Finding Your British Roots

Notes from presentation at Grande Prairie, 13 Sept 2014:

Some Key Dates and Events:

  • 1536 Henry VIII separates from the Catholic Church and forms Church of England
  • 1536 to 1541 First English conquest of Ireland
  • 1538 Churches told to keep records of Births, Marriages, and Deaths (BMD) – early records may be on scraps of paper!
  • 1598  Churches told to make copies of parish records and send to Bishop – Bishop’s Transcripts – very valuable back up of parish records
  • 1603 – King of Scotland became king of England
  • 1643 – 1647 Civil War – some records damaged or destroyed
  • 1752 calendar changed in England – moved start of New Year to Jan 1 from March 25 (Lady’s Day) – 11 days omitted from calendar in 1752 (2 Sep followed by 14 Sep)
  • 1754 Marriages to be kept in separate register
  • 1812 – new forms issued for parish records
  • 1834 Poor Law Unions created – groups of parishes care for poor – prior to that check each parish for poor law records

(1837/1841 is a pivotal period of change!)

  • 1 Jul 1837 – state registration of BMD begins – beware of first few months and years! – no penalty for not registering a birth until 1875 – quarterly indexes
  • 1841 – first national census that gives names and more – but use with caution – ages may be rounded off to nearest five – and doesn’t give same information as 1851 and subsequent census
  • 1858The Principal Probate Registry, a civil government system, replaced church courts
  • 19thC – need to start to watch for non conformist records
  • 1911 – latest census available for research
  • 1922 -Republic of Ireland gains independence – leaving 6 counties in Northern Ireland still in United Kingdom

Basic vocabulary about places

1. Government Jurisdictions:

Country – A nation or state – England is a country, so is Scotland – so is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

County – some are called Shire – land division within the country – 40 counties in England

District – a unit of area created for civil registration, may be a number of parishes – or even cross county boundaries

Parish – smallest unit of civil administration also known as a township; it may include part or one or several ecclesiastical parishes

Village, Town or Hamlet – A small locality within a parish

2. Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions:

Province – A large area over which an archbishop has authority and consists of a number of dioceses – there are 2 in England

Diocese – An area or district over which a bishop has authority and consists of one or more archdeaconries (with their rural deaneries and parishes); the seat of power or authority of a bishop

Archdeaconry – An area consisting of a number of rural deaneries (with their parishes), headed by an archdeacon

Rural Deanery – An area consisting of a number of ecclesiastical parishes, headed by a rural dean (usually one of the parish ministers within the deanery)

Parish – A district served by a clergyman (a Vicar or Rector) of the Church of England – at least one church  – often the center of community life.

Chapelry – A congregation with its own church within a parish and supervised by the parish – usually created from a rise in population or convenience in distance.

Follow the Research Process – five main steps:

1. Begin by identifying what you know and also what you do not know. Do this by gathering records, photographs, and artifacts from your home and other places. And then make a list.

2. Decide what you want to learn, write down all your thoughts, and then formulate a specific research goal.

3. Learn what sources are available to help you accomplish your goal.

4. Explore these resources to gather more family information.

5. Evaluate the information you have gleaned, and add it to your records. And finally, make sure that you share your findings with others.

Organize what you know

Useful tools for this are:

  1. Pedigree Chart – with space for four or five generations (parents, grandparents and great grandparents).
  2. Family Group Record – space to record information about parents and children in one family.
  3. Computer program – we strongly recommend everyone select one – lots of great programs available – many of them have free versions so you can try before you buy!  Try RootsMagic, or Legacy Family Tree or Ancestral Quest or FamilyTree Maker or Mac Family Tree or  . . .  many others.  You select the “car” you drive.

Keys:  know the place – know the jurisdiction names – know the record type availability – know where to look and how to search!

1.  Know the major record types, dates when they are available and where you can access them

Four major record types:

Civil Registration – started  1 July 1837 – official index at – BMD 1837-1920 at – another source.

Order BMD certificates online – use government website – except Scotland use  For Ireland read the wiki article on Ireland – look for the section on Civil Registration.

