Researching England and Wales
revised 17 December 2013
Online research is considered the quicker and easier way to do genealogy. It still takes time, and is subject to the same challenges as printed genealogies, including occasional errors. The main advantages are speed and convenience. With a computer, you can search through thousands or even millions of records in the same time that it would take to read a page on a microfilm or book. Caveat: Just because a piece of information appears on a personal webpage, message board, online family tree, or is printed in a book doesn't guarantee its accuracy. You need to verify any serious research from official sources whenever possible. Fortunately, more and more of these official sources are also available online.
1538, following the split with Rome, Henry VIII's Vicar General, ordered that each parish priest must keep a book, recording all baptisms, marriages and burials. Many of the earliest were lost but many survive. Thousands of these books were extracted (indexed) by GSU/FamilySearch.
1837 was the start of civil registration of births, marriages and deaths ("BMDs"), prior to that, church parishes kept records of christening/baptism, marriages, and sometimes burials. But the government did not record BMDs. Parish records sometimes go back into the 1500s, and usually into the 1600s. Before the time of parish records you may be able to use wills and deeds, especially if your ancestors owned property. Prior to 1500, very few records exist and the temple work for the people listed in these records has usually been done many, many times.
1841 is the earliest census that lists people by name. Of course, all of the people listed in that census were born before the census, so census records may have useful information about people born in the 1700s. A census record shows the entire household as it was when the enumerator arrived: parents, children, servants, boarders, visitors, and sometimes members of the extended family! This is priceless information when doing temple work for families.
Genealogy In Time - Dates for the introduction of various records in England can be found http://www.genealogyintime.com/
Part I covers the introduction and English genealogy records to the end of the 1600s.
Part II covers English genealogy records from the beginning of the 1700s to 1837.
Part III covers English genealogy records from 1841 to the present.
(Some of these records are less useful than others, so I will not take time during the lesson to discuss them.)
Instant Gratification: Compiled Genealogies
WorldConnect, a FREE service
of RootsWeb http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/
Often, on the Pedigree screen you can click on "Download Gedcom" to download a copy of the database.
e.g. Search for Thomas Ing contributed by billbuchanan
Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource Files https://familysearch.org/family-trees These are family trees submitted to FamilySearch/GSU over a period of many years. e.g. Search for Thomas Ing born 1835.
Personal Web Pages can often be found using http://www.google.com or any other really good Web Search Engine.
e.g. Search for "thomas ing" 1834..1836
Hard Facts: Going to Official Sources
Compiled genealogies are prone to errors. Serious research needs to be supported by the best official sources available. Fortunately, more and more of these are available online for free.
Censuses of England and Wales starting in 1841 have some major advantages where genealogy is
1. Unlike some official records, you didn't have to own property or be in jail or in the workhouse, to be counted.
2. Families are grouped together, and sometimes include members of the extended family living in the same household or nearby.
3. Ages are included.
4. Place of birth is usually included.
5. They have been preserved intact in most cases, whereas certificates and family Bibles seldom survive.
6. They allow you to follow a family over a long period of time, as children are born, and either die young, or grow to leave the family home. Errors in one census can usually be noticed when comparing with earlier and later censuses.
Systematic research involves: 1. working backward in time, 2. verifying and 3. documenting the information at each step. The fastest way usually involves following the family back through census records. The census usually provides the names, relationships, ages, and birth places of the whole household. This makes it easy to create rough Family Group Records. The census information makes it easier to find records of birth or christening, marriage, and death, since you know approximately when and where to look for them. In England and Wales, the free index to government Birth, Marriage and Death records (FreeBMD.co.uk) is a wonderful way to find out the maiden names of wives, as well as BMDs of people with relatively uncommon surnames. FamilySearch has most Parish Registers from England and Wales available on microfilm, and some of them are digitized and indexed. This makes it possible to find the original records in most cases.
For England and Wales censuses, an excellent
source is Ancestry.co.uk. Your local Family History
Center will have free access to FindMyPast.co.uk (including censuses for England and Wales for 1841, 1851,
1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, and 1911). It will also have access to Ancestry.com
To order a microfilm, http://film.familysearch.org/ (you will need a credit card) The microfilm will be sent to your local Family History Center, where you can search it. If you have several family members who lived in the same parish, you may be able to find several certificates on one film. Church records continued during the time of civil registration, and may be less expensive.Free access to extracted parish registers other historical records is also accessible through http://familysearch.org You can either do a general search or search specific databases.
Free searches for Birth, Marriage and Death Registrations in England
since 1 July 1837 http://www.freebmd.org.uk/ I use this site all of the time!
FreeREG a site associated with FreeBMD, currently covers few areas but you might get lucky http://www.freereg.org.uk/
County BMD sites sometimes have additional information for free, for example http://www.lancashirebmd.org.uk/
GENealogy of the United Kingdom and Ireland genealogy portal http://www.genuki.org.uk/
1851 maps of British jurisdictions at http://maps.familysearch.org/ These allow you to zero-in on a parish and its surrounding parishes. Excellent!
