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Using CD-ROM Databases and the Internet To Research England from Afar
by Ron Arons

In July 2001, the annual IAJGS international conference on Jewish genealogy will be held in London, England. One way for attendees to maximize time available for onsite research is to do as much advance work as possible. In fewer than six months, by using various Internet sites and PC-based databases, I recently traced ancestors through six English cities (London, Hanley, Brighton, Plymouth, Sheffield, and Manchester) between 1873 and 1910, and then located relatives living today in England and the U.S. What follows is a description of resources I used.

United Kingdom Census on CD-ROM
During this past year, the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library has put the complete 1881 census of the United Kingdom on CD-ROM. Available from any LDS Family History Center, this set of 24 compact disks allows a researcher to find relatives quickly, simply by typing their names. The index CD directs genealogists to the specific CD on which to find transcriptions of actual census records.

When I used the database, I typed in Isaac Spier, the name of a great-grandfather. Three possibilities emerged, two whose names were spelled exactly "Isaac Spier" and one with the name "Isaac Spier
s." I would have dismissed the latter, except that the accompanying information about him more closely matched what I knew about my great-grandfather than did the other two citations. The soundex system used in this database differs from both the Daitch-Mokotoff soundex and the one used at the U.S. National Archives. In the latter two systems, Spier and Spiers would have different codes. In the soundex system used by the Family History Library, Spier and Spiers appear together.

By using this CD-ROM database, not only did I determine that my great-grandfather was born in London, but I also learned the names of his parents and siblings. This was a wonderful find, for my great-grandfather apparently had lied repeatedly about his birth place. On various documents, he had written that he was born in New York; Pennsylvania; London; and Hanley, Staffordshire, England. (Note: The CD-ROM provides a complete transcription of the information on the actual census. I always like to get a copy of the original record, however, just to assure there is no error in the transcription.)

For those whose relatives lived in England in 1881, this CD-ROM is an absolute must-use (if not must-own) piece of software. At only $33, it is a true bargain.

Those with only one or two relatives in these censuses may want to find someone who is willing to do a free lookup. See "Free Lookup Services" below. The 1851 U.K. Census, also in CD-ROM format, is available from the LDS Family History Library for only $5. To order either CD-ROM, call (800) 537-5950.

Introduction to English Genealogy
Several guides and web sites that link to other web sites introduce researchers to English genealogy and available records. Following are some of the best:

Family Finders
One of the best ways to begin a search for relatives in England is to use one or more of the many existing Family Finders available. Among the best are:

  • The JewishGen Family Finder does not require a specific surname. Researchers interested in a specific locality can leave the surname field blank and only enter a name in the town field. Using this technique, I found Rebecca Quest and her excellent web site on Sheffield genealogy (see below under the topic "Special Sites").
  • is a keyword index of hundreds of discussion groups; the JewishGen discussion group is one. Type the keyword you are researching; will search all bulletin boards (discussion archives) covering a wide range of topics from computers to health to car repair. Narrow the search by filling in the "forum" field. Entering soc.genealogy.jewish in the forum field will essentially re-create the JewishGen discussion archives. If instead you type soc.genealogy.surnames in the forum field, this will generate the postings of all people (Jewish or not) researching a particular surname. A search can be limited to Britain alone by typing in soc.genealogy.Britain in the forum field. You can extend the number of postings searched by filling in the forum field with soc.genealogy.* The asterisk simply means a search will be done of all genealogy discussion groups messages. To research any keyword in any or all bulletin board(s), leave the forum field blank.
  •, website of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Great Britain, lists both surnames being researched by society members and also notes which members have submitted family trees to the society. Even a non-member can contact individuals on these two lists.

While not a true family finder, the Manchester Jewish Telegraph, found at, has a Roots Directory page in which genealogists may place a free advertisement for both the hard copy and online versions of the paper. Contact the newspaper at I placed an advertisement about my great-great-grandfather Abraham Spier and, ten days later, received an e-mail from a cousin in London whom I previously had not known. She, in turn, introduced me to other cousins living in the United States.

Births, Marriages, and Deaths
English civil registrations (i.e. registration of births, marriages and deaths) still must be researched manually, a time-consuming task, but the LDS microfilm and microfiche numbers for each of the respective civil registration lists can be found on the web. Go to the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library online catalog at:, click on "Place Search," type in "England," and look for "England-civil registration-indexes."

The LDS Family History Library has many Jewish vital records from England. I used the Jewish marriage register for Kemp Town (Brighton) for the years 1837-1913. This can be found in the FHL Catalog by clicking on "Place Search," typing "Brighton," and looking at "Jewish Records."

