A-Z of British Genealogical Research


 by Dr Ashton Emery

A concise guide to researching British ancestry both locally and at a distance. Everything the family historian wants to know about the IGI, using parish registers, the Civil Registration system, the 19th century Census returns and dozens of other archives, indexes and sources, with all the costs, contacts, addresses and tips a professional or amateur researcher could ever need.
(Warning: This guide has, with few exceptions, not been updated since January 1999. In particular, all references to the Family Record Centre are out of date, as its functions have been transferred to the National Archives at Kew.)

Note: The hash mark (#) is used to denote pounds sterling.

Copyright: Ashton Emery

Table of Contents

AGRA (Association of Genealogists & Record Agents)
Apprenticeship Records
Army, Navy & Air Force
ASGRA (Association of Scottish Genealogists & Record Agents)
AUGRA (Association of Ulster Genealogists & Record Agents)
Bernau's Index
BigR (British Isles Genealogical Register)
Bishops' Transcripts
BL (British Library)
Boyd's Marriage Index
Census Project
Chancery Proceedings
Christian Names
Civil Registration
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Credit Cards
CRO (County Record Office)
Currer-Briggs Index
Deed Poll
Electoral Registers
FFHS (Federation of Family History Societies)
FHS (Family History Society)
FRC (Family Records Centre)
FTM (Family Tree Magazine)
Gentleman's Magazine
GRD (Genealogical Research Directory)
 GRO ( General Record Office)
Guildhall Library
IGI (International Genealogical Index)
IHGS (Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies)
Lay Subsidies
LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
Local History Societies
London Metropolitan Archives
Manorial Records
Miscellaneous Records
MIs (Monumental Inscriptions)
Naming Patterns
One-Name Study Groups
Parish Registers
Poll Books
Poor Law
PRO (Public Record Office)
Probate Registry
Public Search Room
Railways & Railwaymen
Record Agents
Recording Information
Registration Districts
SH (Somerset House)
SoG (Society of Genealogists)
Useful Addresses
Wills & Administrations (Admons)
Wishing & Waiting
World Wide Web (of the Internet)



Association of Genealogists & Record Agents


Association of Scottish Genealogists & Record Agents


Association of Ulster Genealogists & Record Agents


British Isles Genealogical Register


British Library


Bishops' Transcripts


County of London Record Office


County Record Office


Electronic Mail


Federation of Family History Societies


Family History Centre (of LDS), also known as FHL (FH Library)


Family History Library Catalogue


Family History Society


Family Records Centre


Family Tree Magazine


Genealogical Data Communication


Guild of One-Name Studies


Genealogical Research Directory


General Register Office


International Genealogical Index


Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies


International Reply Coupons


Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


London Metropolitan Archives


Monumental Inscriptions


Office of National Statistics


Personal Ancestral File


Public Record Office


Somerset House


World Wide Web (of the Internet)


Society of Genealogists


(See Useful Addresses and Internet.)


Adoptions have been legal in England and Wales since 1927. Previously children were "fostered" and tracing natural parents of a fostered child is close to impossible. The GRO maintains an Adopted Children Register and indexes thereto may be examined at FRC. The indexes give the adopted name of the child and date of adoption but not the names of the natural parents.Two forms of certificate can be issued but only the full should be ordered. The full certificate includes the adoptive name and surname, sex, date of birth and (where known) country or district of birth, details of the order (date and court) and particulars of the adoptive parents.

The Children's Acts of 1975 and 1989 enable an adopted person over the age of 18 years to exercise his/her right to obtain a copy of the original birth certificate after counselling. A pamphlet, Access to Birth Records, is available from the Registrar General, local Social Services Departments or adoption societies. The National Organisation for Counselling and Adoptees and their Parents (NORCAP) exists to help adoptees and (presumably) both types of parents. It is located at 3 New High Street, Headington, Oxfordshire, England, OX3 7AJ. There is also an organisation named Adopt-A-Link who advertise regularly as "specialists in tracing birth families for adopted children." Adopt-A-Link is run by P G Peacock, 3 Mulberry Court, Meadow Way, Petworth, West Sussex, England, GU28 0EP. Telephone: + 44 1798 342897.


The Association of Genealogists and Record Agents was founded in 1968. Sooner or later you will need professional help in your research, particularly if you are researching your British ancestry from abroad. AGRA has a code of practice so there is protection for clients located outside the UK. A list of members can be obtained by writing to the Secretary, AGRA, 29 Badgers Close, Horsham, West Sussex, England, RH12 5RU, enclosing #2.50 or 6 IRCs.


Webster's defines ancestry as a line of descent or persons initiating or comprising a line of descent. Before you begin tracing your own ancestry, write on paper what you want to accomplish. Talk to relatives. Seek out old papers. Look for entries in family bibles. Know what it is you want to do before you spend real money. Access the ever increasing riches of the Internet's World Wide Web. Check whether someone has previously researched your area(s) of interest. Check what names are registered with the GOONS. Visit your local reference library. See if there is a FHS dedicated to your area of research. Visit your local LDS FHC. View the IGI and refer to the library's books and materials. Order appropriate fiches and/or microfilms. If you live outside the UK, complete your preliminary research before you contact organisations in the UK.


Many records exist for children and men learning a trade. Guilds, some dating from the Middle Ages, evolved to protect members of a particular trade (first) and the public (second). The Statute of Apprentices of 1563 required an individual to qualify in his trade by serving an apprenticeship. The apprentice would typically serve a period of seven years' training before being admitted to the guild. The apprenticeship indentures were signed by the guild master and the apprentice's father or guardian. Many of these indentures survive and not just for the famous London livery companies. Check records held at SoG, the CROs (including the LMA) and see what exist on microfiche or film in the FHLC at your nearest FHC.


There are many record repositories and libraries in the UK that are of value to the researcher such as the various components of the British Library. Among hundreds of others are the PRO, the Guildhall Library, the National Libraries of Scotland and Wales and the Library of the Society of Genealogists (SoG). Most initial research is likely to be undertaken at the FRC (perusing the Civil Registration indexes or winding through microfilms of the Victorian censuses). Every County has a CRO and there are LDS FHCs situated in major centres throughout the world. The FFHS issues a free leaflet called You and Your Record Office, while two books to assist are In and Around Record Repositories in Great Britain & Ireland by Jean Cole & Rosemary Church (in its fourth edition and detailing over 700 record repositories) at #5.95 including overseas surface mail and Tracing your Ancestors in the Public Record Office (also in its fourth edition) at #11.15 including overseas surface mail. These books and many other useful guides to archives are obtainable from FTM, SoG and specialist genealogical book services such as S A & M J Raymond of PO Box 35, Exeter, England, EX1 3YZ. (See Army, Navy & Air Force, Museums, PRO.)


War deaths are accessible at FRC in separate registers to civil deaths. Most of the records relating to military service are held at the PRO. Various archives are held covering the Home Office, Foreign Office, War Office, Army, Royal Navy, merchant navy, Royal Air Force, etc. The Imperial War Museum has a department of documents that include British private papers and captured German documents. The War Museum is at Lambeth Road, London, England, SE1 6HZ. Telephone + 44 171 735 8922. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was set up to identify and maintain the graves of Commonwealth forces killed in World Wars I and II. Records are also kept of those who have no known graves. In late 1998 the Commission put its records online on the Internet. This is a phenomenal, and free, fully searchable archive for those researchers fortunate enough to own a PC with access to the World Wide Web. For those many researchers not online, information including photographs of known graves can be obtained from the Commission at 2 Marlow Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, SL6 7DX. Two specialists in military research are Sunset Militaria, Dinedor Cross, Herefordshire, England, HR2 6PF, telephone + 44 1432 870420 who have an index to over 5.5 million soldiers entitled to medals from the First World War and Dennis James of 18 Mill Lane, Toft, Cambridgeshire, England, CB3 7RW who undertakes RAF research.


This is the Scottish equivalent of AGRA. Write for a list of members and specialised services to the Secretary, ASGRA, 51/53 Mortonhall Road, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH9 2HN.


The Association of Ulster Genealogists and Record Agents is based at Glen Cottage, Glenmachan Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT4 2NP.


Falling into debt was a crime until relatively recent times and was not an occasional misdemeanour. Over 30,000 debtors were arrested in England in 1837 alone. An individual not engaged in business but declared insolvent prior to 1861 could not be made a bankrupt but could be sent to prison until his debts were settled. A commercial trader heavily in debt often escaped imprisonment but was declared a bankrupt. After 1861 an insolvent person and a bankrupt were treated similarly. The London Gazette, first published in 1665, regularly and remorselessly printed notices of bankruptcies. Complete copies of the Gazette are held at PRO, SoG and the British Library, and various indexes exist. Other journals publishing similar notices were the Scottish Gazette, the Times, Gentleman's Magazine and Perry's Bankrupt & Insolvent Gazette. The PRO also holds records of the Court of Bankruptcy and registers of bankruptcy actions as well as records of certain debtors' prisons including Marshalsea where John Dickens, father of Charles, was imprisoned. CROs and the Newspaper Library are useful if one is researching a known insolvent or bankrupt in a particular time frame.


(See Marriages.)


(See Parish Registers.)


A card index of about 4 million slips mainly relating to individuals involved in court cases, records of which are held at the PRO. The index relates chiefly to 18th century Chancery Proceedings and was compiled by the late C A Bernau. Microfilmed copies of the index may be viewed at SoG or ordered at any FHC. (See Chancery Proceedings.)


Old bibles often contain records of a particular family's births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials. Check with your parents, grandparents and cousins to see if your family has the basis of a history. (See Ancestry.)


The British Isles Genealogical Register (BigR) is a directory of researchers' interests. The BigR was initially published in 1994 with similar aims to those of the GRD but limited to Britain and with surnames sorted into county order. A further edition was published in 1997. The BigR is obtainable on fiche from FFHS Publications, 2/4 Killer Street, Ramsbottom, Lancashire, England, BL0 9BZ. Individual fiche by county may be obtained from the appropriate FHS at a cost of about #2 to #3 per county.


(See Civil Registration and Certificates.)


These are copies of the parish registers completed on an annual basis by the clergy and forwarded to the local bishop. The practice commenced in 1598 but those transcripts that still exist must be checked where possible with the original registers as not all copies are accurate. (See Parish Registers.)


