For most family historians with English ancestors at some point you will have to visit at least one County Record Office. So here are few tips if it will be your first time.
Plan your visit
Where is the record office?
This will be listed on the relevant county council web site. Remember county boundaries have changed over the centuries so you may need to confirm with a site like Genuki as to which record office you need. Some counties like Cumbria have more than one record office.
What records does the record office have?
There is no point travelling to the record office if it doesn’t have the records you need. This may include census records, parish registers, newspapers or other historical documents. Some of these may need to be requested in advance so check on the web site or telephone ahead.
The office may not be open 9-5 six days a week. This information should be on the web site too. It may be that you have to leave the building at lunch time if it closes. It may also be necessary to make an appointment if there is restricted space.
What should I take?
To join the County record office network (CARN) you need to bring along ID such as passport or driving licence. Once you have a card it makes access to all similar archives so much simpler.
Take a printout of the part of the family tree you are interested in for that visit. You may be able to take a laptop but check first. Have a list of what you are hoping to achieve – this may help you stop getting side tracked.
You will be restricted on using pencils in the research rooms. Take more than one and a good notebook to write down your discoveries. If you want printouts of what you find then you will need some cash to pay. Anything else will probably have to be left in a locker and mobiles set to silent/turned off.
In the record office
Don’t be afraid to ask
If it’s your first visit then ask the archivist for help on finding what you need to save time. They will also show you how to use micro film readers and point out the rules of use.
Start with your initial target and work your way through the records just looking at them. If anything else catches your eye note where you find it and come back later. Write down the source references so that you can double check at a later date if necessary.
Above all enjoy the records and finding out more about your ancestors.
If you are looking for a great place to find information on your family history then your local library (or the library where your family originated) can be a great starting point. They are free to use and quite often have accumulated a lot of information. Many also offer access to sites such as Ancestry for just their normal charge for using the computers. This is a lot cheaper than subscribing for yourself unless you want to use it every day! You may also be able to borrow books which give advice on researching your family tree or local history books.
Before you set out it is worthwhile checking what sources you will be to access so that you have a clear plan of action. For example on the Cumbria County Council web site there is a whole page listing which libraries have local and family history sources in them. Also check on their opening times so you don’t turn up on early closing day!
My local library in Kendal is quite a large one and so contains quite a lot of useful records and other research materials:
- a fee based research service
- Registrar General’s Indexes from 1837 (microform)
- Registrar General for Scotland’s Computerised Index from 1855
- 1841-1901 census for Westmorland on fiche
- Ancestrylibrary.co.uk – free* access through the libraries computers to the 1841-1901 census for the whole of England, Wales and Scotland *normal computer charges apply; £1.00 per half hour, usual concessions
- County and Regional Directories: Various dates for Westmorland from 1829-1938. A few for Furness and Cumberland
- City and Town Directories: Kendal 1953, 1963, 1965, 1974
- International Genealogical Index (IGI): 1992 edition on microfiche
- Card index for ephemeral files and photographs
- Parish registers: a small number of transcripts
- Maps: 1st edition O.S. series 6″ and 25″ to 1 mile (incomplete sets)
- Westmorland 2nd edition O.S. series 6″ and 25″ to 1 mile (incomplete sets)
- Westmorland Plus later maps.
- Newspapers on microfilm.
Not all libraries have such a wide range but others have even more. Go and check them out and get your family tree growing.
The census was used to count the number of people living in the United Kingdom. These have been taken since 1801 but it is only from 1841 that they start to really be of use for family historians. With each census more information was requested so they become even more useful. With data restrictions there is a 100 year embargo in England & Wales so family historians were only just allowed access to the 1911 census in 2010.
Each page of census data has the locality it was taken in so you can see County, District and Town/Village information. The road and house number or name should also be included. Below I have listed the years of the main census and the information that was added each time.
- Age (For those over 15, this was rounded down to the nearest 5 years).
- Profession or Occupation.
- Whether born “in county”, elsewhere in the UK or in “Foreign Parts”
- Relationship to head of household
- Age at last birthday
- Marital status
- Rank, profession, or occupation
- Place of birth more exact
- Blind, deaf or idiot
- In Ireland language spoken
- Economic status
- Whether blind, deaf, dumb, imbecile, idiot, or lunatic.
- Language spoken (Scotland)
- Language spoken (Wales)
- Whether an employer, an employee, or neither.
- Number of rooms occupied, if fewer than 5
- Number of rooms in dwelling.
- Whether an employer, worker or working on one’s own account.
- Whether working at home or not.
- “Language spoken (children under 3 years of age to be excluded)” (in Wales)
- Industry or service with which the worker is connected.
- How long the couple has been married.
- How many children were born alive, how many who are still alive, and how many who have died.
- Place of work
1931 (destroyed in World War 2)
- Place of usual residence
- Household amenities
- Household tenure
- Car ownership
- Travel to work
- Ethnic group
- Long-term limiting illness
- Central heating
- Term-time address of student
- Size of workforce
- Supervisor status
- First question on religion on the main census form (England, Wales, and Scotland)
2011 (scheduled for 27th March)
- Includes questions relevant to civil partnerships.
- Other new questions involve asking migrants their date of arrival and how long they intend to stay in the UK, and will also require respondents to disclose which passports they hold
I have used the Google Mail new mail form to demonstrate the basics points of e-mail creation. I chose this one as it is free to use.
Basic e-mail fields on create e-mail
I will go into more detail about e-mail elsewhere in this blog.
What sort of information should you collect about your ancestors and other family members:
- Name full name including any alternatives such as nicknames or name changes due to deed poll
- Titles/Rank if your family member was in the military, a minister of religion or a baronet etc.
- Date of birth
- Place of birth be as full as possible including county/state and country, if you have actual street address this is even better
- Baptism/Christening/other religious ceremonies these can help pinpoint Date of birth even if you haven’t got the actual date
- Parents’ names
- Occupation(s) this adds more interest to your tree
- Marriage date/place where applicable – you may find your family married in same church through the generations
- Spouse/Partners full name where applicable
- Children’s full names and date of birth where applicable
- Place of residence with date you can track the movements of your family through addresses on birth, marriage and death records as well as census records
- Other names if you find other people’s names on records then it can be worth noting them down as they may turn out to be family members
- Military service information dates, ranks, medals etc.
- Miscellaneous information photographs, newspaper articles, schools – basically anything that makes the person more interesting or provides clues for finding out more
It is essential to keep good track of your family history data not only the actual data but the source of it. It may well be that a few years down the line you get a conflicting piece of information on an ancestor and you may need to go back to the other source to double check.
You can get started on your family tree with no expense other than paper and a pen or pencil so it is an easily affordable hobby to start off with. All you need to do is set down what you already know from personal knowledge and then speak to other older family members to see what they can add.
The key information you need for each person on your tree is as follows:
- full name
- date and place of birth
- date and place of marriage (where applicable)
- spouse name (where applicable)
- date and place of death (where applicable)
- names of any children
By word of mouth you may well be able to go back in the late 1800s or early 1900s with very little effort. It maybe that some of the key bits of information are missing but these can be filled in at a later date.
You can then construct a very simple family tree starting with yourself and moving backwards:
Sample Family Tree
I got this one free from http://www.obituarieshelp.org/ .
Once you have filled in what you and your family already know then you can start to work on the blanks.