50 Family History Websites to Watch 2020

Welcome to Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine's 50 Websites to Watch feature for 2020.

50 Websites to Watch

A project to catalogue the archives of Aberdeen Harbour is due to be completed by late 2020. This is the first time some of these records, spanning 900 years, have been made publicly accessible.

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Ancestry

The 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War will shape new content on Ancestry, from homefront records to military collections, starting with the recent launch of more than one million

Royal Artillery records.

Overseas church records from 15 countries are also in the pipeline. About 30 million Danish church records have just been released, and you can expect to see more material from Nordic countries, as well as transcriptions of digitised French material.

Ancestry will also be adding features and updates to its DNA arm, including a deeper ‘level of granularity’ to results, designed to help discover connections to people and places, as well as new cousin-matching features.

Angus Archives

Indexing projects at Angus Archives have culminated in a huge selection of the region’s school admission, Poor Law and trade incorporation records due to be launched online in 2020.

Berkshire Record Office

The county archive has launched a new wills index with over 38,000 entries drawn from wills, administrations and inventories in the Archdeaconry of Berkshire from 1480 to 1857.

The House of Lords during the Home Rule Debate, 1893 (c1905).
The House of Lords during the Home Rule Debate, 1893 (c1905). Print published in Parliament Past and Present by Arnold Wright and Philip Smith, (London, c1905). (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

British History Online

Government petitions for Worcestershire and Cheshire were added to this website in the autumn.

More will appear in 2020, including 2,000 transcribed petitions submitted to magistrates of Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Westminster, 400 to the Crown, and about 750 to the House of Lords.

More Victoria County History volumes are expected to join the recently added Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660–1840, along with a new repository of allied biographical data and Calendars of the Patent Rolls up to 1507.

British Newspaper Archive

The newsprint behemoth will continue to publish in the region of 100,000 pages a week from newspapers across the UK and Ireland. At the end of 2019 the BNA increased its Scottish holdings considerably, and in early 2020 it will pilot the publication of papers from the Caribbean, India and the colonial period in North America.

Burma Star Memorial Fund

This archive contains the digitised membership forms of more than 50,000 personnel who qualified as members of the Burma Star Association through the award of the Burma Campaign Star or the Pacific Star with Burma Clasp gained for service in the Second World War. The records are linked to members’ personal stories. You can also read digitised copies of Dekho! – the association’s journal.

Cheshire Archives

Cheshire Archives is giving its pioneering tithe maps site a makeover that will add mobile-friendly viewing options. In addition, 2020 will see the completion of the people-powered 1919 Absent Voters project – the final database will have 45,000 entries.

The Battle of Naseby
The Battle of Naseby, 1645. Coloured engraving by Dupuis, after Parvocel, 1727. The Battle of Naseby was the key battle of the first English Civil War. On 14 June 1645, the army of King Charles I (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was destroyed by the Parliamentarian New Model Army commanded by Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658) (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

Civil War Petitions

This fascinating project gives you access to hundreds of petitions from injured soldiers and their wives and families in the aftermath of the English Civil War. Searchable by a number of fields, they represent a rare, name-rich source for ordinary soldiers. The petitions team is about halfway through the four-year project, uploading new material every month.

Cumbria Archives

New indexes relating to policing and crime records have been added to the website and staff say that they are continuing “negotiations with other parties” regarding the potential digitisation of genealogical sources. Follow @CumbriaArchives on Twitter for news.

Deceased Online

The six-feet-under specialist expects to add 50,000 Leicestershire records to its site by Christmas, followed by a host of Exeter records in 2020. It has also just added new pricing options.

FamilySearch

The FamilySearch Family Tree is due tweaks and improvements that will include a better merge function, allowing two profiles created for the same person to be merged. Users will also be able to see more details of past edits and changes to ancestor profiles in their family tree view.