Most collections of The British Library, the national library of the United Kingdom, are housed in a huge custom built premise facing St Pancras Station in London. The Department of Manuscripts has huge collections from the Magna Carta through copies of most books published in Britain and the old Empire to Captain Scott's diary compiled on his last South Pole expedition. This department also contains catalogued collections of family archives including pedigrees, title deeds and correspondence. The BL was formed in 1973 from four previously separate national libraries and is at Euston Road, London, England, NW1 2DB. There are two further archives of particular interest to researchers: the India Office at 197 Blackfriars Road, London, England, SE1 8NG and the Newspaper Library at Colindale Avenue, London, England, NW9 5HE. The India Office has archives of the East India Company, the India Office and Burma Office and is an invaluable source if your ancestor served on the sub-continent.. The Newspaper Library has a large collection of 18th, 19th and 20th century publications. This is a useful repository if your ancestor "made news" and you are aware of the date(s). Obituaries were not so common in 19th century but newspapers carried news stories and advertisements, which could be useful if your ancestor was a local politician, land owner, tradesman or criminal. The newspapers are both national and local, and most are originals although some are on microfilm.


No researcher will get very far without purchasing books relevant to his research - he will get the genealogy bug early on. FFHS, FTM and SoG publish and/or distribute hundreds of genealogical guides, books and aids. Contact these organisations for a list. An excellent source book is Tracing Your Family Tree by Jean Cole & John Titford . A second, enlarged edition was published by Countryside Books in 1997. Pauline Saul's The Family Historian's Enquire Within published by FFHS is superb value and is in its fifth edition. Perhaps the most definitive guide to British Genealogy is Mark D Herber's Ancestral Trails, first published in 1997 by Sutton Publishing in association with SoG. This book is not cheap at #30 but has incredible scope and contains over 600 pages embracing every conceivable aspect of British genealogy and family history. (See Guides and Archives.)


533 typewritten volumes of English marriages between 1538 and 1837 compiled by the late Percival Boyd. The index contains about 7 million entries or about 12% of all marriages before 1837 and is located at SoG. Like the IGI, Boyd's should be treated as an index with all extractions subsequently checked against the appropriate parish registers.


Current arguments on whether the second Millennium ends on the last day of 1999 or 2000 fade into insignificance compared to previous radical changes in the calendar. Until 1751 England and Wales followed the Julian calendar whereby the year commenced on Ladyday, 25 March and ended the following year on 24 March. Lord Chesterfield's Act of 1751-52 stated that the year 1752 would begin on 1 January and end on 31 December. In addition, and in 1752 only, the calendar was adjusted to omit eleven days - 2 September 1752 being followed by 14 September. The "new" calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar, had been adopted by Scotland and the countries of continental Europe over 150 years earlier. Dates between 1 January and 25 March and prior to 1752 are typically dated for both calendars by researchers and historians. Thus, a baptism on 3 February 1712/13 means the event occurred in 1712 under the prevailing Julian calendar but by today's (Gregorian) calendar would be recognised as occurring in 1713. (Note: It is not unusual to find errors in transcription due to the confusion of the calendar before 1752. One source book published in the 1930s by an eminent researcher contained many errors in dating events.)


Only marriages in the Anglican church were legal after the introduction of Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1754. Catholics were allowed to worship in their own churches from 1791 but they still had to marry in Anglican churches. Most surviving Catholic registers date from the late 1700s and most are from the north of England. Many have been published by the Catholic Record Society, 114 Mount Street, London, England, W1X 6AX. The Catholic Family History Society is based at 2 Winscombe Crescent, Ealing, London, England, W5 1AZ. Marie McQuade of 8 Ecclesall Avenue, Litherland, Merseyside, England, L21 5HQ has an index to over 200,000 Catholic baptisms, marriages and burials that took place in Liverpool. (See Non-Conformists.)


Many cemeteries, parish churchyards and burial grounds have been mapped and/or indexed for those interred therein. Each modern cemetery has a register which can be consulted for relatives but sometimes at a fee. Many a FHS has indexed cemeteries within its particular area. Both the SoG and the Guildhall Library have cemetery register holdings. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission's online Web site gives precise instructions on finding cemeteries (abroad and within the UK) where gravestones or memorials commemorate men and women who fell in the two world wars. (See MIs and Army, Navy & Air Force.)


The first official census of England and Wales took place on 10 March 1801. Censuses have been taken every 10 years since with the exception of 1941. Details of individuals only appeared on a compulsory basis for the first time in the 1841 Census but a Sussex researcher was able to provide me with names and ages of individuals from the 1821 Census so do not assume the early years are not worthy of investigation. Because of the so-called 'One Hundred Year Rule', the census returns available for the genealogist are only those up to and including 1891. A direct descendant of an individual appearing in the 1901 Census may apply to the ONS for a copy of the appropriate return but must provide a precise address for the individual(s) being sought. Application must be made on a form available at FRC and any information supplied will relate only to the relative(s) listed on the form. The cost including airmail is currently #16.75 (VAT free) for researchers based outside the UK. The 1841 census was undertaken on 7 June, 1851 (30 March), 1861 (7 April), 1871 (2 April), 1881 (3 April), 1891 (5 April) and 1901 (31 March.) The census returns were for all the population as at midnight on those dates. (See Scotland and Ireland for census returns in those countries.)

The censuses of 1841 to 1891 are wonderful pools of research. 1851 to 1891 give more information than the 1841 census but all enable the historian to identify a family at a particular point in time. The addresses pinpoint a family to a particular location although the relationships, ages and occupations may not be precise. (An in-law in the 19th century meant something different to what it means today. A son-in-law could mean stepson of the householder, ie son of the householder's wife and therefore a son in the eye of the law.) The 1851 to 1891 Censuses provide pointers to an ancestor's parish of birth since there is a 'Where Born' column. The Industrial Revolution resulted in the migration of many people from the countryside to the major cities during the first half of the 19th century. By the time of the 1881 Census the population of London was 3.8 million and living within its bounds were more Scots than in Edinburgh, more Irish than in Dublin and more Roman Catholics than in Rome. The censuses of 1841 through 1891 are available on microfilm at the FRC (having moved there when the PRO closed its Chancery Lane building). Certain copies are also available at CROs, at FHCs, FHSs and at other archives. Many of the streets have been indexed by various bodies including FHSs. There are various finding aids at the FRC including surname indexes for some areas for particular years. The census returns at the FRC are available to the public free of charge. A census return ordered through a research service or record agent will typically cost #3 if a full reference is supplied or #5.50 (including a search of a village or a main street of a town and the photocopy of all people living at the address of the individual sought.) A wider search could cost up to #10. Airmail postage is extra. Publications about using the Census include Gibson's Census Returns on Microfilm (#4.30 including overseas surface mail) and McLaughlin's Censuses 1841-1891 (#2.60 including overseas surface mail), both available from FTM. (See Census Project.)


The 1881 Census Project was a noteworthy cooperation between the PRO, the FFHS and the LDS to index the 1881 Census of England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The PRO holds the copyright to the 1881 Census and supplied the material. The FFHS provided most of the volunteers to copy the information and the LDS used their facilities at Salt Lake City and in England to process the data on computer and produce the output on microfiche. All the counties of England, Wales and Scotland were processed and published and are available at various archives including SoG, FHSs and FHCs.

The 1881 Census Project initially offered four indexes per county: the Surname Index, the Birthplace Index, the Census Place Index and the Arranged-As-Enumerated Index. The Surname Index enables researchers to quickly identify anyone by name; the Birthplace Index enables you to find people of the same name (families) born in the same parish; the Census Place Index lists people of the same name in the respective parishes at the time the census was enumerated and the Arranged-As-Enumerated Index is in the original order of the census. This would be used after referring to the other three, all of which refer back to this index.

The final component of this ambitious and invaluable project is the National Sort, recently released. The National Sort comprises two indexes: one a full alphabetical listing of all those enumerated in the 1881 census, and the other arranged as a national birthplace index. This final phase will enable a researcher to find ancestors who "strayed" into other counties. The National Sort is available on microfiche at FHCs, the SoG and elsewhere, and will be sold to the public by region on CD-ROM. (See Census.)


The GRO registers cannot be examined by the public so a certified copy of an entry of a birth, marriage or death will be issued against a reference obtained from the indexes held in huge volumes at FRC or on microfiche at SoG, FHSs and FHCs. Certificates can be obtained in several ways. You can personally visit the GRO at FRC, write to the GRO at Southport (don't), use the services of a record agent or certificate service, or contact the appropriate Register Office if you know the district where an individual was born, married or died. As of 2003, the price of a certificate obtained by personal application at FRC is £7.00.While certificates are not cheap, they are often essential in proving ancestry. Postal applications to Southport are prohibitive but a written application to a Register Office will only cost £7.00. If you are uncertain of the district where an event occurred and/or you cannot visit FRC, use a reputable record agent or certificate service. The price of a certificate through an agent/service is about #8 if you supply the full reference (ie Name, Year, Quarter, Place and, preferably, Volume and Page Number.) The cost of a five year search and certificate is about #10. Another pound may be added for airmail. Reputable and efficient agents/services I have used include Stephen Wright of 4 Rose Glen, Chelmsford, Essex, England, CM2 9EN; Brian Walker of 78 St James's Avenue, Hampton Hill, Middlesex, England, TW12 1HN; and Brewster International, 12 Avery Gardens, Ilford, Essex, England, IG2 6UJ.All the above may be contacted via the Internet. Brewster offers Visa and Master Card facilities and a 24 hour fax line on + 44 181 550 7766. (See FRC (Family Records Centre), Civil Registration and Scotland.)


Chancery was the high court of equity in England and Wales. The PRO holds Calendars of Chancery Proceedings containing records of disputes heard by the Court of Chancery from 14th to 19th centuries. (See Bernau's Index.)


(See Parish Registers.)


ONS now publishes annual statistics relating to the most popular first names registered in England and Wales. The lists reflects current British preferences for names made famous by Hollywood stars, models, TV actors and presenters. Ancestral research can be helped by naming patterns established centuries ago. A first born son often took his father's name and a first born daughter would be named after her mother. In Scotland and the northernmost part of England a more sophisticated pattern was often used. With male offspring, the firstborn was named after the father's father, the second son after the mother's father and the third boy was given his father's Christian name. The pattern for daughters was a variation on the theme. The eldest was given the name of her mother's mother, the second daughter bore her father's mother's name and the third girl was given her mother's name. Researching Welsh names 300 or more years ago may be difficult because a child was given his father's Christian name as his surname. Even in relatively modern times Welsh research is difficult because of the popularity of surnames developed from forenames.

