Ruscoe Chronicles – vol. 05/1

February 2005

This article was written for the Bedfordshire Family History Society (March 2005) but is illustrated by references to the Ruscoe family. It will probably be of interest to Ruscoe researchers, especially if they are looking for information on the Web. If you do not belong to your own Family History Society, or those where your ancestors lived (Shropshire, Cheshire etc.) I can recommend that it is helpful and extremely good value for money at around £10 a year. For this you get four quarterly journals, access to published booklets and CDs of local records or information, and also if you live locally, to monthly meetings with interesting speakers and a lending library. You will find that they mostly have websites, or start at GENUKI (see reference 3) or (the Federation site) which should point you at local societies. Some of us have copies of some of the Shropshire CDs – the Burials (I have just sent for version 3) and Quarter Sessions records index; also the Cheshire Marriage Index (of Bertram Merrell) and the National Burials Index (version 2). If anyone has queries that these might answer please contact me (George) or Gerald who has some. A request to the Ruscoe group would probably be best. Now read on:


Getting Started Via The Web

At this time of the year the Society usually experiences an influx of new members, joining for the new calendar year. The recent BBC series “Who do you think you are?” and the open days run by BBC local radio and family history societies have increased the interest in family history research, and there has been a reported increase in attendance at record offices and the Family Records Centre. So we expect there will be a number of new members who are reading this for the first time. Existing members may feel that they have heard some of it before.

Now that there is so much information available on the Internet and on CD it can be a bit baffling – at our January meeting a couple, who had visited our enquiry desk at one of the events mentioned above, had come to find out “where to start”. They had already looked at the Web and paid to use some of the sites. But what is the cheapest and most reliable way to start? Another trend reported by the record offices is that they have less visitors, more remote enquiries (by letter or email) and that these are more specific – people have looked up indexes on the Internet and now want to verify details.

So how can we help? If you have had the opportunity to visit the Record Office in Bedford recently you may have seen their leaflet “Useful Websites for Researchers and Family Historians”. It makes the useful distinction of separating Free and Payable websites, and this seems something worth passing on. In fact we can take the distinction a little further by distinguishing between “Pay per View” sites – where usually the index is searched at no cost, but a charge is made for the details or for an image of an original document – and on the other hand “Subscription” sites where an annual fee is charged and this covers access to all information on the site. Then again there are data CDs available for purchase, which may be cheaper than making many separate paying enquiries; although the cost of these mounts up, and the single subscription may give access to much more information overall.

So a survey of the most useful sites in each category may help you get started. And before that we should perhaps look at the various kinds of data available.

Primary Sources

What is it that we are trying to do in our family history research? Genealogy consists in identifying the vital statistics of our ancestors (Birth, Marriage and Death dates and places together with any other details) and in turn finding their parents so that we may repeat the process. Sometimes, as where an old person dies without making a will, it is necessary also to trace the descendents of their family, so that their estate may be fairly divided. Where, say, a brother is deceased, then their portion must be split amongst their children.

But this is genealogy for lawyers and dry academics! Family History is far more than names and dates – we want to know who these people were: what was their education, military service, occupation; what did they look like and where did they live? And indeed it is often the sources of this information that throws light on the missing link to their relations, and enables us to complete another section of the jigsaw puzzle.

And in order to find these details, we need documentary evidence. This may be a marriage certificate, an entry in a parish register, details from a census return, an obituary in a newspaper, the inscription on a gravestone or a photograph of a wedding with a date written on the reverse. The original documents are our primary sources. If we wish to consult a parish register, then a printed transcription (with index) will help us greatly to find the entry and read the details. But this is a secondary source – we all know how easy it is to makes mistakes in copying and in typing. So once we have used this aid, we turn to the original – and that means either the document itself, or a good image of the document which may be a copy on microfiche, a photograph or an image scanned into a computer and made available either on a CD or on a website.

Just to emphasise this point, an example was a marriage found in the IGI. This showed: 23 June 1738 John Ruscoe married Mary Barrow at Whitchurch, Shropshire; irrelevant to me, or so I thought. I was interested in the marriage of a John and Elizabeth. Some time later at the Shropshire Record Office, I checked through a typed transcript of the Whitchurch register, and there it was: 23 June 1738 John Ruscoe of Wem married Elizabeth Penlington of Hanmer, Flint; Mary Barrow was the bride in the following entry! The two had been run together. So not only was the index wrong – it also lacked useful information about the home parishes of the couple.

