Whether your ancestors are immigrants from the UK, or have lived across the pond their entire lives, there are a few collections available that can help you start your research. When I am doing preliminary research on a family originating in the UK in the late 19th and early 20th century, there are two record types I always search first: census records and Civil Registration birth, marriage, and death certificates.
UK Census Records
If you are completely new to genealogy, a little explanation is in order. In their formation, census records were used by the government to track population. In genealogy, census records help us see a “snapshot” of a family every ten years; in the UK, the census was taken on one specific day. UK census records are available on Ancestry from 1841-1901 for the Channel Islands, England, Scotland, and Wales. Irish censuses from 1821-51 were destroyed, but Irish census records are available 1901-1911 as an index on Ancestry, and are available at http://census.nationalarchives.ie.
UK census records differ slightly from US census records: they give a parish of birth for each individual born in the UK, and record relationships from 1851 onward. This very specific information will help when finding your ancestors in Civil Registration.
UK Civil Registration
UK Civil Registration indexes are made available on Ancestry.com through the volunteers of the FreeBMD organization.
Enacted on 1 July 1837 in England and Wales, civil registration was a governmentally instituted program that had individuals record births, marriages, and deaths. Civil Registration in Scotland started in 1855, while Ireland started in 1864. Events were recorded at local registrars’ offices, and are all housed at the General Register Office (GRO), where they can be ordered from the index. It is very likely you’ll find your UK ancestor in these records, although, like all records, there are always exceptions. Each record type recorded different information, including:
- Name of child
- Date of birth
- Parents names (including mother’s maiden name)
- Occupation of father
- Residence of informant
- Names and ages of bride and groom (sometimes recorded as “of full age,” meaning over 21)
- Date of marriage
- Condition (single or widowed)
- Residence at time of marriage
- Father’s name and occupation
- Place of marriage
- Names of witnesses
- Name of deceased
- Date of death
- Cause of death
- Signature and residence of informant
You can order birth, marriage, and death records from the GRO by using the reference information given on the Civil Registration Index. By using the census and civil registration together, they are a powerful tool to help document the lives of your UK ancestors.
For more information on ProGenealogists, please visit their website at http://progenealogists.com