Another popular naming pattern in England was the adoption as a second given name of the mother's surname. This was often given to daughters as well as sons so this helps research in extracting names from registers and indexes. Statistics vary regarding the number of illegitimate children born in any particular period but 5% is a reasonable estimate for the 1800s. The given name(s) may assist in tracking a line of descent. A "baseborn" child of (say) Sarah Brown may be named Thomas Woods Brown or Thomas Taylor Brown with the second name being the surname of the father. We all "lose" ancestors in the Victorian Census or in Civil Registration but they are often there but under another name. It is not uncommon to find a child born Anthony John to go through life as John and be buried as such or John A if one is lucky. An ancestor of mine registered at birth as Madeline Annie was Annie M when she died. Perhaps bigger problems are the diminutive forms of given names. Aunt Polly may have been born Mary. Other diminutives include Ann (Hannah), Nelly (Ellen or Helen) and Peggy (Margaret). I have also found Ann as a diminutive of Agnes. Jack, currently the most popular name for newly born males in England, was once only found as a diminutive of John. See Naming Patterns.)


Lord Melbourne's government of 1836 introduced two major pieces of legislation: the Marriage Act and the Registration Act. The acts necessitated the creation of a new office, the General Register Office (GRO) in 1837. Under the new legislation, all births, marriages and deaths were to be recorded and appropriate certificates issued. Copies of the records were kept locally at a parish register office and centrally at the GRO and copies of the entries may still be obtained from either the local (district) Register Offices or the GRO - but see earlier comments about Certificates before ordering. Most, but not all, births, marriages and deaths were recorded until 1875 when it became an offence not to register an event. The GRO merged with the Government Social Survey in 1970 to form what is now known as the ONS. The Public Search Room was housed at Somerset House from 1837 until 1973 when it moved to St Catherine's House before relocating to the FRC in 1997. The Public Search Room has been variously described as "a researcher's dream" and "hell on earth" but there is no doubt that its current home in Myddelton Street is a significant improvement on the cramped St Catherine's House.

The civil registration system, parish registers and census returns are the three main research sources for genealogists. Civil registration commenced in July 1837 and today there are 8,500 leather bound volumes available on shelves for the public to examine. Births are in red covers, marriages in green and deaths, appropriately, in black. The volumes contain indexes with references not original entries. A researcher may consult the indexes without charge and obtain therefrom a reference to a particular event. Then, a form has to be completed for a certificate to be issued at a cost - see Certificates. No certificates are issued on demand, there is a delay of several days if a certificate is collected. There can be a delay of several weeks if a certificate is requested to be mailed. If you are researching at a distance and cannot personally visit FRC, DO NOT write to the GRO but engage the services of a record agent or certificate service. They are much cheaper and much faster since they make both the initial search/ordering visit and the collection visit on your behalf, and will furnish you with the same result - an official certificate of a birth, death or marriage. The Public Search Room of the GRO is located at FRC, 1 Myddelton Street, Finsbury, London, England, EC1R 1UW. You definitely do not need the address of the GRO postal unit in Southport. Scottish civil registration commenced in 1855. Although there may be an online link to Edinburgh, Scottish records are not maintained at FRC. Irish civil registration commenced in 1864. There are no Irish records at FRC. (See Certificates, FRC (Family Records Centre), Scotland & Ireland.)


(See Army, Navy & Air Force.)


In the early 1990s, the CompuServe online service opened up new avenues of research for the family historian. CompuServe's genealogy forum was a useful place to share interests with other searchers. The forum library contains some excellent files from how to start researching, through hundreds of pedigrees to dozens of PC add-ons for PAF. CompuServe has since been acquired by America Online and has, to an extent, been superseded by the massive growth of the World Wide Web of the Internet. (See Internet.)


The world of family history research has been changed forever by the growth in home use of PCs (personal computers) and the explosion of the World Wide Web of the Internet online service. One cannot totally ignore computers because they are increasingly being made available for researchers at FHCs, local libraries and many archives so, even if you never own a PC, you may have to become at least partially computer literate. The LDS is moving more of its records on to CD-ROM (the current preferred medium for all software distribution) and is aggressively selling database indexes to the public at very competitive prices. Some family historians will never acquire PCs but the advice that follows is for those who decide that the investment may be worth the return.

A first time user is, in many ways, in a much better position than those of us whose equipment suffered planned obsolescence at a much faster rate than that of our motor vehicles. As a new user you are faced with the initial decision to pursue either the personal computer (Microsoft Windows) route or that of the Apple Mac. Many genealogical software packages will run on either but Microsoft has over 90% of the market and most of the software you will want to run is developed for the Windows operating system. You should purchase the fastest processor affordable, as much memory and hard drive as possible, the usual input/output devices (ie floppy disk and printer) and two further essentials - a high speed CD-ROM and a high speed modem, both of which are inexpensive. A flatbed scanner is an eminently affordable optional extra and enables the PC owner to scan into the computer photographs, historic documents and pages of text without retyping. These images can be viewed in full colour, edited, printed out, incorporated into genealogy packages and/or sent courtesy of the WWW to friends, relatives and/or researchers anywhere in the world. Having acquired the requisite hardware you must also sign up with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and obtain the (typically) free browser software that enables you to connect to the WWW and to send and receive e-mail.

Family History is one of the world's fastest growing hobbies and the personal computer has spawned numerous specialised genealogy packages that will maintain a database of your family and generate family trees, ancestry charts and so on. Packages come and go and others change name fairly regularly. Some of the most popular offerings at the time of writing are Ancestral Quest, Brother's Keeper, Cumberland Family Tree, Family Origins, Family Tree Maker, Generations (Reunion), Kith & Kin, ROOTSWin, the Master Genealogist (TMG) and Ultimate Family Tree. They all have their strong points and a weakness or two. Before purchasing a package you must ask the question: has it got GEDCOM facilities? (and you MUST have GEDCOM for transferring data between the different packages and for sending and receiving family research by disk or e-mail). The original genealogy package sold to patrons by the LDS through FHCs was PAF (Personal Ancestral File), a Microsoft DOS based system still widely used. Other than regular upgrades, I still use what I did five years ago: Windows based Family Tree Maker and PAF. I also use Ancestral Quest, a 100% PAF compatible package, that enables me to manipulate the PAF database in a Windows environment.

Researchers downloading IGI extractions from the CD-ROM versions held at FHCs will require additional software such as IGIREAD, GIPSI or IGI255. These utilities convert CD-ROM downloads into a database format for easy processing on you home PC. There are utilities and peripheral programs today for virtually everything: IGI Search is a Windows shareware program that performs searches on IGI data previously downloaded at a FHC; Will Reader is a suite of four programs that enables you to read and interpret old wills and inventories; Birdie and GenMap will display surname distributions geographically; TreeDraw and Family Publisher will make your family tree look that bit different; and there are hundreds more. Some are available as shareware, enabling you to try the product at a nominal cost before registering as a user. As a PC user you will require two other items of computer software: a database system for handling large numbers of records of similar but not obviously related names from the civil registration system or from the IGI; and a good word processor for writing letters (and you will write many letters.) (See GEDCOM & Internet.)


From some countries it is difficult to pay for a British service in pounds sterling. More and more British organisations are accepting international Master Card and Visa but some still do not. Cards are definitely more acceptable than foreign currency although some organisations including FTM and GRD will accept American, Canadian and Australian dollar drafts.


If you know where your ancestors were born or once you find out after initial searches at FRC and the PRO, you may want to target CROs. Each old county in Britain had its CRO as a central repository for its records. CROs typically hold parish registers, probate records, rate books and local census returns. Every CRO will have a brochure or guide about its facilities which typically include fiche and microfilm readers that must be booked in advance. Addresses of CROs will be found in the book, In and Around Record Repositories in Great Britain & Ireland (#5.95 including postage from FTM). A useful Gibson guide is Record Offices: How to Find Them (#4.30 including postage from FTM). (See Archives & Guides.)


The Currer-Briggs Genealogical Index is actually a number of indexes containing several hundred thousand names taken from wills, PRs, Chancery and other court proceedings, and a large selection of Virginia records covering the period 1550 to 1700. To enquire about the index send #2.75 per surname plus airmail postage to Noel Currer-Briggs, 3 High Street, Sutton-in-the-Isle, Ely, Cambs, England, CB6 2RB. He will respond with a schedule indicating the number of matches in each of his various indexes.


(See Civil Registration and Certificates.)


This is a legal process to effect a name change for an individual. This can be confusing to a researcher of a 20th century ancestor as anyone can change his or her name under English law. (For example, you may search at the GRO for the marriage of a previously married male Jones to a female Smith and not find a matching reference being unaware that Smith changed her name to Jones by deed poll years before the marriage at a time when Jones still had a legal wife.)


Before the advent of the telephone and yellow/white pages, a company or individual may have been listed in a directory. Kelly's was the biggest publisher of directories in England. Kelly's retained a copy of virtually every directory issued and the entire collection was deposited at the Guildhall Library but, until recently, was not available for public scrutiny. Nevertheless, the Guildhall Library has an extensive collection of its own which is available for visitors. Most directories were focused on counties (or parts of counties) and towns. Directories will be found in most CROs. SoG has an unusual collection of Dublin directories. (See Guildhall Library and SoG.)


(See Non-Conformists.)


Very few divorces occurred before the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act. Indexes to divorces since 1858 are held at the Family Division, SH, Strand, London, England, WC2R 1LP. Although a 75 Year Rule applies to files and a 30 year rule to the indexes, the Divorce Registry will consider a search in the records of decrees absolute for researchers. The initial fee is #5 for searching a specified 10 year period. This could be an expensive exercise if the researcher does not know the date of divorce. An alternate route to locating divorces in one's ancestry is at the PRO, which holds divorce indexes (in J78) that refer you to the divorce files containing the most detailed (and often lurid) information in series J77. The indexes are annual so it may take a while to find the reference you seek. Copies of documents from J77 can then be made at a nominal cost.


