Newbies' Guide to Genealogy & Family History


By Roy Stockdill


I posted this guide in several parts to the WEST-RIDING Internet genealogy list in July and August 2000 in the hope that it would not only help newcomers to genealogy and family history to become more experienced in research techniques, but also to answer some of those questions that seem to get constantly asked in online genealogy mailing lists. Though intended principally for researchers with ancestors in the historic West Riding of Yorkshire, I hope some parts of it, at least, may prove of use to a wider audience.

The whole work is my copyright, but you have permission to copy and store it in your files without further reference to me. If, however, you wish to transmit it to any other party, or to make use of it in some other way, please do me the courtesy of informing me and asking my permission first. Thank you.

PART 1 - Some general advice

FIRST, an explanation of why in the headline I put genealogy and family history. "Aren't they the same thing?" newcomers may ask. Answer - NO! There is a difference between the two, and unless you understand this you will not get the maximum satisfaction out of your research.

GENEALOGY in its strictest sense is the study of blood lines of descent from a particular ancestor or ancestors, with no attempt to examine or reconstruct the lives of those concerned. This is the fundamental building block, the foundations, leading on to.....

FAMILY HISTORY which covers a far wider spectrum and entails what might be called "putting flesh on the bones". Family history covers not just genealogical descents but the relating of your ancestors and their lives to the social and economic history of the times in which they lived. Thus, anything at all which impinged on the lives of your ancestors can be said to be legitimate family history. This includes how they lived, the kind of houses they lived in, the clothes they wore, the food they ate, the jobs they did, how they brought up their children, where they went to church, the shops they shopped at, what kind of things they bought, the hours they worked, how they spent their leisure time, etc, etc, etc - and a million other things which all help to build up a practice and realistic picture of your ancestors' lives.

Now to some more practical advice...

1) In my honest opinion, everyone should read at least one good book on how to trace your family history before asking questions here. It is essential you learn at least the fundamental basics of research, otherwise you will be floundering around in the dark with not a clue how to proceed (and many of the beginners' questions that get asked constantly on here could easily be avoided by just reading a book). I recommend anything by Stella Colwell, especially "Teach Yourself Tracing your family tree", pub. by Hodder & Stoughton, London, at £7.99, ISBN 0 340 59825 5, a good guide for beginners. Further reading includes: "Tracing Your Family Tree" by Jean Cole and John Titford, "Short Cuts in Family History" by Michael Gandy, "First Steps in Family History" by Eve McLaughlin, and "The Family Historian's Enquire Within" by Pauline Saul. Also, "The Family Tree Detective" by Colin D Rogers. These names are all luminaries of the UK family history world and their books are (or normally should be) all available from the Society of Genealogists bookshop <sales[at]sog.org[dot]uk> It is not chauvinism if I recommend you seek out these British authors, but purely because they really do know their facts better than anyone outside the UK. However, a good American book for those who cannot obtain the books I recommend above is: "In Search of Your British and Irish Roots" by Angus Baxter, pub. by the Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc, of 1001 N. Calvert St, Baltimore MD ISBN 0 8063 1611 X.

2) If you live in a remote place and really do not have access to a library or bookshop to track down good books on genealogy and family history, then spend some time trawling genealogical sites on the Internet - especially GENUKI, the umbrella site for research in Britain and Ireland. This contains a vast amount of material and should answer many of those basic questions that get asked here. The site is divided county by county, and the Yorkshire pages maintained by Colin Hinson are a treasure trove of material on our great county.

3) Do NOT make the newbie's No 1 mistake of thinking you can log on to the Internet and have your family tree back to William the Conqueror by tea-time. You can't! Most of we more experienced family historians have been in this business for years and if you can get back beyond 1600 you are doing well. The Internet is a wonderful tool but it is only an adjunct to the main event. Researching your family history - and, more importantly, getting it accurate - still involves many hours of basic research the old-fashioned way - and that means tracking down original records, whether in Record Offices or at Mormon Family History Centres.

4) NEVER think you can just build a family tree from the IGI on the FamilySearch site - that way lie major pitfalls and you will probably end up with somebody else's family tree altogether. Equally, don't believe the pedigrees you find on the World Family Tree Project CDs or in Ancestral File (the Mormon website) - or indeed anywhere on the Internet - without checking them yourself. Some are a combination of fiction and wishful thinking.

