Understanding the Records that are used in Genealogy Research

Understanding the RecordsThere are a number of different records used in genealogy research. They are sources of information for the purpose of putting family histories together. Some are accessible to the general public either online or at specific places where genealogical research takes place, such as Somerset House in London. Original documents can be viewed in these places whereas other locations which also have record archives such as local parishes, churches and libraries may not have the original documents. Instead they are often stored on microfiche or microfilm and can be viewed in this way. Other records may not be so readily available for public consumption which is when the experts should be contacted to see if they have greater access.

The primary type of documents that should be viewed when investigating family history are those gained from the Census and Family Records that can be viewed online. The original documents can also be obtained from The Family Records Centre. The Census only gives a partial view as it simply records names, addresses and ages often rounded to the nearest 5 years. It begins from 1801 but you can only access records up to 1901 as 1911 is not available until 2009. It also records peoples 'addresses' as whichever place they happen to be staying in when the Census was taken. It was also only taken every 10 years so there may be missing information. Later the Census also recorded health as well as basic details. However these details can be used to plot out family trees, find family groups and trace ancestors through their names. It gives a framework or starting point for genealogical research. Similarly the family records also provide a starting point as these begin even earlier. From 1537, Thomas Cromwell decreed that records should be kept by Parish clerks on burials, baptisms and marriages. Additional information was entirely dependant on the clerk who noted the records and not all records from this time on have been submitted in complete books to the Local County Records Office. However those that are provided are useful in tracing the family history of female lineage as it often reveals the maiden names of women. Again these records are not fully accurate particularly the earlier ones as non-conformist churches were not recognised.

Other records can also reveal similar types of information and can be used in conjunction with original documents gained from the Family Records Centre to confirm first findings. It is also useful to look at divorce, civil unions and adoption records which can provide supporting information or reveal additional information which changes the original family tree, particularly records such as adoption certificates.

Church records are also very useful in recording basic details and are a useful local source, as are local genealogy and history societies and local parishes. They are a good secondary source once addresses have been established. The Mormons might also be able to provide additional local records information through the International Genealogical Index where they have filmed many parish records on computer and have microfiche information from 1500s. This means they are a useful source for both family histories relating to ideology and beliefs and tracing earlier ancestors. If you cannot find family members amongst Church records you can also try tracing other religious records of confirmation such as Bar-mitzvah records.

If you are trying to trace family members whereabouts then it might also be worth looking outside your own country if you are unable to source national and local records. You can look at army or conscription records to see where a person went or naturalisation (national acquisition of citizenship in a country where you are not already a citizen), emigration and immigration records. You could even look at ship passenger lists. These types of records are useful if the local and national records bear little fruit.

There are other records and documents used to both cross reference or if the local, national and international records prove to be of little service. You can look at school and alumni association records, deeds, health records from the NHS (limited access), newspaper articles that contain obituaries and photographs, occupational records, pensions, tax and voter records. This may be less useful when looking back more than a century. Letters, photographs, criminal, tombstone poorhouse, alms house and workhouse and orphanage records might be more useful, particularly in Victorian times. These types of records are used to add in additional information about the lives of ancestors but they can also be used to find family records that are not amongst the main sources. However these records are far less accessible to the general public which is why it is worth getting some help from the various genealogy organisations.