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Family History Research UK - Online records

family history research ukThe main records available online that are useful for those researching their UK family history include the civil records - births, marriages and deaths  - and the census records. These are the only records where the information is more or less complete from the start of record keeping. 

Indexes to other records such as parish registers are also available online for some parishes, but not all of them are included and many are not indexed or available online at all.

Online records consist of indexes to the civil and census records and some parish records, together with some images of the originals. They are usually hosted by commercial genealogy sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past, although the parish records indexes are more complete on Family Search (although there are very few images of UK records there). 

Full details and images of original records are usually only available at a cost. This can be quite expensive for the individual, but if you ask me to carry out research, I will include images (where they exist) at no additional cost to you.


Births, marriages and deaths

These records start in 1837 and continue to the present day. Currently the online indexes extend up to 2006. For family history purposes these records are often the place to get started. 

The online records consist of the indexes only, providing the name and surname of the person and the year and quarter when the event occurred. For early records, this is literally all you will find in the indexes; for later ones there may be more details (birth indexes may give the mother's maiden name, a marriage record may give the spouse's name and death indexes start to give the age at death). 

In order to obtain additional details of the event, a certificate must be ordered from the General Register Office, using the reference number found in the indexes. Currently (January 2013) each certificate costs £9.25 and is sent out by post within 4 working days. You can either order this yourself or ask me to do it for you. Certificates give vital detail to genealogists, especially birth and marriage certificates, for example:

  • birth certificates: parents' names, place of birth
  • marriage certificates: names of bride's and groom's fathers, age of bride and groom at time of marriage, names of witnesses

census records

The UK census has been taken every 10 years since 1841 and is available for research up to and including 1911. In order to protect the privacy of those still alive, there is a '100 year rule' which prevents release of information until 100 years after the census takes place. The censuses have all been indexed and can be searched by name or by address. Images of the  original census form are also available - I include these cost of obtaining these images in my hourly research fees.

Here is an example of search results for Rebecca Rivers in the 1871 census index. I already know that she was born around 1815:

Name                      Birth Year    Age    Sex    Registration District/Parish    County   Household Transcript    Original census image
RIVERS, Rebecca        1815            56    F            Wantage                           Berkshire            VIEW                                VIEW
RIVERS, Rebecca        1814            57    F            Bishop's Stortford           Hertfordshire      VIEW                               VIEW

Now I happen to know that the one I want (my great great grandmother) is the one living in the Wantage district of Berkshire. But suppose I hadn't known that? Or suppose I wanted to know the exact address where she was living and who else was living there with her? I would need to view the Household Transcript (a transcribed copy of the actual census form) and the Original census image, in order to find out the exact address, her place of birth and the other members of the family who were at the same address. All this would cost me money to see - and I might need to look at them for more than one individual, if I wasn't sure which one was 'mine'.  And I was lucky in my search example above, because there were only two possibilities - there might be many more than this.

parish registers

Parish registers are available as far back as 1537 in some cases, and many have been indexed. The indexes can be searched online on the Family Search website, but images of the original registers are not readily available. I can search the indexes to the registers for you, but verification of what I find can usually be done only by viewing images of the original registers (usually on microfilm or microfiche) at a record office. 

The time spent and possibly the travelling I will need to do for parish register research varies considerably, depending on the area where your ancestors lived and the availability of records. 

other records


There are a number of indexes to other records available online, some of which may be helpful in genealogical research. Coverage is patchy and as with the parish registers, a visit to a record office may be needed to verify information or to obtain images of the original records.  Examples of records that can be helpful include:
  • Military records
  • Apprenticeship records
  • School and university registers
  • Court records, prison registers
  • Land tax, survey records, freemen, electoral registers
  • Newspapers

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