5) Familiarise yourself very fully with the area you intend to research. Find out exactly where it is and try to obtain some decent maps or a gazetteer. These are widely available either via mail order or online and so are guides to Yorkshire (again, look at Colin Hinson's Yorkshire pages in GENUKI, which includes a comprehensive guide to just about everywhere in the county). Do understand that Yorkshire is a huge county, its geographical area covering approximately one-eighth of the land area of England. Moreover, at any one time it has always held around 10% of the entire population of Britain, so it is not an easy county in which to research.

6) If you are a member of an Internet genealogy mailing list covering Yorkshire, or part of the county, "lurk" for a while and get the feel of the list before asking questions. Just by reading the messages you will begin to develop a knowledge of Yorkshire, its geography, its character and its people. When asking questions, be as precise and detailed as possible. Asking for a look-up of your gt-grandfather, believed born "somewhere in Yorkshire" will not make you too popular!

7) Consider joining one of the numerous Yorkshire family history societies covering the area your ancestors came from. It will probably be the best step you can take, since you will receive a regular journal and be able to buy publications from the society which will help your research; also you will have access to a list of Members' Interests with contact addresses to write to or e-mail for exchange of information. A word of caution, though - whereas most counties have only one, and occasionally two, family history societies, Yorkshire has SEVENTEEN and FOURTEEN of them are in the West Riding! Also, some overlap in their areas of coverage. I can supply details of secretaries and of which society covers which area (my e-mail address is at the end of this file).

8) When we talk about the Ridings we mean the historic, traditional divisions of Yorkshire - the North, East and West Ridings - that existed for centuries before the 1974 county and local government reorganisation. Genealogical research in Yorkshire is largely based on these historic regions and not on modern administrative boundaries. The word Riding derives from an old Danish word thriding, meaning a "third part". The Ridings were further sub-divided into areas called wapentakes. The best possible guide to what's what in Yorkshire is a splendid little booklet called "Basic Facts About Researching in Yorkshire" by Pauline Litton, one of the great luminaries of Yorkshire genealogy and a regular columnist in Family Tree Magazine.

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PART 2 - Civil registration and censuses

Civil registration of Births, Marriages & Deaths began in England and Wales on July 1 1837. In Scotland it began on January 1 1855 and in Ireland on January 1 1864. Before those dates the only records of these events were religious ones in parish registers. Thus, it is pointless to ask how to obtain birth certificates before these dates. The answer is - there weren't any. Churches did not issue birth certificates and the only record was a baptismal entry - NOTE baptism, not birth - in the parish registers. Birth dates were rarely given except in some cases where the vicars were especially conscientious (see mention of DADE Registers in a later section)

I will confine myself here to civil registration in England and Wales, since Scotland and Ireland do not concern a Yorkshire list (and the information for those countries can be found elsewhere). The master indexes of all births, marriages and deaths since July 1837 are kept at the Family Records Centre in Myddelton St, Islington, London. They are in large bound volumes, arranged yearly by quarters. You look up the event you require in the indexes, then fill in a form and apply for the certificate (UK pounds 7.00).

However, few people can get to the FRC in London, so copies of the indexes are available on microform (fiche or film) at major public libraries, some Record Offices, the Society of Genealogists' library (also in London) and at many Mormon Family History Centres.

I will not attempt to list here the type of information available on the certificates it would take too long) but would make a few important points...

1) Many people are surprised when they cannot find an ancestor in the indexes, especially between 1837 and 1875. This is because registration of an event was not actually made compulsory until 1875 (i.e. people could be fined after that date for not registering a birth) and in the early years it has been estimated that in some areas as many as 20% of births were not registered.