The registers of various universities and colleges from the Middle Ages to the 19th century are at SoG. There are also registers of public (in English terminology - private or independent) schools. The SoG publishes a guide of its holdings: School, University and College Registers and Histories in the Library of the SoG at #4.10 including overseas surface mail. You will find that many schools and universities maintain their own archives of registers and photographs, and records may also be found in libraries and CROs.


Electoral registers or poll books are historical lists of those entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. These are useful aids if you are seeking an ancestor in a particular parish or town. The Reform Act of 1832 increased the electorate by 50% but most Englishmen and all English women still had no vote. The Reform Act of 1884 extended the franchise to two-thirds of the adult male population but women only received the vote after the First World War. Electoral registers and poll books may be examined at many Local Studies and reference libraries, at CROs and SoG.


Hundreds of thousands of British (including Irish) citizens left for the old colonies in 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. There have been giant strides made in 20th century to identify them. The Famine Immigrants by Ira A. Glazier is a seven volume schedule of Irish immigrants who arrived at the Port of New York between 1846 and 1851 (and Sussex born ancestors of mine with no Irish connection have been found therein). The SoG's library has American shelves containing such publications as Filby's Passenger & Immigration Lists Bibliography 1538-1900 and Meyer's Passenger & Immigration Lists Index. The latter comprises 3 original volumes and numerous supplements and contains records of over 2 million passengers who arrived in the USA and Canada. There is excellent archive material for emigrants to the West Indies and India but less extensive collections for Australia and New Zealand. Immigrants to these countries should use the superb facilities in the Antipodes. The Society of Australian Genealogists is located at 120 Kent Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia and has over 20,000 books plus extensive records on fiche and computer. There is also an Australian Association of Genealogists & Record Agents. A list of members can be obtained from the Secretary, PO Box 268, Oakleigh, Victoria, 3168, Australia. Please send two IRCs or a large stamped, self addressed envelope. The Archives Authority of New South Wales was extremely helpful to me. The office is at 2 Globe Street, Sydney, New South Wales 2000, Australia. There are also special groups for descendants of convicts and first fleeters. The New Zealand Family History Society is located at PO Box 8795, Symonds Street, Auckland, 1035, New Zealand.

Moving on to the 20th century, over 17 million immigrant Americans passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1952. It is believed that at least 40 % of living US nationals can trace their ancestry back to these stalwarts. The Immigrant Arrival Records, currently held on microfilm at the US National Archives and Records Administration, are being digitised and entered into an electronic database that will be made available at the American Family Immigration Centre to be located on Ellis Island. This $15 million project is expected to be completed in late 2000 or early 2001. For a nominal fee, visitors will be able to obtain a printout of their ancestors' data and a scanned reproduction of the original ship's manifest. Further plans call for making the Immigrant Arrival Records accessible on the Internet.


The Federation of Family History Societies links together over 200 societies throughout the world. FFHS publishes guides and books on family history research, and a half yearly magazine, Family History News & Digest. FFHS initiates and coordinates national projects (see 1881 Census Project) and liaises in the running of family history training. For further details and a list of member societies, contact Maggie Loughran (Administrator FFHS), PO Box 2425, COVENTRY, CV5 6YX. (e-mail: info[at]ffhs.org[dot]uk). There will almost certainly be a society for the county or area where your ancestors once lived.


There are many Family History Societies located in the UK and of interest to the researcher. Most are geographically tied to old county boundaries such as the Northumberland & Durham FHS and the West Surrey FHS. The FHSs cater for those with interests in former residents and/or historic locations. An FHS meets regularly and publishes regular journals and a directory of members' interests. The FHS may undertake research from the IGI as well as from local sources such as census returns, monumental inscriptions, parish registers and newspapers. (See FFHS. )


NOTE: The Family Records Centre has closed.
The services formerly offered by The National Archives at the Family Records Centre (FRC), relating to census returns, wills and other sources, are now available at The National Archives in Kew. See https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/.
For the services formerly offered by the General Register Office at the FRC, relating to births, marriages, deaths, adoptions and civil partnerships, see https://www.gov.uk/research-family-history.

The Family Records Centre (FRC ) opened in 1997 and houses the Public Search Room of the ONS, previously at St Catherine's House, and the Census Rooms of the PRO, which were previously in the PRO Chancery Lane building. There have been complaints about this facility, as there were bound to be, but it is a vast improvement over St Catherine's. The GRO Search Room is on the ground floor of FRC and the indexes are generally set out much better than at St Catherine's. There is no charge for searching the indexes which cover births; deaths; marriages; war deaths; deaths at sea; births and deaths in aircraft; consular births, marriages and deaths; deaths abroad; marriages on ships; marriages abroad; and Commonwealth marriages.

The PRO occupies the first floor of FRC where visitors will find access to the Victorian census, wills and non-conformist registers. The census returns are held on microfilm and copies of relevant pages may be made and purchased for a nominal charge. A PRO Reader's Ticket is not required for access to FRC. Both the ground and first floor are designed for serious research so visitors should think twice before taking small children or aged and frail parents who may fall foul of a heavy volume being swung through the air and/or the built in aggression of impatient searchers. The FRC is the starting place for most individuals' family research and full justice cannot be done in a few paragraphs. Consult the booklet Basic Facts about Using the Family Records Centre (#2.25 including overseas surface mail from FTM). (See Adoptions, Army, Navy & Air Force, Certificates, Civil Registration and Public Record Office.)


Family Tree Magazine is published monthly at #2 a copy. Overseas airmail subscriptions cost #41.50 per annum, a bargain! FTM contains articles for beginners, various regular features, one-name studies, readers' letters and queries, several pages on computers in genealogy and hosts of advertisements, many of which are as interesting as the editorial. Tom Wood's 'Genealogy Miscellany' column and the Computer Section provide excellent reading. FTM is at 61 Great Whyte, Ramsey, Huntingdon, Cambs, England, PE17 1HL, telephone + 44 1487 814050. FTM sells many genealogical books and guides through a postal book service.


Family historians who are also PC users frequently wish to exchange pedigrees with other researchers who may use different genealogy software packages. The Genealogical Data Communication package enables researchers to exchange files irrespective of package used and also submit their research to LDS under the Ancestral File project. In addition, IGI CD-ROM entries can be downloaded to researchers' floppy disks in the GEDCOM format. (See Computers and IGI.)


This monthly journal was published between 1731 and the early 1900s. It is a rich source for births, marriages, deaths, obituaries and bankruptcies. Various indexes have been compiled over the years: some specific to births, marriages and obituaries, and some cumulative for the early years. The SoG, the BL and the PRO all hold the complete run of the magazine. (See Newspapers.)


(See MIs.)


The Genealogical Research Directory is published annually. Each edition runs to about 1,200 pages and contains well over 100,000 entries submitted by thousands of researchers worldwide. The GRD enables researchers to find fellow researchers with similar interests. It is published in Australia in April and is distributed worldwide to contributors, societies and libraries. Each edition gives addresses and other details of genealogical societies, record offices, archives and libraries.


The General Register Office is located at FRC. The GRO holds records of civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths from 1837. The registers may not be examined by the public but the national indexes to these vital records can be searched at no charge. Anyone can access the volumes and may purchase any official GRO certificate for which a reference exists. (See Civil Registration, Certificates and FRC (Family Records Centre).)


There are several series of genealogical guides that are all excellent value for money: Gibson Genealogical Guides (about #4.50 each including overseas surface mail); McLaughlin Genealogical Guides (about #2.60 each including overseas surface mail); and the SoG's My Ancestors' publications (prices between #3 and #6 each including overseas surface mail.) These guides are also available from individual FHSs and FTM. Shire Publications also publishes useful little books including county guides and albums on old occupations and industries. Prices are around #3 each. (See Books and SoG.)


This library is located in the City of London and holds an extensive collection of genealogical material relating to the City such as lists of freemen and records of livery companies and guilds. It has a superb collection of Kelly's directories and some old manuscripts relating to ships and shipping such as Lloyd's Register, Lloyd's List, Captains' Register and Loss Books. Guildhall Library is at Aldermanbury, London, England, EC2P 2EJ.


Halbert's Family Heritage is an American company that publishes 'World Books' of various surnames. The books are expensive and portrayed as something they are not, ie beautiful coffee table editions rather than the reality of cardboard covered books containing computer produced listings of names and addresses. However, they offer two possible benefits for the researcher:addresses of individuals carrying the same surname are listed and you may find a relative in another country as I did. Secondly, the names are listed by state (for the US) and by county (for the UK) so a researcher can draw a modern day distribution of the specific surname since most of Halbert's research is extracting names from more or less up-to-date telephone directories. In recent times, Halbert's acquired a licence to the name Burke's Peerage and have attempted to add status to their publishing operation. Halbert's don't like printing their address and there is none in the book I purchased. CAVEAT LECTOR.


Try reading an Elizabethan will or, worse, deciphering Latin text. Excellent aids include Discovering Old Handwriting by John Barrett and David Iredale (published by Shire, 1995 at #5.99, postage extra) and McLaughlin's Reading Old Handwriting (#2.10 including overseas surface mail from FTM.) Dr Peter Franklin is an expert in the fields of palaeography and translation. Peter can read all hands written in England since 1066 and is at 46 Fountain Street, Accrington, England, BB5 0QP.


Even if you cannot trace your ancestry back to William The Conqueror, it could be that your family is entitled to a coat of arms. Forget those organisations that will supply you a crest for a fee. A coat of arms belongs to the family to whom it was granted and only to male heirs. In Tudor England, King Henry VIII was concerned by the misuse of armorial bearings and commissioned Kings of Arms to travel throughout England and Wales to survey and record all arms. From 1530 until the late 1680s heralds travelled the countryside on horseback on a regular basis that became to be known as the heralds' visitations. The control of coats of arms is still today in the hands of heralds. In England, the College of Arms is situated at Queen Victoria Street, London, England, EC4 4BT. Scottish heraldry is administered by Lord Lyon, King of Arms, New Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 3YT. Further reading includes Heraldry for Family Historians (published by FFHS at #2.25 including overseas surface mail), the Observer's Book of Heraldry (published by Frederick Warne) and A Complete Guide to Heraldry by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies published by Bracken Books (reprinted 1993.) (See IHGS.)


