That great institution, The British Library, is joining up with family history website findmypast.co.uk in a project that I find exciting, as some of my Scots ancestors went out to British India to find their fortunes in the 1860s, while others stayed put in the UK.
What has been announced, by these organisations, is their intention to digitise a veritable treasure trove of family history resources held by the British Library and so making them available to us online and fully searchable for the first time.
To be scanned are the United Kingdom electoral registers that span the century which followed on from the Reform Act of 1832, along with records of baptisms, marriages and burials that have been drawn from the archives of the India Office.
These collections are going to allow us the possibility of tracking down details of our forebears from our computers instead of making a trip to London and the British Libraryâ€™s Reading Rooms.
The British Library houses the national collection of electoral registers covering the whole of the United Kingdom and contain a vast range of names, addresses and other genealogical information, so you can see their importance.
â€œDigitisation of the electoral registers will transform the work of people wishing to use them for family history research,â€ said Jennie Grimshaw, the Libraryâ€™s curator for Social Policy and Official Publications. â€œPrinted electoral registers are arranged by polling district within constituency and names are not indexed, so the process of finding an address to confirm names of residents is currently incredibly laborious. Digitisation represents a huge breakthrough as users will be able to search for names and addresses, thereby pinpointing the individuals and ancestors theyâ€™re looking for.â€
Also to look forward to, in this large-scale digitisation, are records taken from the archives of the East India Company and the India Office and thus my excitement as so many of my Scottish ancestors were employed in the H.E.I.C.S. The data that we are promised relate to Britons who lived and worked in the Indian sub-continent during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to Independence in 1948. Including over 1,000 volumes of births, marriages and burials, together with applications for civil and military service, and details of pension payments to individuals.
Antonia Moon, curator of post-1858 India Office Records said, â€œThese records are an outstanding resource for researchers whose ancestors had connections with British India, whether as servants of the administration or as private inhabitants.â€
We can expect to see five million pages of UK electoral registers and India Office records digitised over the next year. The resources will become available via findmypast.co.uk and in the British Libraryâ€™s Reading Rooms from early 2012; online access will be available to findmypast.co.uk subscribers and pay-as-you-go customers â€“ access to users in the British Library Reading Rooms will be free.
Simon Bell, the British Libraryâ€™s Head of Licensing and Product Development, said: â€œWe are delighted to announce this exciting new partnership between the British Library and findmypast.co.uk , which will deliver an online and fully searchable resource that will prove immensely valuable to family history researchers in unlocking a treasure trove of content that up to now has only been available either on microfilm or within the pages of bound volumes. The Library will receive copies of the digitised images created for this project, so as well as transforming access for current researchers, we will also retain digital versions of these collections in perpetuity, for the benefit of future researchers.â€
Elaine Collins, Commercial Director at findmypast.co.uk, said: â€œWeâ€™re very excited to be involved with this fascinating project. The electoral rolls are the great missing link for family historians: after censuses and civil registration indexes, they provide the widest coverage of the whole population. To have Irish and Scottish records alongside England and Wales is also a huge advantage. These records will join the 1911 Census, Chelsea Pensioner Service Records and many more datasets available online at findmypast.co.uk, which enable people to make fantastic discoveries day after day.â€
I, for one, can’t wait!