An index of births, marriages, and deaths, published in the
Jewish Chronicle for the years up to 1869, is found at, for the years 1880-89 at, and for the years 1890-95 at Also available is an index to death announcements in the Jewish Chronicle for 1995-98. Lists can be downloaded, one for each year, from the JGSGB website at

Also available for downloading at this site are files with lists of Jews buried in cemeteries in Sheffield and Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

The Susser Archives in Exeter, web site, has extensive information primarily on Devonshire and Cornwall Jewry, but also some data about London Jews. Information available is Exeter marriages; Plymouth births, marriages, and census data; as well as tombstone transcriptions for many towns in Devonshire and Cornwall (see more details below).

How to apply for birth, marriage, or death records from the Office of National Statistics via e-mail is explained at

For information about cemeteries throughout England, see the IAJGS Cemetery Project at This site does not provide data directly, but has lengthy lists of which cemeteries have been documented. A CD with the data that has been transcribed to date is available for purchase from IAJGS. For details, see

Current Telephone Directories
The British Telecom White Pages Telephone Directory, web site, is excellent for finding living relatives; I used it successfully to locate a few of my own cousins. Because you must type in the name of a city or county, however, you need at least a general idea of where a person lives. The AskAlex web site at is a directory for U.K. businesses.

Modern interactive, online maps of Britain can be found at and

Modern-day U.K. maps, including an outline of the entire country by itself, an outline of the entire country with counties delineated, and very rough city maps, can be downloaded and freely reproduced at

Current hardcopy maps for sale can be found at

A few historical maps are free online. Among them are Plymouth; Birmingham and London Any U.K. "ordnance" maps more than 50 years old may be reproduced.

Old Printed Maps for Sale
From looking at a current map of Brighton, I learned that the street on which my family had lived no longer exists. From one of the vendors below, I obtained an 1881 map of Brighton, the same year as the U.K. census in which I found my family living there. The map displays the synagogue on Middle Street where my great-great-grandfather worked. Lastly, I found similar maps for Plymouth, Hanley, and Sheffield for the exact time periods during which my family lived in these towns. See:, and

Local Government Web Sites
Find local government web sites at Alternatively, go to or type town name or county name of interest and government into a favorite search engine.

The London
Jewish Chronicle is available at Using the site's search facility, I found articles written about the recent status of both the Sheffield and Plymouth Jewish communities. Use the search facility to see if anyone with the surname you are researching is mentioned in any article.

Other potentially useful newspapers are
Manchester Jewish Telegraph, The London Times, and Manchester Evening News A list of other English newspapers online can be found at

Online Bookstores
To learn more about England in general, or a specific city, search both new and used books at various online bookstores such as (new and used books); (new and used books); (out-of-print and used books); and (out-of-print and used books)

At, one of the latter websites, I found two books with pictures of Brighton in the 1930s and 1940s. Books about a particular town can sometimes be found at a newspaper website, such as

U.S.-Based Libraries
The Internet now includes online catalogs of many libraries with English genealogical holdings.

Free Lookup Services, Local History Libraries and Local Family History Societies
Sometimes others are willing to do some work for you. See England Lookup Exchange This includes lookups in various British censuses and city directories and is free for the asking.

A list of local studies libraries can be found through or Familia, family history resources available in British libraries, at By using the information at genuki, I contacted both the Sheffield Library and the Stoke-on-Trent library. Both responded to e-mail requests for information about my family.

Family history groups and societies can be found through I contacted the head of the Brighton and Hove special interest group, a part of the non-sectarian Sussex family history group, who told me that my great-great-grandfather Abraham Spier was listed in the 1895 Pages Directory for Brighton as the Second Reader for the synagogue on Middle Street, but not listed in the 1875, 1876, or 1888 directories. This information helped me determine the years that my family lived in Brighton.

Genealogists for Hire
Since hiring a genealogist can be expensive, I relied on one only after I did considerable research myself. The Internet can be used to find a British genealogist for hire (see The Society of Genealogists at For the Manchester area, use I hired Rosalyn Livshin, who lives in Manchester. I contacted Ros via e-mail, and, in fewer than 24 hours, she found everything I was seeking--probate records and an article about my great-great-grandfather--in a local Manchester newspaper.

Special Sites
I used most of these sites in researching and documenting my family:

Ron Arons is a financial consultant living in Northern California. He has traced his roots to Belarus, Romania, Ukraine, Lithuania, England, and Poland. He has also given lectures on Jewish genealogy in the Bay Area.

You can read this article, and dozens more if you subscribe to Avotaynu, The International Review of Jewish Genealogy