The International Genealogical Index is produced by LDS and is a valuable tool for the genealogical researcher. It is an index to entries in parish registers. The IGI is divided into countries and then, for example, is further subdivided into counties (UK) and states (USA.) The IGI is currently being delivered on microfiche and CD-ROM and the user should be warned that there are differences between the versions; your ancestors may be in one and not the other. The IGI is developed by the LDS from a combination of members' temple submissions from 1840 to the present day and the systematic (carefully scrutinised) extraction program. Most of the IGI entries are baptisms but there are some marriages and a few wills. The IGI should be consulted by surname within county or state (fiche) or by surname (CD-ROM.) Any promising entries should then be verified against the original records which can be ordered (on microfilm or fiche) through LDS. The worldwide IGI includes hundreds of millions of names and is available at FHCs, the SoG, the PRO, most CROs and many FHSs. Since the LDS started making available IGI editions on CD-ROM it is now feasible for a researcher to take floppy disks to his local FHC and download selected IGI entries. Multiple downloads will entail use of several disks. The data may be downloaded in GEDCOM or ASCII (text) format. Serious researchers will require further software such as IGIREAD, GIPSI or IGI255 to use this data on home PCs. Useful reading includes Making the Most of the IGI (published by McLaughlin and available at #2.10 including overseas surface mail from FTM) and David Hawgood's IGI on the Computer (#2.93 including overseas surface mail from FTM). (See LDS and Computers.)


The Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies offers training by correspondence for both amateur and professional family historians. The institute's library contains many indexes including Pallot's Index of Marriages; county maps; and many genealogical books. IHGS publishes a quarterly journal, Family History, which contains family histories, genealogical and heraldic articles, and guides to research. IHGS is at Northgate, Canterbury, Kent, England, CT1 1BA, telephone + 44 1227 768664, fax + 44 1227 765617. (See Heraldry.)


(See Emigrants. It depends where you are going to or coming from!)


Indexes are valuable research tools and note that family historians insist that they are indexes, not indices. The most famous index is the IGI but there are many others of value to the researcher including many surname indexes produced by various FHSs for the 1851 Census; the shoemakers index at Northampton; the US Social Security Index on CD-ROM available at FHCs; the Great Card Index at the SoG; the Pallot Index of marriages at the IHGS; the small indexes at virtually every local history society and FHS; and Bernau's, Boyd's and Currer-Briggs indexes described earlier. Many MIs are indexed and available for examination at SoG, various FHSs and CROs, while the 1881 Census project was a major undertaking that has proved invaluable to researchers. Another major initiative is the National Burials Index being compiled under the auspices of FFHS.


Without a doubt, the greatest boost to British genealogical research in recent years has been the impact of the Internet. The Internet is a worldwide network of computers that has has been around for many years but opened up to "the masses" only in the latter half of the 1990s. Crude access software gave way to sophisticated browsers such as Netscape and Explorer and efficient search engines such as Yahoo and Alta Vista to make "surfing" the World Wide Web (WWW) a viable proposition. Anyone with a PC and a telephone could, with relatively little outlay, acquire a modem, sign up with an Internet service provider and go online. As more and more users opted for the service an increasing number of news groups and mailing lists were made available for family historians. People discovered that e-mail messages and news group postings were answered in 24 or 48 hours. Whether a person lived in New Zealand, Hawaii or England made no difference.

The growth in Internet usage could not be ignored by the premier UK genealogical bodies. Innovators such as GENUKI had long set up sophisticated and information rich home Web pages. The PRO, SoG and FTM established WWW sites as did many genealogists and record services. Dick Eastman of the USA started a quality weekly newsletter, Eastman's Online Genealogy, which became essential reading for all family historians. What we all wanted for years was archives available for search online and it suddenly happened. Scotland put its indexes to vital records online, albeit at #6 for limited 24 hours access. English and Welsh GRO registers won't be online in the near future but don't assume that the LDS and the Registrar General won't reach an agreement to copy the certificates, index them and publish them on the Web or on CD-ROM. Unexpectedly, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission went online with records of 1.7 million British and Commonwealth men and women who lost their lives in the two World Wars. The details given vary according to information available but it is a magnificent facility and a boon for one-namers. British Columbia in Canada led the way in placing vital records online and, hopefully, other Canadian provinces will follow. The National Archives of Canada has Books of Remembrance for members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who fell in various conflicts. I have found several English born relatives in these Canadian sites. Enthusiastic surfers will find obituaries, shipping lists, college alumni, census records, land records, etc., etc. For a low monthly subscription there is a wealth of information waiting for the genealogist and the number of useful family history sites is growing monthly. (See World Wide Web (of the Internet).)


International Reply Coupons were devised as a means of payment for the cost of a reply from a foreign correspondent. IRCs can be purchased at post offices in many (but not all) countries, can be mailed overseas and can then be exchanged for postage stamps to enable the foreign correspondent to reply. An unwieldy and expensive system but many a British FHS or genealogical service insists upon IRCs.


Irish research is more difficult than that in the rest of the British Isles. Civil registration commenced in 1864 but many Irish records at the Public Record Office in Dublin were destroyed in the 'Unrest' of 1922. Records from 1864 to 1922, for all Ireland, and from 1922 for the Republic are held at the Office of the Registrar General, Joyce House, 8-11 Lombard Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. Northern Irish records since 1922 are held at the GRO, Oxford House, 49-55 Chichester Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT1 4HL. Virtually all 19th century census returns have been destroyed but the Irish censuses for 1901 and 1911 may be examined at The National Archives in Bishop Street, Dublin 8, Ireland. (Researchers should note that the 100 Year Rule prohibits disclosure of the 1901 and 1911 returns for the six Northern Ireland counties of Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone but they may be scrutinised in Dublin.) The SoG has a collection of printed books on Ireland including Dublin directories from 1761 to 1846. You will almost certainly have to use a researcher in Ireland. Hibernian Research Company Limited claim they are Ireland's oldest and largest research company. They also claim they proved the ancestries of former President Reagan and former Prime Minister Mulroney. HRCL is at PO Box 3097, Dublin 6, Ireland, fax number + 353 1 497 3011. Irish Roots is a quarterly genealogical publication from Belgrave Publications, Belgrave Avenue, Cork, Ireland. Annual subscription is US$15, Canadian $18, Australian $20 or New Zealand $25. The Irish Genealogical Research Society has a library located at the Irish Club, 82 Eaton Square, London, England, SW1W 9AJ. The society publishes The Irish Genealogist annually.


See Non-Conformists.


Lay subsidies were early taxes from 14th century. Lay subsidy rolls may be examined at the PRO. The rolls record details of parish inhabitants and taxes due for a period of about 300 years.


Part of the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints requires members' ancestors to be baptised into the Church. It follows that all Mormons are interested to a greater or lesser degree in genealogy. Many years ago the LDS began a worldwide program to microfilm parish registers in order to identify deceased ancestors for temple work (ie baptism into the Mormon faith.) The Mormons were pioneers in the development of computer indexes for the family historian and today produce the International Genealogical Index (the IGI) every few years. Initially available on microfiche, the IGI is now produced in both fiche and CD-ROM versions. The hundreds of millions of entries in the IGI represent a combination of members' temple submissions from 1840 to the present day (with many inaccuracies) and the professional systematic extraction program. Users of the IGI should treat it only as an aid. All information should be verified with the original parish records or with microfilmed copies available at a small fee from the LDS.

The LDS set up FHCs throughout the world. Use of these libraries is available free of charge to non-members of the church and the facilities include many other genealogical data on fiche and microfilm including census returns. The LDS regularly publishes The Family History Library Catalogue (FHLC) which is a computer produced guide to books, parish records, census returns and other historical data, and is available on fiche and CD-ROM. Searchers use the FHLC as an index to other fiches and microfilms that may be ordered at a nominal viewing charge. There is also extensive paper-based material including guides and books. The LDS encourages genealogists who are not members of the church to submit their own work for worldwide distribution. Pedigrees can be submitted as part of the LDS Ancestral File computer database, and published works are gratefully accepted for microfilming.

In 1998 the LDS embarked on a new phase of making genealogical information available to the public on CD-ROM. The first release was a single CD containing the 1851 Census for the three counties of Devon, Norfolk and Warwickshire. These were the counties used in the "dummy run" for the 1881 project and there will be no further 1851 Census releases. The 1851 CD-ROM is fully indexed and contains comprehensive details from the enumerators' returns. The LDS quickly followed up with three multiple CD-ROM packages of Vital Records for Australia, British Isles and North America. The British Isles package contains a database of five CD-ROMs, one for marriages and four for births and baptisms. In all there are 5 million records indexed and the vast majority are new (ie not in the IGI) and are from the controlled extraction program. All these CD-ROMs are user friendly and are ridiculously low priced. The British Vital Records cost #13.50 including delivery within the UK but all LDS distribution centres worldwide should have stocks. The CD-ROM publishing is a dynamic initiative by the Church and further releases will include the 1881 Census. (See IGI.)


There are local history societies throughout the UK who publish valuable material relating to their areas of interest. The British Association for Local History at PO Box 1576, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, SP2 8SY will provide further information including a back number of the magazine, The Local Historian.


The LMA, formerly the Greater London Record Office (GLRO), is the largest local authority archive in England. The LMA's extensive array of records includes parish records (many indexed), bishops' transcripts, electoral registers, school registers and other records relating to persons, places and institutions within the former counties of London and Middlesex. There are collections of maps, prints and drawings and a library of old photographs. The LMA is located at 40 Northampton Road, London, England, EC1R 0HB.


These are typically found in a CRO. Manorial records extend back to the time of the Conqueror and cover such events as the conveyancing of land and the holding of courts to hear major crimes and petty offences. There is a Manorial Documents Register which is an index giving the location of known existing records. It may be examined at The National Register of Archives, The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Quality House, Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London, England, WC2A 1HP. Useful source books are Manorial Records by Denis Stuart (available at #15.30 including overseas surface mail from FTM) and McLaughlin's Manorial Records Guide (#2.60 including overseas surface mail from FTM).


Maps and gazetteers are essentials for the serious researcher. These can be examined at (and purchased from) various FHSs, FTM, IHGS, CROs and SoG. Every FHC has such aids for examination. Parish maps are organised by the old county boundaries and are available from IHGS and FTM at #6.30 including surface mail charges. Rallymaps of PO Box 11, Romsey, Hampshire, England, SO51 8XX, supplies all mapping from Ordnance Survey archives. Send 4 IRCs for a comprehensive catalogue.


