Sources of Genealogy Information at 25 Jan 2023 (in no particular order!)
Civil registration records for England and Wales can be found right here. Their archives date back to 1837 and include births, marriages and deaths. Start your search by locating the index from your record. Be sure to note that records were recorded quarterly and dates will be approximate – so be loose with date ranges when searching. Special features of the GRO are adoption records and the “Abandoned Children” and “Thomas Coram” registers. NB – this is the main place to buy certificates, generally anywhere else will charge more apart from the local Register Office.
With 195 family research guides available, the sky’s the limit. The most popular guides include Census Records, the 1939 Register, and Wills from 1384-1858. Yes, you read that correctly -1384! Lesser-known records include Insolvency, British Army Nurses, British Army War Diaries from 1914 to 1922, and Manorial Documents and Lordships. This site is so comprehensive and diverse, you may wish to set aside an entire day just to browse before committing yourself to specific research.
Free UK Genealogy is the umbrella organization that oversees FreeBMD, FreeREG and FreeCEN. It was developed as a Charitable Incorporated Organization with a belief in free public access databases and the organization has been actively transcribing documents for over 19 years. FreeBMD includes 270 million vital records like birth, marriage and death. FreeREG includes 43 million parish records, while FreeCEN focuses on census records from 1841 to 1891. This is such a remarkable resource for both England and Wales.
The British government has taken censuses every 10 years since 1801, except for 1941. The 1841 census was the first to list every person by name and the 1911 census is the most recent open to the public. (See 4. FMP below for the 1921 census) Starting in 1851, the census lists each person’s parish of birth. That’s helpful for locating the origins of people born before civil registration began in 1837. UK Census Online volunteers have transcribed more than 32 million names in the census records of England, Scotland and Wales from 1841 to 1891.
3.2 FreeBMD: – www.freebmd.org.uk (free)
FreeBMD is an ongoing project, the aim of which is to transcribe the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and to provide free Internet access to the transcribed records. It is a part of the Free UK Genealogy family, which also includes FreeCEN (Census data) and FreeREG (Parish Registers). The recording of births, marriages and deaths was started in 1837 and is one of the most significant resources for genealogical research. The transcribing of the records is carried out by teams of dedicated volunteers and contains index information for the period 1837-1997, BUT THEY HAVE NOT YET TRANSCRIBED THE WHOLE PERIOD and the website shows available years.
Find My Past offers over two billion records from the UK, Canada and the US. It is a wonderful resource for census, church and immigration, newspapers and vital records. Imagine locating an image of your ancestor’s baptism, written in Latin! You can find those records right here, many without a subscription. Some records unique to FMP include 1921 Census, Workhouse and Poor Law Books, Poverty Relief Loans, Police Registers, and even Dog License Registers, which practically every farmer submitted.
A global search from the home page covers most resources on the site, but it’s well worth checking individual collections, some of which aren’t indexed. Click on Search > All Collections, scroll down to Explore by Location, and select UK & Ireland. Be sure to browse what’s available for individual counties. Notable collections include an index to wills and administrations in England and Wales from 1858 to 1966, British phone books from 1880 to 1984, incoming passenger lists from 1878 to 1960 and outward passenger lists from 1890 to 1960.
Click on Search > Records to search all the indexed records. On the same page, click on Browse All Published Collections and select United Kingdom and Ireland under Place to explore individual collections. If it says Browse Images, the collection is not indexed. Click on Search > Catalog to find more records, including many that are online. For example, search on the place England, Norfolk, and click on the Probate Records subject heading. Then, for instance, click on Wills and administrations, 1459–1857, to browse records from the Archdeaconry of Norfolk. They’re indexed in the Norfolk Record Office’s online catalogue.
Notable collections on this British-based site include tithe records of landowners and residents from 1837 to the early 1850s, including a mapping tool, WWI casualty lists and memorials, and Nonconformist records of Quakers, Baptists and other faiths. Smart Search technology lets you jump between related records. For example, the site links marriage records to the couple’s children and census and death records to birth records.
