Digital Resources:

Getting Started on Family History



Library members are entitled to FREE usage of websites to help trace their family history and search historical newspaper archives. These are only accessible within library branches. To access them, you can either use your own device (laptop, smartphone, tablet) connected to LBS _Free_Public WiFi or you can log onto one of the library computers using your library card.
You do not need to sign-in to an account to use Findmypast, Ancestry, or Access to Research at the library. However, you will need to create your own account to use the British Newspaper Archive. To read The Times, you will need to log-in with your library card.


When using these resources, you will not be able to save your findings. To keep a record of what you have found, we advise you download the records and save them onto a USB stick or email them to yourself. For help on how to do this, please speak to a member of staff at the library.


Please note: these websites are free to use at the library; you will not be asked to pay for anything.


Digital Resources








*Find my Past


It is possible to search by address rather than by individual - available at: www.findmypast.co.uk/search-address


You can also access The British Newspaper Archive from Findmypast - from the front page of the website, scroll down to Quick Links and choose Newspapers & Periodicals.



Understanding the Types of Records Available


The Census


Since 1801, a census has been conducted every ten years in England and Wales, except for 1941 (due to World War Two). A separate census for Scotland was run on similar lines.


A census is a count of all people and households. From 1841 onwards, the census collected increasingly detailed amounts of information in addition to the name, age, and sex of each person recorded. As such, it is a wealth of information for family history researchers.


For information on what information each census provides, see the National Archives:




The 1801, 1811, 1821, and 1831 are available online but they generally do not provide useful information for family history research. A fire in 1942 destroyed the 1931 Census for England and Wales (but Scotland’s 1931 census still exists).


Due to UK privacy laws, the public can only access census records after 100 years. The 1921 Census is now available to view for free in the National Archives or for those who have paid a subscription fee. Unfortunately, it is not available here at Sutton. The next available census, taken in 1951, will be made public in 2052.


Things to note... 1841: Ages are not always accurate as census takers were told to round the ages down to the closest multiple of 5 years, even though this was sometimes ignored in practice. 1851: Adds a ‘blind/deaf and dumb’ column, not repeated in later census.



The 1939 Register


Once the government saw war was inevitable, they needed up-to-date statistics to plan the wide-scale mobilisation of the population and introduction of rationing. It includes name, full date of birth, address, marital status, and occupation. As the 1931 Census was destroyed and
there is no 1941 Census, the Register provides an important snapshot of individuals for this period. The details of individuals aged less than 100 years old, unless they have died, are blanked-out on the online version of the Register.



Births, Marriages, and Deaths


From 1 July 1837, every birth, marriage, and death occurring in England and Wales had to be registered by the local registrar. Before that, the Church of England’s parishes had obligations for recording baptisms, marriages, and burials.



Electoral Registers


Registers were introduced in 1832 with the Great Reform Act. They record the names of eligible people who have registered to vote in Parliamentary and Local Government elections. The requirements for voting eligibility changed several times between 1832 and 1928, and constituency boundaries changed frequently over the years. Searching electoral registers may require a littile bit more research to understand the different circumstances.



Passenger Lists


Passenger lists were not kept for every ship and some have been lost; they were not standardised until the twentieth century, so they vary in content; and sometimes the clerks recorded people’s names as they heard it, rather than spelling it correctly. Passenger lists often include the name of the ship, names of passengers, ages, dates and ports of arrival and departure, the passenger’s country of origin, and their occupation.



Other Resources


The digital resources available at our library branches are simply the tip of the iceberg in discovering your family history. Here is a list of other FREE resources:


Find a Grave: to find burial locations, gravestone photographs and inscriptions.


Free BMD: an ongoing project to transcribe and make freely available the Civil Registration index of births, marriages, and deaths for England and Wales since July 1837.


Commonwealth War Graves Commission: a database that records the details and commemoration location of Commonwealth casualties from WW1 and WW2. www.cwgc.org


International Genealogical Index (IGI): an index to approximately 118 million births, baptisms, and marriages compiled and published by the Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, available through familysearch.org


Was your ancestor a dentist? Have a look at the British Dental Association Museum which can help you trace your dental relatives. Annual registers were started in 1879.



Was your ancestor a clergyman? View Crockford’s Clerical Directory, with biographies of over 27,000 Anglican clergy. https://www.crockford.org.uk/



Tips and Tricks


  • Starting any research, especially if you are a complete beginner, is going to be a daunting task.
  • Try to write out what you already know: dates, names, places of birth, marriage, and death.
  • Talk to relatives to see if they can fill in any of the unknown.
  • Have a rummage through old photographs: they may contain uniforms or even names and dates.
  • Find out female ancestors’ and relatives’ maiden surnames and occupations.
  • Choose a line to focus on - maternal (through mother) or paternal (through father). This will help concentrate your investigation.
  • Keep your information organised so that you can keep track of where you are and what you want to research next.
  • Do not be afraid to broaden your search. Allow for variations, explore the search results, and use the information you have gathered to determine whether you have the right person.
  • Utilise the suggestions. Findmypast and Ancestry show different records that might be that person. Use them cautiously as it may not be the same individual.
  • Similarly, use suggested family trees with caution. These have been made by subscribed Findmypast or Ancestry users; double check their research and the original records to verify them for yourself.
  • Pop along to the Circle Library for the Family History Group, run every Saturday from 2-4pm. For more details, email [email protected]
  • Remember: records may have been mis-transcribed.
  • This can make it difficult to search as they have been added with a wrong surname or place. Always try to check the original record to determine for yourself whether it is the right individual or not.
  • Intermediate Researcher Tip: If someone has a commonly occurring name (e.g., John Smith), see if they have any relatives with a less common name (e.g., Lavinia Jane Smith) that they could be living with; finding them may lead you to the person you want.