1837online vs FamilyRelatives.org

I have been using 1837online to search the BMD indexes for ancestors. However, there are some aspects of the service that are irritating, so I recently tried the new FamilyRelatives service. How do they compare ?


1837online provides digitized images of the GRO index pages. These are digtized to "1-bit" images, which means each pixel is either black or white, somewhat like cheap fax pages. This can mean that the information is difficult to read. Although there is a means to notify 1837online in such circumstances, it will at least lead to some delay in getting the information.

The search capability is limited. Originally, pages were identified down to the first listed and last listed surname on the whole page, which meant that for common surnames you might need to view several pages, especially if you had no given name to narrow the search. More recently the pages are now indexed to start and end surname and respective given names, which can reduce the pages to view significantly. However, a speculative search of, say, a 10 year period can still involve 40 page views. The exact cost varies per view, depending on how many units you buy "in bulk", but varies between 10p and 5p per view. Since I typically buy blocks of £25, I am paying about 8p a view.

One thing that really irritates me about 1837online is that the purchased units have an expiry date, a bit like some "pay as you go" mobile phone plans. This is probably necessary to make the economics of operating the system work, but it hurts when you lose £20 worth of units because you had to do other things than genealogy research for a couple of months.

Buying more units extends the expiry date of all existing units (although I think this may have been introduced recently). Expiring units is a way to avoid having a system clogged up with registered but inactive users, but also serves to encourage additional usage.


So, on to FamilyRelatives. This website claims several advantages, including full indexing over much of the available date range, with partial (name only) indexing over the remainder, and high quality greyscale images of the index pages of interest. This means that the GRO data has been fully transcribed (for the completed data ranges), extracting and making searchable all the information included in the original GRO data - quite some feat!

It operates a similar payments model to 1837online, you bulk buy "units" which are then consumed by certain activities. In the case of FamilyRelatives, searches consume units as well as page views. Since the indexing must have been pretty expensive to arrange, and is one of the advantages of this service, compared to 1837online, or visiting your local family history centre, this seems reasonable.

Unit cost is more expensive than 1837online. Costs vary according to the date region being accessed:

1866-1920, 1984-2002 Transcribed search results (25 entries/page) 2 units
1866-1920 image view (grayscale) 4 units
1921-1983 non-transcribed search results FREE
1921-1983 image view 2 units.

The searching seems to be very powerful, especially in the fully transcribed date range, where the search can be constrained to a set of registration districts, either by individual selection or from a map region. This makes speculative searches, such as looking for births of children that died in childhood and didn't make it to a census, much easier.

I did experience a few glitches. When returning from the districts page when defining the search, the age box would be automatically filled with a 0. This had me rather stumped until I realised you just delete the '0' to exclude age as a criteria. I also found that district selection was sometimes sticky and sometimes not, depending on how you returned to the search definition page. Since you can see the number of search hits before you pay to view them, it is easy to go back and narrow your search.

Similarly to the National Archives 1901 Census online, the transcription has been automatically performed, so some degree of mistranscription can be expected. The searches include wildcard features, so the effect of this can be reduced.

The image quality of the original GRO index pages, should you need to confirm the transcription, are digitized to a grayscale, similar to many of the online census images. This can make deciphering the indexes, especially the pre-typewriter era, much easier.

In the partially transcribed date range, the search capability appears to only match that of 1837online, returning a list of pages to view based on the first and last surnames on the page. Since the page view then costs 2 units, it is twice as expensive as 1837online - with the advantage of the more readable grayscale image. You will have to sample both to determine is the extra is worth it, especially as records in this period tends to be typewritten.

I have found FamilyRelatives to be a great addition to the research armoury, especially if travel to a family history centre is inconvenient. The great benefit is the powerful search tool, but the images are substantially better than 1837online. Although it is more expensive, I feel the service justifies the pricing. Using judicious combination with other websites can help contain these costs.

Comparison of Costs:

45 day plan (50 units @ 10 pence) £5.00
60 day plan (111 units @ 9 pence) £10.00
90 day plan (176 units @ 8.5 pence) £15.00
120 day plan (313 units @ 8 pence) £25.00
365 day plan (810 units @ 7.5 pence) £60.00
365 day plan (2400 units @ 5 pence) £120.00

Searches are free (but are not indexed to individuals, just to pages) All page views cost 1 unit.

Units Cost Valid
60 £6.00 30 days (10p/unit)
100 £10.00 30 days (10p/unit)
160 £15.00 30 days (9.3p/unit)
270 £25.00 60 days (9.3p/unit)
640 £50.00 60 days (7.8p/unit)
1200 £100.00 90 days (8.3p/unit)

Lizardtech DJVU Plugin
Both sites use the LizardtechDJVU plugin, which does not auto-install with the Firefox browser. To install DJVU, download the full installer, close all instances of Firefox, then run the installer.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by David published on February 2, 2005 10:30 PM.

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