In this article, "the Family History Library" refers to the
central genealogy library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints (LDS), located in Salt Lake City. "Family History Centers"
are LDS genealogy libraries located throughout the world through which
researchers can borrow films and fiche from the Salt Lake facility.
If your genealogy research takes you to England, consider yourself fortunate.
To begin with, you will not have a language problem at least, not
too much, even though it is said at times that we are divided by a common
language! England has been a very stable country, not overrun by foreign
armies, and many old records still exist. The political boundaries have
been pretty much the same for centuries so the political divisions will
mostly have the same names and boundaries. The only geographical change
is that the counties were restructured in 1974 and the genealogy records
are filed by old county boundaries, so you do need a pre-1974 map.
Three Major Sources
If you are working in the early twentieth or late nineteenth centuries,
there are three main types of records that you need to consult:
- Civil Registration (births, deaths and marriages and their indexes)
- Census records
- Parish records
A large percentage of these records have been microfilmed by the Family
History Library and are available through the Family History Centers of
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Census and parish
records are arranged geographically so you must know where your ancestors
lived. The Civil Registration is national, but unless the name is very
unusual, you will probably need to know at least the county to be sure
you have the right person. The International Genealogical Index (IGI),available
through the Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints (LDS), can be help reveal in which localities your surname was
Since July 1, 1837, it has been a requirement that every birth, death,
and marriage be registered with the central government, which means there
is only one place you need to look for one of these records. However,
prior to 1875, there were no penalties for not registering so compliance
between 1837 and 1875 was not 100%. The event is registered at a local
office, which retains a copy, so each document should be available in
both the local registry office as well as the central office.
The death record is the least helpful to a genealogist as it only gives
the name of the person, address where they died, sex, age, rank and profession,
cause of death, and signature, description, and residence of the informant.
It does not give parent's names nor a woman's maiden name. Marriage records
are quite helpful because in additional to the names of the bride and
groom and date of marriage, it also gives the ages, marital condition
(spinster, widow, etc.), rank or profession, residence, father's name,
and father's rank or profession for both parties. Birth certificates are
also useful because, in addition to the child's name, sex, and date and
place of birth, they also contain the name of the father with his rank
or profession, and given and maiden name of the mother. As with all similar
documents, pay particular attention to the informant. It is very likely
this person is a relative.
The records are all indexed by type birth, death and marriage
and then by name. Each index is produced quarterly so if you only
know the year of the event, you may have to look in four indexes before
finding it. Keep in mind that the event had to be reported within six
weeks so a birth at the end of March (the first quarter) might not be
reported until May 1 (second quarter). If you locate the event in an index,
it will give you a reference to the book and page. If you can supply this
information with your application, the fee for obtaining a copy of the
certificate is less. The indexes are available on microfiche and microfilm
through Family History Centers. Some of the larger centers have the films
permanently while others may have to order them individually from Salt
Lake City. If your local center does not have the indexes and you have
to search over several years, it may be expensive to order so many film
or fiche. In this case, you may want to hire a researcher, either in the
U.S. or England, to search for you.
The actual certificate must be ordered from England. If you know the
exact date and place of the event, you can contact the General Register
Office in Southport directly via mail or e-mail. If you know the district,
you can contact the local registry office as the certificate is less expensive
there. (Learn how to order a certificate.)
for excellent information on how to order a certificate.) If you are in
London, you can order it at the Office for National Statistics, which
is part of the new Family Records Centre. It houses Civil Registration
and census records that used to be kept at St. Catherine's House as well
as the Census Reading Rooms in Chancery Lane.
In conjunction with the vital records, which you would want for direct
ancestors, you can fill out family groups much less expensively using
the census, which is available every ten years from 1841 through 1891.
All census returns are available from the Family History Library, but
unfortunately, there are few indexes to the census so you need to have
a pretty good idea of where people lived. Birth, marriage, and death certificates
can help you determine location, especially if the name is not a common
The 1841 census lists everyone in the household by name, sex, and occupation.
Ages are rounded down to the last multiple of 5 i.e., a 49 year
old person would be listed as 45. The place of birth is either Y or N
meaning "Yes, born in this county" or "No, not born in this county."
Later returns give names, exact ages, occupations, relationships to the
head of the household, and parishes and counties of birth. If you are
searching a fairly large city, you might be able to find the person in
a city directory first. That will give you an address, which is helpful
because there are several indexes for large cities which tell you where
in the census you can find the records from each street.
Using the names and ages found in the census and on civil registration
certificates, you can move back before 1837 to the parish records which
extend back another 300 years to 1538. Naturally, not all parishes have
kept their records intact for this period of time, but many parishes go
back to the 1600s and some to the 1500s. Again, the English researcher
is fortunate because the Family History Library has filmed the majority
of parish records in England and they are available on microfilm. Where
it may take four films to cover one year of index in the civil registration,
one film of parish records can cover 200 years and give you many new family
names providing the family stayed in one place.
Parishes corresponded quite closely to the villages of the same name.
A rural parish may include a village and two or three hamlets. In larger
cities there will be several churches so you will need to determine in
which parish your family lived. There are many books showing the parishes
of Great Britain, so check your local genealogy library.
