Exploring Findmypast.co.uk – an Inside Look at a Major British Online Resource

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

For several years I have attended national genealogical conferences and picked up information about findmypast.co.uk in the exhibit hall, intending to subscribe once I returned home. Such material usually ends up in a pile of “things to do” that never seems to move to the “done” pile. When the recent issue of Family Chronicle arrived in my mail box, the back cover featured a full page advertisement for findmypast.co.uk that included a subscription promotion. I decided that the time to subscribe had indeed arrived and I took action. I have found, since that decisive moment, that subscribing to this database was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time and I have been happily exploring the site.

Findmypast.co.uk, with offices in London, provides access to English and Welsh records. (It does not currently include Scottish records, although an online survey available when signing off, asks respondents to indicate how important it would be to have such records included.) Launched in 2003, the site now offers access to over 650 million records.

While you can search indices for free, you have to pay to view original images and transcriptions. This requirement meant that I needed to decide which of four subscription packages would best suit my research needs. A “full subscription,” available for either a six or twelve-month period, provides access to census records from 1841-1911 (billed as “the only complete 1841-1911 census collection online”); births, marriages and deaths (billed as “the most complete online index of BMDs”); parish records; migration records; military records; and something called “specialist records.” The “Explorer” level, also available for for either a six or twelve-month period, provides access to all of the collections included in the full subscription, with the exception of the 1911 census. In addition, there is a subscription (again, for six or twelve months) to the 1911 census only, and there is a pay-as-you-go subscription (for ninety or 365 days) which, while allowing for index searches, requires the purchase of credits or vouchers to enable you to view records and transcripts identified in a search. Each pay-as-you-go option includes a beginning number of credits; additional ones may be purchased at any time. For those unsure which subscription level to choose, a 14-day free trial is available via a link on the homepage. Because I do English research frequently, but seldom pertaining to the modern era, I opted for the annual Explorer subscription.

Once I completed the subscription process, I began to explore the site.You can access the help and advice section by clicking on the appropriate “button” on the far right of the upper navigation bar. This information is accessible even if you have not subscribed, or have not signed into your account. This menu provides access to a “getting started” section, a site tour, a knowledge base, and an FAQ section. The site tour provides brief instructions about using the site, including how to search and view the several types of records, with screen shots that make the instructions visual and easily understood. I found the knowledge base section to be exceptional. For example, if you have not previously searched in British birth, marriage and death records, a thirty-page introduction is available which provides detailed information about the creation of the records in addition to more detailed search instructions than those included in the site tour. I highly recommend that you take the time to read these help and advice categories before you start to search. Your time will be well spent and your research will be more effective.

Births, Marriages and Deaths

Findmypast.co.uk has recent completed a project in which birth records from 1837 (the beginning of civil registration) to 2006 have been fully indexed. They are currently working on fully indexing marriage and death records and these latter three indices should be updated “later this year.”

In this context, I am trying continually to solve the brick wall of my great-great grandmother, Kate E. [Katie?] (Duncan) Dodd’s birth. She shared almost no information with her children concerning her life and family in England prior to her emigration. Family records state that she was born in England on 27 November 1839. She was the daughter of George Duncan, who, according to the 1860 federal census for Springfield, Hampden County, Massachusetts, was born in Scotland ca. 1809; her mother remains unknown. George was a carriage painter. Kate had a brother, George H. Duncan, born, according to the federal census, ca. 1844. Whether he had the same mother as Kate, or was born after his father’s second marriage, is unknown. I have discovered no documentation for either Kate or George H. that states a specific birthplace, only the single word “England;” no mother’s name is ever provided. Family information states that the family came to New Haven, Connecticut, from Liverpool in the early 1850s, although I have no documentation to prove that Liverpool was anywhere other than their port of embarkation. I have scoured indices on fiche at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City over the years without much success, given a variety of issues, including no specific place of birth, no mother’s name, and the uncertainty of Kate’s name: Kate E., Katie, Catherine, Katherine, etc. Given these several caveats, I decided to search in the Birth Marriage and Death indices on findmypast.co.uk. I was quickly able to locate a Catherine Duncan whose birth was registered in the Salford Registration District in Lancashire in the 1st quarter of 1839. If Kate was born in November 1838, rather than 1839, then this registration might be worth further investigation. Interestingly enough, the birth of a George Henry Duncan was registered in the Salford Registration District, in the 2nd quarter of 1842, easily within a ±5 year range of the 1844 date provided in the federal census. The transcriptions of the two records available on findmypast.co.uk provided me with the necessary information to order the birth certificates for each by clicking on the link provided on the Search Births, Marriages and Deaths 1538-2006 main page. When I clicked on this link, I discovered information on ordering certificates from the General Register Office either online, or by mail, email or telephone. A further link provides detailed information about the ordering process and associated costs for the order. While I am still not sure that this Catherine Duncan and George Henry Duncan are the correct ones, the information provided in the transcription is enough to make the cost of ordering the certificate worth the gamble if it might help solve a long-standing family mystery.

