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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree Christmas 2017 > Free document-rich websites

Free document-rich websites

Emma Jolly explores the net for free websites offering wonderfully rich collections of original family history documents and photographs. Could you find your ancestors among them?



Be inspired by the collections of digitized family papers – wills, letters, manuscripts and more – on

Most family historians today are regular users of the internet. We use free and subscription databases to trace births, marriages, and deaths, as well as to plot our families’ residences through censuses, electoral rolls and so on.

Beyond the well-known databases, however, are those private or lesser-known websites, created by individuals or groups to share personal family history memorabilia.

Despite often being small, these sites can offer a wealth of documents, such as letters, photographs and diary entries. Usually, they have the added bonus of being free. Where these feature an ancestor or place that we are researching, these sites can be like gold to family historians. Below, I highlight some of the most interesting that have caught my eye or been recommended to me by other researchers.

1 The King’s Candlesticks Recently I was contacted by a regular Family Tree reader, Edward Fenn, to tell me about his personal family history site. This contains dozens of personal family letters and other data, which, Edward explains, is like, ‘opening a window to the minds and way of life of the writers’. Edward’s 3x greatgrandmother is one example, with 30 letters on her file at– and more to be transcribed. Another section at features the surviving letters of Maria Downing (born 25 June 1774 in Ovington, East Tilbury, ESS, daughter of Rev Geo Downing Prebend of Ely and Catherine Chambers; married 1805 Rev Francis F Knottesford of Alveston, Warwickshire; died 1852 Stoke by Nayland, Suffolk). Maria’s husband, Rev Francis Knottesford, was a wellknown Anglo-Catholic.

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About Family Tree

Welcome to the Christmas issue of Family Tree – we’ve got festive family history treats galore in store for you. Dive into our delicious feast of digitised documents – rare historic collections for you to enjoy browsing and researching on your device. Enjoy some genealogy jollies: a family history crossword, quiz and memories of Christmas traditions from centuries past. And last but not least, this issue sees the launch of the Family Tree Academy – this is your opportunity to hone your family history skills. In part 1, this issue, we’ve got documents for you to decipher, old handwriting for you to transcribe and a research case study for you to pit your wits against. Join in with our learning experience today to become a better family historian!