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London calling!


ONLINE searching for your ancestors gets more interesting by the week! Thousands more documents are being uploaded onto the web, enabling researchers to save costly trips to libraries and archive repositories.

I was particularly interested to discover this week that the Ancestry website is preparing to digitise the massive London Metropolitan Archives collection.

Many of us have relatives who at least had some contact with the capital city - perhaps drawn to London during the huge expansion of the towns and cities during the industrial revolution.

For example two of my ancestors in the brewing trade had earlier been apprenticed to the owners of two beerhouses in the heart of the city of London, many miles away from their family homes. Another ancestor who was born in Newburgh, Scotland, I discovered working as a ship's captain based in the docks at Greenwich.

London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) is the largest local authority record office in the United Kingdom. There are 72KM of archives, modern records, plans, audio-visual and printed material - a huge amount of information about the capital and its people. This material dates from 1067 to the present day.

The Ancestry plans include digitising the London parish registers, nonconformist registers, school admission lists, poor law documents, electoral registers and wills. It is an enormous project involving some 77 million records.

Some of the parish registers date back to the inception of the registers in 1538 and these, or in many cases the Bishops' Transcripts - which were a separate copy made for each diocese - will be put online.

Poverty was an ever-present adjunct to life in Victorian London and along with the Poor Law records the digitisation plans include a whole range of documents including workhouse admission registers, records from the Board of Guardians and lists of those entitled to parish relief. A huge bonus for the family historian.

From my own experience I know that family groups followed their work and were constantly on the move in the metropolis or its hinterland. Many of the poverty-stricken working classes would take any work - often for very low wages and in appalling conditions.

Crime was consequently rife and it is surprising how many ended up in the courts or as witnesses to criminal cases. You can discover any 'black sheep' - or indeed thousands of upright citizens in London - on the excellent Old Bailey website at This site contains a fully searchable database of court reports and proceedings detailing the lives of the ordinary people of London. It contains reports of some 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.

It was through this database that I discovered an ancestor working at a specific London pub who was called as a witness in a forgery trial. Before looking at the site and doing a casual search I had no idea whereabouts in London he had been living.

Anyone who discovers they have London ancestors would be well advised to study old maps of the area - one of the best sites is Bartholemew's Handy Reference Atlas of London and Suburbs at /bart1908/bart47.htm Here you can get a real feel for the area your ancestors lived and worked in.

Ancestry is a subscription genealogy site including databases and members' family trees. For details log on


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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 7, 2009
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