Tips and Tricks

Lets start from the start -- Births, Marriages, and Deaths

Queen VictoriaFrom 1837 onwards all births, marriages and deaths had by law to be recorded but before that time only the baptisms, marriages, and burials were recorded by the Church or Chapel minister therefore the place to start looking for these records is at County record offices (archives) where these records have been deposited for safe keeping. But you only have a name and not much clue as to what date your ancestor was born. So -----

One particularly important information source that has been produced by the Family History Library is the International Genealogical Index (or IGI), now available on line at the LDS FamilySearch site. This contains millions of entries, mainly of baptisms and marriages, many of them taken from parish registers as part of an organized program of careful transcription, others provided by individual and not always overly careful researchers. Although you will need to check the original sources of the information contained in the Index, you will often find that the Index can be a great help to your research. However, its coverage is far from complete, so the fact that the ancestor you are seeking does not appear in the IGI should not cause you to give up. (extract from Genuki.)

The International Genealogical Index is a tremendously valuable source of information which includes births and some marriages extracted from Parish records in England and Wales but also includes entries from individuals . A great starting point but must be authenticated by further searching of the Parish Records.

A site I find most valuable for searching IGI is Hugh Wallis`s great contribution to Internet searching.

Births after 1837 become a little easier to find as there are numerous sources for you to test out. Some you pay for and some you don`t!

FreeBMD is just what it says on the tin. The database has been built up by many volunteers searching for and transcribing records so what you have now is a truly searchable Births Marriages and Deaths website.

Genuki is really the Family Historians bible which is probably the largest collection of genealogical information on the internet for England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Parish Records are invaluable and can be found in your County Archives and generally appointments have to be made to view these records which are usually on either microfiche or microfilm and viewers are available for this.

National records for the whole of Wales are held at the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth where you may search Parish Records, Marriage bonds and Licences, Census records, Wills, and Newspapers but your County Record office will generally hold all or most of the parishes within that County


The National Census

CensusNow that you have found your target ancestor your journey can start back through time and generations with the aid of the Census. A census was taken every ten years from a realistic start date of 1841 through to 1901. Further census releases happen every 100 years which means that the next census available to us family history sleuths will be 2011.
There are quite a number of localised census transcriptions available online but the main census details you will have to pay for. census formThe other alternative is to travel to your County Record Office to view these records which in most cases means a long journey via car or public transport, a meal, a day off work perhaps! costing say - £40 - £50, and peering into a microfiche reader or even a PC which you already have at home, and a limit to the number of succesful searches you may carry out between the hours of opening.
But for much the same expense you can purchase a yearly subscription to a provider of these census records - and indexed - which you can view, search and find to your hearts content in the comfort of your own comfortable office chair! any hour of the day or night. Brilliant.

I just love this website - but buyer beware - limit yourself to census searching only until you get the hang of the site as they are there to take your money! With luck you may be able to travel back through time to even the great grandfather of the target ancestor you started out with. But - all records need testing and the only safe way to do this is to authenticate them by checking the parish records for the area he or she says they were born.
It is inevitable that there will be many anomalies to consider as the information the enumerator has placed on the census sheet has been provided by the most responsible householder at the time and quite a lot of guesswork took place, plus much illiteracy in the early part of the 19th. century, plus a little untruth here and there to suit the situation!!

Try not to make the mistake of following the wrong person. It can lead to great disappointment and frustration to think that you have been searching for someone elses Great Grandfather. Just think how many John Roberts`s, Tom Jones`s, or Bill Williams`s there are in the world all put there to confuse you!

You may search the 1901 census free with this website : but once you discover a good match you will have to pay to download that information and can either save it to file or print out.

What is a Census name index?

A census name index is an index of names compiled from the census records. If you know the district, sub district, or street, locating the pages containing records of your ancestors is fairly easy. On the other hand, you may not always know where your ancestors lived, and looking through thousands of pages of handwritten records can be a daunting task.

