Beginning Genealogy and Family History in England and Wales

Contributed by Marilyn Ponting

The most useful records for researching Victorian ancestors are the census which was taken every 10 years starting in 1841, and civil registration (government records of births, marriage and deaths.)

The census is available on subscription websites that are available free of charge to researchers at all FamilySearch Centres. Locally in Burnaby, Surrey and Abbotsford.
Ancestry Library Edition is available without charge at the BCGS Walter Draycott Library in Surrey. Also at most public libraries – available at . Fraser Valley Libraries including George Mackie Library in North Delta and Langley libraries, and at Cloverdale Library in Surrey.
The latest census released in the U.K. is 1911

All census years 1841-1911 also
Passenger lists of ships leaving the UK 1890-1960
Church records – vary by county. Some indexes only, some include original images.
Military Records.
Many other useful records

Census 1841, 1851, 1861, 1881, 1891, 1911 also
Passenger Lists
England and Wales Birth, Marriage & Death Indexes 1837-2005
Church Records – vary by county. Some indexes only, some include original images.
Index to wills 1858-1966, 1973-1995

Although census are available at both of the above websites they have each compiled their own indexes. If a person cannot be found in one index – try another one. All indexes take us to the same original census page. The exception to this is the 1881 census. Both websites use the index compiled by UK Family History Societies and digitized by FamilySearch.

Is free to use and has indexes for many of the records on Ancestry and Find My Past. Including census and parish records. There are additional records that do not appear on the pay sites.


FreeBMD is a transcription of the indexes to birth, marriage, and death records.
Beginning July 1st 1837 registers of births, marriage and deaths were kept by district registrars. In the beginning some births were not registered – particularly in large towns and cities. Copies of these registers were sent to the General Register Office four times a year and national indexes were compiled. These indexes can be searched free online at FreeBMD
This is an ongoing volunteer project. Most years are complete from 1837 to 1975. But there are some gaps.
Once the reference is found the certificate can be ordered on line from

This was released in 2015 for England and Wales only and is available at Find My Past. This is the description from the website.
In December 1938 it was announced in the House of Commons that in the event of war, a National Register would be taken that listed the personal details of every civilian in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This Register was to be a critical tool in coordinating the war effort at home. It would be used to issue identity cards, organise rationing and more.


A sister site to Free BMD is Free REG (Church Registers)
An ongoing volunteer project to transcribe and make church records available free on line. Some counties have good coverage. Others have little or nothing.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
War dead from the Commonwealth countries WW1 – WW2
Includes some civilian deaths in WW2

Federation of Family History Societies
Area specific Family History Societies. One or more for each English county, all have informative websites.

Barbara (Scott)’s Registration Web Page
Explains the information found on birth, marriage and death certificates

The National Archives of the UK (TNA)
Wills index 1858-present, England and Wales

Historical Directories Collection
A selection of historical directories are available courtesy of the University of Leicester.

Gazetteer of British Place Names
And to find the location of those ancestral places a good gazetteer is

Scottish records can be found here. This a pay site, but not expensive to use. Temporarily offline for website transition Sept. 2016

Later see also more specific BCGS links for

England and Wales

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland