Family History Websites – Which One?

[Note – this post was originally published on 16 Mar 2015. It was updated on 19 Mar 2015 with changes to the comparison table to include databases of The Genealogist and subscription information. Changes were also made to my decision to take account of the new comparisons.]

After having a break from my family history research for the last couple of years, I am now starting up again. The last subscription site I used was Ancestry and was happy with it, but this was at the time when there weren’t really any great competitors.  I have recently been looking at what the different family history subscriptions sites have to offer, to decide which to sign up to.

How I am going to judge the sites

I am going to judge the sites by what UK records they have to offer.  The websites that offer the best selection of UK records may not be the best for worldwide records.  If you are interested in Irish, American, Australian or any other countries’ records, you may want to see what each website has to offer for these.

I am just going to consider the content of the sites rather than the search or community facilities.  I have not thoroughly tested the search facilities of all the sites, so it would be unfair of me to rate them using this as a criteria (I have done plenty of searches on Ancestry and Find My Past, but this was a couple of years ago).

So what is on offer now?

The main sites are Ancestry, Find My Past, The Genealogist, Genes Reunited and My Heritage.  I am not going to consider three of these websites for the following reasons:

MyHeritage – Has very few UK records, just 1841-1901 England and Wales census and incomplete GRO indexes and other birth, marriage and death (BMD) records. However, it does look to have a bigger selection for the USA and other countries. I want to sign up to a site with a good set of UK databases, so this is why I am discounting this website.

Genes Reunited – This is run by the same group as Find My Past (Brightsolid/DC Thomson Group), so contains some, but not all, of the same databases. This has more of a community feel than Find My Past and one of the main features is to link up to long lost relatives by sharing family trees. It has public family trees and message boards that you can search. Some people join on and off throughout the year to see if any new relatives have got in contact, as monthly subscriptions are very cheap. I am discounting this, as you do not have access to many databases on here, but if you are interested in locating living relatives have a look, as this could be for you.

So that leaves me with three sites:

Ancestry, Find My Past or The Genealogist?

This is a comparison of some of their major databases:

The Everyday Archivist’s comparison of major databases available on Ancestry, Find My Past and The Genealogist

Ancestry

Find My Past

The Genealogist

Census 1841-1911 England, Wales and Scotland (not 1911) census

(Indexed and linked to images)

1841-1911 England, Wales and Scotland (not 1911) census

(Indexed and linked to images)

1841-1911 England and Wales census, 1851 Scotland extracts

(Indexed and linked to images, SmartSearch technology)

BMD GRO Indexes Full GRO index 1837-2005

(fully indexed)

Overseas BMD (Source: The National Archives RG 32-36)

Full GRO index 1837-2005

(fully indexed)

The General Register Office’s Army, Marine, Air Force, High Commission, Regimental, Consular and Ionian Islands BMDs.

Full GRO index 1837-2005

(fully indexed, SmartSearch technology post 1911)

Overseas BMD (Source: The National Archives RG 32-34 and RG36)

Registry of shipping and seamen –BMD at sea (Source: The National Archives BT158-160)

The General Register Office’s Army, Marine, Air Force, High Commission, Regimental, Consular and Ionian Islands BMDs

BMD Parish Registers Original Registers

[Place/County – Source]

Birmingham – Library of Birmingham

Dorset – Dorset History Centre

Gloucestershire – Gloucestershire Archives

Lancashire – Lancashire Archives

Liverpool – Liverpool Record Office

London – London Metropolitan Archives

Manchester – Manchester Archives

Northamptonshire – Northamptonshire Record Office

Surrey – Surrey History Centre

Warwickshire – Warwickshire County Record Office

West Yorkshire – West Yorkshire Archives Service

Wigan – Wigan Archives service

For other counties there are various transcriptions from printed books (e.g. Pallot’s and Boyd’s) and other extracts

Original Registers

[Place/County – Source]

Canterbury – Canterbury Cathedral Archives

Cheshire – Cheshire Archives and Local Studies

Devon – South West Heritage Trust

Hertfordshire – Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

Lincolnshire – Lincolnshire Archives

Plymouth – Plymouth & West Devon Record Office

Shropshire – Shropshire Archives

Staffordshire – Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Archive Service

Wales (All Counties) –  National Library of Wales and Welsh County Archivist Group

Westminster – City of Westminster Archive Service

Yorkshire (not West Riding) – Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, Doncaster Archives, East Riding of Yorkshire Council,  North Yorkshire County Council,  Sheffield Archive and Local Studies Library  and Teeside Archives

British India Office – British Library

For other counties there are various transcriptions from  family history societies and printed books (e.g. Pallot’s and Boyd’s) and other extracts

For 43 Counties in England and Scotland there are:

Printed books – indexed books of parish registers that were transcribed and published many years ago

Database of transcripts many of which have been compiled by local family history societies.

BMD Non Conformist Registers England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970  Methodists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Independents, Protestant Dissenters, Congregationalist, Presbyterians, and Unitarians and Quakers (Source: The National Archives, series RG4, RG5, RG6 and RG8)

Non-Conformist registers for London, West Yorkshire, Liverpool, Manchester and others. (Source: London Metropolitan Archives, West Yorkshire Archives, Liverpool Record Office, Manchester Archives)

England & Wales, Non-Conformist births, baptisms, marriages and burials (Compiled from various sources)

Cheshire Non-Conformist and Roman Catholic records 17th Century-1910 (Source: Cheshire Archives and Local Studies)

England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970  Methodists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Independents, Protestant Dissenters, Congregationalist, Presbyterians, and Unitarians and Quakers and Fleet Marriages (Source: The National Archives, series RG4, RG5, RG6, RG7 and RG8)
Wills Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills 1384-1858 (source: The National Archives – series PROB 11)

England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966 (Source: Principal Probate Registry, London)

Original probate records for London and Gloucestershire (source: London Metropolitan Archives and Gloucestershire Archives)

Various will indexes compiled from printed sources

From the Origins website –  National Wills Index [this now links to and is available on Find My Past], which has just been acquired by Find My Past:

Prerogative & Exchequer Courts of York Probate Index  1688-1858

British Record Society Probate Collection  1320-1858 over 2.3 million names and covers quite a lot of England

On Find My Past now:

Original probate records for Cheshire (Source: Cheshire Archives and Local Studies)

Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills 1384-1858 (source: The National Archives – series PROB 11)

Will indexes from printed sources for various counties

Military Records WW1 British Army service and pension records 1914-1920 (source: The National Archives, series WO363 and WO364)

WW1 National roll, medal index cards and soldiers who died in the Great War 1914-1920

WW1 prisoners of war

WW2 Roll of Honour and prisoners of war 1939-1945

Other conflicts: eg Napoleonic Wars and Boer War

UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929 (source: National Army Museum)

UK, Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services, 1900-1928 (source: The National Archives, series ADM 188)

UK Navy Lists 1888-1970 and UK, Naval Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1972

Various other indexes and some militia lists for various counties

Chelsea Pensioners’ British Army service records 1760-1913 (Source: The National Archives)

Militia service records 1806-1915 (Source: The National Archives, series WO96)

WW1 British Army service and pension records 1914-1920 (source: The National Archives, series WO363 and WO364)

WW1 National roll, medal index cards and soldiers who died in the Great War 1914-1920

WW2 Roll of Honour and prisoners of war 1939-1945

Other conflicts: eg Napoleonic Wars and Boer War

Various regimental records and navy records

92 Army Lists available ranging from 1661 to 1940 and 28 Navy Lists ranging from 1689 to 1944.

War memorial lists and transcripts with images

WW1 prisoners of war

WW1 casualties list

WW1 National roll, medal index cards and soldiers who died in the Great War 1914-1920

WW2 Roll of Honour and prisoners of war 1939-1945

Various regimental records

Some militia lists for various counties

Newspapers The Times, London Gazette and some local newspapers and periodicals British Newspaper Archive (10,506,520 pages – 15th Mar 2015) Illustrated London News,  The Great War, The War Illustrated, Punch (coming soon) and some periodicals
Passenger Lists UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 (source: The National Archives, series BT27)

UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 (source: The National Archives series BT26)

England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 (Source: The National Archives, series HO 26 and 27)

UK and Ireland, Masters and Mates Certificates, 1850-1927

England, Alien Arrivals, 1810-1811, 1826-1869 (source: The National Archives)

Crew lists for Dorset, Liverpool and Glasgow ports

Early passenger lists to America

Transportation registers for convicts to Australia and passenger list for US ports e.g. New York (but I am unsure whether these are available on a UK subscription)

Britain: outbound passenger lists, 1890-1960 (source: The National Archives)

Register of passport applications 1851-1903

Convict departures to New South Wales 1788-1842

British Home Office Naturalisation Lists

Australian Convict Transportation Registers 1787-1867

New Zealand Early Settlers

Early passenger lists to America

Occupational UK, Railway Employment Records, 1833-1956 (source: The National Archives)

UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811 (source: The National Archives, series IR1)

British Postal Service Appointment Books, 1737-1969 (source: British Postal Museum and Archive)

UK medical registers, Crockford Clerical directories, various engineers lists

Trade directories – UK, City and County Directories, 1766 – 1946 (e.g. Kellys and Pigots -27,108,675 records)

Trade Union Membership Registers for various trades (source: Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick)

Business Indexes Of Britain, 1892-1987 (Source: Society of Genealogists)

Merchant Navy Seaman records (Source: The National Archives)

Teacher’s Registration Council Registers 1914-1948

Various other lists

Apprenticeship Records – Board of Stamps: Apprenticeship Books 1710-1814 (Source: The National Archives IR1)

Pilots – Royal Aero Club – Aviators Certificates (1914-1926)

Printed sources for various professions including railway, actors, clergy, medical, law and teachers

Freeman and burgesses rolls for various cities

19th and 20th century trade directories (e.g. Kelly’s and pigot’s) for counties across England and Wales and Scotland.

Education Alumni lists from Oxford and Cambridge and other universities and some public and other schools. Register books from 41 schools (mainly public) and universities 1264-1930 School (mainly public), college and university registers available for 29 counties in England and Aberdeen and Glasgow Universities with dates ranging from 1220 to 1949
Criminal England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 (Source: The National Archives, series HO 26 and 27)

Quarter session records for some counties

Home Office: Criminal Petitions 1817-1858 (source: The National Archives, series HO17)

Register of hulk prison ships 1818-1831 (source: The National Archives, series ADM6)

Central Criminal Court: calendar of prisoners 1855-1931 (source: The National Archives, series CRIM9)

Home Office: calendar of prisoners (source: The National Archives, series HO140)

Convict departures to New South Wales 1788-1842

Criminal Registers, Charges, Pardons and Criminal Lunatics. (Source: The National Archives Home Office Records series HO 27, HO 13, HO20/13 and CRIM 1)

Chancery proceedings  1377-1714 (printed source)

Australian Convict Transportation Registers 1787-1867

Other British Phone Books, 1880-1984 (Source: BT Archives)

Workhouse and poor law records and electoral registers for various counties

Printed social, place and military histories

Maps and gazetteers

Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1813-1834 (source: The National Archives T71)

Workhouse and poor law records and electoral registers for various counties

Kindertransport records (Source: The National Archives)

British India Office Records (Source: The British Library)

London, Bethlem Hospital, patient admission registers and casebooks, 1683-1932 (Source: Archives and Museum service, Bethlem Royal Hospital)

Tithe records – complete set of tithe apportionments and maps (coming soon; Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire, Middlesex and Surrey maps already available) (Source: The National Archives )

69 heraldic visitation lists for individual counties and the whole of England and Wales, with years ranging from 1530 – 1921.

