Starting Your Family History - Where to find information
Before you attack the records, start with yourself and write down all the key dates and events you know about yourself, your parents, your grandparents, etc. Talk to relatives to fill in further information but remember to always treat family stories with a 'pinch of salt'. Your research may help to prove or disprove some commonly held beliefs about the origins of your family.
- General Register Office Indexes to Births, Marriages and Deaths begin in July 1837. Access to the indexes is free but you have to pay a fee to get a copy of a certificate. There are several websites offering access to the indexes online or you can visit Sheffield Archives where there is a microfiche copy of the complete indexes 1837-2002. Copies of certificates may be ordered online but are usually cheaper if ordered from the Register Office that holds the original records. Sheffield Register Office holds records from a number of earlier local administrative districts including Sheffield, Eccesall Bierlow and Wortley. Society volunteers have indexed the local birth registers and these indexes are available for purchase on CD (check the Publications pages).
- Parish Registers have been kept since the first half of the sixteenth century but many of the earliest registers do not survive. Parish registers offer information about baptisms, marriages and burials conducted by the Church of England. Sheffield Archives holds many of the original registers of local parish churches, some of which have been indexed, which makes finding an entry much easier. If you cannot visit Sheffield Archives you can ask staff to make a specific search for you but there is a charge for this service.
- International Genealogical Index is a very extensive index of entries of baptisms and marriages mainly from parish registers but also including some non-conformist records. The index was compiled by the Mormon Church and can be consulted online at their Family Search website. Sheffield Archives and Sheffield Arts and Social Science Library hold copies of the index. It is important to remember that this Index is not complete. If you fail to find an entry for your ancestor it doesn't necessarily mean that no record exists. Indexes also contain errors so remember always to check the original entry to be certain of the information.
- Census records are a major source of information for family historians, especially for the nineteenth century. A countrywide census has been conducted since 1801 but only records after 1841 provide useful personal detail. To preserve the confidentiality of living people access to the records is restricted and only those dated between 1841 and 1901 are currently available for, public inspection. Census records are available on a pay-to-view basis on several websites. You may consult microfilm copies of the census records for Sheffield free of charge at Sheffield Archives and Sheffield Local Studies Library, where you will find indexes to help you locate the correct entry, compiled by Sheffield FHS volunteers. The Index to the 1861 Census for Sheffield and Rotherham (including Bradfield) is available for purchase from the Society along with a complete transcription of the 1891 Census for Sheffield and Bradfield (see Publications pages). These CDs are a worthwhile investment if you have several local families to research.
- Wills can help to fill out the information on your family tree and provide new leads. From 1858 onwards wills have been proved in the Principal or District Probate Registries. A national index is compiled on a year by year basis. Copies of the national indexes 1858-1943 have been purchased by Sheffield FHS and may be consulted free of charge at Sheffield Archives. For later years indexes may be viewed at the Sheffield Probate Office. Before 1858 responsibility for proving wills lay with the ecclesiastical courts. Copies of many Yorkshire wills are held at the Borthwick Institute in York.
- Books If you are just starting out, consider buying one of the many books currently in print which explains how to set about your research, keep your records, etc. Most books cover the same basic information and you will be able to return to this source of information and help time after time as you begin to start using different types of record. The National Archives website has some useful guides for sale which may be bought over the internet or ordered from a local bookseller.
- Family History Society Membership Join a local family history society. You will meet other people with similar interests and problems and be able to take advantage of regular talks on different aspects of research and local and family history. This will help you to develop your expertise. It is also worth joining a society that covers the area where your ancestors lived. Even as an 'out of town' member you will find that reading articles about local records and local history will help you to develop your understanding of and familiarity with a place or part of the country that you may never have visited, but which was once home to your ancestors.