Paul Revere’s call into the cold New England night echoes differently to the British genealogist – no longer a warning, but an invitation. Do those branches of your English family tree tempt you to book a flight, reserve some quaint bed-and-breakfast near your ancestral roots, and plan to bury yourself in genealogical research for several weeks? As Eliza Doolittle says in My Fair Lady, “Wouldn’t it be loverly?” But the financial realities of such a genealogy-dream-come-true break that bubble rather quickly. The average genealogical researcher must find ways to pursue those British lines from the wwww (Wonderful World-Wide Web).
Considering the main Internet sites as “Genealogy for Free” and “Genealogy for Fee,” first we should exhaust the free sites. Therefore, when we do pay for research, we know as much as possible to utilize our budget on fee sites. For British genealogy, FamilySearch offers the most free information. This amazing site constantly uploads original documents and transcriptions. The site’s search engine is excellent, bringing up close matches (more than a hundred variations for “Catherine”), and containing vast databases for the British genealogist.
To access all their images, you need to sign up for a free account; otherwise, you can view only transcriptions. From their main search page, scroll to the bottom and click on “United Kingdom and Ireland.” Here you will find more than 50 databases focusing specifically on England, and dozens more for other UK locations. Note the camera icons, indicating actual record images. The others are transcriptions, but offering a wide variety of information ranging from probate records to parish registers, marriage bonds, vital records indexes, and much more. To view some of the images, you will be directed to a fee “partner site” called Findmypast. There you will have to either pay for a subscription (recommended if you have numerous British lines), or buy credits to view actual documents on a one-by-one basis.
Another aspect of the FamilySearch site is the rich Family History Library Catalog. If you have dreamed of a trip to the “Candy Store” in Salt Lake City, but live too far away, use this catalog and order microfilms that will be delivered to your local Family History Center. Begin by selecting the “Place Search” button found on the Family History Library Catalog website (link above). From researching the British censuses, you should have an idea of where your English ancestors were born. The Family History Library (FHL) parish record books stretch back into the 1500s. Imagine finding birth, marriage, and burial records for your family going back 500 years! Many families were born, married, and died in the same small parishes for dozens of generations. These records aren’t totally free: microfilm rentals vary according to location, but generally cost $5.50 — what a bargain!
The second significant free site is Find A Grave, which has recently changed its policy to allow photograph requests for foreign gravestones. If you don’t find the burial you are seeking, but know the cemetery name, enter an individual memorial page and click “Request a Photograph.” This worldwide database currently has more than 100 million burials, and is growing daily.
A third important free site for British genealogy is GENUKI. Organized by historic counties, this site provides an excellent compilation of references to search, organizations to contact, and general guidelines.
After pursuing your British genealogical lines for free, it’s time for the fee sites, the most important being Ancestry.com. Although some databases are free, you do pay for the majority, but compared to spending even two nights at that dream bed-and-breakfast, this is a bargain, offering document images and transcriptions in numbers unimaginable even ten years ago. Don’t wait for the “shaking green leaf” suggesting various records. Actively seek the British genealogy databases. From the “Search” button on the home page, select “Search All Records,” and scroll down to the U.S. map, above which is the “UK & Ireland” button. In the next screen with a map of the British Isles, find the “England” link in the lower left corner. That opens hundreds of databases devoted to British genealogy, containing tens of millions of records. You will find a wealth of resources that few Ancestry subscribers ever utilize. Without even knowing of his military service, I found an ancestor’s actual citation for the Distinguished Medal received in World War I.
These resources represent the high points for the British genealogy researcher, but if you find yourself in need of professional assistance from a genealogist, contact Record Click. Our British ancestors are waiting to be found by the dedicated family historian, and learning about their lives can be a “loverly” pursuit.
Patricia Dingwall Thompson’s articles can be found in the New England Historic Genealogical Society magazine American Ancestors (Spring 2012), on Everton’s Genealogical Helper website, and serialized in the New Hampshire Genealogical Record. A number of her researched genealogies are housed in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Having taught high school Advanced Placement English for 38 years, Tricia now teaches genealogy classes through the Bozeman School District’s Adult Education program, and serves as Registrar for the Mount Hyalite DAR Chapter.