In looking at the websites available we need to know both where we can see “finding aids” in the form of indexes, and where we can see images of the original documents. Then again we cannot always be satisfied with the content of the original source – because it is down in black and white, it is not always true. Even if we can see and clearly read the census enumerator’s returns, he will only have recorded what he was told or what he thought he heard. The quoted ages of the same family in successive censuses at ten year intervals are a good example – they are rarely consistent. The spelling of surnames and places will vary greatly depending on whether the enumerator has heard them before.

My great grandfather was born at Prees in Shropshire; he is recorded in the 1881 census on board HMS Asia in Portsmouth harbour as of “Priest”. Several other persons from the same village who had migrated to Lancashire for work had the same place name recorded – the enumerator wrote down the nearest word to what he heard. And when this sailor ancestor was married he reduced his age from 34 to 27, while his bride of 20 claimed to be 21. So you cannot believe all that you read. The answer to this? Try to find several different pieces of evidence for every event – a census showing the whole family at home will help confirm details gleaned from registration indexes, or parish registers and so on. And a will that names family members will also help greatly.

So where can we get hold of the finding aids, and the original documents? Is it perhaps cheaper to pay a subscription to use a website than to travel to a distant repository to consult the originals?

Free searchable Lists

From 1837 to the present, English and Welsh records of Birth, Marriage and Death have been maintained by the Registrar General. These are recorded by local registrars and their returns are sent in quarterly (notice immediately that this is a copy!). You may consult the registers only by getting a copy certificate, either from the local registrar or the national centre. To help to find the person you want there are indexes; the national ones being held at the Family Records Centre in London. They are held in large and heavy tomes, but fortunately these have been photographed and are available on microfiche in many local libraries, usually in the Local Studies collection.

To allow for searching by computer, these indexes have also been retyped into searchable indexes. The free copies are at FreeBMD – as yet incomplete but making good progress towards the target date of 1910. These are prepared and checked by volunteers – prone to error but probably more reliable than typing done by paid workers, especially if they are overseas and unfamiliar with British names and places. However, bear in mind that they are third hand – the data has been extracted from the certificate, typed (or in the early years written) in the index book, and then retyped on a computer. If you cannot find what you want, it may just be missing or misspelled. 1

You may feel that the original certificate held by the local registrar is more reliable than the copy sent to London – in which case you should consult the index made by the local register office (the national reference is of no use to them). Some local groups are typing these indexes onto computer, and there is a group of these on the Web at UKBMD. 2 This is certainly a valuable site at which to start your search as it contains links to many free sources of data. It also refers you to GENUKI, the UK & Ireland Genealogy website which will provide yet more valuable links. 3

Similar indexes have been prepared for some of the censuses (only 1841-1901 are available to the public at present). There is a project to make these available on FreeCEN – again they are fallible and incomplete but may give you the reference you need to look up the original census image. 4 A similar exercise has been started for Parish Registers (1538 to the present) at FreeREG, but this is in the early stages. 5

A major exercise carried out initially by Family History Societies and other volunteers was the transcription of the 1881 UK Census; this was then typed up and made available by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). It is available free on their Family Search website. 6 This also contains the International Genealogical Index to Parish Registers (Baptisms and Marriages only) – which is very comprehensive but patchy in some areas. There is much international and especially American data of a similar nature.

Free original images

Recently the FreeBMD site has been extended to include images of the index pages. This means that you can verify whether the entry you found on searching is a faithful copy, and perhaps spot nearby entries for the same surname – useful if you cannot find an exact match. Look up the name first, so that you know roughly which image page to look for.

Pay per View sites

The 1837 Online site makes available the General Registration Indexes, and images of the original index pages, for a fee. 7 Similarly the details and images of the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses are now available from the National Archives. 8 Copies of wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are also available from the National Archives at Documents Online. 9 More documents from the National Archives are to be found at National Archivist. 10

The Federation of Family History Societies website, Family History Online, contains a variety of records from member societies: National Burial Index, Census & other indexes according to what is available for their areas. 11

Scottish registration details (from 1850 only) and other records may be found at Scotland’s People 12 and at the Scottish Documents site. 13 These also give paid access to images of original records.

With many of these websites, the index may be searched free of charge – in others you merely see an indication of how many successful matches were made and have to pay for anything more. To avoid giving out-of-date information on such varied sites, may I refer you to the sites for individual costs?