This is where census name indexes can save you hours of browsing. They enable you to search for a person by surname, forename and age. Matching entries will be displayed with a reference enabling you to find the original record.
Piece number and folio number (e.g. RG12/100 folio 50). With that information, you can now make another search for other family members who lived in the same household.
This website supplies this criteria and for a small monthly subscription you can make a comprehensive search at

If you are aware of the fact that most of your ancestors stayed within the same county for most of those years between 1841 and 1901 then it might be an idea to purchase a CD of that county here you can carry out a comprehensive search of the whole of a county. These unfortunately are not name indexed so it`s a case of trawling through the names of villages and towns to locate. /

Join a Family History Society

Joining a Family History Society for the area/s you are most interested in is a very good idea and for a small annual subscription you will receive the society newsletters, contact with other members who may be researching the same names, or even the same families as you, and access to transcripts of parish records for some of the area within the county. I have, over the years, received superb assistance in tracing relatives which could only have been achieved by being a member of a particular society. At this website you will be able to search for the Family History Society for your own area of research.

Parish Records

A Parish Record is just what it says. From time immemorial a priest has entered in his ledger the name of a baby just christened and who it`s parents were, the names of a couple just married, and the name of a person buried and in some instances Church recordsthese records have survived for hundreds of years. Prior to 1837 when it became law to register the Latin church registerdetails of a Birth, Marriage, or Death the information the priest would write down in his own records would be a little sketchy and open very often to misinterpretation by the family historian, therefore one must be very careful in the asumptions that said John Roberts son of John and Mary baptised September 5th. 1724 is the correct John. With less common names it becomes easier to pin ones relatives down as for example; surely there can only be one Peregrine Farquaharson Cholmondeley! The images left and right are at most times what you are asked to read either as filmed images of parish registers or as originals in some record offices. I would say that a very large proportion of English and Welsh records have by now been transcribed up to 1812 by volunteers of Family History societies and these are obviously far more readable in type than the originals. Having said that it does give me personally a bit of a buzz to have the original register in front of me with my ancestors name written in with quill by the parish priest.

Births Marriages

Your County Archives/Record Office will have these records in either microfiche or microfilm form to enable you to carry out a screen search of the church records and details of the record office for your county will be given here:
Don`t forget that it is always advisable to contact the record office either by phone or Email beforehand to book a reader otherwise you could have a wasted journey.

Join a forum

Family History forums are in my opinion invaluable for sifting through information obtained by just posting a query about ones family in a particular area. For example: if your ancestors lived in Cheshire and in particular Chester then a posting to the Cheshire list giving all the relevant details will undoubtably create enough interest to warrant a reply. Or, you can lurk behind the scenes and just watch the postings if you don`t fancy writing in yourself.

The finest of these is Rootsweb


The National Archives has the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, which cover mainly the southern half of the country. Copies are held at the Family Records Centre. Digital images of wills are available from DocumentsOnline - you can search for your ancestor's will and then download it for a charge of £3 per will. For an up-to-date list of the years that are available see the DocumentsOnline wills page. For wills in England and Wales after 1858

The National Library of Wales holds the original Welsh probate up to 1858

Lots of information can be gleaned from wills such as dwellings and names of beneficiaries, and they should not be overlooked as a means of tracing those elusive ancestors.

Family tree software.

Documentation: records of all you have found out, names, dates, places, photos of, are not a bit of use written down on bits of paper and stuck away in various desk drawers. It`s important that your records are clear and concise and easy for you and others to read so the best way to achieve this is to purchase a Family Tree/Genealogy program that can arrange all your information into nice neat files which can be printed, backed up onto CD, or sent to other interested parties via gedcom files.

I use two programs : GenoPro (see the interface here)and Family Tree Maker. Genopro is a free version which can be downloaded here provided you don`t mind the adverts! If you like it then you can purchase at a later date but there`s no obligation to. I like it as its so quick and easy to transfer data to. Family Tree Maker is all type face and also quite easy to use once you get the hang of it. Both programs will convert your data into what are termed Gedcom files.

GEDCOM is an abbreviation that stands for GEnealogy Data COMmunications. In short, GEDCOM is the language by which different genealogy software programs talk to one another. The purpose is to exchange data between dissimilar programs without having to manually re-enter all the data on a keyboard.


Lots of valuable resources are now available to the historian via the medium of the internet and I would like to show you some of what I consider to be the better ones on the next page