British History Online – a genealogy gem of a website. British History Online is a website that you really do need to know about whatever level of genealogist you are. It can look a little daunting to those who are new to genealogy, but rest assured it is very easy to find your way around and to use and for many of their records this is the only place online to find them. British History Online was founded some years ago by the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust and it’s main aim is to encourage researchers and historians to learn more about British history. Genealogists are now regarded as being bona fide historians, it wasn’t always this way, but now it absolutely is so this site is aimed at people like you!
The collection is being added to on a regular basis and at the time of writing this post it consists of in excess of 1,280 volumes on British and Irish history from a large number of libraries, archives, museums and academics with a time period of 1300 – 1800. There are primary and secondary sources which are easily searchable by title or keyword and you can put names into the keyword search and it works a treat. You can also browse the records page by page and this is sometimes the ideal way to work with these records. The records all contain names and as genealogists this is exactly what we want so you can see what a great resource this is.
When you first start to use this website I suggest that you click on all the tabs and see what they contain, but I would say is definitely take a quick look at the about page and click down to what is in store for the future as some of this will be of great help to family historians. Some material is available only to subscribers, but the vast majority is free. Yearly subscriptions aren’t that expensive, but you don’t need to worry about them unless you come across material that is subject to subscription payment. If you do wish to access material which requires a subscription check first with your local library or a nearby university as they may have an institutional subscription which you can use within the library. My local library and a University a short drive away both offers this service.
British History Online – Using the website
After having taken a few minutes to look at all the tabs etc I suggest you click on the Search Tab and start by entering one of your family names in the keyword box. There is a Search Guide accessible from the home page if you need help. What I did when I first used this site was I worked through my family surnames, some of them are quite common names such as Elliott and Hawkins and the number of hits were quite unmanageable so I use two keywords such as Elliott Basildon which narrowed the results down to results of records containing the name Elliott and the name of the village they lived in which was Basildon. Sometimes the name is more unusual such as Diddams and Pottinger where I simply put in the surname in the keyword search box. Diddams had no returns so no documents with that name are in the collection so I noted that on my Website Log (get your Free Website Log from the MadAboutGenealogy Resource Library) and put yes that I did want to try the search again at a later date.
For the surname Pottinger the search returned 211 hits. These ranged from mentions in the Victoria County Histories which they have as part of their collection (click here to access my recent blog post on the Victoria County Histories) to Middlesex Session Rolls, Home Office Papers 1763, Calendar of Treasury Books, Index of Persons – which mentioned the Pottinger who was one of the first settlers of Maryland, USA and much more.
To give you an idea of the sort of records you might find, here is an except from “Records of the Worshipful Company of Carpenter 1654 – 1674
Friday the 6th day of October 1654
1 Robert Streete the sonne of John Streete of Broadstreete London Porter hath putt himselfe Apprntice to William Richardson Citizen & Capenter of London of Redcrosse streete for 7 yeares from the date of this Court dated as aforesaid.
2 Henry Seagood the sonne of Henry Seagood of Sunbury in the County of Middx husbandman hath putt himselfe apprntice to John Seagood from the date hereof for eight yeares; dated the day & yeare aforesaid.
3 William Smyth the sonne of Ralfe Smyth of Hallington in the County of Bedford husb. deceased hath put himselfe apprentice to Francis Syms for 8 yeares from the day of the date abovewritten. Dated the day & yeare etc.
4 Richard Parrett son of Ro: Parrett late of Lillingston Luffin in the County of Oxon husbandman deceased hath put himselfe apprntice to Bartholomew Knight to serve for seaven yeares from the day of the date abovewritten; dated the day & yeare aforesaid.
Once a search has returned some hits you can narrow your search by place, date and subject which is a useful facility. A key next to a listing shows that it is subscription access only. When you click on an entry you get a brief outline in most cases and the ability to click on the actual page showing at the top of the listing. This sounds complicated, but is very obvious once you are using the index!
British History Online – Summary
The British History Online website is one of the hidden joys of the internet for genealogists. I am always surprised that not more people are aware of it and use it, so do go an have a look, do a search and you may be very surprised what you find. Do let me know if you find something exciting, and I know some of you will, it is always good to hear of your successes!
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