Finding your Ancestors Tips and Hints

Sources of Records, Data and Information

NB Currently the accessibility of public organisations such as libraries, museums and galleries is under a cloud due to the Covid Pandemic. I remain optimistic that that “cloud” will be lifted. One day!

It’s prudent to start with a few general points :

There are a number of commercial genealogical websites who charge a membership fee which varies according to the range of records you will have access to e.g. UK records only, Regional records or Full International records. These organisations have been granted access by the UK and other governments for the purpose of scanning and digitising original (hard-copy) records.

If you sign-up for membership of one of the commercial genealogy sites, for an exploratory look, or a trial, look carefully at the terms and conditions. Sometimes there is a ticked check-box somewhere saying something to the effect, Please automatically renew my subscription on expiry. If you’re happy with that, fine, if not, delete the tick in the box before you agree to the trial!

There are a number of voluntary organisations who have been given access to records and volunteers from those organisations have transcribed the original records and placed the transcribed details into public databases.

Volunteers (e.g. FHS’s) have for a long while transcribed parts or all of sets of local records and released those transcriptions onto CD’s, DVD’s or downloads for a fee to help support their FDS.

There are several questions I have been asked. “Do I need to use a commercial genealogical site?”, If so, which site should I join?” and lastly “Is it worthwhile buying a DNA profile “ Short answer is “It all depends There are a number of sites which are freely available, in some cases they were set up by volunteers ( e.g. Free BMD) who gave their time to transcribing public records or in other cases are public organisations (e.g. The National Archives). I rarely use commercial sites directly now, although I have been known to use a 3 month free trial of one. On other occasions many local / district libraries have access to the commercial sites on the library computers that you can use. I will be providing some sites where you can obtain data without you shelling out lots of cash.

I see no harm in obtaining a DNA profile and having it matched and compared and matched to others who have also had it done. I see it, though as an additional tool to find living persons whose DNA indicates a match to your own. Genealogy to me is not about compiling as many relatives as you can, it’s about finding who your forbears are, where and how they lived, what constraints there were on their life, what their jobs / trades /occupations were, where they lived and perhaps most importantly what the social conditions and government controls and social attitudes were like during their lives.

So, back to the specific task in hand, so let’s look at examples of where many record sets which are of significance and / or interest to genealogists.


  1. (Government) Birth’s, Marriages & Deaths (UK post 1837)
  2. Free BMD and similar volunteer transcription projects
  3. Parish Registers (births, christenings, weddings & burials)
  4. Military and Diplomatic records (members of armed services) particularly overseas postings
  5. Newspapers (eg births, weddings, funeral services, court records, public notices etc)
  6. Census records (details of persons where they were on the night of periodic census (earliest principal one in UK was 1841)
  7. Passport and transport documents
  8. Museums
  9. Public Archives
  10. Libraries
  11. Telephone and trade directories
  12. Will repositories
  13. British Library and archives of certain Universities who hold copyrighted books and publications
  14. Archives of Acts of Parliament and other statutory documents
  15. Major religious organisations
  16. Cemeteries, gardens of remembrance, memorials, undertakers etc
  17. Family History Societies
  18. Commercial Genealogical Database companies
  19. Specialist archives of topics such as Photographers, Workhouses, Trade Guilds, Ladies and Gents Fashion experts, Merchant Ships, Royal Navy Ships etc.
  20. Regimental, Naval, Air Force and the like museums
  21. Records from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  22. Support Agencies for Veterans
  23. Specialist Registries of the Royal Family, Peers, Heraldry and like subjects
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