Subscription Sites

A site that I have not tried is the Origins Network. 14 This offers British and Irish records and although it seems to have started as a pay-per-view site, it now seem to offer subscriptions on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. The “Total” membership including all facilities is £34.50 per annum – the cheapest way to sign up. There is a 72 hour membership at £7.50, but they claim to offer a free trial session. However, this is only to search the indexes and be told there are 3 entries of interest, and then you pay to get any details.

Members of the Society of Genealogists should note that they are entitled to a free 72-hour session on Origins each calendar quarter, so it pays to be prepared with a list of queries and to spend a weekend looking them up! This is because many of the sets of records are from the SoG library. A list includes: Marriage Licence Allegations Index - Faculty Office (1701-1850) and Vicar-General (1694-1850); Bank of England Will Extracts Index (1717-1845); London Consistory Court Depositions Index (1700-1713); London Apprenticeship Abstracts (1442-1850); Archdeaconry Court of London Wills Index (1700-1807); Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills Index (1750-1800); Boyd's Marriage Index (1538-1840); Boyd's London Burials Index (1538-1840); England and Wales Census 1871; Militia Attestations Index (1886-1910). Many of these are London biased, but not all. It might be worth paying for a short trial!

The largest of the subscription sites is Ancestry which has links with a number of other providers – advertising itself on FreeBMD for instance. It also has strong links with the Family Tree Maker software. This site is mainly American in origin but has a large British collection of data of all sorts and a dedicated UK website. 15 For about £60 per year you get access to all the relevant data. This includes their version of the 1901 and other Census returns with images and indexes to locate your ancestors.

Some of the UK suppliers of Genealogy software and CDs are now entering this field. S&N Genealogy 16 are providing their own version of the GRO indexes at BMDIndex. 17 You appear to buy 50 credits for £5; or a flat fee of about £15 a year which contains so many credits. This may be an alternative to the pay-per-view approach. They also sell Census data on CD through the British Data Archive site. 18

Also TWR Computing are now offering CDs that provide a link to the Ancestry web site. 19 However, they offer you a 14 day free trial only provided that you give your credit card details. It is up to you to cancel promptly if you do not want to pay the annual fee! They sell a lot of Census images and indexes on CD – but at considerable cost if you want several counties. Perhaps £50 a year to Ancestry is a cheaper option.

If any members have experience of any of these paying sites and can give us the benefit of their comments, we shall be happy to pass them on.

Free background data

Now to return to the free websites, it may be worth looking at some of the background data available. The UKBMD site mentioned above is one of those projects that began with one county and spread to cover much of the country. Originally Cheshire started to type up the local registrar’s indexes, then Lancashire joined in, and like Topsy it “just growed”. A similar experience has befallen the Roll of Honour website, started by our own member Martin Edwards. 20 He began by recording the details from War Memorials in Cambridgeshire and volunteers helped by sending in information and researching the soldiers commemorated. This was then extended to Bedfordshire and as others enquired and offered to help, other counties were added. So popular has the site become that last Autumn the time came to create all the necessary county pages for the United Kingdom and Ireland. The menu system has also been improved to take account of this.

The latest newsletter reports: “Sussex is now heavily represented, Kent is going that way, Lincolnshire, Worcestershire, Yorkshire and Cornwall are moving on and Scotland and Wales have opened up nicely... Another aspect has been the development of the databases on the site. Recent additions were the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment men who died in World War 2 (still incomplete but searchable on the data that is there), the Malaysian Emergency covering the period 1948-1968 (I still have the Malayan Police to add to this) and also the Boer War References database. The latter is now 12,500 entries and growing rapidly as more memorials come in. The data already existing on the site has been 60% included and there are more South African (Boer) war memorials coming in. The Royal Engineers memorial at Chatham, Kent, being the largest to date, has been included in the database.

Members are encouraged to take another look at this site – you may find a relation in any part of the country. And if you are not local to Bedfordshire maybe you can help to fill the gaps in your part of the British Isles. If you want to help, contact the webmaster via the link on the site – there is a template available for entering transcriptions and research results for each person on the memorial.

A prime source of information about soldiers killed in the 20th century is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site. 21 Entering my surname: RUSCOE, which is relatively uncommon, I find a large number of entries – many of which can be placed in known families about the country. Most give place of either birth or residence, and often names of the parents or wife as well as the areas served and killed.

