How to Use UK Records to Start Your Family History Research | Ancestry

You’ll have seen celebrities going into their incredible stories on TV, but it’s not just these superstars that have fascinating stories in their family that are worth sharing. Everybody has something that’s worth sharing from their family history they just need to know where to find it. And the place that they find it is records – records kept by our ancestors through their lives, written down for these important events that pull out details like where they lived, who they were living with, how they lived their lives. We have more than 16 billion of these records on Ancestry, more than 1 billion for the UK alone and we actually help people to search through them. They don’t have to do it themselves. They can use our hints – we pull out the details of their family for them. So it’s actually relatively easy for many people to go through the generations and piece together their family tree. Question is – where do you get started? I always suggest starting with census records especially the 1911 census. Speak to family at home, your older relatives, use the resources you’ve got around the house and get to a relative who was alive in 1911. Find them in the census and you’ll discover their marital status, occupation, where they were born, when they were born, loads of useful information. But more than that, you’ll get all the people they were living with which for most people is other family members. And bang – there’s a whole extra generation, a bunch of people to add to your family tree. And censuses were taken every 10 years. So what you can then do is work back through the censuses. Somebody who was an adult in 1911, might have been a child in 1901, 1891, perhaps they were living with their parents. Work your way back through the generations in each census, adding people to your tree as you go and pretty quickly, pretty easily, you’re back to 1841 with a whole bunch of new people to explore. You can then start filling in the details of your ancestors’ lives. Of course, what you do for a living is such an important part of what your life is like that occupation records are a natural next step. Perhaps you’ve looked at a census and found out that one of your ancestors was a railway worker. You can then turn to our Railway Employment Records and find out things like what their roles were, whether they were promoted, how much they earned, even disciplinary actions for things like if they drove the train off the tracks or were caught drinking on duty. And of course, it’s not just railway workers. We have similar collections for nurses, for postman, for engineers, many of the most common occupations all across British history. Of course, one of the tragedies of British history is that one of the most common occupations has often been soldier and we have millions of records of soldiers going right back through history, both World Wars, conflicts like Waterloo, right back to the start of the British Army. World War I is particularly well covered. You can search Service and Medal Records, get details like the ranks and regiments, battles people fought in, how they earned their medals. But then you can go to our War Diaries and read first-hand accounts of what life was like in the trenches and the harsh realities of war. At the other end of the scale, the Government has always been very keen to keep tabs on criminals which is great news for us today. It just means there’s loads of records to explore the criminals in your family tree. Start with old newpapers like the Police Gazettes and they’ll tell you about the crimes they commited. Then go into court records to find out about their convictions, and prison registers to learn more about their actual time in jail. But of course, not all criminals are these evil figures we have in our heads. For example, our Suffragette Registers will tell you about people who fell foul of the law but actually these days are celebrated as some of Britain’s greatest heroes. Of course, you might find your family story goes beyond the UK. Our Passenger Lists, both incoming and outgoing, will tell you the ships that your family sailed on, the people they sailed with, and most importantly of course, where they left and where they arrived. And then, once you found out the countries you’re interested in of course, you’ve got billions of records from all over the world to take your family’s story as far and wide as you can.


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