Online Search Techniques
The Internet can be a useful source of records and information connected with family history research. There are a number of useful sites available and knowing which to use and how to use them effectively can be confusing.
Which sites to use can depend on a number of factors. A brief overview of the popular sites is shown below. The site listings are not exhaustive and their descriptions are not comprehensive as space is limited, but a visit to the sites mentioned will reveal more information.
Trying to find specific records can sometimes seem impossible, but the screenshot examples in this section explain how to search for a birth record or locate a missing family in the census. The examples given are based on actual searches and demonstrate how researchers have found the results they needed to continue with their trees.
- Family Search (LDS) A completely free site operated by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). The 1881 census and both pre- and post-civil registration data can be found. The database is far from complete, however, and submitted entries must be treated with caution until verified against the original records. Extracted records are more reliable but again should be verified as correct. The Research Help on Family Search is a useful section too. This gives you links to sources of information from all over the world.
- FreeBMD A free site covering England and Wales birth, marriage and death records. Although incomplete, it is useful for records from 1837 to around 1920, with more results being added on a regular basis. It also gives reference numbers to use for ordering certificates from the General Register Office, and scans of the index allow you to verify the entry. Marriage results also list the spouse, which is a useful feature that other sites lack.
- FreeREG Another free site, operated on the same basis as FreeBMD, which has an increasing number of transcribed parish records, again regular updates are made to the site (roughly one a month) although there are no images available the site is a useful resource and coverage is increasing all the time.
- FreeCen is the third of the free sites (FreeBMD and FreeREG being the other partner sites). FreeCen has transcriptions of census records but no images, again coverage is improving with regular updates as more volunteer transcribers contribute to the project. The site covers England, Wales and Scotland. One major benefit of the site is that it allows another source of searches which can be used to find ancestors and helps locate references and other information that can be used to locate census images from other online sites.
- UKBMD Project Free sites for many English counties, searchable birth, marriage and death database. Reference numbers and links to local Register Offices allow you to locate bmd events and order certificates from the local registrars. The sites are volunteer projects and updated regularly; well worth a visit to see how well your county interests are covered.
- Ancestry Access to England and Wales birth, marriage and death index from 1837-2004 Pay-per-view (PPV) and subscription packages allow access to a variety of records including bmd, census, a partial parish and probate index, some military and passenger lists, directories and much more. Too much to list in the space available. The tree builder and 1881 census sections of the site are available without a subscription. The Scottish census records are transcriptions only, Scottish census images cannot be viewed on the Ancestry website.
- British Origins Subscription site offering Boyd's Marriage Index, miscellaneous records of Wills, Apprenticeship records, London Burial Index, Passenger Lists ... and much more.
- Family Relatives Pay-per-view (PPV) or subscription available. Contains BMDs, WW1 and WW2 military records (death indexes), Phillimore Marriage parish registers. Overseas BMDs available free.
- Find My Past (Previously Called 1837 Online) Pay-per-view site (PPV), or subscription packages available. Comprehensive birth, marriage and death index, plus census details are available along with migration and military sections, parish records, death duty registers, etc. Again there is too much to list in the space available. FMP is also the first site to have the 1911 England and Wales census available as part of a larger record database. However, it is not available through the normal FMP Explorer subscription - an additional or separate subscription is required to view the 1911 census. However, the most recent census release is the 1921 census which is exclusive to Find My Past.
- 1901 census Now part of the records section of the Genes Reunited site (trading as Genes Reunited Records Ltd), images can be viewed by purchasing credits on a "Pay per view" basis or via a subscription taken as part of Gold Membership status. The site name is slightly misleading as the records include England/Wales bmd index and additional census years.
- 1911 Census Online access to the England and Wales 1911 census. Whilst searches are free the transcripts and images can only be viewed by purchasing credits. (The 1911 census is also available on the Find My Past website.)
- ScotlandsPeople Pay-per-view site (PPV). Purchase credits to view results. The most comprehensive site for online Scottish records including birth, marriage and death records, census returns for 1841 to 1901 and parish records and probate records. The site also allows you to download certificates and census images for just 5 credits (£1 each). The bmd index coverage has been extended to include additional years but check the availability of images as more recent events cannot be downloaded directly from the site.
- The National Archives Offers a more comprehensive collection than the recently withdrawn A2A website. The free search facility can be used to locate which records office(s) may hold records of your ancestors, in addition, some documents such as pre-1858 wills and many medal cards can be downloaded from the site for a modest charge. The site is fully searchable and has online research guides for specific subjects.
Recently some sites have evolved where unwanted or transcribed documents have been placed online, the number of documents may not be huge but as the sites become more popular they can be a useful source of documents such as certificates or probate transcriptions. It is worth having a look at the sites (registration may be required), on a regular basis as members submit new information almost continuously.
- Will Transcriptions contains transcriptions of probate documents. Searches can be made by county or by alphabetical surname listings. The site is still relatively new so the quantity of entries is fairly small but submitted record sites such as this can grow to have a large collection.
- BMD Certificate Exchange is a site where members can advertise their unwanted certificates (often these have been ordered in error), it is pot luck whether a particular certificate has been submitted but always worth checking periodically.
- Unwanted Certificates is a wiki page where details of unwanted certificates can also be added here on Family Tree Forum.
General Hints & Tips For Online Searching
- Victorian Registrars and the GRO Not just for Online Research but useful to bear in mind ..
- A Guide to using the National Archives & A2A websites Work in progress.
Family History Detectives - Step by Step Guides
Searching for Hatches, Matches and Dispatches
See also Transcribing Historical Records
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