A Vision of Britain between 1801 and 2001. Including gazeteers with maps and historical descriptions. http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk
British "Home" Children brought to Canada http://www.dcs.uwaterloo.ca/~marj/genealogy/homeadd.html
Tens of thousands of orphaned or impoverished children brought from Great Britain as farm or domestic help.
Index to out-bound passengers from the UK http://www.findmypast.com/home.jsp It seems to exclude troop transports and crews. The index is free and has useful information. (Further information is subscription-based.)
GenesReunited is a UK family tree site where users upload gedcom files and the site notifies them when others have the same people in their family tree. It allows searches of censuses and family trees for free. Seing full information requires a subscription. A basic subscription is less than $20 for 6 months. This is a sister site to FindMyPast.co.uk. It has given me dozens of false matches, but has really come through a few times too.
English County Look-ups, etc. http://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php/board,1.0.html
UK country and county codes: http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/Regions/Codes.html
The National Archives (I haven't found anything useful there yet, but other people have.) http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/
All censuses of England and Wales (1841-1911) free at your local Family History Center from http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ through their online portal. Also AncestryInstitution http://ancestryinstitution.com at FHCs has the British censuses.
Out-bound passengers from the UK http://www.findmypast.com/home.jsp
It seems to exclude troop transports and crews. Full transcriptions and images are free at a Family History
Center, but not elsewhere.
British Military Pension Files http://www.findmypast.com/home.jsp
Scotland’s People commercial website at http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/
Ancestry.co.uk is a fee-based company that has the Scottish, English and Welsh censuses from 1841 to 1911. http://www.ancestry.co.uk (Remember England and Wales are free at any FHC.)
British Government-issued certificates of birth, marriage or death, can be purchased at http://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/
INTERNATIONAL GENEALOGICAL INDEX
- includes information extracted from parish and
THE "IGI" on https://familysearch.org/search/collection/igi has two types of records:
(a) records extracted from official documents and
(b) records submitted by individuals
The extracted records are much more valuable in documenting our genealogy.
Example: I have been looking for the christening of Andrew Peter Rasmussen who came to Manitoba in 1881. I find that he had a sister Helene Rasmussen born in Denmark in 1857.
We search for her on the IGI and we find her birth on 05 AUG 1857 and her christening 20 SEP 1857 in Falling, Aarhus, Denmark. We want to search the civil and parish registers for other children of Rasmus Jensen and Bodil Marie Laursdatter. We click the Batch Number of the register and search for children of Rasmus Jensen and Bodil. (We avoid using Bodil's maiden surname because of all the possible variations Laursen / Larsen / Laursdr / Laursdatter / Larsdr / Larsdatter) Voila! We find both parish and civil records for the family.
Hugh Wallis' Website http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~hughwallis/
is wonderful for searching geographically through the tens of thousands of
parish registers extracted for the IGI. If the surname is incorrectly
transcribed or uses an unfamiliar spelling you can use "Refine Search" to search
on the first name and scroll though the entries until you find
the one you are looking for. On Hugh Wallis' site, the IGI batches are sorted
geographically and by the name of the parish church. This also
allows you to quickly see whether the parish register you want has been
extracted. Another big plus is that Hugh Wallis' site is
specific to parish registers, thereby eliminating the frequently
incomplete or inaccurate information that people have submitted to the
Example: Eastrington, Yorkshire looking for the surname Cowling.
Online Maps can be vital to narrowing-down searches by
knowing the names of surrounding places.
For example, Richard Martin born at Towednack or Ludgvan, Cornwall.
Or for fun: Buckingham Palace, London, UK SW1A 1AA
Google Maps http://maps.google.com/
Cemetery and Grave Finders for UK
Find a Grave http://www.findagrave.com/
Billion Graves http://billiongraves.com/
Deceased Online http://www.deceasedonline.com/
Commonwealth War Graves http://www.cwgc.org
Example: Search for Arthur Teale. (He is the second Arthur Teale listed.)
You may also
find it useful to post messages on message boards, and to search through
messages posted by other people. If you do so, please get yourself a
free PERMANENT email address from somewhere such as http://mail.google.com http://www.outlook.com, or http://www.yahoo.com and keep it active by
checking the messages once a month. That way if someone replies to your messages
5 years from now, you will still be able to receive their reply. I occasionally
find old postings that I made using an email address that has been dead for 8
years, and are now useless. Don't make the same mistake. Also see
Suggestions for Effective Use of Online Message Boards at http://www.progenealogists.com/messageboards.htm
Ancestry/RootsWeb Message Boards http://boards.rootsweb.com/ and http://boards.ancestry.com/ (This is one of the FREE services of Ancestry.com)
GenForum Message Boards is the corresponding service from Genealogy.com http://genforum.genealogy.com
I posted a message about the Richard Martin family that I was unable to find in the 1851 census of Cornwall. http://genforum.genealogy.com/englandcountry/cornwall/messages/2272.html
I received the 1851 census information within a few days http://genforum.genealogy.com/englandcountry/cornwall/messages/2273.html
And then this one a week later that gave me the 1841 census data. Many messages go unanswered, especially if they are vague. Give specific information if you want to get specific information. http://genforum.genealogy.com/englandcountry/cornwall/messages/2277.html
Internet Telephone Directories - The
first BIG challenge is to trace your family back 100 years, because most online
resources protect the privacy of living people. But this information is the most
available from your own extended family. How do you find these people, assuming
they are alive? Use an Internet telephone directory. For the UK, try these: http://www.thephonebook.bt.com/, http://www.whitepages.co.uk/
Mailing Lists - Postings by subscribers are sent to all subscribers http://lists.rootsweb.ancestry.com/ These can be a useful way of sharing information with others who are researching a family you are researching or are researching families in the same geographic area. For example, I subscribe to a list for descendants of Andrew and Jane Buchanan who came from Omagh, County Tyrone, Ireland in 1847. Instead of having to send the information to 30 individuals, I send a message to the list and all subscribers receive it. When anyone else sends a message to the list, I receive a copy. There are many places that include mailing lists (listservs). Some are based on a surname, others are based on a locality. Most maintain an archive of old postings, but they don't all have a search engine, which means a lot more manual or semi-manual searching using Ctrl+F.
