First published in Great Britain in 2015 by

Pen & Sword Family History

an imprint of

Pen & Sword Books Ltd

47 Church Street


South Yorkshire

S70 2AS

Copyright © Jonathan Scott 2015

ISBN: 978 1 47383 799 7

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‘Good gracious a Darracq!’ For Genevieve



Section 1

First Steps



Getting Started



GRO Indexes



The Census



Parish Registers

Section 2

Digging Deeper



Burial Records and Monumental Inscriptions (MIs)



Probate and Wills






Election Records



Crime and Punishment



Court Records



Coroners’ Inquests



Poor Law and Workhouses



Schools and Universities












Overseas Research












Hospitals and Medicine



Catholic Records



Jewish Records



Nonconformist Records



Photographs and Films









Estate Records



Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Sources






Sports and Pastimes

Section 3

Military and Conflict









Royal Air Force



Militia Men



Napoleonic Wars



Victorian Wars



Boer Wars



First World War



Second World War






Home Front






War Graves

Section 4













Agricultural Labourers (Ag Labs)



Merchant Navy



Fishermen and Whalers



Rural Craftsmen






Textile Workers



Doctors and Nurses



Engineers and Manufacturing












Coastguard and Customs



East India Company



Brewers and Publicans






Other Occupations and Apprentices

Section 5




Resources by Region



Blogs and Forums



House History



Medieval Ancestors






Nobility and Gentry



Sharing Research



Social Networking



Software and Apps


I’ve been writing about genealogical websites since the tail end of the 1990s. As the fresh-faced assistant editor at Family History Monthly, it was my duty to check and polish the ‘Web Wise’ column. This was always a highlight of the working week, as it meant going up to the third floor – the location of the one computer in the building with dial-up Internet access.

Today I have my very own computer, with which I continue to visit genealogical websites, from one-man labours of love to global behemoths. Over the years, the market leaders have taken on personalities for me. I see Ancestry as an eager know-it-all with all the latest gadgets. Genuki is a grand but faded uncle with a pencil moustache. The Genealogist is an intrepid explorer with obscure and surprising knowledge. My Heritage is a charming but overbearing American with a distressingly firm handshake. The National Archives is a raconteur, unaware of her beguiling beauty. And Family Search is a matronly aunt with an encyclopaedic memory.

To help you get the best from this cast of characters, and their lesser-known cousins, there’s a filing system at work in this book. Each chapter lists websites broadly in order of importance, interest and usefulness. The idea being that for those just starting their research into a particular branch or topic, this will lead them quickly to the best or most interesting resources. Then in the index at the back, all the websites appear again, often more than once, but listed this time alphabetically by title, content or subject.

Each entry runs as follows: title, address, description (if warranted).

In many cases the address and title tell the whole story, so further explanation is superfluous. Some have names and addresses that obviously relate to the subject of a chapter, but where this isn’t the case, more information has been added to the titles to make their relevance clear.

At other times the title I have chosen will be the content of a specific page, rather than the parent website. For example, perhaps we stumble upon a website called ‘Aunty Em’s Remembrances’, but within this we find a surname index to Argyll newspapers between 1869 and 1901. In such a case the website’s title is ‘Argyll newspaper index, 1869–1901’.

Finally, with sites that appear frequently, I list both the specific page and parent. So a National Archives guide to researching coalminers becomes: ‘Coalminers research guide, The National Archives’.

Fans of the old ‘www’ or ‘http’ prefixes may notice their absence from the majority of web addresses in this book. This is because most websites no longer need them to function properly. I have included them where required.

Web addresses change frequently. With so many websites listed, inevitably some will slip out of date. If you find a dead link, enter the title of the webpage, or the address itself, into your search engine of choice and hopefully you’ll find it soon enough. If the website has completely disappeared you can try typing the address into the Internet Archive’s ‘Wayback Machine’ (

My only other piece of advice is this: make notes, either digital or physical. If you don’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs, sooner or later you’ll end up going round in circles.

I really hope you find this book useful. If you want to praise or complain you can find me on Twitter: @thejonoscott.

Section 1


1.1  Getting Started

There’s lots of help and guidance for budding researchers. Key lessons that come up again and again include: ‘start from what you know’, ‘never assume’ and ‘write it down’. This chapter covers some of best ‘how to’ guides, plus the most useful starting points for first-steps research.


The sheer wealth of information available through FamilySearch means that while the homepage is ever being simplified and streamlined, the experience can still feel overwhelming – especially if you have a common surname. For that reason I recommend a little background reading via the above Research Wiki. Then you can click on the homepage, register, and begin recording what you know; or you can go straight to search, and trawl the vast quantities of free census or parish data. There’s also this getting started page:

The National Archives

Click on Find Guidance > Looking for a Person, and you’re presented with the A-Z of TNA research guides. If you already know enough about your family to choose a relevant guide – such as an occupation perhaps – they’re a great route to quickly understanding what information you will need to confirm before you can find out more. There’s also the Start Here page (, which details what they have/don’t have and what’s online/not online.

