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. 

Important Years to Remember for England and Wales

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
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.)

FamilySearch Wiki 

Instant Gratification: Compiled Genealogies

WorldConnect, a FREE service of RootsWeb
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 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 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 concerned:
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 ( 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 Your local Family History Center will have free access to  (including censuses for England and Wales for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, and  1911). It will also have access to

Free 1881 census of England and Wales is online at and can be found by using the search form found by clicking Search. Put in the minimum amount of information needed to find the person you are looking for, usually the name and year of birth +/- 5 years. With really common surnames, it is often useful to include the spouse's name or the parents' names. You can also specify the place of residence. This will eliminate many false "hits".

Family History Library Catalog
Many records are only available on microfilm, (and that will remain the case for many years to come). To find a microfilm on click "Search" and then "Catalog". e.g. See "England, Sussex, Rogate"
To order a microfilm, (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  You can either do a general search or search specific databases.

Free-BMD Free searches for Birth, Marriage and Death Registrations in England since 1 July 1837 I use this site all of the time!

FreeREG a site associated with FreeBMD, currently covers few areas but you might get lucky

County BMD sites sometimes have additional information for free, for example

GENealogy of the United Kingdom and Ireland genealogy portal

1851 maps of British jurisdictions at 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.

British "Home" Children brought to Canada
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  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 It has given me dozens of false matches, but has really come through a few times too.

English County Look-ups, etc.,1.0.html

UK country and county codes:

The National Archives (I haven't found anything useful there yet, but other people have.)

Free from Family History Centers

All censuses of England and Wales (1841-1911) free at your local Family History Center from through their online portal. Also AncestryInstitution at FHCs has the British censuses.

Out-bound passengers from the UK  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  

Available at a Price

Scotland’s People commercial website at is a fee-based company that has the Scottish, English and Welsh censuses from 1841 to 1911.  (Remember England and Wales are free at any FHC.)

British Government-issued certificates of birth, marriage or death, can be purchased at

Learning Resources Explore the world’s largest, free collection

INTERNATIONAL GENEALOGICAL INDEX - includes information extracted from parish and civil records.
on 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 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 IGI.
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

Cemetery and Grave Finders for UK

Find a Grave
Billion Graves
Deceased Online
Commonwealth War Graves
Example: Search for Arthur Teale. (He is the second Arthur Teale listed.)

Genealogy Message Boards

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, or 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

Ancestry/RootsWeb Message Boards and (This is one of the FREE services of 

GenForum Message Boards is the corresponding service from
I posted a message about the Richard Martin family that I was unable to find in the 1851 census of Cornwall.
I received the 1851 census information within a few days
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.

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:,

Mailing Lists - Postings by subscribers are sent to all subscribers 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.

Internet Search Engines - These can be used to look for material that is not on the usual genealogy sites. and They can find personal genealogy websites, but also postings to message boards, government records, local histories, and so forth. But at least 95% of the webpages "found" will be totally unrelated to genealogy. You can use quotation marks to narrow the search. (Terms within quotation marks are treated as a single word.) Suppose you are looking for any information on a Watson family that had lived at Riding Mountain, Manitoba. Searching for "Riding Mountain" Watson - will find all webpages that contain the name "Watson" PLUS the term "Riding Mountain". The quotation marks should eliminate tens of thousands of false "hits" from pages that contain the words "Watson" and "Riding" and "Mountain" such as "Mr. Watson was riding his mule up the mountain when he spotted a huge grizzly bear." To further narrow down your search, you might try successively including the words Manitoba, Family, Born, Lived, Died, Married (one at a time, not all at once). Ideally, you should not have to search through more than 200 hits. If you find 25,000 references to your search terms, you have really found nothing.

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:
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)

To Buy -

To Read Online 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. and are examples of such places. 

Your Own Blog  - You can easily create a free blog at any of several sites. Google's  is perhaps the best known. Another popular free blog host is 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 required.

Note that free webspace may disappear if you never update the information and no one visits your site.

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

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 cousins.

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

Ireland births, marriages and deaths
see 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.

Griffiths Valuation 1848-1864 - Ireland's Valuation Office survey of property.

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

Other Resources

Cyndi's List - Probably the biggest list of genealogy websites
Family Tree Magazine - 101 Best Web Sites
Mary's Treasures - A good list of online resources (Mary Tollstrup's Lethbridge FHC site)