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When you begin family history research in the British Isles, ask yourself what others have already done. Determining what research has already been accomplished by others, including your own family members, can save you time and help avoid unnecessary duplication of work. Check with family members for information first, and then begin your search to see what others have done. Research in original British records is difficult if you do not know where your ancestor came from. Fortunately, these sources may provide you with a place of origin.
Here is a select list of sources to find published family histories and records of research done by others. Many other sources exist, but start with these.
[For an indepth review of the multiplicity of compiled sources of previous research--where and how to find them for British and Irish ancestry, here is an extensive article entitled "A Checklist of Compiled Sources & Where to Find Them" for researchers of all levels--beginners to professional.]
The following Web sites are two places to look to see what British research has already been compiled.
1. Search familysearch.org for the names of your British ancestry.
2. Search ancestry.com($) to view information in their UK Collection.
Search catalogs from various libraries to see the British family histories that are in their collections. Here are a few collections to search.
Other libraries and archives may have collections of family histories. Check their Web sites to see if there are online catalogs that you can search. One way to find Internet links is to use a search engine, such as Google, and search for the name of the institution or the locality.
Smith’s Inventory of Genealogical Sources, by Frank Smith. This source is available in binders and on microfiche at the Family History Library. (FHL fiche 6110526 for England; 6110527 for Ireland; 6110528 for Scotland; and 6110529 for Wales. Each fiche has several parts.) This source:
- Covers all the counties of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
- Contains references to obscure genealogical information found in numerous printed sources in the library.
- Contains references to thousands of pedigrees and other information not otherwise found in the Family History Library Catalog.
The Genealogist’s Guide, edited by George W. Marshall, 1903. (FHL book US/CAN Ref 929.142 M356g 1903; film 496451; computer number 336592.) First continuation edited by J. B. Whitmore, 1953. (FHL book British Ref 929.142 M356g supp.; fiche 6054492; computer number 375591.) Second continuation edited by Geoffrey B. Barrow, 1977. (FHL fiche 6026284; computer number 008520.) This source is a guide to British family pedigrees in hundreds of published sources, many of which are found in the library’s British collection.
A Catalogue of British Family Histories, by T. R. Thomson. 3rd edition, 1976. (FHL book British Ref 942 A3t 1976; computer number 183050.) This source contains a list of over 2,500 British family histories published before 1975, many of which are in the library’s collection.
Similar bibliographies are available specifically for Scotland and Ireland: Scottish Family Histories, by Joan Ferguson (FHL book British Ref 941 D23f 1986; computer number 443116); and Bibliography of Irish Family History, by Edward MacLysaght (FHL British Ref 941.5 D23m; computer number 229280).
Genealogies in the Library of Congress: A Bibliography, by M. J. Kaminkow. (FHL book US/CAN Ref 016.9291 K128g, computer number 069719; FHL book US/CAN Ref 016.9291 K128g supp., computer number 448402; and FHL book US/CAN Ref 016.9291 K128g supp. 1987, computer number 416883.) This source:
- Lists over 52,000 printed genealogies.
- Contains two volumes and two supplements.
The following items provide biographies of specific individuals and may include your ancestor or provide clues to finding your ancestor. These are of a general nature, but other biographical sources may have a specific focus, listing people according to occupation, religion, etc. Other sources for biographies can be found in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under GREAT BRITAIN or ENGLAND - BIOGRAPHY.
British Biographical Archives, published by K. G. Sauer, Inc. (FHL fiche 6029709–732, several parts each, 1160 fiche total; computer number 460188.) This source:
- Is a collection of biographies taken from 324 printed sources.
- Covers 1600 to 1900.
- Is arranged alphabetically.
British and Irish Biographies, 1840-1940, published by Chadwick-Healey Ltd. (On microfiche. See FHL British Reg 942 A3cj for fiche numbers [computer number 509643], or look in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under GREAT BRITAIN - BIOGRAPHY.) This source:
- Contains entries from 138 sources published from 1840 to1940.
- Contains an index that lists all persons and families included in the biographies. (FHL fiche 6342001 with 325 parts.)
The National Dictionary of Biography, edited by L. Stephen & S. Lee. (FHL book British Ref 920.042 D56ln 1993; computer number 731170.) This source:
- Was initially published in 1900 with 63 volumes. (FHL fiche 6051261 with 278 parts.)
- Contains supplements that update to 1980.
- Contains posthumous sketches of more than 32,000 notable Britains.
Societies specializing in one surname or one locality may provide information that can help you in your research.
Family History Societies in Britain. These societies:
- Exist in every county in England and in most regions of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the Isle of Man. They are concerned with research into the history of families who lived in their areas.
- Publish journals that contain genealogical information which is helpful in research. (To locate journals, look in the catalog under [LOCALITY], - GENEALOGY - SOCIETIES - PERIODICALS.)
- Publish lists of their members and the genealogical interests of those members.
- May have projects to index records such as census and church records. Using these records can save you considerable time and effort. (To locate indexes, look in the catalog under your locality of interest and a particular subject type, such as census.)
One Name Societies. These societies:
- Specialize in research on one family name and its variations.
- Produce newsletters that contain genealogical information that is helpful in researching the surname focused on by the society.
To identify one name societies, look in the Surname Search of the Family History Library Catalog under your surname of interest. See also the Register of One Name Studies below.
Registries for Research Exchange
The following sources list individuals and groups who are willing to share the results of their research.
Genealogical Research Directory (GRD), edited by K. Johnson and M. Sainty. (FHL book US/CAN 929.1025 G286grd; computer number 397541.) This directory lists thousands of family historians worldwide and the surnames they are researching. There are several editions; be sure to check them all.
British Isles Genealogical Register second edition, 1997. (Index on FHL fiche 6344825; computer number 748499.)
This register is known as BIG-R. It was created by the Federation of Family History Societies in the UK. It has the same features as the GRD described previously.
National Genealogical Directory, edited by I. L. Caley (formerly edited by M. J. Burchall). (FHL book British Ref 942 D24na; computer number 2844.) This directory contains lists of individuals and the surnames they are researching. It has several editions; be sure to check them all.
Directories of Members’ Interests. These directories are published by some individual family history societies in the British Isles. They list surnames which their members are interested in or are researching.
Register of One Name Studies (FHL British Ref 942 D24re 1988; computer number 514173.) This register contains a directory of groups that specialize in research on one surname, as mentioned previously in the “Societies” section of this guide. You may find that there is already an organization doing research on your surname of interest.
Searching original records
Once you know the place of origin of your British ancestors and have searched all previous research sources, you may want to search original records such as birth, marriage, death, census, or probate records. To determine which records to search and how to use them, ask a librarian for assistance. You may wish to review some of the following research guides first.
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