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Beginning Genealogical Research for England & Wales

By Mark Howells - March,

With many new researchers beginning to use the Internet for family history, I thought it would be appropriate to share some useful online starting places. There are some unique possibilities & challenges specific to English and Welsh research which someone just beginning in the hobby should learn sooner rather than later.

The purpose of this message is to help researchers new to the hobby start out on the right foot when it comes to English & Welsh research. Below are simply some of the basics on which there is pertinent information available on the Internet. Please be aware that not all of your research can be conducted via the Internet. You must eventually resort to visiting libraries and Family History Centers in order to advance your research.


Getting Started

Researchers who new to English & Welsh genealogical research often ask some basic questions about getting started in the hobby. Here is a short list of some of the best "Getting Started" articles available online. These focus on the general steps you should take first when beginning your family history.

The Federation of Family History Societies' First Steps in Family History at

The Society of Genealogist's Starting Genealogy at

From the BBC television series Bloodties, How To Get Started In Genealogy offers a very good set of basic steps for beginners to the hobby at

Genealogy in the United Kingdom & Ireland (GENUKI's) Getting Started in Genealogy and Family History at

While not specific to English & Welsh research, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS') Family History - How Do I Begin? at is an excellent general beginners' guide.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Now that you have some general ideas about getting started in your research from the above web sites, you will want to learn in more detail about the specifics. There are no better step-by-step instruction guides for beginning research in England & Wales than those provided by the LDS church FamilySearch Resource Guidance. These outlines are available on the Internet and are both straight forward and easy to read. They explain about basic record types and how to find them. Perhaps more importantly, they explain in what order you should approach these records.

FamilySearch's Research Outline - England at

FamilySearch's Research Outline - Wales at

Basic Records - Civil Registration

After obtaining any and all information you can about the family history from sources within your own family, the first place to actively search for records is usually from Civil Registration sources. These records are the government-registered records of births, marriages, and deaths which occurred in England & Wales from 1837 up to the present day.

My own Ordering Birth Registration Certificates from England and Wales at

Barbara Dixon's England & Wales Registration Certificate Tutorials at

Everton's Registration of Vital Records in England and Wales at

GENUKI's A to Z of British Genealogical Research - Civil Registration at Registration.

Basic Records - Census Returns

Working hand-in-hand with Civil Registration records are the next category of records which most researchers approach - the Victorian Census Returns. Of greatest use to the researcher are those censuses taken every ten years from 1841 to 1891. With luck, family groups may be traced across this fifty year period with the censuses providing a "snapshot" of the family every ten years.

GenDoc's Census Returns For England & Wales at

GENUKI's A to Z of British Genealogical Research - Census at

If you want even more details about the censuses, see the Victorian Census Project's web page on The Census Enumerators' Books at

Basic Records - Parish Registers

Before 1837, it was the responsibility of the established church in England and Wales to record baptisms, marriages, and burials. This was done at the individual parish level and the survival of either the original parish registers or copies varies from place to place. Parish registers are the one of the primary sources for genealogical research before the year 1837.

Rod Neep's English Parish Registers at

GENUKI's A to Z of British Genealogical Research - Parish Registers at


As mentioned earlier, you can not find everything you need to know about English or Welsh research on the Internet. You're going to have to read some reference books in order to better understand and guide your research efforts. Below are two of the best.

(Disclaimer - the URLs given below lead to my personal Library web page from which these recommended books can be bought online. Full information on the book is given in each case so that you can obtain them either from your local library or buy them at your favorite corner book shop. If you do choose to buy these volumes online from my Library page, a few farthings of your purchase will find its way into my son's college fund.)

Tracing Your Family Tree by Jean Cole and John Titford ~

This is the most outstanding beginners book which I have found for UK research. I was lucky enough to pick up a copy on my only visit to the UK before I became serious about this genealogy stuff. I found that by reading this small book, I received an excellent grounding in UK research. If you're just getting started, start with this one.

Ancestral Trails by Mark D. Herbert ~

This is an absolute must have for anyone serious about understanding genealogical research in the UK. It is well written, gives excellent examples from the author's own research to illustrate concepts, and is very all encompassing. It gives nearly a thousand references to other books and publications as well to allow you to find more detail on the particular subject.

Internet Links

Here are just a few of the best resources on the Internet for furthering your research in England & Wales:


Society of Genealogists at

Federation of Family History Societies at

Public Record Office - Family History at

United Kingdom Genealogy Mailing Lists at

GENUKI - Genealogy Surname List Web Sites at

Cyndi's List - UK & Ireland - General UK Sites at

GENUKI - England at

Cyndi's List - England at

GENUKI - Wales at

Cyndi's List - Wales at

Good Hunting - Mark

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Updated February 28, 2001
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