Why the Census is Helpful, Findmypast

All commercial websites have getting started guides – usually weighted towards persuading you to peruse their own collections or use their online tree builders. But there’s still useful information and guidance to be had – this Findmypast page is a clear and simple introduction to understanding the census.


Excellent hub to online transcriptions of UK births, marriages, deaths and censuses, plus other indexes/transcriptions of parish material, wills, MIs, and so on. Click on Local BMD, for example, and there are links to all county websites offering online transcribed indexes to the original GRP records held by the local register offices.


Click the Help and Resources tab and choose Getting Started to read a tailored guide to Scottish research. The site itself hosts BMD indexes, parish records and census records, plus other material held by The National Archives of Scotland. Free to search with a pay-to-view download system.


When starting out, it’s likely that you will be attempting to fix information about life events of the recent past. Step forward this project, which aims to transcribe the civil registration birth, marriage and death indexes for England and Wales from 1837, and provide them free online.


Will tell you what you need to know about ordering copies of birth, death and marriage certificates. Unfortunately this only delays the inevitable moment when you will have to return to the actual GRO ordering service (

Federation of Family History Societies

This link takes you to the 2014 edition of the Federation’s getting started PDF guide, Our Really Useful Information Leaflet. It has a host of links and there’s also a directory of member societies – information also available from the FFHS homepage.

Free UK Genealogy

Parent website of the aforementioned FreeBMD and its sister initiatives: (free baptism, marriage and burial records from parish/nonconformist registers); and (free census information from the years 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891).

Research Forms, FamilySearch

Free printable forms to help you organize your work. These include pedigree charts in various formats, plus forms specifically designed for noting information from particular sources – such as census material.

Genealogy Software Compared, Wikipedia

Simple article that compares the leading client-based genealogy programs on the market. A companion guide to web-based software is at:


From FamilyTree’s mini-guides section, with bite-sized introductions to BMD records, parish registers, the census, online research, newspapers, trade directories and army records.


UK and Ireland Genealogy is a stalwart of genealogy online, and this is its starting out page. It may not look like much, but it’s got it where it counts.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Debt of Honour Register is a database of individuals who died during both world wars. It also has details of the 67,000 Commonwealth civilians who died in the Second World War.

Society of Genealogists

SoG guides to various common sources and records, which explain their context and use, plus dates covered, indexes, finding aids and more.


Genealogical Directories and Lists on the Internet provides links to all kinds of sites providing online databases, indexes and finding aids.


Attractive federated search hub launched in 2012, through which you can search datasets held by various commercial websites.

Cyndi’s List

Explore getting started tools and advice as listed on the leading genealogical links site.

Get Started, BBC Guide

Concise introduction from a mothballed section of BBC History.


Links site which brings together online databases and finding aids for military research.


An immense genealogical cooperative.

Getting Started, Ancestry

British Genealogy Network, Genealogy

Federation of Family History Societies

Getting Started, PRONI

Archives for Family History, Archives Wales



Getting Started: Genetics for the Genealogist

To Pay or Not To Pay? A Guide to Choosing Genealogy Sites on the Internet

A Gentle Introduction to GEDCOM

Guide to Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources



Deceased Online

1.2  GRO Indexes

You’ve gathered together family papers, interviewed family members, and pencilled dates into a tree. Now it’s time to start checking your facts through the GRO (General Register Office) registers. Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths has been in place in Scotland since 1855, and in England and Wales since 1837. The civil registration indexes are generally referred to as GRO indexes.


Gives access to official records of births, marriages and deaths in Scotland – starting in January 1855 when civil registration replaced the old system of registration by parishes of the Church of Scotland. The statutory births index, for example, contains the indexes to civil registers from 1855 until 2012 (images of births from 1855 to 1913 are available to view). Click Births, Marriages or Deaths from the top-left of the homepage to find out more about the history of the system and the kind of data recorded – all three provided extra details in the first year, which proved too difficult to sustain in the long term.


This is an ongoing project to transcribe the civil registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and provide them free. The system started in 1837 and is one of the most significant resources for genealogical research. You’ll find index information from that year up to 1983, but it’s not complete – you can check a breakdown page that shows progress by event and year.


The Local BMD section has links to county websites offering online transcribed indexes to original GRO records held by the local register offices. Meanwhile at there are links to websites offering online transcribed indexes based on the secondary data held by the General Register Office.

Certificate Ordering Service, GRO for England and Wales

Whatever index source you use, once you have the GRO reference number you can order a certificate online via the Certificate Ordering Service. If you don’t have the reference number you can still order a certificate, but it will take a little longer.


FamilySearch includes the likes of this England and Wales Death Registration Index (1837–2007) courtesy of Findmypast. Again, to find out more, try the following Research Wiki page on civil registration in England (


Most of the commercial players give access to the GRO indexes in some form or another, but this facility from TheGenealogist team scores over its rivals, partly because of its simple three-months-for-a-fiver access deal.


An example of a useful regional facility, this one covers Cambridgeshire. The material is based on the original registers – not the transcribed versions held by the General Register Office.

