Free offsite access to Ancestry for members of Blackpool libraries

Great news for family history researchers in Blackpool with an offer of free access to Ancestry at home whilst our libraries are closed.

If you are missing the free access in our libraries or have a bit more time on your hands during lockdown this is a great opportunity to renew or begin your family history project. 

Ancestry provides masses of information and copies of original documents from the UK, America and around the globe. You can find your family members in census records; travel documents military records; indexes of births, deaths and marriages, parish records and a range of other resources.

The amount of information on Ancestry can be a little overwhelming but, for many people, the ‘UK Census Collection’ can be the most revealing source and something that can often produce results very quickly. As they become available 100 years after they take place the censuses are available from 1841 -1911 with the 1921 census due to appear in 2022. The value of censuses is that whole households are revealed so you are provided with details of family relationships along with information about servants, visitors, and lodgers.

A useful and later similar source is the ‘1939 England and Wales Register’, taken at the start of the war with the initial purpose of providing identity cards.

Man in flat cap playing a banjo ukulele
George Formby entertaining troops in France, 1940

As a quick example, we carried out a search for the famous Lancashire film, comedy and theatre star George Formby.

He appeared many times in Blackpool and was, as we know, very taken with Blackpool Rock! He was born George Hoy Booth in Wigan in 1904 - ‘Hoy’ was his mother’s surname. George Booth is obviously a common name but with the addition of ‘Hoy’ it makes it quite unusual and so much easier for searching.Figure 1

Searching the census records, he can be quickly found in the 1911 Census living in his birthplace of Wigan with his grandmother Louisa Hoy and other members of the extended family. The record on Ancestry has his name mis-recorded as ‘George Hoy Book’, but a correction was made so that the search for ‘Booth’ will also find it.

This happens quite a lot and errors can be made at various points. In this case the error was made by whoever transcribed the original record and misread ‘Booth’. Given the vagaries of handwriting, such errors are not surprising.

Further back in time, there can also be mistakes linked to the fact that householders would probably have been illiterate, and census enumerators may have had to guess the spelling for a surname.Once you find a record on Ancestry you will often get a list of ‘Suggested Records’ on the right-hand side of the screen. These can be really helpful but just be sure to check that the person you’re looking at is the actual person you want and not someone with the same name born around the same time. One of the suggested records for George is a correct one for the 1939 Register.

It shows him with his formidable wife Beryl as a ‘Music Hall Artist’ living at their house ‘Beryldene’ on Mains Lane near Thornton. It looks like this was the standard name George and Beryl gave to their houses - they moved to the ‘Beryldene’ with the blue plaque on Clifton Drive South in St Anne’s in 1953.Other suggested records include one from the National Probate Calendar which shows that he died at St Joseph’s Hospital in 1961 in Preston and his estate was worth over £135,000 – a substantial sum of money at the time. There are also several passenger lists, one of which shows him returning from New York to Liverpool the year before his death in 1960. Interestingly, even then he is still referred to as a ‘Music Hall Artist’ rather than ‘Film Actor’.

So, there’s plenty to get your teeth into with the resources on Ancestry. Just a final couple of handy hints:

  • Always make a note of the sources of the information and have a look at the descriptions provided by Ancestry. They will tell you where the information and documents come from and also if the records are complete or, as in the case of the British Army WWI Pension Records, if any have been lost or damaged.
  • You can save any documents to your computer or other storage area and there is also the option to send the records to your own email address.

You will then get an emailed link to ‘View your discoveries’. It is always worth doing this to get a continuing list of the records that you have saved.

Good luck with your searching!