Resources for Researching Local Family History


It is not our intention to provide a comprehensive genealogy website; several good sites exist already. We have two main aims.

  1. To offer a few pointers to those who wish to trace their family history but need guidance on the basics;
  2. To provide information on available sources for researching local family history.

Here you will find addresses of a small selection of the best known genealogy websites. Also a brief overview of the main national and local records and where to find them.

If you are new to family history and genealogy, a couple of introductory booklets are:

These should be available from your local library, or can be purchased from bookshops, including that of the Essex Record Office at Chelmsford and Internet sites such as

A brief but helpful introductory guide is the Essex Record Office (ERO) Information Sheet No. 2, 'Family History in Essex'. It summarises the main types of public records available for tracing family history, and the records held by the ERO itself.

On the Gen UKI website there is an introduction, 'Getting Started in Genealogy and Family History', which is worth looking at.

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Internet Resources

The Internet has become one of the most widely used tools for family history research. The explosion of interest in the subject is probably due in no small part to the Internet and the rapidly growing volume of genealogical material available through it.

Three popular books on how to use this resource are:


Gen UKI - UK and Ireland Genealogy

A good site which is UK and Ireland based, unlike many others which have a decidedly American slant. As mentioned in the previous section, Gen UKI has a section 'Getting Started in Genealogy and Family History'. There is also an Essex Page - see Essex Resources below.

Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet

A very comprehensive and well-known listing of genealogy websites.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons)

The Mormon Church has long had a deep interest in family history and has done much work on it. One of its best known resources is the International Genealogical Index (IGI) - an index to parish registers and other records. It is not a definitive listing as many parishes are not included. Nor is it entirely accurate so it is advisable to check information in copies of the original registers. That said, it is regarded as a valuable tool for genealogists and is widely used.

The website has facilities for searching on names and offers other genealogical resources including free family tree software as a download (see Software section below).

Free genealogy site with search facilities.

FreeBMD Project

FreeBMD is an ongoing project, the aim of which is to transcribe the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and to provide free Internet access to the transcribed records. It is a part of the Free UK Genealogy family, which also includes FreeCEN (Census data) and FreeREG (Parish Registers).

The recording of births, marriages and deaths was started in 1837 and is one of the most significant resources for genealogical research. The transcribing of the records is carried out by teams of dedicated volunteers and contains index information for the period 1837-1992, but FreeBMD has not yet transcribed the whole period.

FreeBMD is genuinely free. It does not make any charge for use of the site. It is a registered charity and its objective is to provide free online access to the GRO Index.

Searching For Family Tree Information

One method of searching, admittedly somewhat 'hit and miss', is to use a search site such as (undoubtedly one of the best general search sites on the Internet). Type in your surname followed by 'family tree' or 'ancestry' or genealogy' or 'home page'. The more unusual your surname the more likely you are to find useful hits - the Smiths, Browns and Jones will struggle sorting the wheat from the chaff.

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England and UK Resources

Public Records

The main public records used by family history researchers are those of the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths, which date from 1837. Principal records before that date are parish registers, most of which are held by County Record Offices. Other important sources are Bishops' Transcripts, Census Returns, Wills and Probate Records, monumental inscriptions and cemetery records.

Census Returns

A national census has been undertaken every ten years since 1801 except in 1941. Census returns prior to 1841 contain limited details and are not of much assistance to genealogists. From 1841 they include each individual's name, age, occupation, and (except 1841) place of birth, marital status, and relationship to the head of the household.

Census Returns are not made available to the public for 100 years. For information on searching census records go to

The censuses from 1841 to 1911 are available online from the National Archives official partner websites, Ancestry and Findmypast, for each census but charges apply. Images and indexes for all censuses since 1841 are available on both of these sites, and on a number of other commercial websites for which charges apply. It is free to search on these sites, but there is a charge to view full search results and digitised images. They can be viewed free of charge on site at The National Archives in Kew, at many libraries and record offices and at FamilySearch Centres worldwide. Many local and county record offices also hold microfilm or microfiche copies of the census returns for their own area, excluding 1911.

Where to Find National Records

Before visiting a record office you may save yourself time and money by checking with your family to see what certificates are already available among their papers, and whether they know of other family members who may have relevant certificates. Also, check with the record office its opening times, whether you need to make an appointment, whether the records you want to see are available, what identification may be required, and what rules apply in searchrooms. For example you may have to apply for a Reader's Card and will not usually be allowed any writing implement other than a pencil, or to take in bags, briefcases, etc, for obvious security reasons.

