Civil War

Civil War

Five British civil-registration Web sites are fighting for your clicks (and dollars). How to choose? Arm yourself with this head-to-head Comparison.

How is scrolling through microfilm to find your British ancestors’ civil registration records like riding a double-decker bus? Both have become relics of the past.

Several Web sites now provide free and fee-based access to English and Welsh vital-records indexes, with more sites popping up every day. Most of their online indexes go back to 1837, when civil registration — that is, government recording of births, marriages and deaths — began. (Churches previously performed that duty.)

These sites boast searchable databases that can save you research time: Because the old microfilmed indexes cover only three months of records per roll, researchers who didn’t know an approximate date were doomed to hours of scrolling. The Web sites’ search flexibility also makes it easier to ensure you’re requesting records for the right person.

Besides offering similar civil-registration data, these dot-com destinations share another trait: They’re all competing for your clicks — and most are battling for your research bucks. We scouted out five sites to compare their records coverage, search capabilities and pricing plans. Read on to see how they match up.

1837online.com

<1837online.com>

Civil registrations are just one weapon in this site’s ancestral records arsenal. You’ll get access to censuses and military records, plus its most recent addition — passport applications. 1837online.com offers complete indexes to civil registrations in England and Wales (1837 to 2004), plus indexes to some records of British nationals living abroad. The pre-1984 civil-registration indexes are page images scanned from microfiche — and they download quickly.

The later indexes are in a database format that lets you search on any combination of first name, middle initial, last name, month, year and district. You also can search births by mother’s maiden name, deaths by date of birth and marriages by spouse’s surname. The overseas indexes cover British citizens who were born, married or died abroad between 1761 and 1994. Sources for this data include consular records and army records, but because registration wasn’t required, the records are incomplete. 1837online.com also offers the 1861 and 1891 censuses plus indexes to deaths in World Wars I and II, and the Boer War (1899 to 1902). The site just acquired The National Archivist <www.nationalarchivist.com> and its online collections of death duty indexes (1796 to 1903), divorce and matrimonial causes (1858 to 1903), passport applications (1851 to 1862 and 1874 to 1903) and military records.

Choose from six pricing plans, beginning at about $9 for 50 units good for 90 days. Viewing a birth, marriage or death index takes one unit and viewing a census image or transcription takes three. Alternatively, you can buy unlimited access to birth, marriages and deaths for about $100 a year.

Ancestry.com

<Ancestry.com >

Most of Ancestry.com’s extensive database collection requires a subscription — but not its images of 1837-to-1983 English and Welsh vital-records indexes and transcribed indexes licensed from FreeBMD (described at right). To access these indexes, click the Search tab, then UK & Ireland, then the map of England or Wales, then View All England/Wales Birth, Marriage and Death Records. You’ll need to register to view index images. Note: Ancestry.com’s global search doesn’t nab names in the 1837-to-1983 indexes, but it will produce hits in the searchable 1984 and later indexes.

FamilyRelatives.org

<www.familyrelatives.org>

This site sets itself apart from the rank and file because its searchable database covers many more names than its competitors’. As a result, FamilyRelatives.org makes it much easier to find someone with a common name, especially if you don’t know the date or place of birth, marriage or death. You can search 150 million transcribed records for 1866 to 1920 and 1984 to 2004, as well as index images for 1837 to 1865 and 1921 to 1983. Other databases include Phillimore’s Parish Marriage Registers for 26 counties, soldier deaths in World Wars I and II, and free indexes to British citizens who were born, married or died abroad between 1761 and 1994.

Sixty units cost $10 and are good for 90 days; the more units you purchase, the cheaper the price per unit. It takes one unit to view an image and two units to view a search results page with 20 names.

FreeBMD

<freebmd.rootsweb.com>

Before going to a commercial site, check FreeBMD, a project aiming to create gratis online indexes to all of Britain’s vital records. Volunteers are close to completing searchable indexes to births from 1837 to 1909, marriages from 1837 to 1913 and deaths from 1837 to 1910. You’ll even find some information from as late as 1983.

Don’t think its free status equals few features: FreeBMD offers search capabilities to rival its paid-access counterparts. For example, it supports advanced wildcard searches for first and last names. An asterisk matches multiple characters and a question mark substitutes for one character. A search for John* finds John, Johnny, Johns, Johnson, Johnston and Johnathan; John? matches only Johns. FreeBMD does have one drawback, though: Due to heavy traffic, the site is sometimes unresponsive.

These sites provide images of civil-registration indexes — which show the district, volume and page number — not the actual records.

The Genealogist

<thegenealogist.sandn.net>

S&N Genealogy Supplies’ online data service includes BMDindex.co.uk <BMDindex.co.uk>, an index to English and Welsh births, marriages and deaths. You can browse images of the pre-1984 index pages — including ones not on Family History Library <www.familysearch.org> microfilm — and search a database of names (1984 to 2004). An advanced search function lets you search on the father’s surname and mother’s maiden name to find the children born to a couple. You also can generate a surname distribution map for 1851 to 2004 showing where a name was most common. Other resources on The Genealogist include selected census indexes (1841 to 1901), census indexes and transcriptions (1841 to 1901), church records, directories and land records.

The site offers various payment options; for $9, you can get 50 credits good for 90 days. It takes one credit to view a vital-records index page. Unlimited access costs approximately $100 a year.

Many researchers will find that the free English and Welsh vital-records indexes on FreeBMD and Ancestry.com meet their needs. FamilyRelatives.org’s searchable indexes covering 1866 to 1920 are a big draw if you’re researching that era. Otherwise, consider the extra database offerings when selecting a service — and up your odds of victory on multiple research fronts.
 
Get in Command

Still need help sorting out the differences among British civil registration sites? Combat confusion with this roster of each site’s vital records index offerings. (Note all prices are approximate.)

Site Price Browseable Years Searchable Years Other Offerings
1837online.com

$9-$440 pay per view; $100 annual subscription 1837-1983  1984-2004 Census and military records, passport applications
Ancestry.com

Free  1837-1983 1837-1909 (nearly complete)1910-1983 (partial)1984-2004 World Deluxe subscription ($347.40 annually) gets you access to all Ancestry.com record collections
FamilyRelatives.org  $10-$180 pay per view 
1837-1865
1921-1983
1866-1920
1984-2004
Phillimore’s Parish Marriage Registers, WWI and WWII deaths, Irish immigration records
FreeBMD

Free  1837-1915
1837-1909 (nearly complete)
1910-1983 (partial)
None
The Genealogist  $9-$28 pay per view; $100-$275 annual subscription 1837-1983  1984-2004 Census indexes and transcriptions (1841-1901), church records, directories and land records
 
Vital Support

Once you find your relatives in an online index, your next step is to order the actual records. You can request certificates online through the General Register Office (GRO) Certificate Ordering Service <www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificate>. You’ll need to provide at least a full name and the approximate date of the event, but the more information you give, the less it’ll cost. For example, you’ll pay $13 — a $5.50 savings — if you supply the GRO index reference, including the district, volume and page number.

So what information will you find in the original civil registrations? Birth records usually give the name, date, birthplace, father’s name and mother’s maiden name. Marriage records typically provide the name, age and marital status of the bride and groom, marriage date and place, and the name of each spouse’s father. Death records reveal the deceased’s name, death date and place, occupation, and birth date and place or age (but not parents’ names).
 
From the October 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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