Family History Research - an overview

Most people have some degree of interest in their ancestors. Who were they? Were there politicians, pioneering scientists or famous actors amongst them? Or perhaps a murderer or two?


But there are many practical reasons for researching your family history;

1. To trace a family inheritance. Who is genealogically entitled.

2. To find birth parents where a child is adopted.

3. Conversely, to help a birth parent trace a child given for adoption.

4. To prove paternity where it is disputed.

5. To trace hereditary medical conitions.

6. To establish the truth, or otherwise, of family anecdotes.

7. To find living relatives with whom you have lost touch.

8. To leave a family record for future generations.

etc etc etc


The history of your family, and mine, goes back to the beginning of life itself. You could spend the rest of your life researching it and still only scratch the surface.


For only a tiny fraction of the history of life on earth have official and comprehensive records been kept. In England and Wales registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced when the General Register Office was created in 1837. Registration did not become compulsory until 1841.

Before that records were kept locally and are less reliable and less easily accessed than those central records.


Other valuable sources of information are census returns. The first census in the UK was in 1801 and there has been one every ten years since, with the exception of 1941. The first three censuses are of little use to genealogists because they did not record individuals, only households. 1841 was an improvement because individuals are listed, but the relationship between the members of the household was not recorded, and place of birth was only stated as 'born in the county of residence', or 'not born in the county of residence.'


From 1851 onwards census returns are much more useful to genealogists but, unfortunately, each return is not made available to the public until 100 years after it is taken. An exception was made for the 1911 census, which was released in 1909 but this concesssion is unlikely to be repeated because the 1920 Census Act dictates that censuses will not be made available to the public for the full 100 years. Furthermore, there is some debate at the moment about the necessity for future censuses and it may be that the 2011 census was the last. Fortunately this is unlikely to trouble any genealogists working today!


To sum up, family histories are researched using all manner of official and unofficial documents;

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Death Certificates
  • Census Returns
  • Parish Records
  • Immigration and Emigration Records
  • Court Records
  • Newspaers and Journal Archives
  • Probate Records
  • Etc etc etc

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35 Pennard Road, Kittle



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If you have any queries or wish to make an appointment, please contact us:


+44 1792 293451+44 1792 293451


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Copyright Malcolm Fowler 2015