National Archives, Kew

At Kew you can search, free of charge, indexes to the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths from 1837. You will not, however, have free access to the actual certificates. To see the details on a certificate you will have to apply and pay for a copy - you will not always know beforehand whether the certificate has information which is going to be useful to you. The cost can quickly mount up if you want a number of them.

The indexes are those for England and Wales. The records for Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man are held in other repositories.

Other records held at Kew include:

Registrars of Births, Marriages and Deaths

If you know which Registry Office is likely to hold the records you are interested in, Registrars can be very helpful so it is worth considering an approach to the appropriate local Registrar.

Society of Genealogists
14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London EC1M 7BA
Tel: 020-7253-5235

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Essex Resources

Essex Record Office (ERO)
Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT
Tel: 033301 32500

The ERO's Information Sheet No. 2, 'Family History in Essex', provides a useful summary of the family history records held by the Office. For details of all the main genealogy sources held, it is suggested you refer to 'Essex Family History: A Genealogist's Guide to the Essex Record Office', published by the ERO and available from its bookshop.

The ERO holds parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials for Essex. Registers of ancient parish churches may begin between 1538 and 1598 but some early registers have not survived. Also, register entries during the Civil War and Commonwealth periods, c. 1640 - 1660, were often sporadic.

Other documents held by the ERO include:

The International Genealogical Index (IGI), an index to parish registers and other records up to c. 1875, compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), is available on microfiche in the Chelmsford searchroom. There is a listing by surname for each county. The index is useful, but not definitive for Essex as many parishes are not yet included.

Since the closure of the Colchester Branch of the ERO on 30th March 2007, access to collections of North East Essex documents including old parish registers is through the ERO at Chelmsford.

Essex Society for Family History (ESFH) Research Centre
Ground Floor, Essex Records Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT
Tel: 01245-244670
Restricted opening hours - check first.

The website is worth looking at to see what is available.

The Society holds microfiche copies of the indexes to the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths, which can be studied in their Research Centre.

Essex Page of the Gen UKI Genealogy Website

This page is at

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Local Resources

The Colchester and NE Essex Branch of the Essex Record Office (ERO) closed in 2007. To access records previously held at Colchester you now need to contact the ERO at Chelmsford - see details above.

Colchester Local Studies Library
1st Floor, Colchester Central Library, 21 Trinity Square, Colchester.
Tel: 01206-245900

Census returns for the whole of Essex, 1841 to 1901, are available on microfilm for inspection, in addition to a wealth of other local history material including various genealogical records.

Other Local Records and Sources

The Centenary Chronicles reproduced on this website contain references to a number of local personalities.

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Armed Services Personnel

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The website provides details of individual servicemen killed in action and has a good search facility.

Essex Regiment Museum (closed until November 2009 for redevelopment.)
(housed in an extension to the Chelmsford & Essex Museum.)
Oaklands Park, Moulsham Street, Chelmsford, CM2 9AQ
Tel: 01245-605700

The Museum has a card index of Essex County Servicemen for family history research.

For further information visit

Militia Lists

Essex Record Office (see Essex Resources page) has muster rolls and lists giving names and other details of officers and men in the Essex militia corps and volunteer units c. 1775-1865. They are to be found among the Lord Lieutenant's records, borough records, and parish records.

War Memorials

The names of those who died in two World Wars and commemorated on the War Memorials of Birch and Layer Breton, Layer Marney, and Layer de la Haye can be seen on our page The Fallen in Two World Wars.

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Family Tree Software

Family tree software provides an excellent way of storing your family history in an orderly fashion. Other advantages are:

Don't forget to regularly back-up your data. Having spent many hours, or even years, acquiring and inputting information, the last thing you want is to lose all your hard work through a computer crash. Backing up should not normally be onerous as family tree data files are generally quite compact.

A wide variety of family tree software is readily available. Prices start at £10 to £15 with fully featured programs costing up to about £50. Much will depend on how seriously you intend to study genealogy.

Much family tree software is of American origin and not always entirely in accord with British tastes and needs. An excellent British program (which the author of this page now uses) is Family Historian (more details at, now in version 4 which can be bought for about £36. Another well respected program is Family Tree Maker (

UK suppliers of genealogy software include S & N Genealogy Supplies at, and TWR Computing at

At least two good family tree programs are available free on the Internet. One is Legacy Family Tree v.7, a well specified program with good reviews, which can be downloaded from The other is Personal Ancestry File v.5.2 which can be downloaded from the website of the Church of Latter Day Saints at

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Page updated: 23 Jul 2020 at 15:50