There will be a tool for viewing newly digitised record images, designed to give users better access to images that aren’t yet text-searchable. It will also be possible to edit dates and places in indexed records (building on a similar update in 2019) and add topic tags to photos and documents uploaded to the ‘Memories’ section. You can also expect more content in more languages, and additional opportunities to share ancestors’ pages via social media.

Find A Grave

The mammoth US photographic database will be shifting its focus towards adding more UK cemeteries and records in 2020, alongside a site-wide redesign.

Findmypast

Throughout 2020, Findmypast will continue working on the “largest digitisation project that both we and The National Archives have ever undertaken” – namely the 1921 census of England and Wales, which will be available in January 2022. The coming year will also see more Scottish records from new partnerships forged with archives and societies and more material for the Catholic Heritage Archive, alongside work to expand current county parish collections and add new ones.

The site promises new collaborative features for its online tree platform, adding some of the best attributes from RootsFinder, the family tree tool it purchased late last year. There is also talk of using machine learning to automatically present users with relevant social history content from the site’s newspaper collections.

Leaving Hong Kong
December 1941: British prisoners of War leaving Hong Kong for a Japanese prison camp. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Forces War Records

About 30 million records will be on the site by the end of 2020, thanks to continuing partnerships with The National Archives, regimental museums and archives. These will include more First World War service records and records of prisoners of war held in the Far East in the Second World War.

Free UK Genealogy

FreeBMD (Free UK Geneaology’s births, marriages and deaths project) is due a new look in 2020, with a search engine that will sit entirely within the homepage, and a new mobile-/tablet-friendly version. A potential FreeProbate sister project currently lacks the technical volunteer capacity to progress. Email recruit@freeukgenealogy.org.uk if you want to help.

TheGenealogist/GENFair/Treeview

TheGenealogist has ‘millions’ of new records in the wings for Diamond subscribers, including naturalisation, name change and Catholic records. An ongoing partnership with The National Archives will see more detailed street-level maps added to the Lloyd George Domesday Survey material. Other new releases include parish, criminal, prisoner of war and military records, colour tithe maps, Northern Ireland material, and a Times Newspapers and Historic Photographs and Portraits Database.

Meanwhile, the family tree builder TreeView Online has been rewritten, with brand-new functionality designed to emulate the look and feel of the parent software, and family history site GENFair will receive a new look for 2020, designed to make it more usable on mobile devices.

Gloucestershire Police Archives

There is an ongoing project at Gloucestershire Police Archives to identify and log the locations of police houses and stations, and volunteers are about to start adding information from personnel files and station diaries from the 1870s.

GOV.UK

After a successful trial at RootsTech in London, accessing Second World War service records is set to become a lot quicker and easier in 2020 as the Ministry of Defence plans to launch an online ordering service for the records of deceased Army, Navy and Air Force personnel.

The Hearth Stone
Engraving of ‘The Hearth Stone’, as seen in the former residence of John Howard Payne, author of Home Sweet Home, engraved by John Sartain from the painting by Willcox, London, circa 1791-1852. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Hearth Tax Digital

The Hearth Tax team is currently beta-testing additional interactive mapping functionality. This has begun with the East Riding of Yorkshire, with Westmorland and West Riding next in line, hopefully followed by Surrey, Middlesex, Kent and County Durham. The team also plans to make full data available for Bristol, Warwickshire, Coventry, Essex and Sussex, and possibly some limited data for Somerset and Norfolk towns.

Kresen Kernow

The Cornwall archive’s brand-new home includes facilities for cataloguing, digitisation and preservation. It is hoping to grow its team of volunteers, both onsite and remotely. At time of writing, it was kicking off with projects to digitise 19th-century gaol registers, and transcribe merchant shipping crew lists and 1910 district valuation registers, providing a snapshot of property ownership at the start of the 20th century.

Lancashire Archives

Lancashire Archives aims to have complete probate indexes for the Diocese of Chester by spring 2020. Volunteers are indexing casebooks from Prestwich Asylum and registers from Preston Prison.