Additional indices in the Birth, Marriages and Deaths section include, among others, parish baptisms; marriages and deaths (1538-2005); births, marriages, and deaths overseas (1761-2005); births and marriages at sea (1854-1887); deaths at sea (1854-1900); soldiers who died in the Great War (1914-1919); divorce indices (1858-1903); the Army Roll of Honour (1939-1945); and an index to death duty registers (1796-1903).

Census

Census records from 1841 to 1911 can be searched using the “pay-to-view” requirement (if you aren’t a paid subscriber), with the exception of the 1881 census, for which transcripts may be viewed at no cost. I thought I would try to locate Kate’s father, George, in the 1841 census. I hoped I might find a household with George, Kate, and perhaps Kate’s mother. I searched for a George Duncan, born Scotland in 1809. My search yielded only one match and I began to get excited. The index entry listed a George Duncan, born in 1811, and living in Liverpool. The transcript revealed that this George was born in Scotland, but, unfortunately, his occupation was listed as “mariner.” As the George Duncan in whom I’m interested was a carriage painter by trade, an occupation that I would imagine required skill and experience, I must doubt that this George and “my” George are the same person. Sadly, I did not find a match for George in the 1851 census, although he and his family might have already left for New Haven by that time (a passenger arrival record remains elusive).

Migration Records

United Kingdom migration records are available from 1793 to 1960 through a partnership with The National Archives. These records document over twenty-four million passengers who left the United Kingdom between 1890 and 1960. Although much too late for my Duncan research, I did a Barkley surname search and received a list of 549 passengers. Narrowing this search to those leaving from the port of Southampton, I was able to reduce the list to 153. Looking at an entry at random, I found Mrs. Dora Barkley, age 40, who with her husband Dr. Wray Barkley, sailed on the Cunard Line’s Berengaria from Southampton on 23 August 1924, bound for New York. Their most recent address was given as c/o American Express, London. In addition, you can search passport applications from 1851 to 1903, although no records are available for 1857, or for the years 1863 through 1873. Other intriguing migration files include the Bengal Civil Service Gradation List for 1869; the India Office List for 1933; and the East India Company’s Commercial Marine Service Pensions List for 1793-1833.

Military Records

This section of findmypast.co.uk offers the opportunity to search across all military records from 1656 to 1994, including World Wars I and II, the Waterloo Medal Roll (1815), as well as armed forces births (1761-1994), marriages (1818-1994), and deaths (1796-1994). These latter three indices are particularly important if you cannot locate an individual in civil registration records and you believe your elusive ancestor might have served in the military (or his or her parents). I searched the newest addition, the Chelsea Pensioners: British Army Service Records 1656-1994, for any Barclay who was born in Scotland in 1870 (± two years) and who was serving in the army in 1900 (± ten years). This search resulted in a list of twenty-seven names. I chose to investigate  John Barclay, born in 1872 in the Parish of Calderbank, in the town of Airdrie, in Lanarkshire, Scotland, who served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Princess Louise’s). I was able to view digitized images of his attestation (enlistment) papers, descriptive sheet, statement of service, and military history sheet. The latter provided his mother’s first name, as well as her address in Glasgow. Additions to this particular index are still in progress, although it currently contains an approximate 691,250 records.

Specialist Records and More

A variety of resources are available in the specialist records section, including crew lists from 1861-1913; a clergy list dated 1896; a dental surgeon’s directory for 1925; a medical register for 1913; and a medical directory for Ireland for 1858, among others. You can search for living relatives through a feature that searches such resources as current electoral rolls and telephone directories (updated monthly). This feature offers you the opportunity to locate individuals who share your ancestry and who might be able to assist you in your research. Finally, findmypast.co.uk provides you with an opportunity to build your family tree online and either share your information – or keep it private. You can build your tree from scratch using the site’s Family Tree Explorer software, or you can upload your own GEDCOM file. Each tree can contain up to 5,000 individuals and generous storage space is available for uploaded pictures, documents and media.

If you have English or Welsh ancestry, I recommend that you explore this site. It is easy to use, allows free searches, offers useful subscription plans, and is packed with helpful information to support your research.

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