As Wikitree’s Sarah Callis said in her presentation during our 2021 conference: “Our ancestors are not just dates and names – they are people. And we want to learn more about them!”
The good news is that it’s possible to build a narrative around them – and, it is actually possible to do it using free resources.
Take one of our volunteers who is researching her Scottish roots. Using FreeCEN, she found her 3x great grandparents, William and Ellen, in the 1851 census. He was a soldier with the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, and they were currently in barracks at Stirling Castle with their three young sons. But by 1861, Ellen was a widow, living in Plymouth, earning a living as a washerwoman.
Interest sparked, our volunteer set out to fill in the gaps. Wikipedia offered a wealth of information on the 93rd, and the Internet Archive provided an online book giving movements of the regiment. Then, contacting the archivist at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders' Museum gave further insights into army life - such as this enlightening story he told about what it meant to be an army wife:
“Mrs Kiddie’s husband had died. During the funeral, another soldier asked if he could marry her. To his surprise, she said it was too late – she had already agreed to marry another soldier. You see, it took a certain strength of character to be a soldier’s wife and cope with all the associated hardships of army life – and women of such character were scarce.”
Work on building her ancestor’s story continues for our volunteer, but it just goes to show the rich range of free resources available out there.
An early photo, taken at Scutari, of officers and men of the 93rd Highland Regiment, shortly before their engagement in the Crimean War, 1854. Via Wikimedia Commons
Your recommendations revealed
So, here we go with YOUR recommendations for FREE local or occupation-specific genealogy resources. (For the national resources you recommended, please see our previous blog.)
The first recommendation was for the Forest of Dean Family History Trust where you will find resources ranging from parish records, marriage licence allegations/bonds and census name indexes to memorial inscriptions, surname interests and summary convictions registers. Simply register to search the records for free. It also has a popular forum described as ‘a very valuable tool for breaking down brick walls’.
Next, the Lancashire BMD and Yorkshire BMD sites were recommended as examples of several similar county projects aimed at placing the original registrars' indexes online. Note the word ‘original’ because there is a difference between the original indexes and the General Register Office (GRO) index that has been made available to the public. The GRO index consists of re-transcribed entries which were submitted quarterly to the GRO in London for the national catalogue. However, the simple act of making this secondary GRO copy introduced many errors and omissions – and that is what these various county projects seek to rectify.
Staying with Lancashire, another recommendation was the site of the OnLine Parish Clerks (OPC) project for the County of Lancashire. Its aim is to extract and preserve the county’s parish records and provide online access to them, free of charge. It also provides other data of value to those researching in Lancashire. All information has been compiled and transcribed by volunteers who have often become involved in the project because of their interest in a particular parish where their own ancestors lived.
Also recommended was the Cornwall OPC Database, which comprises parish records and 'extra searches' ranging from apprentice indentures and land records to muster rolls and wills. Other resources include emigration records, British Army & Navy BMD, and Cornish newspapers, plus links to useful information such as naming patterns, old occupations and trades, and online books about Cornwall.
From a distance…
Sheffield Indexers, another recommendation, is a site that started in 2001 with the aim of indexing genealogical information specific to Sheffield and make it available in a simple-to-access format. Access is free of charge, with all transcriptions provided by voluntary sources for the benefit of the genealogical community. It was started by Elaine Pickard who grew up in Sheffield but has lived in Ottawa for 50 years! She is ably assisted 'on the ground' in Sheffield by Vicki Theaker, who coordinates the team of transcribers. There is also a searchable message forum where anyone can ask for help from knowledgeable local genealogists.
And now for a couple of burial site recommendations: Adur & Worthing Councils Burial Search and Bath Archives Burial Index. If your ancestor lived in the Adur and Worthing areas, this site offers a simple burial register search to enable you to find people buried in either Broadwater or Durrington cemeteries. The results tell you where they are buried and provide a map.
If you believe you have an ancestor buried in Bath, you can search on this site. Information can include name; dates of birth, death and burial; age at death; cemetery and grave location.
Staying with Bath, if your ancestors lived there between 1603-1990, the Bath Ancestors searchable database could be a real gem. It contains over 76,000 records of people who lived in and around Bath. The records have been indexed and transcribed by volunteers using original documents held by the Bath Record Office. The database includes brief details taken from the original sources, which is usually enough to enable you to identify individuals. The site states: “We index sources such as Coroner’s records, vaccination records, and Board of Guardian records. We’re always adding to it and it can come up with surprising results...”
Another recommendation is Essex and Suffolk Surnames, genealogy and local history website run by one of our FreeREG transcribers, Helen Barrell. It offers transcriptions of parish registers wills and poor law records, plus other historical documents, stories about families and interesting people, and hints and tips for research. There’s also a page of links to free online books for Essex and Suffolk genealogy - and a recommendation to try Ancestorian, which is a social network just for family history.
Staying with Essex, three more sites were recommended for this county.
Essex Family History is a site that covers the towns and villages in the Dengie Hundred area in eastern Essex. As the site states: “Family history research has two strands – firstly, finding specific data about your ancestors; and then secondly, finding out how they lived and what their world was like.” Accordingly, the site divides its data into two areas. The Family History index includes data ranging from BMD and trade directories to court records and sporting records. The Local History index provides links to information about the area’s local and social history – for example, 'buildings and physical features', 'everyday life' or 'village statistics'.
If your Essex ancestor was in the military, this site may help Military in Essex Family History. It covers the Essex Military, in its various forms, from 1415 up to 1958 when the Essex Regiment was amalgamated into the Royal Anglian Regiment. Or perhaps your ancestor was in the Police? If so, the Essex Police Museum could be a useful resource. It holds a large collection of service records for officers who served over 80 years ago, links to 'History Notebooks' free publications, and a digital archive of editions of the Essex Police newspaper.
And last, but not least, the Tameside Local & Family History site was recommended. It concentrates mostly on pre-1837 resources for the towns which make up Tameside and are not available elsewhere online. There are photographs, transcriptions of trade directories, census returns, and tax assessments; historical articles about Tameside people and places; and a forum.
Waiting to be discovered
Thank you to everyone who submitted their recommendations – reviewing the sites has been an eye-opener for us, and just goes to show how many other similar sites must be ‘out there’. It’s just a question of looking for them, and listening out for suggestions. So, our volunteer with her Sutherland Highlander soldier should take heart – there’s still much more she can learn about him and the family. It’s just waiting to be discovered.