Your chance to trace past family members on the web

Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library Picture: Malcolm Wells
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Finding out about family history is something that has intrigued people for years.

Discovering where your great-great grandparents were born, where your great-uncle and aunt lived and when your relatives first moved to your home city fascinates those who go digging for their past.

And now, thanks to Portsmouth City Council and family history website Findmypast, learning about ancestry is something anyone in the city can do.

The two organisations have teamed up to put millions of records from the Portsmouth History Centre online and readily available at the Central Library.

Tucked away on the second floor of the building, off Guildhall Square, are baptism records, marriage certificates, death certificates and even Creed records of workhouses in the city.

Residents can now delve deep into their family background as far back as 1538, and up until 1917, for free using the Findmypast website on the Central Library computers.

And the 1.5m records are just the start of the project which will continue to grow as additional Portsmouth records including electoral rolls, rate books, crew lists and First World War military exemption records are added.

Cllr Linda Symes, cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport at Portsmouth City Council, says: ‘These records being online will give anyone tracing their family history a valuable insight into the lives of any of their ancestors from the city.

‘The future inclusion of the crew lists to the collection is exciting too as they’ll provide an insightful puzzle piece for many people’s family trees.’

As well as people tracing their own ancestry, the online archive also shines a light on a number of historical figures from Charles Dickens to Cassandra Austen – the niece of author Jane Austen.

The archives can also be used to explore the social aspects of the city over the last 500 years.

John Steadman, from Portsmouth History Centre, said looking at the baptism, marriage and death 
certificates can reveal a lot about society at the time and the way people were living.

He said the archives could show the difference in ages people decided to get married, how many children people 
in that century were having and the ages at which people died.

‘They are a rich source of information,’ John says.

‘The archives can reveal so much about a time period and the people living in the city at that time.

‘It can show people if their family ever had to enter a workhouse, the type of house they lived in and what religion they were, using the parish records.

‘It is also interesting to trace famous, historical figures to Portsmouth.’

John adds: ‘It is great to see the partnership between Portsmouth City Council 
and Findmypast to allow people to discover their ancestors.

‘Any resident can come to the centre, log onto our computers and search for free.

‘There will be staff available to help too for those using it for the first time.’

Family history drop-in sessions are being held at Central Library every Monday between 2.15pm and 4.15pm in the IT Suite.

During these sessions, experienced staff will be able to help and people can use both the Ancestry and Findmypast websites.

Paul Nixon, content licensing manager at Findmypast, says: ‘The Romans were arguably the first to recognise Portsmouth’s strategic importance.

‘We very much look forward to sharing our discoveries with a worldwide audience as we bring these important records to life.’