2) You can also obtain certificates by writing to the appropriate Register Office if you know the registration district in which an event took place. I have never had to do this (since I am fortunate in living near London) but from experiences I have heard from others I believe you should be prepared for a variety of differing responses. Some are very helpful but not all local Register Offices welcome enquiries, I gather, since it takes up the time of their staff who have other things to do in registering present-day events. You are probably better off finding an event in the indexes at your nearest LDS FHC and applying to the General Register Office at Southport, which handles postal enquiries. See...


for details. The address is :

General Register Office

Smedley Hydro

Trafalgar Road


Merseyside PR8 2HH

Tel: +44 (0)870 243 7788

E-Mail: certificate.services[at]ons.gov[dot]uk

On the GRO web pages you will find many links to help you with further information on various aspects of civil registration and obtaining birth, marriage and death certificates; also links to obtain information on registration in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

3) Even original birth, marriage and death certificates are not always accurate, although they are primary sources!!! This may come as a shock to some, but our ancestors often lied to the Registrar. Usually, this was to conceal the fact that a marriage was bigamous or that one party was a lot older than the other and had lied to their partner about his/her age. Be particularly careful of given ages on death certificates where the person concerned was born before 1837, since often people (and their relatives) in those days had only a vague idea of when they were born and, thus, how old they were.

CENSUSES have taken place every 10 years since 1801. However, the earliest ones from 1801 to 1831 were for statistical reasons only and in the vast majority of cases no names were recorded, therefore they are of little value to family historians. However, in a very few places the enumerator was particularly conscientious and recorded names as well (usually only heads of households but very occasionally all members of the household) and some of these rare returns of 1801-1831 have survived in Record Offices.

Their whereabouts are detailed in a booklet "Local Census Listings 1522-1930 by Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott, published by the Federation of Family History Societies and available via the Federation's online bookshop, www.familyhistorybooks.co.uk

The earliest census to give names (apart from the rare exceptions mentioned above) was that of 1841. This is also the one of least use to us, since the relationship of each member to the head of the household is not given and in most areas the ages of adults over 15 were rounded down to the nearest lower multiple of 5. This often confuses newbies, since a person aged 34 could be shown as 30 and this will not add up when compared against given ages on birth/marriage certificates or in subsequent censuses. Also in 1841, the place of birth is not given, the only reference being a question whether the person was born in the county of present residence or not, the only answer being "Yes" or "No" (not a lot of help!).

From 1851 onwards more detailed information is given, including relationships, supposedly accurate ages and actual birth places. However, again, please take great care since this information was often inaccurate. People lied about their ages (sometimes because they had lied to their partners about it) or occupations (sometimes to enhance their social status) and sometimes genuinely didn't know how old they were or where they were born. Often they gave as their birthplace the first place they could remember living in, whereas they may have been born somewhere else altogether. Or they may give a village as a birthplace in one census and the nearest town in another.

All census from 1841 to 1891 are searchable on films, the main collection being at the FRC (as above in civil registration) but copies are widely held in other Record Offices (usually just the returns for the particular area) and at LDS FHCs.

The only UK censuses which have been completely indexed by surname nationally are those of 1881 and 1901 (see below for details of the 1901 census). I am sure I scarcely have to mention the now famous 1881 CDs, issued by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The 1881 census is also now available on the LDS website, www.familysearch.org. Other censuses have NOT been indexed by surname except on a regional basis by local family history societies. The most widely surname-indexed census apart from 1881 is the 1851. Other censuses have been indexed only on a very spasmodic basis. To know the full details of which area has been surname indexed you need another booklet called "Marriage and Census Indexes for Family Historians" by Jeremy Gibson and Elizabeth Hampson, again available from the FFHS's online boolshop.


After a "false start" in January 2002, when it crashed on day 1 because of the huge worldwide demand, and after much angst and anxious waiting among family historians, the 1901 census of England & Wales finally went fully online in the summer of 2002. The URL is...


This is a pay-per-view website on which the indexes are free but you have to pay to access either a transcription of a household or an image of the original entry from the enumerator's book. I do not propose to give further details here, since you will find everything you need to know on the website. Payment is by credit card or voucher (the latter can be bought from the PRO or from many family history societies).

Finally, a special note to newbies - PLEASE, PLEASE do not ask the list to do lookups "in the 1861 census for my gt-gt-grandfather Fred Bloggs, believed to have been born somewhere in Yorkshire." Requests like these are utterly impossible to comply with, so do not be offended if you don't get any responses! Indeed, lookup requests for all the censuses except 1881 and 1901 are normally only acceptable if you know an address, unless a member of the list has access to a surname index for the particular area.