Various poll books

Landowner records English & Welsh records 1873, Scottish records 1872-1873 and Irish records 1876

Image archive

Public Family Trees Yes No Yes as a feature in Treeview
Upload Family Tree Yes and Ancestry will provide hints Yes and Find My Past will provide hints Yes The Genealogist has a built in package called Treeview that provides hints
DNA AncestryDNA Find My Past announced at RootsTech 2015 that they would be offering DNA tests through  Family Tree DNA, but these do not appear to be available in the UK yet, Yes The Genealogist offers packages through FamilyTree DNA https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/dna/
Subscription costs

(I have only included the UK subscriptions where you can access all the records in the table. Ancestry and The Genealogist both offer cheaper subscriptions that contain fewer databases.)

Premium  UK subscription

1 month – £13.99

12 month – £119.99

Pay per view

£6.95, 12 record views over 14 days

UK subscription

1 month – £9.95

12 month – £99.50

Pay per view

£6.95, valid 90 days, 60 credits (about 12 records)

£24.95, valid 365 days, 280 credits (about 70 records)

Diamond subscription

12 month – £119.45

The sources have all been found on the respective websites, although they have sometimes been quite hard to locate. I found Ancestry to be the best at fully naming its sources and in an obvious place and providing covering dates. Where I have listed the original parish registers, I have assumed all these to have actual images attached rather than just a transcription, as they look to have been done as part of a project with the Local Record Offices, but without signing up I cannot confirm this. If you feel I have missed any major databases in this list, please let me know, as I want to be fair.

My decision

Choosing an outright winner between the three sites is proving really difficult. Competition, although in most cases a good thing, has in this case ensured that great sources for family history have been split over several sites. They all have the essentials for England and Wales and other really good databases with a wide range of useful records. Find My Past, does to me, seem to have the edge with the British Newspaper Archive (which is such an excellent resource for family and local history) and a bigger selection of original parish records. Find My Past is adding new records all the time; it is also soon to add the 1939 register and is in partnership with BillionGraves to offer 12 million grave marker indexes.  I also find searches to be a bit more accurate at Find My Past. Ancestry has shared family trees and access to message boards, if you want more of a community feel.  All three sites will provide hints on family trees you upload, to potential records for family members. The Genealogist has some unique databases such as tithe records and although I haven’t compared search facilities, their SmartSearch technology is really useful. You can do things like search for birth records from the census at a click of a button or find children from a marriage post 1911. I found the census results really easy to use and the results are also displayed in a map view which is both useful and interesting.

Your decision will come down to what you personally prefer. I didn’t include search facilities in this comparison, but I would have a free trial on all three sites and see which you prefer to use. The Genealogist do some very reasonable cheaper packages that don’t include all the databases above but more than enough to get you quite far with your research (the SmartSearch technology and the navigation of the site makes it great for a beginner).  Find My Past regularly offers a lot of deals so keep a look out. You could also sign up to one site on an annual subscription and sign up to another on a monthly subscription occasionally or take advantage of a free weekend (which Ancestry and Find My Past both do) to look at records.

Personally I chose…sorry I just can’t decide – Ancestry, as most of my ancestors appear in their original parish registers and I would like to get my DNA done soon. Find My Past, as the British Newspaper Archive is such a great resource and they are adding new databases all the time. The Genealogist for their SmartSearch technology and the ease of use of their site.

On a final note – for personal research, if I had the money I would get all three, as they all have great databases and good unique features. When I turn professional (soon), I would get both Find My Past and Ancestry (professional subscription same as above), as I don’t think I could justify the professional subscription at The Genealogist (Diamond professional premium 12 months – £399.95)
Sources

My Heritage http://www.myheritage.com/ Accessed 15 March 2015

Genes Reunited http://www.genesreunited.co.uk/ Accessed 15 March 2015

The Genealogist https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/ Accessed 15 March 2015

Ancestry http://home.ancestry.co.uk/ Accessed 15 March 2015

Find My Past http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ Accessed 15 March 2015

Findmypast subscriber numbers grow, as fantastic new developments and partnerships are announced at RootsTech 2015, blog post by Holly, 16 Feb 2015 http://blog.findmypast.co.uk/2015/findmypast-subscriptions-race-ahead-of-ancestry-as-fantasic-new-developments-are-announced-at-rootstech/ Accessed 15 March 2015

BillionGraves and FindMyPast team up in World-wide initiative!, 13 Feb 2015 http://blog.billiongraves.com/2015/02/billiongraves-and-findmypast-team-up-in-world-wide-initiative/ Accessed 15 March 2015

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10 thoughts on “Family History Websites – Which One?