Last Chance to Read

Expect new issues of the Police Gazette, 19th-century volumes of habitual criminals, newspapers dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries, and early Dublin directories among this site’s scarce content.

Layers of London

The maps team will delve even further back into the past and spread into Greater London with the help of material from local administrative archives, as well as such crowdsourced mapping projects as #MapLondonPubs.

UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 06: Photograph by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (1853-1941). The flag flying at the bow looks like the Red Ensign or Red Duster; the ensign of the merchant navy since 1864. Sutcliffe is best known for his naturalistic and spontaneous style of photography, especially his portrayals of Whitby's fishing community. He was a founder member of The Linked Ring Brotherhood and was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1941. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM – AUGUST 06: Photograph by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe (1853-1941). The flag flying at the bow looks like the Red Ensign or Red Duster; the ensign of the merchant navy since 1864. Sutcliffe is best known for his naturalistic and spontaneous style of photography, especially his portrayals of Whitby’s fishing community. He was a founder member of The Linked Ring Brotherhood and was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1941. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

The National Archives

The Project Alpha research team at The National Archives in Kew is hoping to build and test a prototype for a new website. Its approach is to envisage what it would create if starting from scratch, and during the year it will be exploring prototypes with “new technologies” and simplified “user journeys”.

Meanwhile, a crowdsourcing project to transcribe data from the Ecclesiastical census returns of 1851 will continue into 2021. Elsewhere, teams are cataloguing railway incident registers and the online catalogue will have improved descriptions of merchant seamen on Navy ships during the Second World War.

National Jazz Archive

The National Jazz Archive’s newly redesigned website makes it easier to explore digitised books, journals, magazines, periodicals, newsletters, photos, oral histories and interviews. The parent archive has material on jazz, blues and related music from the 1920s to the present.

National Library of Scotland

The headline news from the NLS map team is the intention to publish online more than 40,000 maps every year for the next five years. The priority for 2020 will be Scotland, moving on to maps of England and Wales. Within the next six months, the aim is to add fire insurance maps of Scotland, showing urban premises and owners in the late 19th century.

National Library of Wales

Users can now search Cardiganshire Great War Tribunal (Appeals) records on the National Library of Wales’ site, thanks to the work of 200 volunteers recruited via a new platform for delivering crowdsourcing projects. The volunteers transcribed more than 10,000 pages over six months.

Medical Aid
30th September 1930: Red Cross nurses tend to the fish girls of Yarmouth. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Norfolk Archives

Early next year, Norfolk Archives will be adding indexes to registers of nurses at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital from 1900 to 1928 and Jenny Lind Hospital from 1889 to 1921. These will join recently added marriage licence bonds from the Norfolk Archdeaconry, Dean and Chapter Peculiar and Great Cressingham Peculiar collections from 1704 to 1886, and records from the 1903 Norfolk county schools survey.

North Lanarkshire

2019 has seen the publication of approximately 230,000 Poor Law records via Ancestry, as well as the creation of this new website featuring stories, digitised objects, and images and records relating to North Lanarkshire.

Parish Chest

The online genealogy shop was taken over by the Family History Federation, then taken down because of technical issues. The federation is rebuilding Parish Chest to fit within its “new corporate image”, and it hopes that a new version will be up and running in early 2020.

The Poor Law

This project throws fascinating light on a relatively untouched source – receipts gathered by parishes whenever they purchased goods and services for the poor from 1700 to 1835. The site currently features all sorts of case studies generated from projects covering Staffordshire, East Sussex and Cumberland. There are also plans in the pipeline for a searchable online database.

Prison History

Look out for Prison History’s new material on lock-ups (structures for short-term confinement). It has records on more than 700 sites, focusing on Wales, Scotland and Ireland. There will also be new case studies, ‘how-to’ guides, tours and short films, the first looking at different prison systems in the UK.

