Every now and then the issue of where to find family history online crops up in my training.
This is especially pressing for any news story which preceeds the mid-90s, when most national newspapers came online. Trying to unearth descendants, relatives and stories concerning people from the past (for the sake of argument, lets say an alleged fascist vicar) can be time consuming and logistically fraught, if you have to rely on local parish records and National Archives.
Of course many people already use ancestry.co.uk to unearth their past, and 192.com has a births marriages and deaths search (covering England and some Welsh counties only). Also, the 1901 census for England and Wales is available via the National Archives.
But these are all subscription only – and media companies (let alone freelance journalist) don’t always have the resources freely available to take up subscriptions (especially if this kind of work is at a tangent to day-to-day news writing)*. So is there anything free out there which will help in this field?
Well, if your story has any link with Cheshire, then a new site could save you much time, money and patience in answering some of your questions: E-mapping Victorian Cheshire
The site brings together 480 19th century Cheshire tithe maps, which have been digitised, and made available in searchable form. While the site itself is no exact surrogate for a births marriages and deaths source, it will nonetheless tell you who who lived in (and owned) houses across the county throughout the 19th century.
Of course if this exercise was carried out across the rest of the country, then this would soon become an amazingly useful resource for journalist and layman alike.
But I suppose it’s a matter of living in hope rather than expectation – this resource was put together using a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to the tune of 160 thousand pounds.
One last word on family history, I’ve always had a burning interest in surname etymologies (perhaps for obvious reasons!) and have previously spent much time playing with this UK surname profiler (formerly here). It shows you the geographical spread of your family name over two years – 1881 and 1998, giving a (fuzzy) insight into the origins and spread of your genealogy.
*If you are interested in researching your own family history, check whether your local library subscribes to ancestry.co.uk – Londoners can check here, everyone else will have to dig a little deeper.