  1. Len Hutton (@LentheHutt) contacted me via Twitter: “@TEA_Archivist Nice article. Thanks for efforts…Ancestry do have papers. Not as much as FMP tho”

    I had a look on Ancestry and did find the newspapers and periodicals section (search all records and scroll down to the bottom of the collections list). I have now added these to the table.

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  2. Hi EverydayArchivist, Thanks for mentioning us in your review, but I was wondering why you think our GRO transcripts for BMDs are not complete? We have fully transcribed these along with the GRO Overseas BMDs. We’ve also built in our SmartSearch technology to show you possible children from a marriage records (post 1911), the parents marriage from a birth record (again post 1911), as well as siblings from a birth and the ability to jump from a death to a birth (or vice versa). You can see our entire record coverage here: http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/coverage One of the most exciting record sets we’ve just started to release is Tithe maps for England and Wales, which you can read more about here: http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/featuredarticles/2015/what-land-did-my-ancestors-own-or-occupy-225/

    Please let me know if you’d like any other details,

    Best Regards,

    Mark Bayley, Head of Online Development (TheGenealogist.co.uk)

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    • Hi Mark,
      Thank you for your comment. I am very sorry if what I have written is incorrect, but I hope that you can appreciate that without a subscription I can only go by the information I can find on your website. I did look at the record coverage (the link you have posted in your comment http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/coverage/?level=diamond) and this is what the link to Births, Marriages & Deaths http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/coverage/births-marriages-deaths/?level=diamond#includes says:
      “BMD Records 1837-2005

      Complete Birth, Marriage & Death records index for England and Wales as published by the GRO.

      In database format from 1837 – 2005 (Marriages), 1837 – 2005 (Births) and 1984 – 2005 (Deaths). Images of the original index pages are available between 1983 and 1837. A total of over a quarter of a BILLION events. Service includes full surname, forename and initial indexing to improve accuracy within index searches.

      Our unique surname distribution mapping facility will enable you to display a colour-coded printable map of any surname.

      SmartSearch is a new way of searching the data for 1984 onwards. It utilises an intelligent search system to perform a reverse look-up:

      Search for the children born to a couple using the father’s surname and mother’s maiden name.
      See the details for either partner in a marriage.
      Find the birth record from the death record at the click of a button.”

      I took this to meant that you had the complete GRO index as images, but these were not searchable for deaths between 1837-1984. I assumed this had not been updated in a while, so thought I would look to see if this had been completed. Your website had no search function for news articles that I could find, so I searched in Google and came back with a news article that said the searchable index had been completed for deaths from 1900-2005. Has this now been completed back to 1837? If so, I would be more than happy to add a holding comment on the blog post and in due course add you to the comparison table, as that is the only reason I discounted you.
      You do look to have some valuable databases and the SmartSearch technology looks very useful.

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  3. Sorry, that page should have been updated a long time ago, as we have full coverage and have done for some time. I’ve updated it to show show what’s truly available. I’d love to know what you think of the site if you get a chance to try us out.

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  4. Findmypast also has quite a collection of church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials from the Anglican church in Wales (now the Church in Wales). Seems to cover a good number if not all of the old counties. More detail on coverage would help users.

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  5. Thank you for your comment. Yes the Welsh parish registers do cover all counties. They are included in the table above in the BMD parish register section as Wales with the source – National Library of Wales and the Welsh County Archivist Group, but I will add (All Counties) to clarify.