I thought that the Old Bailey records might reveal some criminal relations – alas only two entries and both of those witnesses to crimes. 22 It was however intriguing to read about Daniel Ruscoe on 16 October 1776 in the area of Southampton Row, between Holborn and St Pancras. This was the very area where I worked when in London and every day I walked (or ran) on the same route to and from the train. In 1776 a man walking from St Pancras (the church – there was no station of course) along “the Duke of Bedford’s private road” was set upon by two men and robbed of a watch and a little money. He called out “Stop thief” and Daniel, coming after him, saw a man make off across a field! He secured him and they took him to Sir John Fielding’s where the watch and money were found on the other man who was taken at the same time.

The Duke’s Estates still include a great deal of this area and give the family names to Bedford, Russell and Tavistock Squares. But it is hard now to envisage any fields in this district! Incidentally the adjoining area to the southeast was property belonging to the Bedford Charity, or Harper Trust, set up by Sir William Harper, one time Lord Mayor of London, for the care and education of the children of Bedford, so the county has strong links here.

However, my interest was that there were two members of my extended family in London in 1748 and 1776. Where, I wonder did they come from? I knew that most of my ancestors seem to come from Cheshire, Shropshire and surrounding counties of England and Wales, although they crop up in small groups in other parts of the country. One of the earlier ones left a will in 1598 and he lived in Somerset – very odd. This came from Documents Online. 9

But the greatest surprise was the results of a search of the Access to Archives website. 23 This is a combined effort of all the archive repositories in the country to make their catalogues available online. We have mentioned it before in the journal, but was it of any real interest? A simple search for one word (a surname or topic) throws up a list of collections that contain references. Basically the structure of the information is that each repository (record office) has a catalogue; each catalogue contains collections such as estate papers or old solicitors records that have been deposited; each collection then contains a synopsis of each item (notebook, accounts, letters etc).

This might sound like a dry list of names and dates – but far from it. Some authorities (and Bedfordshire is good in this respect) have a detailed abstract of each document giving names and dates of those involved, and the nature of the matters covered.

The first search for an exact match on “Ruscoe” provided 33 matches; each one a collection with varying numbers if “hits”. The first (most numerous) was from Cheshire archives – 69 hits in Box B of the deposited papers of the Cholmondeley family, marquesses of Cholmondeley in south Cheshire (pronounced Chumley). This is one of the 24 “townships” within the large border parish of Malpas to which I had traced my earliest ancestors so far. Box B refers to the townships of Bickley, where these early ancestors lived, and Norbury in the adjoining parish of Marbury – so confirming my hunch that this was their “home area”. There were other (less than 5) hits in the other boxes and several other Cheshire collections (estate and solicitors’ papers). Then there were the expected entries from Shropshire, but others from all over the country. An entry from an Oxfordshire estate related to property in Shropshire. Records of the Sun Fire Office (Guildhall Library, London) revealed a number of Ruscoe’s living in London in the 1820s. Descendents of Daniel, perhaps?

Most of the searchable websites allow for an exact search, or offer more flexibility by the use of “wildcards”; where “?” stands for any single letter and “*” for any number of letters. For example, I have searched for “R?sco*” which throws up variations like Roscow, Risco and so on. Using this approach on the A2A site increased the number of collections to 608, the Roscoe manuscripts in Buckinghamshire offering 165 hits – I have not studied these yet! To date the most interesting have been the records from Cheshire, which each give a detailed synopsis of the document.

Most of the local land belonged to the Estate, but various members of the family rented land, farms, houses or mills where they lived and made their livelihood. The records run from 1679 through to 1750, with one earlier entry in 1659. Some family relationships are stated: a 1679 lease to David Ruscoe of Norbury, wheelwright for the lives of his wife Sarah and his sons Thomas and David. In 1705 a David Ruscoe was renting a water-mill and a windmill previously held by Thomas Ruscoe could these be the sons?

Of course, there is the odd offender - “1742, 26 April: Order to the Constables of Macefen... to arrest John Ruscoe of Macefen for deserting his wife and family in Cholmondeley whereby they have become chargeable to that Township.” There is no evidence (at present) that he is one on my ancestors! However, you never know what you might find.

I tried a similar exercise for the Bedfordshire name of Tebbutt, and found a similar spread of results from about the country, but many in the expected areas of Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and to the north. But quite a notable family in Manchester about which you could glean a good deal just from these summary records.

So my recommendation would be to have a look at Access to Archives – it may point you at a record office to visit in search of more background details about your family. And now the websites:

Free websites


Pay per view




Free searchable data – with brief descriptive information


George Ruscoe
Projects Coordinator