How to Research Family History
This page is about the study of family history, how to go about it and some useful websites to visit.
If you don't find what you are looking for, please re-visit, because this site will be regularly updated. Any details that you can add, especially corrections will be gratefully received. GeoffStone@Wedmore.org.uk
Construction of this page is still continuing.
Yourself - document
other relatives cousins
usually an aunt who keeps in touch and knows many details
get them to write notes
Although it might be a goal to prove that you are descended from a particular historical figure with the same surname, in practice this is usually very difficult to do, if starting from that person. The golden rule in family research is to work backwards starting with yourself. Start by creating a small dossier about yourself, containing birth certificate, baptism or marriage certificates if applicable, any school records etc. Then create a similar dossier for each parent and grandparents.
Get in touch with all living relatives and find out what they know of parents, grandparents and cousins. Record all the details and draw simple charts to link names and families together. Many beginners underestimate the importance of this stage in their haste to push back in time. Elderly relatives will often remember tales told by their grandparents and these can give valuable clues later. Although many family stories have been exaggerated or embroidered over time, there is frequently a grain of truth, which can be verified by research.
Once details from living relatives have been recorded and hopefully you have located all your first and second cousins, you will have a simple family tree consisting of perhaps four or five generations, including younger members of the family. If details later become difficult, remember that tracing back details of a cousin will lead to the same grandparents.
||A tax for an official purpose, but not on the clergy.
||Of particular importance are those of 1290 to 1334 which are a significant medieval
||A tax on heads, or people.
||The 1377 returns are said to be the most complete, in 1379 and 1381 there was much
evasion. Useful for surname studies. Patchy survival.||TNA E179|
|Poor Law Statutes
||After the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII made the parish responsible for
the care of the poor.|
Overseers were appointed from 1572. In 1597 overseers
were authorised to levy rates on local householders.
|Parish records vary
considerably, lists of payments to the poor and of those paying rates to pay for the
relief. Also court records show claims against fathers of illegitimate children.
|1538||Parish Registers introduced by Thomas Cromwell to record
baptisms, marriages and burials.
||These records were usually on individual sheets of paper and most have been lost.
||Few survive 1538-1558||County|
|1598||Parish Registers to be on parchment in Leather Bound
At the end of each year a copy of the register had to be sent to the Bishop.
|Old records back to 1558 had to be copied into the register (though some were
These copies are commonly known as Bishops' Transcripts or BTs.
|More survive 1558-1597|
Most registers survive after 1597
BTs may have
copying errors. They are a useful alternative where the original register is lost or
damaged, though less have survived.
Most are now
||reintroduced 1641 and 8 times between 1660-1697|| ||TNA E179
|1642-1660||English Civil War and Interregnum.
||During the war and for some years after, baptisms were not performed and recorded,
in some places until as late as 1660.|
From 1653 to 1660 only marriages by Justices of
the Peace were legal.
No Bishops' Transcripts were made 1649-1660.
places the Parish Clerk or other person maintained civil records, some registers were
updated retrospectively in 1660, but most records for much of this period are not
"Publications of intention to marry" might occasionally be recorded.
||Tax levied twice a year at 1/- per hearth
||Records patchy, lists of hearths and lists of exemptions may be found showing
|1752||Date and Year change
from Julian to Gregorian
|The year previously began on Lady Day = 25th March and ended on 24th March.
1751 ran from 25th March to 31st December, 1752 starting on January 1st.
September 2nd 1752 was followed by the 14th with 11 'lost' days.
|Documents at that time (e.g. Parish Registers), will have a date such as 14th March
1750 near the end of the year. The year should be shown by genealogists as
1750/51 to indicate the change of year, old/new style.|| |
|1753||Hardwick's Marriage Act
||Before March 25th 1754 marriages could be performed anywhere and many were not
recorded, especially among the poor, and to be legally valid, all that was required was
the marriage vow. After this date all marriages had to be by an Anglican
clergyman in the parish church of one of the spouses in the presence of two or more
witnesses after the publication of Banns or by licence.||Marriages are much more
easy to find. The law required that records of banns and marriages had to be kept
separately from baptisms and burials. Quaker and Jewish marriages were exempt
from the parish church requirement and their records must be consulted.