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Part 3 - Parish registers and bishop's transcripts

PARISH registers were introduced into England and Wales in 1538 when Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII, ordered every parish to keep records of baptisms, marriages and burials. Until 1597 these were simply entered onto loose sheets, with the unfortunate result that huge numbers were lost forever. If you can find a church with registers surviving from 1538 you are lucky indeed. One such is the parish church of HALIFAX, St. John the Baptist. In 1597 it was ordered that registers should be bound into volumes and also that copies should be sent to the Bishop's office, these becoming known as the BISHOP'S TRANSCRIPTS. Sometimes you will find when researching that the original registers have disappeared but the BTs exist, so it is well worth tracking these down. They are now held almost entirely in record offices. The BTs also quite often fill in gaps in the original registers - moreover, the details given in the BTs sometimes vary from the registers, so, again, watch out! If you spend a lot of time on the Mormon

FamilySearch website and follow the link from the search results pages by clicking on "Source Call" you will note that many of the records have been filmed from the BTs, rather than the registers. This may have been because when the controlled extraction program was first launched many parish registers were still in the hands of the incumbents, who would not give permission for them to be filmed, so the LDS went instead to the County Record Offices and filmed the BTs.

Parishes varied enormously in size, especially in Yorkshire. Halifax parish, for instance, was once the largest in England, extending from the outskirts of Bradford to the Lancashire border at Todmorden and containing over 20 townships. Many parishes had smaller divisions within them, known as chapelries with their own church. Sometimes in rural areas parishes did not have a large enough congregation to justify a permanent cleric, so one incumbent would cover more than one place. A phrase you will come across is "cum" which simply means "with".

A great many parish registers have been published in book form, usually by a county parish register society (as in the case of the Yorkshire Parish Register Society which has published a large number) or local FHS. Copies of these can be found in genealogical and local libraries, record offices, Mormon Family History Centres, etc. The Society of Genealogists library in London has probably the largest collection of printed Yorkshire parish registers outside Yorkshire. As always, it is always best to try and check the primary source - i.e. the original handwritten registers - but it is often difficult to see them these days, since many record offices now have a policy of not producing them for fear of deterioration. Normally, you have to make do with the film, but if you find a page you cannot read and throw yourself on the archivist's mercy they will sometimes let you see the original! I think this varies from office to office, so don't count on it.

Many early registers are in Latin, so you may need to learn a little expertise in translating them. You may find names like "Edwardus" for Edward and "Guillelme" for William etc. "Baptizatus erat," "nupti erat" and "sepultus erat" mean baptised, married and buried. Moreover, like all of us, clerics were sometimes forgetful, lazy or incompetent and either got entries wrong or forget to enter events altogether! The detail given in register entries varies considerably also from parish to parish, depending on how conscientious or otherwise the incumbent was. Mostly, it is fairly sparse, giving only the date and nature of the event. In many baptismal entries only the father's name is given and not the mother's.

The form of entries in parish registers changed little between 1597 and 1754, when Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into effect. This imposed a standard form of entry for marriage in an attempt to prevent clandestine marriages, of which there were many. It was possible to be married without the calling of banns or the obtaining of a licence, and there were certain clergymen willing to perform illicit marriages. The most notorious of these was in London's Fleet Prison, where there were 217 marriages performed on the day before Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into effect. After this date the record of marriage had to be signed by both parties and witnesses in a bound volume of printed forms.

During the Commonwealth period (after the Civil War and until the Restoration of Charles II) marriages were often conducted in places other than churches and the banns were often called in the nearest market place.

* Do be extremely CAREFUL when recording in your family records any events from parish registers before 1752. Until that year, the New Year began not on January 1st but on Lady Day, March 25th. Therefore, the entries continue beyond December 31 into the next year (in modern terms) as being the same year. The best way to write any date before 1752 between January 1 and March 25 is to follow this example:- February 17th 1677/8. However, if you are working from a printed register or transcription, do check that the date has not already been modernised. It should say so clearly somewhere at the front of the volume.

* REMEMBER that baptisms did not always take place immediately after birth. Sometimes the two events could be several years apart. You often come across cases of parents having several children baptised together, so a christening date is not necessarily a reliable guide to age.

