Whilst like many researchers I have found many helpful websites, but there are a few websites where the information is helpful for reference purposes, and are free.
Britain currently has a population of approx. 64 million people. But how has the population changed over the centuries? When did the population move off the land, and to where? Websites approach this with either just a summary, or an extended explanation or a full blown history.
Simple – http://homepage.ntlworld.com/hitch/gendocs/pop.html. John & Elaine Hitchcock have this simple summary of Britain & Ireland’s population increases in table form.
Extended – http://www.localhistories.org/population.html. Tim Lambert cover the period from Ancient ages to the present day. Reasons are given for rises and falls in population and how certain parts of the country expanded, plus other interesting links for those interested in the history of England
Extensive – For those who want an in depth study of how population changed from 1086 to 1541, the English Medieval Population Study by the University of Warwick is an in depth study, packed with facts, figures and maps.
British switch to the Gregorian Calendar
Every researcher should be aware of, and have an understanding of, the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. Up until then, the calendar year ended 25th March, not 1st January as it is today. For a simple explanation of the change see Lawrence Crowl’s website http://www.crowl.org/lawrence/time/britgreg.html. People whose events are before 1752 and born between 1st January and 25th March should therefore be recorded with a 2 year date, e.g. Baptism 2 Feb 1750/1751, as many people would expect the date of 2 Feb 1751 to be the year 1751 rather than the year 1750 as it was then.
Prior to 1837, when Civil Registration started, Births, Marriage and Deaths were recorded by the Churches in Parish Registers. In theory these records started in 1538, but in practice they are not usually available until about 1650. A brief explanation can be found at Timothy Owsten’s website http://freespace.virgin.net/owston.tj/parreg1.htm.
Because of the problems of preserving Parish Registers, the majority are now held by County Council Archives, with some local councils holding microfilm copies of more important Church Registers, such as the Parish Church.
The good news is that some websites, such as Ancestry and Find My Past are including copies of the original Parish Registers on their websites. This allows access to information not available on websites with just transcripts and can prove invaluable in linking an ancestor. Both these websites are subscription, not free. But which website, or websites, you choose largely depends on the areas you are researching. Whilst Ancestry is no doubt the no.1 website, if you have mostly Cheshire ancestors Find My Past is the best website for Cheshire Parish Registers. So think before you spend.
Having said that, there are an increasing number of websites offering free access to transcripts of Parish Registers, free being the first choice for any researcher. Many Counties now have free BMD Indexes, which for marriages usually tell your where the marriage took place and for births sometimes includes the maiden name of the mother prior to 1912, when this information was included on the GRO Birth Indexes. Local Family History Societies and volunteers are primarily responsible for access to these indexes. So next time you come across any of these groups please consider a donation to help them continue their work.
Another useful and often overlooked aide to research is a Perpetual Calendar. Access to these is freely available on the Internet by simply searching with the words ‘Perpetual Calendar’.
Although the use may not seem obvious at first, it is particularly helpful on fixing exact Birth, Marriage, Death & Burial dates. These events are usually published in newspapers and it is crucial to record the exact date the newspaper was published. But in many cases the actual date of the event is not recorded. A death for example may be referred to as occurring last Friday with the burial being next Tuesday. However, using the day and date the newspaper was published with a Perpetual Calendar it is easier to see the exact day and date of the event.
Yes, you can count the days backwards and forwards manually, but where the event is referred to perhaps a month before the publication a Perpetual Calendar makes it easier.
Sample websites include:
What is it worth now?
One of the questions many people ask is whether any of their ancestors were rich or well off. Though Wills were left by all types of people, as the amount of money left may be, for example £100 in 1850, what would that be worth today. As you would expect, there are websites that do the conversion for you. Other websites offer guides as to what a certain amount of money would buy in by gone days compared with today. How true and correct they are seems open to question, as not all the websites produce the same results, possibly because they don’t all the same basis for calculations. But they are fun and worth a look to see how well off, or poor, your ancestors were.
Old Occupations and Archaic Terms
During my 20 years research, I have been amazed at how many occupations were new to me. What were they? What did they mean? The best website I have come across to help with this problem is the ‘English Family Tree Association’, http://www.familytreeassociation.org/. As well as a list of hundreds of occupations and archaic terms, the website includes translations of common Latin words, particularly helpful for Catholic Parish records and Latin documents, and much more, all for free.