Resources for Local and Family History


Time Travel Guides: Resources for Local and Family History

Finding out about local and family history has become a lot easier as many useful sources have been transcribed, digitised, and made easier to find online. The local and family history resources listed below are ones that I have used in the past (although not necessarily for this website as it would be against the terms of most genealogy sites to share the material online), so this is an incomplete and biased list.

This list is intended for researchers of British local and family history, but some of these resources may also be useful for other areas. The biggest genealogy sites have international collections, although they are better for some countries (such as the USA and New Zealand) than for others. Resources such as local archives and family history societies can be found in many parts of the world. You may also have additional resources to draw on depending on where you are researching.

1. Genealogy Websites

Genealogy websites are a convenient starting point for family history research as they bring together lots of different sources and make them easy to search. Most family history sites provide access to census records, birth/marriage/death civil registrations, and some parish records of baptisms, marriages, and burials. Other records that may be available on some sites include old trade directories, criminal records, military records, and wills. In addition to the records themselves, genealogy websites also offer tools such as family tree builders to help with your research.

Popular family history websites include:

  • Ancestry – a subscription-based service that provides searchable transcripts and images of some original documents, including wills and censuses
  • FindMyPastAffiliate – a subscription-based service that provides searchable transcripts and images of some original documents, including wills and parish records
    • Other FindMyPastAffiliate sites: Ireland (also covers British records), USA (also covers UK and Irish records), Australia/New Zealand (also covers UK and Irish records)
  • Genes ReunitedAffiliate – a subscription-based service that provides searchable transcripts and images of some original documents, such as the census, as well as genealogy forums
  • MyHeritage – a subscription-based service that provides searchable transcripts and images of some original documents, including censuses and military records, as well as tools for editing old photographs
  • The Genealogist – UK census, BMDs and more onlineAffiliate – a subscription based service that provides searchable transcripts, map based searches, and images of some original documents
  • FamilySearch – a free to use website that has searchable transcripts (and some pictures of original records) of censuses, parish records, and other sources
  • Free UK Genealogy – a charity that provides free, searchable transcripts of census, birth/marriage/death registrations, and parish records for some parts of the UK

If you’re just starting out in local or family history, then these websites will help you to gather lots of information, quickly. You can also use them to organise the information that you find in other places if you are building a family tree.

2. National Archives

The National Archives is the official archive of the UK government and for England and Wales. It holds a vast number of official records ranging from the original UK censuses through to court records from the Star Chamber. The online Discovery catalogue lets you search through these records and those of 2500 other archives in the UK.

Many of the records have been digitised and some can be viewed online (with watermarks) or downloaded. Some of these digital copies are also available through subscription sites like Ancestry or FindMyPast. If a document has not been digitised then you can pay to have a copy made or visit the archives in person.

The National Archives website also has plenty of advice on using archives and the documents they contain. If you want to know more about a particular source, then this is a good place to learn.

3. Local Archives

If you’re researching in the UK, then most areas will be covered by at least one local archive. Some county boundaries have changed, so you may need to look in multiple archives to find the relevant records. Local archives preserve documents relating to a specific town, county, or other area. You can usually search their catalogues online and you may be able to see or order copies of some documents. If necessary, you should be able to arrange a visit to see documents in person.

Many local archives have added their resources to the National Archives catalogue, but it can still be helpful to visit their websites directly. If you’re only interested in one area, then there is no need to search through the larger national catalogue. You may also find some more specific advice on local history resources on their websites.

Shropshire Archives holds many documents relating to Shrewsbury and the archives is located in the town centre.

4. National Library of Wales

The National Library of Wales or Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru has a large archive of property deeds, wills, and other manuscripts relating to Wales. You can search the catalogue and view many documents, such as wills, online.

If you’re researching the history of Shrewsbury or you have family from Shropshire, then you may find some useful information in the Welsh archives. Many families crossed and re-crossed the border over the generations and some documents from Shropshire, including wills and deeds, were preserved in Wales.

5. Newspapers

Newspapers can be a good source of basic family history information through birth, marriage, and funeral announcements. You may also find mentions of family members in local papers relating to meetings or societies they attended or newsworthy events that they were involved in. Newspapers can be even more useful for local historians as they cover all the significant events in an area.

Libraries and archives usually have good collections of newspapers. You can also search and view some newspapers online, although this will usually require a subscription. Ancestry has some online newspapers, but the British Newspaper Archive has a greater range. You can subscribe to the BNA or get access through a Pro subscription on FindMyPast. It’s a good idea to check which publications are available before subscribing if you’re interested in a specific newspaper or area, but many local news stories were reproduced by lots of regional newspapers across the UK in the 19th century.

6. Books

Various kinds of books can help with historical research, but some are more reliable than others. You should be able to find many of these books in your local library or archives, but some can also be viewed online through services such as Google Books, the Internet Archive, and Hathi Trust.

You might find useful information in:

  • street and trade directories showing who lived or worked in a town or county
  • heraldic visitations showing family trees of landed families (according to them)
  • local history books or family histories
  • books on historic events such as battles or political upsets that involved a family or location you’re researching
  • books on social history, especially if they use case studies from a specific area

7. Family History Societies

Family History Societies are a good way to connect with other people who are researching the same families or locations. You can ask for advice online or at meetings and access family history resources created by members. You will usually need to pay a membership fee to access everything, but some societies provide online forums or publications for non-members too.

Shropshire Family History Society is based in the Shrewsbury area.

8. Local History Groups

Many towns and counties have their own local history groups, which may arrange events, provide online forums where you can ask for advice, publish useful articles and local history resources, or offer a library to their members. Some of these groups have been researching and writing about local history for more than a century, so they have a wealth of knowledge to share.

Shropshire Archeological and Historical Society covers the Shrewsbury area.

9. Searching for Blogs and Websites

A simple way to find out if there is more information available on a particular ancestor or local family is to search for their names online. You might find an entry in an archive catalogue, a local history blog, or a family tree that someone has shared. This approach works best when you are looking for someone with a distinctive name or in a specific local area. It is also more likely to produce results when you are searching for individuals or families who left more traces, whether this is because they were the local landowners, kept getting into legal disputes, or ran a family shop for generations.

You might not find anything, but occasionally there will be something unexpected or incredibly useful. Many people have shared their local history research or family histories online and you can find it just by searching. However, these local and family history resources aren’t necessarily the most reliable. You should always check where the information came from and try to see the original records for yourself, if possible.

More Advice on Researching Local and Family History: