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BT puts old phone books online

Burial records from 1538 available too...

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BT is putting its entire archive of old phone books online for genealogists, or anyone else, to browse, and a commercial genealogy company is opening up access to all UK burial records since 1538.

The phone books date back to 1880 and contain 280 million names. They can be used to track down relatives, but you can also use the service to find out if your house has ever had any famous, or infamous, residents.

The first phone book contained 248 names but no numbers - callers were expected to call the operator to get connected.

Early editions also included advice on using the phone and phone etiquette: "Answer promptly and announce your identity at once upon receiving a call." The phone book to cover the whole country was published in 1896 and had 81,000 numbers.

The first telephone exchange was in the City of London and had seven subscribers. Within a year this had rocketed to 6,000.

All books before BT's privatisation are public records. The service is available through ancestry.co.uk.

If 1880 is too recent a period for your searches, another genealogy site has today opened up access to all UK burial records dating back to 1538 - the year that Henry VIII was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

A spokeswoman for findmypast.com said: "Previously, we had records from the central births, marriages, and deaths register which dates back to 1837. Before that it was done parish by parish and those are what we are transcribing."

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