Census – findmypast or or – get to the images – 1841 and then every 10 years – this is the easiest to access (unless you are working in Ireland!) and should be searched exhaustively – make sure you see the images – and save them to attach to Sources.

Church Records – search by parish – so need to know your parish – look for Parish records or Bishop’s Transcripts

Wills and Probate – can provide very helpful information – date of death and location determine where you look

Hint: Learn to use the wiki at!!!! Learn to use the wiki at!!!!

Country ____________

Type of Record

Years Available

Location for Access

BMD (govt) aka Civil Registration aka Vital Records



Church Records

aka Parish  Records or Bishop’s Transcripts

Wills and Probate

Use FamilySearch Wiki to find information.  If not found on wiki then use learning centre at or a gateway site (listing of sites by topics) such as Mary’s Treasures or Cyndi’s List

2. Know the Location – is the place a parish?  if not what parish is it in?  is it a chapelry within a parish?  what other jurisdictions is the place in?

Use Gazetteers such as (usually get Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer) or – go to Church Database or use the FamilySearch wiki

Use the FH Catalog at

For England use – also gives dates for records in a parish and other jurisdiction names

Both maps.familysearch and the GENUKI church database allow you to see adjoining and nearby parishes

Phillimore’s “Great Britain, Atlas and Index to Parish Registers” now digitized on – covers England, Scotland and Wales – lacking grid codes on margin of pages

Jurisdiction names – where else might you look?  – find the county, civil registration district, poor law union, diocese, province – see for England.

Try – ignore sign in and prices – click on Get Maps and then fill in Search box

Ireland has unique jurisdiction names like townlands

3. Know how to search – understand how to access extracted records as a help

At you can now search in Historical Records (click on Search and select Records) by just:

  • place name – if you are not sure of the spelling look it up in the Catalog
  • surname – resist exact searches
  • film number – look this up in the Catalog
  • batch number – see below for how to find

Very powerful when you search first by place or film and then add Surname

Approximately 80% of English parishes have been filmed and records extracted that are available in Records at FamilySearch.  What years were extracted for your parish (if any!)?  What types of records?  Christening/baptism?  or Marriage? or both?

Do a google search for: wallis igi   (use long url including word rootsweb) – has index by country in British Isles, then county then parish – gives dates of extractions – can copy batch numbers to paste in FamilySearch.  Alternatively check – newer and refers to Wallis

Only 5% of the archives have been digitized, but that number is increasing . . .  so try the National Archives and (both available for free at your FH Centre) have British records including some parish information – but limited Scottish.  Both have extensive census images and indexes.

For Scotland you will also want to use – for which you will have to pay – so get all you can from the other sites.

For Ireland – there are several good websites including – there is a good list in the article on Ireland at the FamilySearch wiki

Google searches may show sites to access transcriptions and occasionally images from  church records – worth a search.  Look for the online parish clerk project (OPC) – done by volunteers – usefulness varies.  Consider using specialized search sites like which has a free genealogy search engine.

4. Why you might still use a microfilm?

Even if the record has been extracted you only seeing someone’s opinion of what the record said.  If possible it is best to see the original yourself.

Also the original record may give you some additional information such as occupation of the father or place where they lived in the parish. 

Burials are rarely extracted on FamilySearch and may give you the age at death or simply Infant and sometimes a parent’s name.

How to access the microfilm?  Use the catalog at to find if the film is available for your parish. Then go to to order – the cost covers shipping and handling.  You will need to go to a FH Centre to view the film.

5.  Summary on resources for British Research:

  • Historical records at – remember records are being added almost each week – keep checking back
  • Research wiki – go to search link at – England page includes how to do research- similar pages for Wales, Scotland and Ireland
  • – learning centre free from home without subscription
  • – available for free at your local FH Centre – official BMD indexes, national burial index, parish records, military records – and Irish records
  • Online courses at – go to Get Help and then Learning Center – e.g. England Beginning Research parts 1,2, 3 – our blog

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