In Yorkshire some parishes were extremely lucky in having what were called DADE REGISTERS, named after the Rev William Dade, vicar of several Yorkshire parishes, who instituted a system of giving substantially more information than normal. If you come across these they are a gold mine, since they usually give in a baptismal entry not only the name of the father but the mother's name, father's occupation, and the names of both grandfathers and parishes of residence, thus taking you back another generation and to other places. In 1812 a further new system was introduced extending the amount of information given but, ironically, giving less information than had previously occurred under Dade Registers. There is no overall guide to which parishes had Dade Registers but you will certainly know them when you see them.

Finally, if you want to know what parish had what registers you really should obtain one of two books - Yorkshire Parish Registers by Colin Blanshard Withers, which covers all Anglican parishes in Yorkshire with full details of when the registers begin, where the originals are held and what copies exist; or the National Index of Parish Registers, Volume 11 Parts 2 and 3, published by the Society of Genealogists (in two volumes, one covering the North and East Ridings and the other, Part 3, the West Riding). The NIPR gives details of not only Anglican churches but Catholic and Nonconformist as well. These books also list Yorkshire Record Offices (of which there are many).

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Part 4 - Other sources

As mentioned earlier, the first UK national census to be of any use to family historians was that of 1841, the earliest one to give actual names (apart from in a few rare cases dealt with below) The earlier censuses of 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831 recorded statistical returns only. This leads many newcomers to genealogy to believe there is nothing to be found before 1841, but this is not the case. There are other records which amount to a virtual census of some areas.....


Under the 1757 Militia Act Parliament ordered militia regiments to be established in England and Wales. This was a form of conscription in which all parishes had to make lists of adult males suitable for military service and then ballots were held to choose some for compulsory training. If those chosen wanted to escape military service, they had to find someone willing to take their place - an option normally open only to the wealthy who could offer money as a bribe. Militia recruitment was organised by the Lord Lieutenants of the counties and the actual lists drawn up by magistrates and parish constables. Under the Act, the constables were ordered to record the names of all men aged 18 to 50, with certain exclusions such as peers, clergy, teachers, apprentices and peace officers.

In another Act in 1758 Parliament directed that no names should be excluded, though the upper age limit was reduced to 45 in 1762. The militia ballot lists, therefore, amounted virtually to a complete census of all adult males aged from 18 to 50 between 1758 and 1762 and aged between 18 and 45 from 1762 to 1831. Survival of these lists is far better in some counties than others, but you need a book (details of which I shall give below) to find out which have survived and where they are.

Two important sources for Yorkshire which I have personally consulted are the Craven Muster Rolls 1803, which lists hundreds of men in the Craven area around Skipton and the Dales, and a book published by the North Yorkshire RO called "To Escape the Monster's Clutches", which gives details of the Whitby and Scarborough Volunteers in the 1790s when Britain feared invasion by the French. Muster Rolls sometimes give valuable additional information such as if a man had a handicap, like "blind" or "missing an arm". These were obviously important factors with regard to suitability for military service. One poor chap in the Craven Muster Rolls has the word "Idiot" alongside his name (I reckon they probably made him an officer!).

DEFENCE LISTS 1798 and 1803-04

Under the Defence of the Realm Act , lists known as "Posse Comitatus" lists and "Levee en Masse" lists were made in 1798 and 1803/04 respectively. These Defence Lists, despite their name, were not lists of those intended for military service. Their intention was to organise reserves of men not already serving in a military capacity for the defence of Britain against a French invasion. They would have been needed to evacuate the civilian population, remove wildstock and crops from the path of the invaders, gather arms and equipment and deal with food supplies to the forces and civilian population.

The Posse Comitatus and Levee en Masse lists were comprehensive records of all able-bodied men not already serving in the forces and aged between 15 and 60, whilst occupations such as millers, bakers, wagoners, barge owners etc - anyone who could be useful in certain ways - were also noted. The Levee en Masse lists also listed all householders by name and sometimes occupation and age, with numbers of males and females in each house, and non-combatants who would need to be evacuated (women, children, the old and infirm). Again, survival of these lists is spasmodic, but one outstanding example is that for the wapentake of Staincliffe with Ewcross in the West Riding, which lists 9,000 men aged from 17-55 in 1803.

There are many of these military records listed for Yorkshire, divided into the Ridings, in: Militia Lists and Musters 1757-1876, a Gibson Guide by Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott, published by the Federation of Family History Societies and available from the Society of Genealogists bookshop. * PLEASE NOTE - the book does NOT give actual records and names, purely a county-by-county guide to where you can find them.