Marriages can be traced in the civil registration system from 1837 on and in the old parish registers before 1837. A couple could marry by banns or by licence. A marriage by banns necessitated the banns (announcement of marriage) being called in the parishes of both the intended at three weekly intervals before the marriage. Wealthier people frequently married by licence to avoid the unnecessary publicity. Many old banns books and copies of licences are still available. It is worth checking the FHLC at an FHC or the archives at the appropriate CRO. Be aware that an entry in a banns book or the existence of a licence does not prove a couple was married. I have one ancestor whose name was entered in a parish banns book twice within twelve months but she married only the second of the two men named therein. (See Civil Registration, Certificates and Parish Registers.)


These are the people who moved within the UK. The Industrial Revolution brought phenomenal changes to the population distribution in Britain. Hundreds of thousands moved from the countryside to the city. Manchester's population grew from 75,000 in 1800 to 400,000 by 1850. The populations of London, Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham all tripled during this period. Tracing ancestors during the first half of 19th century can be difficult. A useful book is My Ancestors Moved in England and Wales available at #5.35 including overseas surface mail from FTM.


(See Army, Navy & Air Force.)


Genealogical research is not limited to tracing through the civil registration system, the Victorian census and old parish records. There are extensive records available to the family historian in many archives. The PRO and the SoG have huge holdings whilst the CROs have records relevant to their area. Miscellaneous records that may interest the overseas researcher include American & West Indian Colonies records before 1782 (PRO), apprenticeship records (CROs), apprenticeship registers (PRO), Chancery proceedings (PRO), coastguard records (PRO), foreign office records (PRO), heraldry publications (IHGS and SoG), Huguenots collection (SoG), land grants in America and American loyalist claims (PRO), militia muster rolls (PRO), operational records of the British Army, Navy and Air Force (PRO), professions - biographies and listings of architects, lawyers, doctors, MPs, etc. (SoG), shipping, seamen and shipwrecks (PRO), Royal Irish Constabulary (PRO), etc., etc.


Monumental inscriptions can supplement information obtained from parish registers. Gravestones are subject to the ravages of the British weather but many are still legible and a church or chapel often contains MIs, (which are not unique to tombstones.) Gravestones are also subject to the ravages of local authorities who prefer to maintain level lawns for easy mowing and thus remove the headstones. Fortunately, many FHSs have recorded and indexed their MIs. Transcripts may have been lodged in the CROs. Churches and graveyards are worth visiting since the MIs may offer details of births and deaths of previously unknown family members. (See Cemeteries.)


(See LDS.)


There are some magnificent museums with archives waiting for the genealogist. Some with obvious interest are: Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London, England, SE1 6HZ (British & German documents); National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, London, England, SW3 4HT (military papers covering British and Commonwealth forces); National Maritime Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich, London, England, SE10 9NF (crew lists, Lloyd's Surveys and ship plans); and the British Telecom Museum, Baynard House, 135 Queen Victoria Street, London, England, EC4V 4AT (Historical Telephone Library with telephone directories from 1880.) (See Archives and Army, Navy & Air Force.)


(See Christian Names.)


Newspapers have been published in Britain since at least the 17th century. A family history may be "fleshed out" with information from papers such as obituaries, editorial or advertisements. Unless your ancestor was a well-known personality or criminal, local newspapers are likely to provide more information than nationals. The largest collection of national and local newspapers can be found at the Newspaper Library, which is part of the BL (see earlier for address.) The Guildhall Library holds a complete set of the London Gazette and further newspaper holdings will be found at the SoG, the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and most CROs and museums. Many FHSs and local museums have indexed their holdings and I was surprised and delighted to read about my great grandfather in 19th century newspaper archives on a chance visit to the Dorking & District Museum. The (London) Times is indexed and the SoG library has Palmer's Index to the Times on CD-ROM for issues covering the period 1790 to 1905.


Non-conformists or dissenters were people who did not follow the doctrine of the Anglican church (the Church of England.) Britain broke with the Catholic Church of Rome when Henry VIII declared himself 'Supreme Head of the English Church' by the Act of Supremacy of 1534. Some priests refused to accept the new Anglican Church and religious meetings were held by Roman Catholics, and people were baptised and married in secret by RC priests. Mary I reigned as a Catholic queen for five years but Elizabeth I reintroduced the Church of England in 1558. Religious persecution continued in 17th century and independent (dissenting) chapels were established by Presbyterians, Quakers and Baptists. James II briefly reigned as a Catholic king in the 1680s but was overthrown in the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688. Non-conformists include Huguenots, Congregationalists, Methodists, Moravians, Lutherans, Quakers and Jews. Many non-conformist registers have survived and are today in the safe-keeping of the PRO. Jews and Roman Catholics refused to submit their registers to the PRO (see Catholics.)

CROs or existing synagogues should have Jewish records. The Anglo-Jewish Association can help historians trace their Jewish ancestry. The AJA is at Woburn House, Upper Woburn Place, London, England, WC1H 0EP. The American Jewish Archives has comprehensive records of Jews arriving in the US before 1900. The Archives are located at Hebrew Union College, 3101 Clifton Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45220, USA. Some Presbyterian and Congregational records may be found at Dr Williams Library, 14 Gordon Square, London, England, WC1H 0AG. Baptist records may also be at Dr Williams Library and at Baptist Church House, 4 Southampton Row, London, England, WC1B 4AB. Huguenot ancestry may be traced through the Huguenot Society, 54 Knatchbull Road, London, England, SE5 9QY. Quaker records are reputed to be the most comprehensive of all non-conforming faiths since the registers were transcribed before being deposited at the PRO. An index to the registers may be examined at The Society of Friends Library, Friends House, Euston Road, London, England, NW1 2BJ.


One's ancestors may have been kings or carpenters. Many of us will have agricultural labourers (ag. labs.) in our family history as well as individuals whose occupations have disappeared over the years. SoG's bookshop has several books on occupations including Dictionary of Old Trades and Occupations by Andrew & Sandra Twining. Useful guides include the Shire Album series and a recommended initial buy is FFHS's An Introduction to Occupations (available at #3.90 including overseas surface mail from FFHS).


A one-name study group is typically a formal or semi-formal organisation focused on a single family or surname. The contact person usually has thousands of records relating to the surname: extractions from the IGI, Civil Registration, parish records, wills, the censuses and directories. Family Historians should check with the list of groups in the GRD and with GOONS to see if there is useful research previously undertaken. ONSGs are expected to provide information and references to researchers subject to the geographic limitations of the study. GOONS is at PO Box G, 14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London, England, EC1M 7BA.


(See handwriting.)


A bishop's diocese comprised parishes. Many parishes were villages with a church and a clergyman (or incumbent). Larger towns and cities would contain several parishes. Records of British baptisms, marriages and burials have been maintained by law since 1538. Not all churches date back to 16th century and not all clergymen kept proper records in the early years. The early baptism, marriage and burial records were usually jumbled together and some of them were written in Latin but by 1732 all registers were required to be written in English. During 18th century the baptisms, marriages and burials were maintained in separate registers or on separate pages. For the first 200 years it was normal to record only the father's full name and that of his child in baptismal entries so proving ancestry for a popular surname is often difficult. Most original parish registers are today in CROs but some are still in churches. From 1598 the clergy had to send a copy of their entire year's parish register to the local bishop. These copy entries are known as the Bishops' Transcripts or BTs. Thanks to the efforts of LDS, microfilmed copies of most parish registers and BTs are available for loan at most FHCs. (There is a delay whilst copies are made from masters at Salt Lake City.) There are also holdings at the PRO. Microfiche and microfilm copies are available for scrutiny at the SoG and various libraries. Considerable work has been undertaken by FHSs in indexing the registers, and typewritten indexes and abstracts can be viewed at SoG, CROs and FHSs.

Care must be taken in reading copies of the old parish registers. There are numerous surname variations and, as many of our ancestors were illiterate, the surname was written phonetically. The date in a baptism entry is not the birth date and the burial date is not the date of death. Typically, a child was baptised a few days or weeks after birth but this is not always the case. A burial followed within days of a death. As Civil Registration in England and Wales only commenced in 1837, parish records are the genealogist's main focus of research in developing a family history. The obvious starting place is the IGI. From the IGI there may be entries pointing to a particular parish, and films can be ordered from the LDS. If searches of the IGI are fruitless but you know your ancestors' localities you can search the FHLC fiches to identify the parishes in which they may have been baptised and married and can then order the films. Be alert to the fact that your ancestors may have been non-conformists so check those records if you cannot find entries in the Anglican church. In the case of marriages check the banns books. (See Bishops' Transcripts and IGI.)


Many pedigrees have been published. The SoG's library has many books of family histories filed alphabetically by surname. The SoG also holds a unique collection of 14,000 unbound pedigrees, MIs, will abstracts, personal letters, etc. This material is known as the Document Collection and is filed alphabetically in envelopes within box files. Three standard books have been published on pedigrees: The Genealogist's Guide by G W Marshall (1903), A Genealogical Guide by J B Whitmore (1953) and The Genealogist's Guide by Geoffrey B Barrow (1977.) The SoG has produced a leaflet, Has it Been Done Before? (See SoG.)


A picture paints a thousand words but photographs of ancestors are typically a rarity. Photographic studios came into their own in the late 19th century when family portraits became the vogue. Many mothers ensured their sons were photographed before leaving for the front in the Great War and for some, including my great aunt, they were left in 1918 with only the photograph. George Eastman brought the price of cameras into the realm of much of the population but all too frequently, old family albums get thrown out when people move or pass on. Sometimes the albums survive but nobody is quite sure who the people are in the (often excellent quality) black and white pictures. Photographs can add immensely to a family history so borrow them from elderly relatives and have them identified, enhanced and copied before it is too late. Visit libraries, CROs and schools to obtain photographs of ancestors. There have been many books published on local history that contain superb photographs of towns and villages over the past 130 years. You will want to take your own camera to photograph relatives, past homes, churches and MIs. Most genealogy software packages cater for the inclusion of photographs and, even, video clips. Two useful books both written by Robert Pols and available from FTM are Dating Old Photographs at #6 and Photography for Family Historians at #5.90.


(See Electoral Registers.)


