The British Newspaper Archive
Read about historical events at the time they were happening. Perhaps you'll discover your ancestor in their local newspaper?
- You can search the General Registration Index for Births, Marriages and Deaths between 1837 and 2004 on Genes Reunited.
- When searching the indexes of General Registration, remember the entries appear under the date of registration, not of the event itself. A birth on 20 December 1950 might therefore be in the index volume for the December quarter of 1950 or the March quarter of 1951.
- On marriages certificates, you may find exact ages stated, or it may say 'minor' or 'full age'. This means the people concerned were under or over 21 respectively. But beware- if people wanted to marry without parental consent they sometimes just lied and said they were older than they really were.
- On marriage certificates the fathers are sometimes stated to be 'deceased'. However, there are many cases when the father was dead, but his child's certificate does not say so. Equally, people who said their father were 'deceased' sometimes did not know one way or the other, because they were illegitimate and had never met their fathers, and in many cases did not know who he really was at all.
- You can search the available census records for England and Wales.
- Places of birth given in censuses are often inaccurate so, if in doubt, check other census returns for the same person for a 'second opinion'.
- The poor had a great fear of being 'moved on' or being told to return whence they came. In censuses, many claimed to have been born where they were enumerated, even if this was not so. For a Genes Reunited member I recently proved that two Irish people in Middlesborough who said they were born there were actually from Cork!
- In censuses, households were sometimes enumerated though the back door. If the people you want are not found in the street you expected, use a contemporary map to discover what the surrounding streets were and look there as well.
- Don't forget that, while ages were given (supposedly) accurately from 1851 onwards, those for adults in the 1841 census were mostly rounded down to the nearest five years. Someone aged 45 in the 1841 census would therefore have been born between 1796 and 1791.
- After censuses were taken, they were analysed for statistical purposes and entries were crossed off in blue pencil. So don't worry if your ancestor seems to have been crossed out- he'd been counted, that was all!
- If you cannot read a place of birth or occupation in a census, look up and down the surrounding pages and see if you can find the same word or at least some of the letters written more clearly.
- All wills proved and grants of administration made after 12 January 1858 are in annual indexes at First Avenue House (42-49 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6NP, 0207 7936 7000).
- Wills and administrations were indexed separately up to 1870, and then all in the same annual index thereafter.
- Copies of the indexes up to 1943 can be found elsewhere on microfiche- ask at your local record office or Mormon Family History Centre.
- If you need the death record of someone who is likely to have left a will or administration, it is generally much easier to search the probate indexes (which are annual, and give a fair amount of detail, including date of death), than the General Registration death indexes (which are indexed quarterly each year and give little detail).
- The indexes up to 1892 state the relationship (if any) of the administrators to the deceased.
- Postal searches cost £5 for a four year search and a copy of the will, with £3 for each extra four year period you want searched.
- Postal searches can be made through the Postal Searches and Copies Department, The Probate Registry, Castle Chambers, Clifford Street, York, YO1 9RG.
- Don't forget that wills could be proved several years after someone died: sometimes a married person's will would not be proved until the surviving partner died.
- Relatives, especially elderly ones, can be goldmines of information: seek them out and ask as many questions of them as you can.
- Be polite and give them time to answer your questions. Face-to-face interviews are best but use the post or telephone if necessary- or e-mail, if they have it!
- Ask structured questions, seeking (where known) names, dates of birth, marriage and death, places where they took place and occupations- but also ask for any interesting stories.
- A trick for jogging the memory of someone who says they cannot remember something you want to know is to suggest an answer you know is wrong- it's amazing how quickly they may contradict you.
- Don't just seek out older relations. Younger ones may remember things told them by deceased relatives, and they may also have old family papers.
- Ask relatives you interview for contact details of others, enabling you network outwards.
- Use websites like Genes Reunited to find possible new relatives and let their leads help you in your own research.
Tips provided by Anthony Adolph