Friday, June 12, 2009

Ten key UK genealogical resources

If you're a non-UK-based genealogist starting to research your ancestors in the UK, you'll bring your existing genealogical skills to the game but each country is of course a whole new playing field. Here's a quick run-down of some key resources you should know about for England and Wales (the playing field is different again for Scotland and Ireland, about which I know nothing, but I'm sure the first resource listed will be a good place to start!)

GENUKI - clarifies the historical counties and gives you a good overview of the online and offline resources that are available for the area your ancestor lived in. Amongst other things, watch out for a link to that county's record office or archives. Many of these have an online catalogue of their holdings and offer a research/photocopy service (or can provide lists of professional researchers in the area whom you could engage to locate items for you).

FFHS - the Federation of Family History Societies has a list of all its member societies and their websites. Each county should have at least one family history society, whose role includes transcribing various useful records (census, parish registers, and other odds and sods). Purchase from a FHS if you have the option - they are non-profit organisations who know their area extremely well and this will be reflected in the quality of their offerings. And do consider becoming a member!

FreeBMD and GRO - civil registration of births, deaths and marriages began 1 July 1837 and there is a centralised index to these certificates. FreeBMD is a free, but not entirely complete, database of the index. Once you have the reference you need, head to the General Register Office website to order your certificate online. To find out what you can expect to learn from a certificate, be sure to check out Barbara's Registration Web Page., Find My Past and The Genealogist - individuals were first named in the 1841 census, and the census took place every 10 years thereafter. These are three of the commercial sites which have census records, both scans and indices, available. Check carefully to make sure the years and counties you want are included before waving your credit card at them, and as always the quality of transcriptions and hence the ease of finding your ancestors may vary. If your budget is tight, you might get lucky and find what you're looking for on FreeCen (transcriptions only).

FamilySearch - prior to the start of civil registration in 1837 the key source record where you will likely find information about your ancestors is the parish register (also very useful post-1837 too!). You may find that the parish registers for the village or town you are interested in have been filmed by the LDS so you can have the fun of ordering and viewing these yourself - search the FamilySearch catalogue by place name to see what's available for your village (or the whole county - like military or tax records).

The National Archives - does what it says on the box. Some useful centrally-held collections (like PCC wills) have been scanned and are available to purchase via their Documents Online service. Check out the useful free research guides about different types of historical records.

Historical Directories - a selection of surviving directories for the different counties can be found here. You'll find a brief description of the town or village along with selected residents (generally landowners and tradesmen).

Rootsweb lists - there are mailing lists for each county (and in some cases more than one - there's two for Buckinghamshire). Subscribe, watch the flow of emails for a while to get a feel for that list's etiquette (you'll pick up numerous useful snippets of information along the way if you take the time to read all the messages), then ask away or contribute information.

B-G Forums - just one of the numerous online message boards covering the UK. As with mailing lists it's best to register and take time to browse through the individual forums of interest to see how things tick before jumping in.

and finally, genealogical gold .....

One Place Study websites - check out the One-Place-Studies index for your village of interest, and google (village name + county name + genealogy) to see what turns up - you just might get lucky!


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