorded in parish registers and similar documents, and this can vary widely as there was no standard system imposed upon those responsible for making the records. In fact, even after civil registration was introduced, it did not become compulsory until 1877!

The actual birth, marriage and death registers are not open to the public, although anyone can order certificates, but finding which certificates to order requires first searching the national BMD indexes created by the GRO for this purpose. The indexes are each divided into quarterly volumes, with the names for each quarter (designated March, June, September, and December quarters) of each year listed alphabetically. Once you have found the entry you want, you can use that information to order of certified copy of a death, marriage or birth certificate. The other information that can be obtained from the index include: year, record type, quarter (referred to by the last month of the quarter:), district (each county in England and Wales was divided up into registration districts), volume, and page number.

As those who have journeyed to the Family Record Centre in London (either with the BFHG or under your own steam) will know, the FRC is the ideal place to search the indexes. There you have unlimited access to the original bound volumes, which are by far the clearest and most readable copies of the indexes and thus the most reliable to use. However, unless you live close to the FRC it isn’t practical to visit it very often – which is why there are now a number of alternatives. For example, the indexes have been available for some time on fiche, which can be found at a number of family history centres and records offices, including the Walsall Local History Centre.

However, for those of us with computers and access to the Internet, the indexes are becoming increasingly available online at a growing number of websites.

The most accessible of these is FreeBMD, a growing project which aims to have the entire indexes eventually available and accessible free, gratis and for nothing. The indexes are being transcribed bit by bit by an army of volunteers, and there are regular monthly updates when great wodges of new data are uploaded to the site. FreeBMD (http://freebmd.rootsweb.com/) is very easy to search, and a glance over the graphs which show its coverage indicates that some years’ records are virtually complete, although there are big gaps in what has so far been uploaded. For example, if you’re looking for births in the 1850s, you’re not likely to have much luck, although you’ll probably fare better with the 1890s. The gaps are slowly being filled in, although in somewhat haphazard fashion.

Something FreeBMD has introduced more recently is access to scans of the original index pages. Again, the coverage is not complete, and again it’s being carried out by volunteers. However, in this case there seems to be very little quality control over what’s being uploaded. Some of the images download very quickly; others have been put on the site by people whose grasp of what they’re doing has to be questioned. I’ve found pages which are seven megabytes or more in size on there, and take an eternity to load on a low-spec computer with only a standard dial-up connection. So be wary!

There are other free sites which contain at least part of the indexes, but most are pay-by-view or pay-by-subscription sites. Probably the best of the subscription sites is Ancestry.co.uk (http://www.ancestry.co.uk/), which has a wealth of material on there besides index data, including the UK censuses for 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901. However, I’ve found their search engine leaves a great deal to be desired. Even a search with very detailed requirements will produce a great swath of results, most of which will have no relevance to what you’re searching for. The most relevant will hopefully be at the top, but not always.

If you’re going to pay to view the indexes, however, the best place to go must be 1837 Online (http://www.1837online.com). This site has scans of the entire indexes on board, and you view the pages by purchasing units. Five pounds will get you 55 units, with each unit permitting you to view one page of the indexes. This sounds pretty generous (especially compared with the stinginess of what you get for a fiver to access the 1901 census on the PRO site), but it is possible to use these up at a frightful rate if you’re uncertain of what you’re looking for. Fortunately, 1837 Online has introduced a surname search to make it easier, but there’s still no guarantee that the record you’re searching for will be on the first page you look at. So it’s advisable to have at least some idea of where to find what you want.

Things are improving all the time, however, on all of these sites, and it’s worth keeping an eye on the Web for new ones opening up all the time as genealogy becomes more and more popular as a hobby. So who knows? Maybe some day the FRC will be redundant and we’ll all be getting off the coach at Marble Arch to go shopping instead!    ... or perhaps not ...