There have always been poor people - and records to account for them. Overseers of the poor were first appointed in 1572 and the Poor Law Acts of 1601 and 1604 established the poor law administration which existed until 1834. Churchwardens were tasked with taxing parish inhabitants to pay for the upkeep of the poor. Poor Law records, including Overseers' account books, provide detailed records of those living on the edge of existence. The LDS FHLC will direct a researcher to the appropriate microfilms. Read An Introduction to Poor Law Before 1834 (published by and available from FFHS at #3.35 including overseas surface mail) and McLaughlin's The Poor Are Always With Us (#2.60 including overseas surface mail).


The Public Record Office houses the national archives of England and the United Kingdom, ie the records created by the actions of central government and of the courts of law of England and Wales. The millions of documents span the period from the Norman Conquest to the current day. Typically, public records are available for inspection thirty years after the end of the year in which they were created. Some records of vital interest to the family historian, such as the census records, are subject to the hundred year rule so the census returns of 1901 will become available to the public in January, 2002. The bulk of PRO records are now housed at Kew, south-west of central London. The archives embrace legal records and records of mediaeval through to modern government including the holdings of the Treasury, Admiralty, War Office and Colonial Office. The microfilmed copies of the census returns for England and Wales for 1841,1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891, together with non-parochial registers and probate records, have moved from the old PRO Chancery Lane building to the FRC. The entire facility at Kew is custom built or recently refurbished but many researchers will miss visiting the beautiful building in Chancery Lane which was within walking distance of other repositories. A PRO Reader's Ticket is required for visitors to Kew and will be issued against proof of identity.

The PRO publishes scores of leaflets that are required reading and are offered free of charge. The entire list is too long to print here but all of them may be read online at the PRO's Web site. The leaflet subjects cover a broad range and to give a flavour they include Records of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen; Dockyard Employees (Documents in the PRO); Markets & Fairs; How to Read Roman Numerals; RAF Genealogy; Companies & Businesses and Metropolitan Police Records of Service. PRO has extensive military and merchant navy holdings and must be visited if your ancestors were in the army, navy or RAF. PRO is at Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England, TW9 4DU. The telephone number for is + 44 181 876 3444.


The Probate Registry is the home of wills and administrations proved since 11 January 1858 and wills are MUCH easier to trace from that date. Indexes to these wills may be examined free of charge in bound volumes. A British researcher will search the indexes and submit a photocopy of a particular will for about #6. This search may cover a twenty year period because some wills were only proved years after an individual died. Many of your ancestors may have left property but died intestate. In this case, letters of administrations (or admons) may have been issued. Admons also appear in the Probate Registry indexes. Many of the CROs have holdings of local probates. The Principal Registry of the Family Division (Probates) is located at First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London, England, WC1V 6NP. (See Wills & Administrations (Admons).)


(See Civil Registration and FRC.)


It is imperative that family historians speak to elderly members of the family before it is too late. The recent memories of old people are generally poor but most have excellent childhood memories. Ask to see photographic albums and old documents. Ask lots of questions and make copious notes but treat dates as suspect until they are verified.


Railways transformed Great Britain from the mid-19th century. There were dozens of companies but by the 1920s there were just four major operations: London, Midland & Scottish (LMS), Great Western Railway (GWR), London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Southern Railway. Although an engine driver may have worked for the same company for years and a porter may have remained at the same station, if your ancestor was a navvy he may have moved around the country as lines were laid down. Many records of railways and railwaymen survive and the bulk are held at the PRO. Further records will be found at the Scottish Record Office, CROs and libraries. A good source book is Was Your Grandfather a Railwayman? available from FFHS at #6.40 including overseas surface mail.


(See AGRA, ASGRA, AUGRA, Certificates and Ireland.)


A researcher must have a system. Rereading scrappy notes two or three years after they are written can be painful. Most of the computer packages mentioned earlier have provision for entering not only genealogical data but detailed references as well. Unless one uses a notebook computer, there is a requirement for writing on paper diverse information from parish records, census returns, civil registration entries, etc. There are companies that produce record sheets for various data entry. Genfile produce a note taking system that fits all standard Filofax and similar 6 ring binders and that includes sheets for GRO records, census, IGI, parish records, wills, etc. Send two IRCs for a sample set of forms to Genfile, 2 Falconer's Cottages, Milton, Martock, Somerset, England, TA12 6AL. Use a bound mark book if you do not use custom designed forms. You may end up with a few but your notes will always be there to refer back to.


Civil Registration commenced in July 1837. The process of registration was through over 2,000 registration districts formed from the union of parishes established under the Poor Law Act of 1834. The register offices still exist and still store the original records of births, deaths and marriages. Copies are sent each quarter to the GRO where the central index is compiled. Certificates can be obtained from the district register offices if you know that the event occurred in the area. Registration district numbers changed in 1946 and 1974. A useful booklet is St Catherine's House Districts by Ray Wiggins (#2.50 from FTM). I expect the next edition will have a different title but the contents won't change unless the districts do. (See Certificates, Civil Registration and GRO.)


In theory at least, research in Scotland is easier than it is in the rest of Britain. Scottish records (civil registration, the census and parish registers) are all held in the same place, New Register House, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 3YT. There are no CROs in Scotland but there is a Scottish equivalent of the PRO, the Scottish Record Office, which holds the public records north of the border including surviving archives of Scotland prior to the union of England and Scotland in 1707, together with court and legal records. The Scottish Record Office is at H M General Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 3YY. A major difference between New Register House and FRC is the fact that you must pay to use the facilities. A big plus is that you are then allowed to view copies of the original civil registration documents, not just indexes as at FRC. Although Scottish civil registration commenced later (in 1855 rather than 1837), the certificates contain more information than the English and Welsh equivalents. A birth certificate contains the mother's maiden name (only from 1911 in E & W) and from 1861 the date of marriage of the child's parents. Marriage certificates contain full names of both mothers and death certificates of women give maiden and previous surname if the deceased had remarried. Other registers include marine registers of births and deaths; war registers including deaths of Scots in the Boer War and the two World Wars; and births, marriages and deaths in foreign countries.

Indexes to the Vital Records of Scotland can be accessed on the World Wide Web of the Internet. An arm of the Scottish Record Office called Scotlands People has a indexed the Old Parish Registers (1553 to 1856), the civil registration or Statutory Index (1855 to 1897) and the 1891 Census for Scotland. A pay-as-you-view access allows up to 30 pages of index references to be downloaded for #6 within any 24 hour period. Copies of a certificate or census return costs a whopping #10.

Scottish censuses were taken every decade as in England and Wales and returns may be viewed at New Register House. (As stated earlier, there are no CROs in Scotland but there are libraries and FHSs within the old counties with census holdings.) Scottish parish registers, known as the Old Parish Registers, are at New Register House. These are the registers of the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian church. (Anglican churches were not officially permitted in Scotland until the mid-19th century. Such churches are part of the Episcopal Church of Scotland.) There were almost 1,000 parishes in Scotland but not all of the old registers have survived to the present day. Baptismal entries are typically more detailed than the E & W equivalents with the mother's maiden name given. Wills (or testaments as they are known in Scotland) are held for the years up to 1823 at the Scottish Record Office. Indexes for these have been published by the Scottish Record Society and are available at FHSs and libraries both north and south of the border. Jurisdiction was under the old counties after 1823 and some have deposited their wills at the Scottish Record Office. From 1876, the Office holds a consolidated calendar of confirmations (probates) for the whole of Scotland. Before 1868, testaments only covered personal (movable) property. Land transfer was recorded in the Sasines Registers and indexes to these can be found at the Scottish Record Office. (See ASGRA.)


Some potential family historians believe that the Public Search Room of the GRO is still at Somerset House. It was there for over 140 years but relocated in 1973. Similarly, SH was home of the Principal Registry of the Family Division (Probate Registry) for many years but the Public Search Room of the Probate Registry has moved to First Avenue House, High Holborn. One component of The Principal Registry of the Family Division remains at SH, Strand, London, England, WC2R 1LP. The Family Division maintains relatively recent divorce records (since 1938) and permission to look at divorce papers before and after 1938 must be obtained from the Family Division, SH. (Divorce records from 1858 until 1937 are held at PRO, London.) (See Divorce.)


The Society of Genealogists has the finest genealogical library in Britain. Members and non-members are welcome. After about two visits it is apparent that it is cheaper to become a member. The SoG loves statistics: the library holds the IGI (147 million entries); Boyd's Marriage Index (7 million entries); Great Card Index (3 million slips); Bernau Index (4 million entries); Parish Registers (9,100 transcripts); MIs (8,500 burial grounds transcribed); Will Indexes (for most probate courts); Census Indexes (5,600); Family Histories (5,500 volumes); Deposited Collections of Documents (for 14,000 surnames); etc., etc. The SoG also holds the Civil Registration indexes for England and Wales, directories, poll books, local histories, reference books and numerous publications. The SoG has an excellent bookshop and is at 14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London, England, EC1M 7BA, telephone + 44 171 252 8799.


It is generally accepted that English and Welsh surnames derive from four sources: Christian names or forenames (eg Thomas, Harrison, Allen); occupations (Smith, Taylor, Carter); locality (Hall, Wood, Moore); and personal peculiarities (Brown, White, Redhead.) There are exceptions that prove the rule; King, for example. In the mid-19th century the ten most popular names in England were Smith (one in 73 of total population of England and Wales); Jones (76); Williams (115); Taylor (148); Davies (162); Brown (174); Thomas (196); Evans (198); Roberts (235); and Johnson (265.) Surnames ending '...thwaite' are likely to originate in Lancashire, ending '...hurst' in Sussex and '...combe' in Devonshire. Tracers should beware of name variations. There is a one-name study group for Hamley/Hambly/Hamlyn and another for Perrott, Parrott, Perrett, Porritt and any other vowel variations. My g g g grandfather was variously described in documents as Amery, Emery, Emmery, Emmrey and Imrey. The Soundex code is a useful guide to possible surname variations in your ancestry. A Welsh researcher faces two problems. Firstly, every other person appears to be named Jones, Williams, Evans, Thomas or Davies. Secondly, before 1800 in South Wales, it was typical for the baptismal name of the father to become the surname of the son so the son of Evan Thomas might be named Thomas Evans. This represents a challenge for a genealogist. In Scotland it was a simple act of loyalty for a new member of a clan to accept the chief's name. A clan is not a family so the discovery of many Campbells, Fergusons, MacLeods or Munros in one area does not necessarily indicate blood relationship. The clans traditionally occupied the highlands whilst the people of the lowlands seemed to have acquired surnames in similar ways to the English. The old Irish inhabitants used the Celtic prefixes O' and Mac. Names beginning with O' (meaning grandfather or ancestor) can be traced back to 11th century. Examples are O'Brien, O'Donohoe and O'Donovan. In 1465 Edward IV issued a mandate that the Irish in Dublin and three other counties should adopt English surnames but nobody is certain just how many did. Many English sounding names in Ireland may have come into use only after the immigration of Englishmen.