- Genealogy Guides (free)
These free online guides to genealogy in England and Wales can help you become more familiar with the records and repositories of the British Isles. Bookmark these sites to consult whenever your research takes a new turn:
This excellent guide to English genealogy from Brigham Young University suggests search strategies and describes key records with links to related websites. Many of the books mentioned are available online. Find digitized versions in the FamilySearch Catalog by searching the online library catalog WorldCat or by entering the title in your web browser.
Made up of articles contributed by the public, the Research Wiki has especially useful guides to family history research in England and Wales. Start by searching on England or Wales. Explore the links to online records, lessons, guides to key records and research in specific counties. Each county page has a research guide, plus links to a page for each parish within the county. For example, the page for Wiggenhall St. Mary Magdalen, Norfolk Genealogy describes the major resources for that parish, and it has links to indexes and images of online parish records.
This website provides extensive information on genealogy resources for the United Kingdom and Ireland. On the home page, click on England, Wales or another region. You’ll find links to articles on searching various record types and guides to research in each county. Each county page, in turn, has a link to a page for each town and parish within the county. The home page also has links to family history societies, and the church database can pinpoint a parish on a map or produce a list of nearby parishes. Once you find your ancestors in one parish, work outward in the surrounding parishes to find other references to the family.
- Court and Probate Records (free and £)
Probate records pertain to the distribution of a person’s estate after death. These records may reveal heirs, their relationships and places of residence, an inventory of the estate and the deceased’s date of death. Men who had property often left wills; administrations settle the estates of people who died without leaving a will.
The websites of the UK National Archives and The National Library of Wales have digitized wills. All the genealogy mega-sites except Family Relatives and MyHeritage have indexes to wills and administrations in England and Wales.
Search for English and Welsh wills and probate records from 1858 to the present. (Note that there’s a separate area to search wills of soldiers who died while in the armed forces.) You can search on only one year at a time, so it’s better to consult indexes on the genealogy mega-sites such as FamilySearch first. Download a copy for about £1.50 at the moment, although the site has had a few problems recently.
Search records of nearly 200,000 trials held at London’s central criminal court from 1674 to 1913. For example a guilty verdict against George Crume for “stealing seventy-six pounds of pork, two bottles of rum, and two bags of plums” in 1866.
- Federation of Family History Societies (free but societies have a membership fee but many also have Facebook pages that are free to use) – www.familyhistoryfederation.com
This site has a directory of more than 180 member societies in England, Wales and Ireland.
The British Library has digitized more than 22 million newspaper pages dating back to the 1700s from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. They’re also available through The British Library’s partner, Findmypast.com. More newspapers are added regularly.
Search all three editions of The Gazette, the official government newspaper published in London, Edinburgh and Belfast. Dating back to 1665, it includes useful information for family history research, such as estate notices, bankruptcies, military appointments, name changes and naturalizations.
Online Parish Clerks (OPC) are volunteer groups that create free genealogy websites with searchable transcriptions of records from their local parish. The link above takes you to a list of OPCs in England from the UKBMD website.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission(free) – www.cwgc.org/
This free genealogy website lets you search millions of records across a number of datasets covering London convicts in Britain and Australia from 1780 to 1925.
Another site offering a vast free database of burials from across the globe.
Unlike Find a Grave, this website is a strange combination of headstones transcribed by volunteers and cemetery records provided by local authorities and private organisations. Although the site doesn’t include any images, it does have information not available elsewhere online.
The Parliamentary Archives has a few online resources, but the most useful record for anyone researching their English ancestors is the Protestation Returns. In 1642 the House of Commons required every adult male to swear allegiance to the Protestant religion. Although only about a third of records survive, these are the nearest to a census that we have for this period.
Although the BHO website runs a subscription model for its premium content, there’s still plenty of useful material freely available here. From detailed county histories to the more obscure London hearth tax records for those who have managed to reach back to the 17th century.
This giant library of a website is such a mish-mash of material that it often gets overlooked by family historians. It has some obviously genealogical material, such as old published parish records, but it also has unusual material from archives around the globe, such as The Gazettes of India. It helps if you know what you are looking for but you can also try random searches on topics or areas. To see a sample of the kind of genealogical material available, have a look at texts uploaded by the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center.