PRONI

Look out for tithe applotment records (1823–1837), listing occupiers of agricultural holdings over one acre, and Belfast Corporation photographs, showing properties that may have disappeared.

Railway Archive

This revamped treasure trove of Great Central Railway material produced by Leicestershire’s county archive team now includes a Route Map feature, enabling users to search along the route and find images for particular areas.

RootsIreland

Roughly 140,000 records have been uploaded to the Irish ancestry website this year, including almost 80,000 church and civil records from County Clare. More church and civil records will be added in 2020, along with census substitutes from a number of counties including Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Cavan and Wexford, and almost 5,000 emigrant letters, mostly from the USA. There are also plans to add a new podcast section.

The Royal Dragoon Guards

This TownsWebArchiving project is due to launch in 2020 with searchable regimental histories and magazines, oral histories, photos, War Diaries and maps.

Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

This pay-per-view service is currently going through a mobile-friendly update. New content will include 6,000 pages of nominal rolls (1842–1973).

Royal Navy Records

The Royal Navy Records team is hoping to add two more batches of records over the course of 2020. The site hosts 25,678 records to date – about a fifth of the total – and the project is due to be completed by the end of 2021. You can take part in transcribing records for the site on Transcription Tuesday on 4 February.

Royal navy records

ScotlandsPeople

Early in January 2020, images of statutory birth records for 1919, marriage records for 1944 and death records for 1969 will be available on the ScotlandsPeople site. There are plans to add more valuation rolls and church records, and preparations for the release of the 1921 census in 2021 will continue.

Next year also marks the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, one of Scotland’s most important artefacts. To celebrate, National Records of Scotland is putting the document on public display for the first time in 15 years. You can see it in the National Museum of Scotland from 27 March to 26 April.

Scottish Indexes

The Scottish ancestry resource aims to double the number of its records in 2020, focusing on Scottish court and Poor Law material. It also plans to expand its free Learning Zone.

Society of Genealogists

Society members will be able to click through from more catalogue entries to digital images in 2020. Over 800 books were added in 2019, and more will arrive in 2020, including poll books and directories. The society will also digitise more documents and special collections, and add to its Indian material online.

Somerset Archives

Indexes to First World War records, probate inventories, workhouse records and ordination papers will soon be available, thanks to volunteers.

Surrey History Centre

Poor Law indexes are coming to this local history site, as is an index to prisoners whose cases were heard at Surrey quarter sessions and assizes (1912–1918). Surrey in the Great War continues to expand with 80,000 indexed references to newspaper reports.

The Women’s Suffrage project has also resulted in an index to more than 11,000 Surrey people identified in newspapers. Ancestry is planning to publish East Surrey Regiment’s First World War recruitment registers, along with outstanding parish registers.

Emily Davison (1872 - 1913) is fatally injured as she tries to stop the King's horse 'Amner' on Derby Day, to draw attention to the Women's Suffragette movement. (Photo by Arthur Barrett/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Emily Davison (1872 – 1913) is fatally injured as she tries to stop the King’s horse ‘Amner’ on Derby Day, to draw attention to the Women’s Suffragette movement. (Photo by Arthur Barrett/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Trafalgar Way and 1805 Club

The 1805 Club is home to all sorts of useful content for family historians, not least the updated Trafalgar Rolls database.

The club is powering The Trafalgar Way project, commemorating the 271-mile route whereby the first Trafalgar Dispatches were brought to London in 1805. In 2020, it plans to launch ‘Nelson and Trafalgar and Me’, where people can share family stories connected to the battle.

War, State and Society

This fascinating new digital collection hosts thousands of documents from 11 government departments, each responsible for dealing with and reporting on the domestic situation during the Second World War.

West Yorkshire Archives Service

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The team plans to extend its tithe map website to include Leeds and environs, and volunteers are transcribing the diaries of Anne Lister – the inspiration for the BBC drama Gentleman Jack.