A new web site in the British Isles offers online books and documents, many of which will be of interest to genealogists. The Original Record web site includes 2,500 historical books and documents containing more than 10 million entries relating to families in the British Isles and colonies. The interesting thing is that all this data has been hand-indexed by U.K. nationals who speak English as their native language. The indexes have not been computer generated by OCR (optical character recognition), nor are they generated "offshore" by people unfamiliar with British surnames and places in the manner that many other web sites use.
Searching the indexes on The Original Record is free of charge. You can easily find records containing the names that you seek. However, to view the scanned image of the original document, you must pay a fee ranging from £2.00 to £10.00 per page (roughly $3.50 to $17.35 in U.S. funds). If you spend over £50, the site will deduct 10% from the bill. Spend more than £100, and the deduction becomes 15%.
I used the site for a bit this week and found it to be easy to navigate. I was surprised that you can only search by surnames; there is no place to enter first names (forenames) or place names in the search criteria. Those of you with Smith or Jones ancestry are in for a tough time! You can narrow the search by a range of years, such as "all the Smiths between 1775 and 1800."
I first did a search for my own surname and found many available entries. Most of them seem to be court records relating to insolvencies (bankruptcies). Well, that sure sounds like my family! Actually, insolvency notices often caused people to restart their lives elsewhere, so these are an important source for lost links. In many cases of immigrant ancestors in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa, the only record of an ancestor back in "the old country" may be an insolvency action.
Other records that I found included House of Lords proceedings, death notices, marriage notices, civil and military promotions, clerical preferments, domestic occurrences, dissolution of partnerships, and more.
Until the 19th century, spelling of surnames was variable; therefore, you need to check possible variants when searching for a name. To help you do this, this site has two search facilities: the wildcard asterisk (*), representing any or no letter; and the wildcard question mark (?), representing a single letter. Using these carefully can help you to track down variant spellings without having to sift through many irrelevant entries. For instance, if you were searching for Birch, and knew that it was often spelt Burch, you might try B?rch. But if you wanted all manner of Birchall variants, B?rch*l would be better.
The web site has excellent online help files explaining how to conduct searches. However, I could not find a listing of available record groups nor any details about the pricing, such as "is it prepay?" Such inconsistencies are common with new sites, and I suspect that will change rather soon.
For more information about The Original Record or to try it yourself, go to http://www.theoriginalrecord.com