Income tax was introduced in 1799 to help fund the Napoleonic Wars. There are various other tax records that may assist researchers. The Hearth Tax of 17th century was a tax imposed based on the number of hearths in a home. Certain parish returns exist for the period 1662 to 1674 and may be examined at the PRO and CROs. The Window Tax, based on the number of windows in a home, was as unpopular as the Hearth Tax and many householders bricked up their windows rather than pay the tax. The Window Tax was in force from 1696 to 1851 and returns can be found in CROs. Land Tax Assessments were also imposed in 1696 and were discontinued only in 1832. Records in the CROs give details of the land owners, tenants and taxes paid. (See Lay Subsidies.)


Although many addresses have been included within the appropriate sections of the guide. Here is a mailing list of major repositories/organisations in alphabetical order.

  • American Jewish Archives: Hebrew Un. College, 3101 Clifton Ave, Cincinnati, Ohio 45220, USA.
  • Archives Authority of New South Wales: 2 Globe Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia.
  • Baptist Church House: 4 Southampton Row, London, England, WC1B 4AB.
  • Borthwick Institute of Historical Research: St Anthony's Hall, Peasholme Green, York, England, Y01 2PW.
  • British Association for Local History: PO Box 1576, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, SP2 8SY.
  • British Library: Euston Road, London, England, NW1 2DB.
  • British Telecom Museum: Baynard House, 135 Queen Victoria Street, London, England, EC4 4AT.
  • College of Arms: Queen Victoria Street, London, England, EC4 4BT.
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission: 2 Marlow Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, SL6 7DX.
  • Department of Manuscripts: Euston Road, London, England, NW1 2DB.
  • Dr Williams Library: 14 Gordon Square, London, England, WC1H 0AG.
  • Family Division/Principal Registry (Divorces): Somerset House, Strand, London, England, WC2A 1LA.
  • Family Division/Principal Registry (Probates): First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London, England, WC1V 6NP.
  • Family Records Centre: 1 Myddelton Street, London, England, EC1R 1UW.
  • Family Tree Magazine: 61 Great Whyte, Ramsey, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England, PE17 1HL.
  • Federation of Family History Societies: The Administrator, The Benson Room, Birmingham & Midland Institute, Margaret Street, Birmingham, England, B3 3BS.
  • Genealogical Research Directory: 17 Mitchell Street, North Sydney, NSW 2060, Australia.
  • General Register Office (Public Search Room): Family Records Centre, 1 Myddelton Street, London, England, EC1R 1UW.
  • General Register Office (Ireland): Joyce House, 8-11 Lombard Street, Dublin 2, Ireland.
  • General Register Office (Northern Ireland): 49-55 Chichester Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT1 4HL.
  • General Register Office (Scotland): New Register House, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 3YT.
  • Gibson Guides: J S W Gibson, Harts Cottage, Church Hanborough, Witney, Oxon, England, OX8 8AB. (Also obtainable from FTM, FFHS and SoG.)
  • Guild of One-Name Studies: Box G, 14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London, England, EC1M 7BA.
  • Guildhall Library: Aldermanbury, London, England, EC2P 2EJ.
  • Imperial War Museum: Lambeth Road, London, England, SE1 6HZ.
  • India Office: 197 Blackfriars Road, London, England, SE1 8NG.
  • Institute of Heraldic & Genealogical Studies: 79-82 Northgate, Canterbury, Kent, England, CT1 1BA.
  • London Metropolitan Archives: 40 Northampton Road, London, England, EC1R 0HB.
  • Lord Lyon, King of Arms: New Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 3YT.
  • McLaughlin Guides: Eve McLaughlin, Varneys, Rudds Lane, Haddenham, nr. Aylesbury, Bucks, England. (Also obtainable from FTM, FFHS and SoG.)
  • National Army Museum: Royal Hospital Road, London, England, SW3 4HT.
  • National Archives of Ireland: Bishop Street, Dublin 8, Ireland.
  • National Library of Wales: Aberystwyth, Dyfed, Wales, SY23 3BU.
  • National Maritime Museum: Romney Road, Greenwich, London, England, SE10 9NF.
  • National Register of Archives: Quality House, Chancery Lane, London, England, WC2A 1HP.
  • Newspaper Library: Colindale Avenue, London, England, NW9 5HE.
  • Office of National Statistics: Family Records Centre, 1 Myddelton Street, London, England, EC1R 1UW.
  • Public Record Office: Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England, TW9 4DU.
  • Public Record Office (Census Records): Family Records Centre, 1 Myddelton Street, London, England, EC1R 1UW.
  • Scottish Record Office: General Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 3YY.
  • Shire Publications: Cromwell House, Church Street, Princes Risborough, Bucks, England, HP27 9AA.
  • Society of Friends Library: Friends House, Euston Road, London, England, NW1 2BJ.
  • Society of Genealogists: 14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London, EC1M 7BA.


The date of death of an ancestor can lead the researcher logically on to a quest for a will. Not every citizen made a will but there may be papers of administration (or admons) granted to a relative, typically the next of kin.. Searching for wills is relatively easy for the period from 1858. Please refer to Probate Registry. In the years before 1858 stretching back for centuries the granting of probate and administration was conducted by the church. Probate jurisdiction occurred in the lowest church court if the deceased lived where his property was. The ecclesiastical courts were structured upwards from parish (only those known as Peculiars) through the Rural Deanery and the Archdeacon's Court to the Bishop's Court. The Bishop's Court had jurisdiction if the deceased's property was in multiple archdeaconries. (The Bishop's Court might be known as an Episcopal Court, a Consistory Court or a Commissary Court.) If the deceased was a wealthy land owner, his property may have extended outside the diocese so jurisdiction would occur in the Archbishops's Court, either the Prerogative Court of Canterbury or the Prerogative Court of York. The PCY covered the northern counties and the PCC the southern. The PCC was the senior court and had jurisdiction over probates of people who owned property in both provinces. Readers should be warned that there are exceptions to these ecclesiastical rules. Pre-1858 probate records for the PCC are held at the PRO. Pre-1858 probate records for the PCY are held at the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, St Anthony's Hall, Peasholme Green, York, England, YO1 2PW. Probates for the lower church courts are held at CROs, while Welsh wills are at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, Dyfed, Wales, SY23 3BU. Indexes to most of the courts are held at SoG. Scottish wills (testaments) are held at the Scottish Record Office.

Wills can contain a wealth of information whether made before 1858 or after. You may locate a will before a death so you then have a rough guide to that event. Wills contain names of family members and can assist in establishing relationships. They take us back to a time when property, lifestyles and values were very different. Take note of the executors who were frequently relatives or close friends of the person making the will. As stated earlier, a grant of administration was typically made to the next of kin, as deemed by law, so one can determine who was the nearest surviving relative at the time the intestate made his will if not when he died. (See Probate Registry and Scotland.)


Researchers face many frustrations. It is bad enough that we let our elderly relatives pass on without asking questions about our ancestry. Then, we face problems of time, distance and funds (or lack thereof) in developing a family history. However, it all could be a lot easier. In previous editions of the A-Z, I included my wish list that would make research that much smoother. Some of those wishes have come true. St Catherine's House has been superseded by the much better equipped FRC. The LDS has broken down some barriers and is now marketing databases of professionally extracted vital events on CD-ROM. The world of genealogy is moving on at a fast pace so there are just three wishes on my list for the immediate year or two ahead and Wish 1 was Wish 1 last time round.

Wish 1:

Civil Registration - when will the indexes be computer indexed? Births, marriages and deaths fully indexed and available on CD-ROM would be a researcher's dream. (Michael Armstrong it to be congratulated on his efforts in attempting to bring together the Registrar General's Office and the LDS.)

Wish 2:

Archives Online - the growth of the WWW and the initiatives taken by such premier bodies as the Scottish Record Office and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are hopefully only the start of a snowball rolling downhill. I would love to see similar online commitments from the FHSs, CROs and, especially, the PRO. Indexes of the 1851 Census, Wills, Divorces, Monumental Inscriptions, etc. on the WWW would make our hobby easier and more exciting.

Wish 3:

Selfish Researchers - there are some still out there who accept all your research but are reluctant to exchange their own. Would they all make a resolution to be more cooperative in the future?


WWW addresses change much more frequently than postal addresses so it is a battle to keep up to date. One feature of surfing the Web is the links that are built into some sites to carry you on to the next interesting genealogical site with a mere click of the mouse button. Here are a few Web sites but you can find 30,000 more at Cyndi's List!

(See Internet.)


(I was born in Somerset and cannot spell.) Much has changed since I wrote the last edition of the A-Z but the golden rule of genealogical research remains the same: assume nothing and prove everything. The key thing is to enjoy your research and get the most out of it. Do what I do, subscribe to FTM and purchase many of the wonderful little guides to everything from using the IGI to finding wills. If you live outside the UK, plan visits to Britain so you have a strategy and the time for your research. A simple A-Z such as this cannot be relatively concise AND comprehensive. There are many areas of genealogical research that have not been touched on and there is insufficient space to explain in detail how to use the IGI or to elaborate on the extent of PRO's and SoG's archives. Then, I have not included opening hours of repositories or booking requirements because things change. Finally, I have no connection with any of the companies or institutions mentioned herein although I have used some of the services offered and have visited many of the repositories. The opinions and recommendations are mine based on my experiences. I take no responsibility for any errors or omissions made or any subsequent loss suffered by any reader as a result of information contained herein. Naturally, I would appreciate receiving suggestions, corrections or comments, and hope to continue to update the A-Z of British Genealogical Research on a regular basis.

Feel free to contact me. My e-mail address is aemery[at]iafrica[dot]com.

Author: Dr Ash Emery who is copyright holder of A-Z of British Genealogical Research.