Civil registration began in 1837 in England and Wales (1855 in Scotland), so parish registers are the most important genealogy records before then. See A Guide to British Parish Registers for more on this key resource.
Newspaper announcements, especially for marriages, can be very valuable for finding wealthier individuals as they often list the parents and where they lived. After a bit of investigation, you may find the parents living in a substantial home. For more, see: Online British Newspapers.
A very useful (and often overlooked) free newspaper resource is the Gazette. Here you will find 350 years of announcements and other useful genealogical records. The Gazette also publishes an Army supplement which lists promotions and deployments, very useful for finding Officer ancestors. See: An Amazing Free British Genealogy Resource: The Gazette.
See also my previous posts on Navy and Military records.
Finding an ancestor who was a member of the Clergy is often a clue that they came from an aristocratic family. A great resource here is the Clergy of the Church of England Database. This site has biographies of many clergymen in the Church between 1540 and 1835.
Directories can be useful sources of information, especially if your ancestor is listed in the “prominent citizens” section. For more see: Use Historical Directories to find your Ancestors.
If you discover an ancestor from an aristocratic family, you can then look for a pedigree.
The most important resources for aristocratic pedigrees are probably the series of books published by Sir Bernard Burke in the late 1800s. Most of them can be accessed for free on the Internet Archive. Search for “Burke, Sir Bernard” and you will get a list of the publications. An example is “A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume One”
For more on historical free genealogy books on the internet see: Where to Find Free Genealogy Books.
A note about online trees: please be very wary of these as sources of information. I suspect that most people who believe that they are descended from royalty or the aristocracy have got their information from these trees. However, many, if not most, of these trees are inaccurate and contain serious errors and unsourced facts.
On Ancestry alone, there are about 100 million family trees. I don’t know how many of these trees contain errors, but based on personal experience, I bet it’s more than half of them. So, there could be more than 50 million online trees out there with errors.
Ancestry say that they have 3 million paying subscribers. Most of the 100 million trees on Ancestry therefore do not belong to current subscribers and are unlikely to be corrected.
I strongly recommend using other online trees as clues, not as sources. Look at the person on the tree and check the facts. Only use these facts once you have checked the source citations and the attached documents. Make sure that you are comfortable that they fit in with your own research.
I would certainly never use a fact from another tree that has no citation or document attached. Facts should always be verified.
For further reading, I would recommend Anthony Adolph’s book, Tracing your Aristocratic Ancestors:
See it on Amazon here
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