Sunday, September 4, 2011

Family History - How to get started

If the hugely popular TV programme 'Who Do You Think You Are? has made you want to know more about your family history there is a wealth of material in Swindon’s Central Library for those with Wiltshire roots. But even if your ancestors are from further a field there is still plenty of lines of research to explore.

Civil registration was introduced in England and Wales on July 1,1837 after which every birth, marriage and death was recorded at a local register office. Throughout the Victorian period and up to the 1980s every district registrar sent a quarterly summary of the registers to the General Register Office. The index of these returns, published in hundreds upon hundreds of large leather bound volumes, was until recently, housed at the Family Records Centre in London.

Fortunately a microfiche copy of this index is much closer to hand and available for consultation at the Central Library, Regent Circus, Swindon. Here you will be able to obtain the date during which the event was registered, the registration district, volume and page number.

Armed with this information it is then possible to order the relevant certificate, either by post from the General Register Office, PO Box 2, Southport, Merseyside PR8 2JD or online. Details of how to do both are available on

Follow the golden rule of starting with what you know. Talk to older family members but treat family legend with caution - you probably aren't descended from Charles I.

Learn to expect the unexpected. Your distant relatives may be less like the Waltons and more like the Addams family - but don't take it personally. And don't take short cuts - you could find yourself barking up the wrong family tree all together.

To begin your research contact Swindon Central Library on 463238 to book a microfiche reader or call in and ask at the enquiry desk. A member of staff will be able to advise you on how to get started.

Civil registration certificates are the stepping-stones for travelling back through your family history. The following information can be gleaned from:

Birth certificates.
Registered name
Date and place of birth
Father's name and occupation
Mother's maiden name

Marriage certificates.
Name and ages of bride and groom
Address and occupation of bride and groom
Date and place of marriage
Whether by banns or licence
Names and occupation of the couple's fathers
Names of witnesses to the marriage

Death certificates.

Name of deceased
Date and place of death
Given age
Cause of death
Name, address and family relationship of informant

An increasing amount of information is becoming available on the Internet, more of which will be covered in future articles. However the basis for family history research from 1837 to date continues to be found on civil registration certificates.

(Photograph - Christopher and Harriet Ruthven, my great-grandparents)

Frances Bevan

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