The term "local census" means lists of people not connected with the official civil censuses of 1841 to 91. Over 750 parish listings giving names have been found for the 1801, 1811, 1821 and 1831 censuses. Officially, these censuses were supposed to be statistical only, merely recording the number of inhabitants in a parish, but sometimes the compilers - Overseers of the Poor, clergy and teachers - were exceptionally conscientious and wrote down the names also. Sometimes they did this as a reference point, to ensure people were not repeated or omitted. Smart printers - particularly in London, Essex and Yorkshire - spotted a market and unofficially sold sets of forms with columns for the names of householders to be recorded. The statistics only were sent to the central census authorities, but the forms and similar rough drafts containing names were sometimes kept in parish chests or in private hands and some have survived. Usually these unofficial censuses give heads of households only, but in a few fortunate cases full names and relationships were shown.

One reason for keeping these unofficial censuses may have been to do with Poor Law administration. In the West Riding, local censuses for 1801 and 1811 for Midgley and Elland-cum-Greetland, 1801 for Langfield, 1811 for Sowerby, and 1811 for Todmorden and Walsden have been published in booklet form by the Calderdale FHS. In some parishes only the householder is named, whilst others contain the names of all members of a household, with relationships.


In 1695 a tax was introduced in births, marriages, burials, bachelors over 25 and childless widows in England and Wales, known as the Marriage Duties Act or Marriage tax. It only lasted until 1705/6, but it entailed the making of lists of inhabitants of parishes or townships and those liable to pay it. A small number of these lists have survived in borough, parish and private records.


There were various of these, including records of Incumbents' Visiting Books, Easter Books and Communicants' Lists. The clergy were great compilers of lists for varying reasons, usually to do with assisting them in their duties as they went on their pastoral rounds. Visiting Books often included parishioners who were Non-conformists, details of households visited and sometimes even small sketch maps locating houses in the parish. Over the years these grew into social commentaries on whole communities. Whilst not exactly censuses in the strict sense of the word, they can contain a great many names.

Sometimes they are amazingly detailed, with births, marriages, occupations, family relationships, employment, literacy, schooling, and even assessments of character. Easter Books and Communicants Lists, which are quasi-censuses, recorded all full members of the Church of England, normally from around the age of 10 or 12 in Tudor times, but later from about 16. One reason for their existence was because the clergy received tithes from full members at Easter time. The survival of these records is very patchy and varies from county to county, but they are well worth knowing about.

* "Local Census Listings 1522-1930: Holdings in the British Isles" by Jeremy Gibson and Mervyn Medlycott, published by the Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd. This booklet lists the whereabouts of the above and other types of local census listings throughout the UK and Ireland. It is available from the SoG bookshop <sales[at]sog.org[dot]uk>


The hearth tax returns are a major source of information for the mid to late 17th century. The tax was levied twice a year at Lady Day, March 25 - the official start of the New Year until 1752 - and Michaelmas, September 29, between 1662 and 1688. During this time the tax was the government's major source of revenue. It was literally a tax on the number of hearths in a household. It was always very unpopular in the country and was abolished in 1688.

Each hearth was taxed at the rate of two shillings a year, but those who were too poor to pay it were exempt, as were charitable institutions like hospitals and almshouses. The great value of the hearth tax returns is that they give not only the names of householders but the numbers of hearths they were taxed upon, thus giving some indication of their relative wealth and social status. Unfortunately, many of the returns have not survived, those that have being the returns from 1662-1666 and 1669-1674. The originals are held at the Public Record Office, but most of the hearth tax returns for Yorkshire have been published by the Ripon Historical Society in about a dozen booklets, divided by wapentakes.


Poor Law records, settlement certificates, church wardens' accounts, and various other parish records, are all valuable sources for the family historian. A settlement certificate showed that a person had a right to legal settlement in a particular parish. If he/she tried to move to another parish and occupied a property worth less than £10 per annum, the Overseers of the Poor could return them to the parish where they had legal settlement, lest they become a charge on their new parish. Usually, these records were kept in the parish chest and today are to be found mostly in County Record Offices. However, in Yorkshire their survival is spasmodic, since many parishes were so large that the unit of local administration was the township, rather than the parish. Thus, many records have not survived, having been scattered over a wide area.