The information in the records varies widely. A baptism, or burial record
especially, may only give the name. More helpful parish records will give
the father's name on a baptism and sometimes even the mother's name is
listed. It is extremely rare to ever find a mother's maiden name listed
on a baptism record. Burial records may give age or, especially for children,
will note the father's name. Marriage records may only contain the name
of the bride and groom, but often will indicate the parish. Since the
parish records, especially the early ones, were written on a blank sheet
rather than a form, a comment may occasionally be added. I found the following
comment about my ancestor in one record: "The remainder of names given
at baptisms together with ye names of Persons buried and married this
year & the following 1666 were lost (as I am informed) by one Francis
Fludd then churchwarden." (What did Mr. Flood do with all those records?!)
Keep in mind that the dates are for baptism and burial, not birth and
death, but children were traditionally baptized a few days after their
Parish records are, for the most part, from the Church of England. However,
rules required that Catholics register the baptisms and marriages in a
Church of England and that they be buried by the Church of England. Many
of these requirements were often ignored, but Catholics would often marry
in the Catholic Church as well as the Church of England. Anyone not conforming
to the Church of England were called Nonconfirmists and included Catholic,
Quaker, Jewish, Puritans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists,
Methodists. You will have to look in other specialized sources for these
It was also required that banns be read in the parishes of both the bride
and groom for three weeks prior to their marriage. After 1754, when marriage
laws were made stricter, the banns were recorded in a separate book or
the parish record. These banns books may also be available. If the couple
did not marry in the parish of the bride or groom, they had to obtain
a special license. Licenses are found in many different locations, but
may have interesting additional information if they can be located. Another
helpful finding aid is Boyd's Marriage Index by Percival Boyd.
Many parishes have been indexed by bride and groom and are arranged by
county. If you locate your ancestors, it will direct you to the correct
Parish Chest Records
You may also find "parish chest records" listed in the Family
History Catalog under the parish you are searching. These included poor
taxes, bastardy bonds, settlement and removal records, apprenticeship
records, churchwarden records and other events relating to the church
and village. The parish was responsible for taking care of the poor. Since
this could be a large expense, they did not accept people on welfare lightly.
If the family was not originally from the parish, the church authorities
might send them back to their original parish to avoid having to support
them. If a girl had an illegitimate child she and the child might become
dependent on the parish. Every attempt was made to determine the identify
of the father so he would have to provide support. These records can provide
wonderful details on a family.
Another valuable source of information is wills. They were not reserved
for the very wealthy many yeomen farmers made out wills. Often
a father would mention all of his children in a will. Wills since 1858
are all held by the Principal Probate Registry and are indexed. For wills
prior to 1858, the jurisdictions can be extremely confusing and you may
have to be very determined to run down a particular one. A will was supposed
to be probated in the district where the decedent lived or had property.
If his holdings were scattered through several districts, the more general
jurisdiction was the Prerogative Court of York, for the north, and Prerogative
Court of Canterbury for the rest of the country. Sometimes, as a matter
of prestige, a will would be proven in one of these courts even if it
were not necessary. It is worth your while to check these two courts first.
The wills are generally indexed by year, but in many cases you will find
that they are not in strict alphabetical order. Instead, names that begin
with the same first letter or first two letters are grouped together.
Research in England
While it is great fun to visit the ancestral village, hopping on an airplane
to England is not the best way to begin your genealogy research. In England
the records are spread amongst many repositories. These usually are open
normal business hours and may have limited space so reservations are required.
The records are usually kept in closed shelves so you have to request
an item and wait for it to be retrieved. However, you often will be working
with the original document, not a copy or microfilm. If you want a copy,
it may not be possible because the document is too fragile. If copy services
are available, they are often operated by the repository employees which
means you have to leave the documents and wait for the copies and there
may be restrictions on what records can be copied. (At one county record
office I was told no copy of the microfilmed parish record for a 17th
century entry could be made without permission from the local parish priest.)
People travel from England to Salt Lake City to do research in the Family
History Library. The records are all in one place; the facility is open
6 days a week, 5 of them from 7:30 AM to 10 PM; you pick up and refile
the film yourself and make your own copies. It is a much more efficient
way of researching.
However, once you have exhausted the resources of the Family History
Library, there may be records in England that you would want to examine,
either personally or via a hired researcher. The Public Record Office
(PRO) in Kew has many records that are not available elsewhere.
The Society of Genealogists in London also has many published family
histories and the largest collection of transcribed parish registers.
Each county in England has its own record office and they often have additional
land, church, taxation, and other records that you will not find elsewhere.
Contact the county record offices in advance for information on opening
hours, reservations and how to obtain a reader's ticket.
Visiting the local churchyard is not always rewarding. The early tombstones
may be worn so badly they cannot be read. It is not unusual for the parish
officials to remove all the tombstones, perhaps stacking them along a
wall (where it may not be possible to read them), so that it is easier
to maintain the landscaping.
This article only mentions the more common records that most people will
use. As you get deeper into English records you will find there is great
diversity and, depending on the family history, you may find a wealth
of information in some very obscure records.