    I did find locating the sources on the respective websites quite a task, as I said in the post Ancestry was the best at naming its sources and in an obvious place (normally at the bottom of each database). Find My Past was a lot harder and seemed to have several lists of records, some of which I think must be an old version that they have not taken down, as none of the links worked. Anyway here is the link for the Wales collection, it lists all the Counties involved, but Find My Past doesn’t give covering dates for the registers so I can’t tell if they are complete. The links to individual databases work at the moment: http://www.findmypast.co.uk/articles/world-records/search-all-uk-records/special-collections/the-wales-collection

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  6. May I just mention that ANCESTRY is a MUCH superior source if you need parish registers for Manchester –
    Their Manchester baptisms collection contains OVER 60 PARISHES from Abbey Hey to Worsley and cover 1541-1812 and 1813-1915. They also have a separate search for the registers of Manchester Cathedral itself, as well as Non Conformist registers.

    Whereas FMP’s Manchester baptisms appear to cover
    Giles Shaw Transcripts for Oldham St Mary 1662-1826
    John Owen Transcripts for Flixton, Gorton and Newton 1571-1785

    This seems rather puny in comparison and they’re only transcripts not actual images that you can search through on Ancestry. So, I really feel that the Manchester registers should be listed under Ancestry not FMP..

    To fnd out what’s covered on FMP, you have to go to the search for that data set, read the description and then click on ‘Browse the parish’. You’ll see that for ‘Manchester’ baptisms only two parishes appear St. Mary, Oldham and St. Mary’s Oldham. This is not what you would imagine Manchester to be (more like a little bit of Lancashire) and you would be very disappointed if you signed up to FMP for Manchester registers.

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  7. I’ve used all the websites you mention, and up to a year ago I had subscriptions on both Ancestry and FMP. In the past I would have recommended Ancestry – not only was it much easier and faster to search than FMP, but I’ve corresponded with more ‘cousins’ than I ever found at Genes or LostCousins combined.

    I’ve always found FMP very cumbersome to search and navigate. Once on the search results page, I’ve had to click on every single name to check whether it was the record I was looking for, whereas at Ancestry, you could just hover over the name to see the details – so much easier! Also, some records were not searchable on FMP and I’ve spent many hours and a lot of money paging through their Death Duty Indexes for Wills! Having said that – I dislike the fact that both sites have changed the way their search works and I’m glad that I’ve reached the end of most of my family lines before this happened. I’m now into medieval genealogy which neither site covers, but I can still use the family tree feature on Ancestry which is very helpful for recording dates and events for medieval ancestors and for working out timelines.

    I agree that detailed information can be difficult to find particularly at FMP – I find that Ancestry is much clearer about exactly what their records cover and there sources. Again, for Manchester research they’ve helped to ‘repair’ thousands of missing entries for the 1851 census.

    Anyone interested can find a list of what Ancestry offers here… http://www.ancestry.co.uk/cs/HelpAndAdvice/ExploringRecords the exact details are a few clicks away – you have to be prepared to scroll and look for links on the side menus. Their parish registers page is here… http://www.ancestry.co.uk/cs/uk/parish That’s another thing I like about Ancestry it’s much easier to navigate from one record set to another from their drop down menus and sidebars.
    Their Recently added and updated collections page is here… http://www.ancestry.co.uk/cs/reccol/default?AID=10402952&PID=1793701

    What FMP has to offer is listed here http://www.findmypast.com/articles/world-records?_ga=1.145330429.879297499.1389699649&__utma=149918113.2138184966.1392201378.1392201379.1392201379.1&__utmb=149918113.121.9.1392205743445&__utmc=149918113&__utmx=-&__utmz=149918113.1392201379.1.1.utmcsr=%28direct%29|utmccn=%28direct%29|utmcmd=%28none%29&__utmv=-&__utmk=215177751

    Their Cheshire Collection is here… http://www.findmypast.co.uk/articles/world-records/search-all-uk-records/special-collections/the-cheshire-collection where you’ll find several other collections on the left hand menu. I found it helpful to bookmark this page so I could search much more easily between record sets. As I say, FMP can be much less easy to navigate than Ancestry.

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