Original marriage bonds and allegations from 1660 for Yorkshire are held at the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, York, or at the West Yorkshire Archives at Sheepscar, Leeds. Earlier ones from 1567 have been printed in publications such as "Paver's Marriage Licences" in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Volumes 7-20 and the YAS Record Series Volumes 40, 43 and 46.


This is a large and complex field, which I do not have the space to develop here. There is a Gibson Guide to wills, published by the Federation of Family History Societies. Again, this should be available from the Society of Genealogists' bookshop or from the Federation Publications Dept - Units 15/16 Chesham Industrial Centre, Oram Street, Bury, Lancashire BL9 6EN <sales[at]ffhs.org[dot]uk>

In general terms, wills are another tremendously valuable source, since they often reveal family details and relationships of beneficiaries to the testator. A large number of Yorkshire wills and letters of administration are held at the Borthwick Institute, York, while those for the Archdeaconry of Richmond are at the West Yorkshire Archives at Sheepscar, Leeds. In both cases, however, we are talking of wills before 1858. All wills after 1858 are at the Principal Registry of the Family Division and there is a public search room at First Avenue House, 42-48 High Holborn, London WC1V 6HA. Many Mormon FHCs hold copies of wills.


An Act of 1696 authorised the publication of copies of the poll at elections, showing how each elector had voted. This may surprise some people but, in fact, secret elections were not introduced until 1872. The intention of the Act was to prevent fraud and corruption by candidates and returning officers. The lists are normally arranged by hundreds - or wapentakes in the case of Yorkshire - and normally show the name of each voter, residence, place of qualification to vote and which candidate he voted for. The qualification to be a voter was the ownership of property worth at least 40 shillings. A number of poll books for Yorkshire have been published, among the most important being those for 1741 (for the whole county) and the West Riding Poll Book 1835. After the Reform act of 1832, electoral registers were published of persons entitled to vote (different to poll books, which revealed how people had voted). These were later also called burgess rolls. Most local libraries possess copies for their area, many being complete from Victorian times up to the present day.


Trade and commercial directories have been published since the late 17th century. They are yet another valuable source for family historians. They list all the traders in a particular place, plus lists of the gentry, clergy, professional people and other important figures. Among the names of leading directories you will come across are Kelly's, Pigot's, White's and The Universal British Directory.

One of the best known publications for Yorkshire is Baines' History, Directory and Gazetteer of the County of York, published in two volumes in 1822. This is a prodigious work, giving the history of every major town in the county, with long lists of commercial people, traders, gentry and leading citizens for each one. A great many villages are also featured.

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Part 5 - Understanding the IGI (International Genealogical Index)

THIS is perhaps the one thing that flummoxes newcomers to genealogy more than anything else. To understand the IGI and how it works, you must first understand what it is and what it is not. The IGI did not start out as an index for genealogists; it has become one by the goodwill of the LDS Church in making it available to all, whether church members or not. Its principal purpose is to act as a record of certain ceremonies which have taken place within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (otherwise known as the LDS or the Mormons) which need not concern us here. Suffice to know that these are to do with the LDS beliefs of baptising their ancestors by proxy into the Mormon Church.

To this end they have collected millions of entries from parish registers and Bishops' Transcripts and also from their own members. So the IGI falls into two very distinct parts.....

1) What is called the "controlled extraction" program from parish registers and BTs.

2) Private, or patron, submissions from church members.

The vital thing to remember when using the IGI is that entries which are from the controlled extraction program can generally be regarded as accurate, whilst private patron submissions are to be treated with extreme caution! There seems to be a belief among some newcomers that the IGI is the be-all and end-all of ancestry research. IT ISN'T! It is precisely what it says - an index only and must only ever be used in conjunction with other research.

The vital column to look at is that headed "Batch". If you know how to read the batch codes, you can tell whether the entries are from the controlled extraction program or from private submissions. Those codes beginning with C, K or J are taken from a christening (baptismal) register; those headed M or E are from a marriage register; and those headed P are from a printed copy or typed manuscript of a register. * NOTE that P does not mean "private" as many people seem to think. All-numerical codes and those beginning with A or F are church member submissions and should, therefore, be treated with some caution.

