British Library and findmypast.co.uk to digitise 5 million pages of family history records

Findmypast (sponsors of the Society of Genealogists’ centenary year and host of some 9 million names from the SoG online Library Collections)  have had a busy time recently. The Society has received the following update of new ventures and online family history records relating to the British in India.

Selections from the India Office Records and a century of electoral registers will be made online

The British Library and family history website www.findmypast.co.uk are to digitise a treasure trove of family history resources held by the Library, making them available online and fully searchable for the first time.

The project will involve the scanning of UK electoral registers covering the century that followed the Reform Act of 1832, along with records of baptisms, marriages and burials drawn from the archives of the India Office. When available online, these collections will enable historians, genealogists and family history researchers to make connections and track down details of ancestors and others at the click of a mouse – work that would previously have necessitated visits to the Library’s Reading Rooms and many hours of laborious manual searching.

The British Library holds the national collection of electoral registers covering the whole of the United Kingdom.  The registers contain a vast range of names, addresses and other genealogical information.
“Digitisation of the electoral registers will transform the work of people wishing to use them for family history research,” said Jennie Grimshaw, the Library’s curator for Social Policy and Official Publications. “Printed 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 they’re looking for.”  
The other holdings included in the large-scale digitisation are drawn from the archives of the East India Company and the India Office. These records relate to Britons living and working in the Indian sub-continent during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to Independence in 1948. They include over 1,000 volumes of ecclesiastical returns 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, “These records are an outstanding resource for researchers whose ancestors had connections with British India, whether as servants of the administration or as private inhabitants.”
The partnership between the British Library and findmypast.co.uk followed a competitive tender process and will 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 Library’s Reading Rooms from early 2012; online access will be available to findmypast.co.uk subscribers and pay-as-you-go customers – access to users in the British Library Reading Rooms will be free.

Simon Bell, the British Library’s Head of Licensing and Product Development, said: “We 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.”

Elaine Collins, Commercial Director at findmypast.co.uk, said: “We’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.”

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