Find your English Ancestry

If you have English ancestry, here are links to our guides to the main record sets you’ll need to find your roots. There are guides for census returns, civil birth, marriage and death records, parish registers, burial records and newspapers.

If you are completely new to genealogy, here are the first steps I would recommend to take when starting you family tree:

10 Steps for starting your family tree

The Important Records


Census returns are amongst the most valuable records available to family researchers and so much can be learned about a family from them.

The modern decennial census started in Great Britain in 1801 and has been taken every 10 years since, with the exception of 1941 due to the second world war. Censuses from 1841 onward are the most useful to family historians as they list all members of households. Most records have survived with the notable exception of the 1931 returns which were lost during the Blitz in London during the war.

Due to privacy laws, census returns are released after 100 years have passed. This means that the 1911 census is the most recent available. The 1921 returns should be released during 2022.

See the complete guide to find out more about the English census and how to access them:

Complete guide to the British Census

Civil Registration

Official government registration of all births, marriages and deaths began in England in 1837. Copies of the records can be purchased online from the GRO (General Register Office) in London. Ordering can be a bit tricky as there are two indexes. Also, some records will be emailed to you and others are sent by post.

Our GRO guide will take you through the process of ordering records using both of the indexes as well as showing what information can be found on the records:

How to order BMD records from the GRO

Church Records

Before the introduction of civil registration in 1837, it was the responsibility of the established Church of England to keep records of births, marriages and deaths. Parish churches have been required by law to keep records since 1538. Many records still survive from the 16th century.

Our parish register guide shows how these records evolved and what information can be found on them. It also shows where records can be found:

Guide to British parish registers

The original registers are usually kept in the county archives. Our directory has links to all these repositories as well as to local family history societies. It also has links to online parish records on the main database sites:

England: Archives, FHS and Parish Registers directory

If your ancestors did not belong to the Church of England, here’s a guide to non-conformist records:

How to find British non conformist records

Burial Records

Not all burials took place in church graveyards. The late 19th century saw the huge growth of municipal cemeteries and many burials, especially in urban areas, took place in these. If men were in the armed forces and died during a conflict, they were usually buried in cemeteries near where they fell. Here are some sources for burial records:

Where to find British and Irish burial records


Historical newspapers can be very useful for family history. Very often you can find family notices; birth, marriage and deaths as well as engagements, anniversaries, in memoriam, birthdays and congratulations. In addition, ancestors can be found in obituaries, news articles, advertisements and even letters to the editor. Here’s a look at the British Newspaper Archive:

Online British Newspapers

A very useful free resource is the Gazette. The online archive allows access to 350 years worth of military, legal and personal notices. See our guide to The Gazette:

An amazing free resource: The Gazette

For more useful posts see the England & Wales blog page.

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Find your English Ancestry. Bespoke Genealogy
Do you have English Ancestry? Bespoke Genealogy
Where to find resources for England Genealogy. Bespoke Genealogy
Where to find your English Ancestry. Bespoke Genealogy
Are your ancestors from England? Photo of an English windmill on a hill.