Getting Started

Whilst we would like to lay claim to the content on this page, it has been put together using snippets of many other similar web pages which can be found on the Internet. Although many, we would like to particularly acknowledge the Federation of Family History Societies web site for the basis of this text. 

Where do I start? 

Start with yourself, add your family, your parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc., in fact, any relatives you can remember. Question older relatives, who can be invaluable in providing knowledge of ancestors you may not know of or have forgotten, remember though to always treat family stories with a ‘pinch of salt’.  Your research may help to prove or disprove some commonly held beliefs about the origins of your family.

It is often useful to record these discussions, not only to double check your information later, but to have as a historical reference. 

Where do I go next?

In England and Wales people have been able to register births, marriages and deaths since 1 July 1837. Certificates of events occurring from this date can be obtained from local Register Offices or the Registrar General. You can search the General Register Office (GRO) indexes to these registrations at some local libraries and record offices who have copies in microform. Several commercial companies provide online digitised images of the index page for free, or for a fee . Free BMD is a web site that, as the name suggests, provides a free search facility for these indexes (see our Links page). 

What information can I expect on a certificate?

Birth ~ A birth certificate usually names both parents, including the mother’s maiden surname. Knowing both parents’ full names, you can search the indexes for a reference to their marriage.

  • Marriage ~ A marriage certificate usually supplies the names and occupations of the fathers of both parties.
  • Death ~ A death certificate usually provides the name of the deceased, the date, place and cause of death as well as the name of the person registering the death.

Simple steps like these can take your line well back into the nineteenth century.

My ancestry is Scottish or Irish. What do I do?

Civil Registration began in Scotland in 1855 and in Ireland in 1864. Certificates can be obtained from New Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh EHI 3YT (for Scotland) and from the General Register Office, Government Offices, Convent Road, Roscommon, for Ireland. Registrations for Northern Ireland Northern Ireland from 1922 are at Oxford House, 49-55 Chichester Street, Belfast BTT 4HL. Before commencing this part of your research, however, you are strongly advised to read the relevant chapter in one of the many books available. 

How do I find out more about my ancestors’ families?

A census is taken every ten years and the records become available for public scrutiny when they are 100 years old. We can therefore see, on microfilm or microfiche, those returns for 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901. They are arranged under addresses, not names, and so to look at them on film or fiche you need to know where your family lived at those times to trace them. Details such as age, occupation and place of birth may be found on the census returns for 1851 and after. The 1841 census omits place of birth and relationships.

Where can I search the census returns?

A complete set for England and Wales is housed at The National Archives, Kew. Additionally, those pertaining to your area may be found at your local record office, library or family history society. Census indexes are also available online from commercial firms and images may be downloaded for a fee, your local library may provide this as a free service.

How do I get further back?

If you are researching prior to 1837 in England and Wales you will be largely dependent on the church (or parish) registers. These registers were introduced in 1538 and contain baptisms and burials (as distinct from births and deaths) and, of course, marriages. Although many early registers have been lost over the years, a surprising number still exist.

Where do I find parish registers?

Today, very few registers, other than those which are still in use, are held at churches. Many of the registers have been filmed and copies are widely available; ask at the relevant county record office or local studies library, or your nearest Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) Family History Centre. In addition to the registers, from 1598 parish priests had to send to their bishop an ‘annual return’, a copy of the register, known as a Bishops’ Transcript. Those that still exist can be very useful in supplying entries omitted from the register or replacing a missing register.

What is this the IGI?

The IGI, or International Genealogical Index, is an index to about 800 million births, baptisms and marriages from around the world. The index is produced by the LDS, and is available in many libraries and record offices, and in the Church’s own Family History Centres. It can also be found online at

How do I go about using Wills?

Wills and administrations, proved in England and Wales from 1858 are available at the Principal Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP. Indexes can also be found at several record offices and libraries elsewhere. Before 1858 there was no national probate registry and research is more complicated as a result.

What else can I expect to find out about my family?

There are many other sources which you can search, far too many to list here. There are a number of useful books and magazines that may help, so ask at your local library. Keighley family history society publishes a selection of modestly priced books and CDs to help you with both your research. A complete list of our Publications and how to purchase them can be found on this site.

Join your local Family History Society.

They are groups of family historians who have an interest in a particular geographical area, such as a county, or live in that area. There are also special interest societies, for example a specific surname. You should definitely join your local society.

What benefits can I expect for my Membership?

Keighley & District family History Society holds regular meetings. Come along and join our activities, visitors are welcome. You may also find it useful to become a member of our society if we cover the areas in which your ancestors once lived.

Our members might be able to help with particular ‘local research’ problems, for example by visiting the churchyard to read and even photograph your grandfather’s gravestone for you! Belonging to a family history society will also enable you to contact others who are tracing the same surname that you are, in the area where your ancestor lived.

How do I find someone already researching the same family as me?

Keighley & District family History Society publishes a yearly list of Members’ Interests. By taking out a membership of our Society, you will be provided with the full details of each member. This will enable you to contact those who have registered similar interests as yourself.

You can also purchase international directories, such as the Genealogical Research Directory, or search the internet.

How do I record my information?

Today there are many reasonably priced computer programs to assist the Genealogist record their information. Many of these programs also produce report and charts which may be of use.

Regardless of what method you use, be sure to retain details of all sources of information and, where possible, obtain copies. It is also a good idea to scan and store copies of any data or certificates if you are able to do so. This data may be useful if you are using a computer program to store your information. Above all, be sure to regularly back up your data and perform virus checks.


Webmaster and Committee Member. In my spare time I run other websites including: The Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery, The Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery, Yorkshire Indexers and Yorkshire Burials.

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