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The Basics of Family Research.

Producing an extensive family tree looks like an impressive achievement, and much as I would like to bask in the glory of the accomplished, I must confess that it is dead easy really, so long as you have time.  The vast bulk of the work is done by an on-line family history website. These hold copies of the national archives for Births, Deaths, Marriages, Wills, Parish Records, Legal Records, Military Records and a host of others. Not just for Uk but for just about every country that keeps any useful records. These records are digitally filed, sorted and cross referenced allowing much of the work to be done from any computer not just at the Records Office.


These websites help you search the records with pre-set document searches.

Connect you with others researching the same ancestors.

Put the information together into an understandable form.

Present the information as a family tree.

Analyse your DNA and cross-reference it with that of millions of others, so locating relatives the world over as well as confirming or refuting the conclusions you have made about your family tree.

They do so much more, without such a site building a family tree is a complicated, hugely time-consuming and expensive exercise that can only be done physically at the National Archive. There are a number of large international organisations with membership in the millions, such as Ancestry, Family Search, My Heritage, Find My Past and several others. Personally I use Ancestry, the only reason being that when I first started, it was the first one I found with reasonable looking subscription rates. It has always served me well and I have never felt any need to change. I make no claims that it is any better or worse than its competitors, I just happen to use it.

It is important to start a tree with a person whose life details you are familiar with, and is preferably still alive so that they can fill you in on any details you do not know. such as a parent, Grand-parent, uncle Aunt etc. From this person you work backwards in time, so for argument's sake starting with Granny.

First knowing her date of birth, where she was born and the name of at least one of her parents, an on-line search ( OLS ) of the National Archive via your Genealogy Website, should produce either a copy of her birth certificate, or her entry in a national database (such as England Births and Baptisms 1540-1952 ). This will give details of her parents. Further OLS should produce details of her Marriage ( hence her husband's details) and another should find details of her death. Between the official records of her birth, marriage & death it should be possible to identify her parents.

Next using this information you do the same thing for her parents, her husband and any brothers and sisters she may have. This basically is the process, it is very time consuming and requires concentration as even minor mistakes can really muck things up.

There are three principal sources of this information. 

  1. The statutory registers of Birth, Death & Marriage for all dates after 1855.

  2. Old Parish Records ( OPR ) These record a highly variable amount of information, going back sometimes as far as the early 16th Century.

  3. The National Census, fully digital and searchable held at 10 year intervals from the first in 1841. Census information only becomes public once it is 100 years old, so currently ( 2020 ) the 1911 census is the most recent available.

In addition there are Legal records, Tax records, Military records and numerous other registers and records, most of these are public and are in the process of being digitised.

Once you get used to the process it seems less daunting, and it is not difficult to navigate around. Working in a methodical manner you can work your way back generation by generation. As far as 1855 using the Statutory registers it is straightforward and gets you used to the system. Before 1855 it does get more complicated. The Old Parish Records (OPR) are very variable in the amount of information recorded, its legibility and whether or not it still exists.  As a general rule the further back you go, the less information is available.

By using a genealogy Website such as "Ancestry" vastly simplifies the process and crucially allows you to view other people's family trees. There are many millions of trees available and searchable and virtually whoever you are looking for, someone else will have done it before. Do not fall into the trap of assuming that because it is in someones tree it must be correct.  There are an lot of very slap-dash trees with poorly or totally un-checked data. You will soon get to be able to spot some of the more obvious rubbish. Whilst other peoples trees are hugely useful, do nt accept the data at face value and check everything.

Paper V digital certificates.

In the UK proper registration of all Births, Deaths & Marriages became compulsory in 1855 and from this date a copy of any birth, death or Marriage certificate is available on the payment of a £25 fee.


There is a master index to all three registers which gives limited information but is fully digital and searchable in England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The register itself with the full and detailed information is  digital & Searchable in Scotland & Northern Ireland, this allows the full certificate to be instantly available on-line. A fee must be paid, however this is only around £0.60p  


A digital copy is not acceptable for legal purposes, and a hard copy has to be applied for and a £25 fee paid. In England & Wales only the index is digital, to get the full information you have to apply to the records office for a copy of the certificate.

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