National Records of Scotland

Guide to the statutory registers of births, marriages and deaths in Scotland.

Irish Genealogy

Indexes of Irish GRO BMD back to 1864 and non-Catholic marriages from 1845.

Isle of Wight FHS

Registered births, marriages and deaths on the Isle of Wight (1837–2010). An example of the kind of local source you may find via:

Civil Registration, Genuki

Guide to civil registration in England and Wales.

GRONI, General Register Office Northern Ireland

Access to Northern Irish birth, marriage and death records online.

Heir Hunter

Upload and share civil registration documents with fellow researchers.

Scotland BDM Exchange

1.3  The Census

You’ve found your relatives in the GRO indexes, now it’s time to read about them in the black-and-white snapshot of census night. Census returns open the door to new avenues of research. They allow you to find out about occupation, family, status, neighbourhood, community and more. This is where family history gets good.

Census, FamilySearch

FamilySearch has a complete free index and transcription of the 1881 census. It also has free indexes to the remaining released censuses (1841 to 1911) for England and Wales, although you will probably need to consult a subscription website to see the full transcription online. This particular wiki page gives details of what each census recorded, plus advice about interpreting, and links to many external sources.


Use the side menu to navigate to the page which lists sites that provide online transcriptions of census material. This includes major subscription sites plus all kinds of county hubs and small-scale local databases, sometimes compiled by individuals focusing on single villages or streets.

1939 Register

This soon-to-be released register of more than 40 million Britons alive on Friday, 29 September 1939, was compiled shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War and was used to issue identity cards and organize rationing. It is the only census-like record of the population between 1921 and 1951.


The site hosts census returns for Scotland from 1841 to 1911. It costs £7 to search the census indexes, which includes thirty page-credits for viewing images of the original enumerator’s pages. Images are in TIFF or JPEG format and cost five credits each.


Searches are conducted on a county basis using an address, placename, keyword, forename or surname; this requires a subscription of course, but you can volunteer to transcribe census records in exchange for search credits.

Census of Ireland 1901/1911

Search the censuses of Ireland from 1901 and 1911, and explore surviving fragments (and substitutes) for previous years, free of charge. All thirty-two counties (for 1901 and 1911) are searchable by all information categories.

Census Research Guide, The National Archives

This is TNA’s general guide to the subject of census returns, which lists what you can learn and some of the official partner subscription websites where you can access the material.


Part of the group of websites, FreeCEN provides partial census data from the years 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891. The focus at present is 1891.

The Census, Genuki

Parts of this Genuki introduction are out of date, but it’s a rapid-fire explanation of the various available censuses, with links to both free data and subscription services.

1939 Register Service

You can request information about individuals recorded in the 1939 Register for England and Wales via this website.

Belfast Family History

Search a database from the 1901 and 1911 Irish census returns, by name or institution.

The 1911 Census

Again includes a free searchable index. You can subscribe via Findmypast or buy credits.

Sheffield Indexers

Complete index to the 1841 census of the region, containing 138,824 records.

Protestation Returns, Parliamentary Archives

Described as the closest we have to a census from 1642.


This site features 1841 to 1911 censuses indexed with images.

The 1901 census

Contains a free searchable index.

UK Census Online

Has a useful FAQ page.


Census Guide, Society of Genealogists



Census Finder

1.4  Parish Registers

Parish registers are the primary source for details of births, marriages and deaths prior to the start of the civil registration system. Information recorded within registers does vary, although the system was standardized in 1812. They were maintained by individual churches and the originals usually reside in local archives.


The LDS Church’s International Genealogical Index (IGI), a mass parish-level source, was first published as a computer file in 1973. It now sits alongside vast, ever-expanding indexes, transcriptions and collections of register images, which are sometimes linked to external commercial datasets. This wiki page introduces the subject of church records in England with a useful breakdown of online register images. There are similar guides relating to other parts of the UK.

Parish Registers, Ancestry

This is the Parish Registers landing page where you can read general background information about parish sources, and latest additions to Ancestry’s vast parish collections, through partner organizations such as the London Metropolitan Archives, and other archives and societies in Dorset, Kent, Lancashire, London, Surrey, Warwickshire and Yorkshire.


The FreeREG database is a volunteer-led drive to provide free online searches of transcribed parish and nonconformist registers. It is constantly growing and updating, so it’s definitely worth checking back regularly. If you wish to help, the team are always looking for more volunteers.


From the left-hand column of the homepage you can click Old Parish Registers or Catholic Registers, leading to subdivisions of different life events. It costs £7 to search the registers, which also gives you thirty page-credits (viewing records costs five credits per image).

Essex Ancestors

The official Essex Record Office gateway to various sources, including parish registers. You can select parish names and see what material is available and in which format. Where images are available you can register and buy a subscription – from one day (£5) to one year (£85).

Register Copies and Transcripts Guide, Society of Genealogists

This is the excellent SoG guide to parish registers. The SoG itself looks after a huge collection of register copies and transcripts, and you explore material available through Data Online (at