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By Ryan Taylor

New sites continue to spring up on the internet -- larger databases and more indexes.

Ancestry.com now offers indexes for all the censuses taken in England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It is possible to search in a number of ways to find your relations, and then view a digital version of the original handwritten page.

Creative searching is useful as some of the indexing is a little off the beam, especially in the most recent addition, 1841. I was looking for Richard Delve, who is already a problem because his name often appears as Dell in official documents. It took five search attempts before I found the family. My final search used only his wife's first name, Mary, and their suspected place of residence, Buckland Brewer in Devon. When one of my hits listed 'Mary Dall' I knew I'd found them.

It would have been difficult to find Richard Delve no matter how many searches I tried. His name appears in the census as 'Richd Dell' but is indexed as 'Bick Dall'. Even the most experienced searcher would fail to come up with that. His son, Reuben, is indexed as 'Penben Dall.'

So if you are going to use these huge database indexes, make sure you are as creative as possible, and don't give up. If you spend time searching and have no luck, give it up until another day, when you can try a fresh approach.

Ancestry.com offers all seven English censuses (1841-1901), fully indexed and digitized. It is a fee-based service, but many libraries subscribe to Ancestry and its rival, Heritage Quest, for the benefit of their customers.

If you are interested in the English civil registration records (births, deaths and marriages), the indexes for 1837-1982 are generally available via FreeBMD.

You simply type in the name which interests you and you get separate birth, marriage and death indexes. Since many names result in thousands of hits, you can narrow things down using time period or place.

In the end you have the complete reference to obtain the certificate from the General Register Office in Britain, for which there is a fee, but you can, at least, determine the year someone was born or died without payment. In the case of marriages, the spouse's name can be determined too, in most cases.

Many American states offer database indexes for their civil registration records too. The most recent is Missouri, the state where many Ontarians emigrated in the 1870s and 1880s.

The Missouri site will cover 1910-1955. At present only 1910-1922 are viewable, but you can see the actual certificates, and the other years will probably come up quickly.

The database is searchable by name, county, year and month. If the name might have a dubious spelling, there is an advanced search with wild cards.

Try www.familybirthrecords.com to see whether the state which interests you has a database offering birth information, or if you still have to obtain a formal birth certificate. Most governments are moving to making the information available online, because then they don't have thousands of researchers asking them to look things up. They save plenty of staff time and money.

As time goes on, most jurisdictions will release older BMD information. California was among the first to offer its death records on microfiche, then on the internet. They closed their online site, ostensibly because of privacy considerations, but the microfiche is still out there, if you can find it. Most states have concluded that, with civil registration information available in so many places, it is futile to try to hold it back from the internet.

Posted May 2, 2006
Column copyright © 2006 Ryan Taylor

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