Family History Guide

Getting started

Speak to family members as they may have photographs or documents. If possible try to record what they say or take notes; you will be able to check details and facts later on. Family stories will also help, they may become exaggerated over time but they may be based on truth.

Start with parents, then grandparents and work backwards with each generation. Keep notes on your findings and the sources of information you have used as you may need to return to something later on. Even if you do not find any useful information it is still worth noting the source to make sure you do not search in the same place twice.


Help Available

Many local libraries, record offices and archives, such as Liverpool and Wirral provide free access to computers. Here you will be able to gain access to a wealth of information, including many subscription websites.

Family history societies run help desk sessions and staff in local libraries, record offices and archives may be able to offer help and advice with sources of information, not the actual searching itself.

The Liverpool and South West Lancashire Family History Society produces guides and publishes the Liverpool Family Historian, which shows the names members are researching and other projects the society is involved in.

Books and leaflets are available from libraries to give you more detailed help and advice.

Online genealogy and history forums encourage new members to join and allow members to post information and questions. If you are having problems with an area of research someone may have had the same problem and be able to offer a solution.


Useful Sources of Information

Indexes of Births, Marriages and Deaths (BMD)

This started in 1837 and is also known as the General Register Office (GRO) Index. From here you will get enough information to be able to purchase a certificate from a local Register Office or from the national office.

Births, Marriages and Deaths are also available online from Ancestry and Find My Past. Please note these websites charge monthly or annual subscriptions. Access may be free of charge at local libraries, record offices and archives. There is also a Free BMD website with searchable indexes



Census Returns

This started in 1841 and has been taken every 10 years. To guarantee confidentiality census information is not released until 100 years after. The latest census available is 1911. This shows all members of households, including servants and visitors, on the night the census was recorded. It will show names, addresses, ages, occupations and places of birth.

Census information is available on microfilm at local libraries, record offices and archives or online from Ancestry and Find My Past.

Burial Records

These may include information such as last address, age and occupation. Records will cover burials in churchyards and cemeteries, both privately owned and council maintained.

Other records include Cremation Records and Monumental Inscriptions (from gravestones)

Burial Records are available on microfilm at local libraries, record offices and archives or available online from Ancestry. Additionally some churches may have indexes available online.


Military Records

Be aware that the majority of the personnel records from the First World War were destroyed or damaged during WWII. The remainder have been digitised and are now available on the Ancestry website.

Ancestry has three record groups: Service records, Pension records and medal rolls. You will need to know the name, year of birth and location of the person you are searching for.

For information on local regiments there may be local headquarters, but again local libraries, record offices, archives and museums may have records and histories.

Many existing records are held at The National Archives in Kew, Surrey. The website contains a number of useful guides to help with searching for people who served during the First World War.

To find information about war dead the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website commemorates the men and women of the Commonwealth who died in the two World Wars. It has details of their register burials and cemeteries around the world.

The Imperial War Museum has produced a number of leaflets on how to trace Army, Navy and Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force ancestry, as well as tracing Prisoners of War. The website has information about their collections and research and now has a dedicated page about the First World War Centenary.

Merchant Navy – this is a civilian service but during wartime some seamen served with the Royal Naval Reserve. The National Archives can provide information about what records are available. The National Maritime Museum has information sheets about the Merchant Navy. Lloyd’s Register of Shipping and individual Shipping Line archives may also help with family history research. The Merseyside Maritime Museum has its listings on an online catalogue.


Other sources of Information

Newspapers – In particular, reports and obituaries will give more detailed information. The British Newspaper Archive is a subscription site which includes national and regional newspapers such as the Liverpool Mercury to 1900 and Liverpool Echo 1879-1918. Liverpool Library has free access to this website. Local newspapers may also be available bound or on microfilm in local libraries, record offices and archives.

Street Directories – These started in Liverpool in 1766 and later versions contain an alphabetical list of streets with residents and trades and professions. The most popular street directories are Gore’s and Kelly’s and they are available either in printed form or on microfilm at local libraries, record offices and archives.

Maps – Not only will these the location of a particular road or building but maps from different time periods will show how an area has changed over time.

Hospital Records, Workhouse Admissions and School Records  – These can add a great deal to family history research but be aware that due to confidentiality and data protection legislation access to this information may be restricted. Staff in local libraries, record offices and archives will be able to provide further guidance.

Catalogues from Libraries, Record Offices and Archives – These will show what sources of information are available, along with advice for visitors, such as how to order documents, what to bring and whether photographs can be taken.

Liverpool Record Office in Central Library, Liverpool

Wirral Archives Service, Birkenhead

Cheshire Record Office, Chester

Lancashire Record Office, Preston


Other online sources

Genuki – Genealogical information for regions of the UK. This website contains a wealth of information from church and census to poor law and probate, including military information.

Familysearch – Worldwide coverage. This website has Births, Marriages and Deaths and 1881 census information and the International Genealogical Index, which uses parish records and is arranged alphabetically. Users are encouraged to register and upload their family histories and photographs. Help and advice are also available.


Updated information from Ancestry


Court, Government & Criminal Records


Birth, Marriage & Death Records


Military Records


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