Posted by Kristen Hyde on October 10, 2016 in Collections, United Kingdom, Website

Want to research your family history with Ancestry but not quite sure where to start? We explore the best UK records for helping you branch out your family tree. 

Researching your family tree

Seeing some of our favourite celebrities discovering the secrets of their family’s past can be a great incentive for starting your own research. And the good news is – you don’t have to be on the cover of Ok! Magazine to have a family story worth telling! We all have fascinating families and exploring Ancestry’s online records is a great way of learning more about them. So in the words of Walt Disney said, ‘The best way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

Where to start

We suggest beginning your research in our census records. These are a family historian’s bread and butter as they provide some of the most basic but critical information about your family members. Your first port of call should be the 1911 Census. Have a chat to your current relatives, grandparents, or great aunts or uncles and try identify a relative who would have been alive during 1911. Find them in the 1911 Census and you’ll immediately discover their age, marital status, occupation and place of birth. Most importantly though, you’ll discover a list of all the people your ancestor was living with at the time and the relationship they had to the person filling out the census. As censuses were taken every 10 years, you can then trace these people back a decade at a time until you arrive at 1841. This is a great way to build out a holistic view of who was who in your family tree.


Adding detail

Now that you know who you’re looking for, you can start building out the picture of who your ancestors actually were.

Through the information you’ve found in the census records, you can easily start exploring your ancestors’ occupations. Whether they were railway workers, postmen, nurses, medical practitioners, or engineers, you can learn a lot from the occupational records that were kept about your ancestors’ work and duties.

© Fox Photos, Getty
© Fox Photos, Getty

One of the most common and well-documented occupations in British history was that of ‘soldier’. Through the records, you can discover if your ancestor was the recipient of service medals, what their rank and regiment was, battles they fought in and whether they were hospitalised during the war. Our World War I War Diaries also offer handwritten accounts from the trenches and can be a harsh reminder of the realities of war.

Perhaps your ancestors found themselves on the wrong side of the law on the odd occasion? Police Gazettes, court records and prison registers make it easy to trace the criminals in your family as they worked their way through the judicial system. Who knows – you might even come across a suffragette whose actions are now celebrated in British history.

For many family historians, their family’s story doesn’t always start and end in the UK. Our travel and immigration records can help you trace your ancestors’ immigration and emigration as they arrived and departed on new adventures. Once you’ve found out the countries you’re interested in, there are billions of records at your fingertips as you take your family’s story as far and as wide as you can.

Learn more about how to use UK records to start your family history research.

Kristen Hyde

Kristen is Ancestry's Social Media Manager for the United Kingdom.


  1. Gary E Shaw

    8+Grandfather Joshua Shaw b. In UK about 1720. His son was Capt. Joshua Shaw Jr. Famous in French Indian War, and the Revolutionary War. Can u help?

  2. cheryl

    Another great resource is the city and county directories. You can find descriptions of towns at specific time periods and listings of local addresses and occupations.

  3. Jim Seymour

    Just one caution for people accustomed to doing research in the states: The UK is a big place, and it *seems* as though they were not as inventive as Americans when it came to naming their children. The end result is that it’s really easy to get lost in a sea of similar-named people!

  4. For the Great information you write it very clean. I am very lucky to get this tips from you.very well information you write it very clean. I’m very lucky to get this information from you .

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