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Frequently Asked Questions 


Where do I start?

Click here for the info

I've recorded everything my relatives told me. Where do I go next?

In England and Wales people have been able to register births, marriages and deaths since 1 July 1837. Certificates of events occurring from this date can be obtained from local Register Offices or you can search the General Register Office (GRO) indexes to these registrations at The Family Records Centre, 1 Myddelton Street, London EC1R 1UW. Some local libraries and record offices have copies in microform.

What information can I expect to obtain from a certificate?

A birth certificate usually names both parents, including the mother's maiden surname. Knowing both parents' full names, you can search the indexes for a reference to their marriage. A marriage certificate usually supplies the names of the fathers of both parties. Simple steps like these can take your line well back into the nineteenth century.

But this information only applies to England and Wales. My ancestry is Scottish and Irish. What do I do?

Civil Registration began in Scotland in 1855 and in Ireland in 1864. Certificates can be obtained from New Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh EHI 3YT (for Scotland) and from the Registrar General, 8-11 Lombard Street East, Dublin 2 for Ireland. Registrations for Northern Ireland after 1921 are at Oxford House, 49-55 Chichester Street, Belfast BTT 4HL. Before commencing this part of your research, however, you are strongly advised to read the relevant chapter in one of the many books available.

I have traced my line back to the mid-1800s, using the GRO Indexes. How do I get further back?

Now, you will be largely dependent on the church (or parish) registers. These registers were introduced in 1537/8 and contain baptisms and burials (as distinct from births and deaths) and, of course, marriages. Although many early registers have been lost over the years, a surprising number still exist.

Where do I find parish registers?

Today, very few registers, other than those which are still in use, are held at churches. Many of the registers have been filmed and copies are widely available; ask at the relevant county record office or local studies library.

I've heard of Bishops' Transcripts, but am not sure what they are.

In addition to the registers, from 1598 parish priests had to send to their bishop an 'annual return', a copy of the register, known as a Bishops' Transcript. Those that still exist can be very useful in supplying entries omitted from the register or replacing a missing register.

I've heard of the IGI, what is this?

The IGI, or International Genealogical Index, is an index to about 250 million (and growing) births, baptisms and marriages from around the world. The index is produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and is available in many libraries and record offices, and in the Church's own Family History Centres.

To date my family history consists, mainly, of names and dates; how do I find out more about my ancestors?

A census is taken every ten years and the records become available for public scrutiny when they are 100 years old. We can therefore see, on microfilm or microfiche, those returns for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891and 1901* . They are arranged under addresses, not names, and so you need to know where your family lived at those times to trace them. Details such as age, occupation and place of birth may be found on the census returns for 1851 and after. The 1841 census omits place of birth and relationships.

Where can I search the census returns?

A complete set for England and Wales is housed at The Family Records Centre, 1 Myddelton Street, London EC1R 1UW. Additionally, those pertaining to your area may be found at your local record office or library. There are many name indexes available, particularly for the 1851 and 1881 censuses: the latter has been indexed for the whole of England, Wales and Scotland. Or subscribe to: www.Ancestry.co.uk Highly recommended!

What else can I expect to find out about my family?

There are countless other sources which you can search, far too many to list here, and you would be well advised to read a book on the subject and to attend a family history class.

How do I find out if there are any family history classes in my area?

Try the Workers' Educational Association and the Local Education Authority, both of whom arrange adult classes. If none is available then ask if classes in this subject can be arranged.

I don't have time to attend classes. What else do you suggest?

There are many books on the subject, so ask at your local library. However, Amazon.co.uk have an enormous range of books and software. Links throughout this site.

Should I join a family history society?

Yes, join your local family history society. Go along to their meetings, join in their activities. You will also find it useful to become a member of those societies covering the areas in which your ancestors once lived.

What benefits can I expect for my Membership?

Most societies produce journals and these will describe local records and history. Their Members might be able to help with particular 'local research' problems, for example by visiting the churchyard to read your grandfather's gravestone for you! Belonging to a family history society will also enable you to contact others who are tracing the same surname that you are, in the area where your ancestor lived.

How do I find the contact address of a family history society?

We have a link to most of the family history societies here. Both international and UK.

Supposing there is someone already researching the same family as me, how do I find them?

Many family history societies publish directories of Members' interests. You can purchase international directories, such as the "Genealogical Research Directory", ask about these at your local family history society. Even better - become a member of Genes Reunited! www.genesreunited.co.uk/

What's the best way to "Get a flavour" of the area where my ancestors came from?

By far the best way, is to visit a Family History Fair, in or near to where your ancestors lived. A list can be found here. You will find lots of local information and booklets. Another great way to find out more about your ancestors way of life would be to join the Family History Society/Group for that area. You'll find a list here.

* The 1901 census is now available 'online' at www.Ancestry.co.uk. However, your local family history society may have the records for it's local area.

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