Google Site Search - From the Google website or Google
search bar, you can search any site by using these search
criteria: search-terms site:URL
So if I didn't have a search engine on my website, you could still search it for George Watson by putting:
"George Watson" site:http://billbuchanan.byethost17.com
into the Google search box and clicking Search.
Out-of-Print Histories (and other books)
To Borrow - (it may be a long way from where you live, but available through inter-library loans) http://www.worldcat.org
To Buy - http://www.bookfinder.com/ http://www.addall.com/ http://www.abebooks.com/
To Read Online http://books.google.com The Advanced Search option allows you to specify only books where the full view is available.
Your Own Website - You may want to create your own free website to share your genealogy and invite other people to contact you to share their information with you. This is a topic for a whole other presentation, but my website has allowed cousins who have been "lost" for 60 years to find me and contact me.
Easy Personal Websites - Some sites
will create a personal website for free, if you just register and upload a
gedcom file. http://tribalpages.com/ and http://www.kindredkonnections.com
are examples of such places.
Your Own Blog - You can easily create
a free blog at any of several sites. Google's Blogger.com https://www.blogger.com is perhaps the best
known. Another popular free blog host is http://wordpress.com/ They are very simple, you
just write what you want and upload photos. If you can send email messages you
can create a blog! No special software or technical knowledge is
Male DNA (Y-Chromosome) Testing
This isn't really online research, but you can find out about it online. Men inherit their only Y-chromosome from their fathers. Since there is no other Y-chromosome for it to combine with, each man's Y-chromosome should be identical to his father's Y-chromosome. When a minor change does occur, it is inherited by all male offspring. DNA testing promises to solve the insolvable question of which families of the same surname are most closely related, when there is no documentation linking the families. The tests start at about $150 depending upon the number of markers that are tested, but the eventual promise of this research is that we will be able to say with certainty "Great-great grandfather Smith is descended from this line of Smiths, although we don't know his exact lineage." This site helps to explain it http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~patrak01/dna_background.htm
Y-DNA traces your father's father's father's line ... your surname line. It is limited to males, but is often useful for within the last few hundred years.
mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) is female-lineage DNA. Testing can be done on both males and females, but follows "deep ancestry" on the female line. It is less specific and usually more expensive, so it gets used less often. It typically tells you about a female ancestor who lived 20,000 - 40,000 years ago. It can be intersting to know who else descends from that ancestor, but I haven't found any practical application.
Autosomal DNA tests attempt to
identify cousins (up to 5th cousins) based on similarity of genes. This type of
testing shows some promise but it is still being refined. Identical will twins
have the same genes, their children will have approximately 50% of the same
genes, their grandchildren will have 25% the same genes ... so 5th cousins will
have about 3% of the same genes unless there has been an intermarriage of
So I would spend my money on the Y-DNA test rather than mtDNA or Autosomal DNA except under special circumstances.
Free Resources for Ireland (Republic and Northern Ireland)
1901 and 1911 censuses - Free index, transcriptions, and images http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/
Ireland births, marriages and deaths see http://familysearch.org and do a general search or specifically search Irish record databases. Irish marriage registrations for non-Catholics started in 1846. Some christening records go further back. Government registration of births, marriages and deaths in Ireland began January 1, 1864.
Irish Church Records - records include pre-1900 birth, marriage and death (burial) records of the various religious denominations in counties Kerry, Cork, Dublin, Carlow and Ross. http://churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/
Griffiths Valuation 1848-1864 - Ireland's Valuation Office survey of property. http://www.failteromhat.com/griffithsall.php
FamilySearch is currently indexing the Tithe Applotment Books from the 1820s and 1830s. Some of these are already available from other sources. These give the names of the occupiers (usually tenant farmers) and the assessed values. e.g. County Tyrone http://cotyroneireland.com/tithe/
Cyndi's List - Probably the biggest list of genealogy websites http://cyndislist.com/
Family Tree Magazine - 101 Best Web Sites - http://www.familytreemagazine.com/Info/101Best2009
Mary's Treasures - A good list of online resources (Mary Tollstrup's Lethbridge FHC site) http://www.telusplanet.net/public/mtoll/