When reading the IGI on the FamilySearch website, you should always go to the "Source Call" link, click on it and you will be taken to another screen inside the Family History Library Catalogue. This will tell you the precise source of the entry, i.e. whether from a parish register or a "patron submission". I have noted when going to the "Source Call" that many entries seem to have been filmed from the Bishop's Transcripts rather than the registers (BTs were copies of the registers sent annually by the incumbent to the Bishop). This is because in the early days of the IGI when many parish registers were still in the hands of the incumbents, many clerics would not allow the Mormons to film their registers, so they had to go to the BTs which were usually in the County Record Office or Diocesan Record Office (which are often the same thing).

The batch numbers are very important in two respects...

1) in helping you to trace ancestors; and 2) establishing the original source of the records.

Always remember that the IGI is a very valuable tool as an Index, but it is exactly that and NOT a primary source. You must always check anything you find on the IGI with the original records.When reading the IGI on fiche you can ignore the three columns headed B, S and E (baptism, sealing and endowment), since these are references to the private events within the Mormon Church that I have referred to. But remember not to confuse the LDS baptismal date with the actual date of baptism. The only relevance of those columns to us as genealogists is where you see an entry headed "Infant" or "Child" which normally means the named child died under the age of 8 and church ordinances were not performed.

In FamilySearch online, once you have obtained a batch number which relates to film of a particular parish register - let's say a christening register - what you do is this:- go to CUSTOM SEARCH and select the IGI. Then by entering in the appropriate search boxes the batch number, a region, country and county (actually, you can dispense with the country and county as long as you enter the region and batch number), you can enter in the name boxes merely a surname and it should give you all the references to that surname within that particular parish.

Further, by entering a father's name - and sometimes a mother's name, but not always, since the name of the mother often wasn't given - it should give you all the children born to a particular couple in that parish. But do beware, of course, that if it is a fairly common surname there may well be more than one man, or one couple, of the same name in a parish. Often if you get a batch code beginning with, say, C, by simply changing the letter to an M or an E you may well get the marriage register for that parish, likewise you may get a printed register by changing the initial letter to a P.

To re-emphasise my point about patron submissions, in particular, treat like the plague any entries with the dreaded word "relative" alongside them!!! These are mostly very old entries on the IGI and are the most unreliable of all. In the early days, Mormons were encouraged to submit as many entries as they could for ordinances. They collected references from far and wide and submitted everyone of the same surname, describing themselves as a "relative" whether there was any proven blood relationship or not. This often leads the unwary to try and build family trees from the IGI - something you should never do.

Some unwary newcomers see an entry for, say, a Fred Bloggs married in a particular parish, with the appendage "Relative Joe Bloggs" alongside it, then find other entries for the children of a Fred Bloggs in another parish 30 miles away, with the same "Relative Joe Bloggs" alongside, and assume that the entries are for the same man. It ain't necessarily so!!!!! It may well be two entirely different Fred Bloggses, but Joe Bloggs in his enthusiasm to submit as many ancestors as possible for sealing and endowment has simply assumed they are the same person because they have the same name. It was also a curious belief of LDS submitters in the early days that everyone of the same surname must be members of the same family - genealogical nonsense, of course. But to be fair to the LDS, they have now tightened up their procedures considerably.

Also ignore like the plague those entries which use the word "About", since these are dangerously misleading. They are notoriously unreliable, being no more than guesses arrived at by subtracting 25 years in the case of a man and 21 years for a woman from a marriage date to arrive at a supposed birth date. I have seen examples where this has happened and the.actual birth date has been out by 30, 40 or even 50 years, when a man or woman has married late in life.

Finally, always check any entry you find on the IGI against the films of the original registers. There are two very good reasons for this - 1) to ensure what you found on the IGI is accurate and 2) because parish register entries so often give greater information than the IGI. For example, if you are lucky enough to find Dade Registers (which I mentioned in Part 3) they will give you an additional wealth of information compared with the bald entry on the IGI.

Please remember to read the rest of the Genuki "Getting Started" pages.

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© Roy Stockdill 2000 (updated 2003)

"Never ask a man if he comes from Yorkshire. If he does he will tell you. If he does not, why humiliate him?" - Canon Sydney SMITH (scholar and humorist 1771-1845)