or Woburn House,
||From 1st January records of baptisms, marriages & deaths are on standard forms
in bound volumes.||Easier to read and more details were kept about the parents
and the father's occupation on baptisms and age at death for burials.
|1834||Poor Law Act
||The cost of looking after the poor had escalated and the laws were changed making
relief harder to claim and forcing parishes to join together into poor law unions.
||Less records were generated and relief changed from 'outdoor' to 'indoor' as the
poor were cared for more in Workhouses.||County Record|
|July 1837||National Registration of Births, Marriages &
Deaths||Certificates of birth, marriage or death are available from the local
Registrar where the event was registered, or from FRC or by post from Southport.
||To apply to the local registrar it is necessary to know where the event was
registered. Using the National Index a reference number may be found for
applications for certificates from London or Southport.
available at the
Centre in London
|1841||First National Census recording all names
||Place of census, name, approx age, occupation, born in same county.
||Ages usually rounded down to nearest five years, relationships not shown.
Available on microfilm/microfiche.
|1851||Census now includes age, relationship to the Head of
Family, and place of birth.
||Censuses available each ten years up to 1901.||Available on microfilm
1881 on CD (set of 24).
Also available on-line, but the quality
of indexing varies, thus 'losing' individuals or families from the search.
|| || || |
TNA = The National Archives,
based at Kew in Surrey. Formerly known as PRO - the Public Record Office.|
FRC = Family Records Centre, 1 Myddelton Street,
London EC1R 1UW between Angel and Farringdon Tube stations. Formerly at Somerset House then St. Catherine's House.
|1837 Online||Searchable pay-to-view database of images of the FRC Indexes||
|Curious Fox||British Website focused on villages ||
|Cyndi's List||THE site for references to sources of information||
|Genuki||Genealogy UK and Ireland ~ a British based site.||
|GOONS||Guild Of One Name Studies ~ is somebody else already researching your name?||
|LDS||The Mormons ~ masses of information available (and no religion).|
|Mary Mason||Transcripts of some parish registers from Portbury Hundred|
~ new registers added each month. Pictures of the churches and more.
|Origins||British based pay-to-view site with free indexes.||
|PRO||UK ~ Public Record Office ~ Procat catalogue.|
|Rootsweb||Thousands of mailing lists covering mainly America and Britain ~ many based on state, county or surname. ~ Contact like minded genealogists for help and advice||
|SoG||Society of Genealogists ~ Largest UK based Genealogy library and archive.||www.sog.org.uk|
Normally, marriages in the 17th and 18th centuries were by Banns, i.e. the banns were called (read out) for three weeks in the parish church(es) of the couple prior to the wedding. The wedding then had to be in one of those churches. For most people this sufficed. However, if the couple were away from their parish, or there was a hurry perhaps because the groom was in the services or merchant navy and due to go away, the girl was pregnant, or some other reason why an element of secrecy was wanted, then a Licence could be obtained at short notice.
The licence was usually obtained by the groom by giving a sworn statement that there was no impediment, e.g. neither was married, and giving the names of consenting parent or guardian if they were under 21. Sometimes bonds were required - i.e. a sum of money pledged to be forfeit if licence conditions or oaths were broken. Of course a fee had to be paid.
This licence often gave more choice regarding the church. Licences cost more than marriage by banns and for some it was a status symbol. Special Licences were rare and only obtainable from the Archbishop of Canterbury who had jurisdiction of England and therefore the licence would allow marriage anywhere. The more usual Common Licence was obtained from the Bishop or Archdeacon and would often allow marriage anywhere in their diocese or jurisdiction.
In practice the bishop or archdeacon would not actually issue these licences themselves (or deal with probate and other administrative matters) but would delegate all this work to an official known among other titles, as the Vicar General. A licence itself is not a marriage, but a permission to marry. In some cases the marriage never took place and more frequently the marriage cannot be found. The issue of the licences was recorded and it is these records where details are found.
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© Geoffrey Stone, Braintree 3-10-2002 17-2-04 Last Update 1-1-2006