Online Research

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Online Search Techniques

The Internet can be a useful source of records and information connected with family history research. There are a number of useful sites available and knowing which to use and how to use them effectively can be confusing.

Which sites to use can depend on a number of factors. A brief overview of the popular sites is shown below. The site descriptions are not comprehensive as space is limited, but a visit to the sites mentioned will reveal more information.

Trying to find specific records can sometimes seem impossible, but the screenshot examples in this section explain how to search for a birth record or locate a missing family in the census. The examples given are based on actual searches and demonstrate how researchers have found the results they needed to continue with their trees.


Site Reviews

  • Ancestry Access to England and Wales birth, marriage and death index from 1837-2004 Pay-per-view (PPV) and subscription packages allow access to all records including census, a partial parish and probate index and much more. Too much to list in the space available.

  • Free thing.jpg Free BMD Free site covering England and Wales birth, marriage and death records. Although incomplete, it is useful for records from 1837 to around 1920, with more results being added on a regular basis. It also gives reference numbers to use for ordering certificates, and scans of the index allow you to verify the entry. Marriage results also list the spouse, which is a useful feature that other sites lack.

  • Free thing.jpg Freereg Another free site, operated on the same basis as Free BMD, which has an increasing number of transcribed parish records, again regular updates are made to the site (roughly one a month) although there are no images available the site is a useful resource and coverage is increasing all the time.

  • Free thing.jpg FreeCen is the third of the free sites (Free BMD and FreeReg being the other partner sites). FreeCen has transcriptions of census records but no images, again coverage is improving with regular updates as more volunteer transcribers contribute to the project. One major benefit of the site is that it allows another source of searches which can be used to find ancestors and helps locate references and other information that can be used to locate census images from other online sites.

  • Find My Past (Previously Called 1837 Online) Pay-per-view site (PPV), or subscription packages available. Comprehensive birth, marriage and death index, plus census details are available along with migration and military sections, death duty registers, etc. Again there is too much to list in the space available. FMP is also the first site due to have the 1911 census available as part of a larger record database. This is due to go fully online sometime in 2009.

  • Free thing.jpg Family Search (LDS) A completely free site operated by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). The 1881 census and both pre- and post-civil registration data can be found. The database is far from complete, however, and submitted entries must be treated with caution until verified against the original records. Extracted records are more reliable but again should be verified as correct.


  • A2A A free site with a searchable database, describing many of the archives and documents held throughout England and Wales and listing where they can be found. Updated frequently, the site currently lists over 10 million records. It is not possible to view any documents on the site. Technical support for the A2A site is being withdrawn and the site is due to be closed down in March 2009, records have been transferred to The National Archives site.

  • The National Archives Similar to A2A but a more comprehensive collection. The site lists the archives held, in addition to which some documents such as pre-1858 wills and many medal cards can be downloaded from the site for a modest charge. The site is fully searchable and has online research guides for specific subjects.

  • ScotlandsPeople Pay-per-view site (PPV). Purchase credits to view results. The most comprehensive site for online Scottish records including birth, marriage and death records, census returns for 1841 to 1901 and parish records and probate records. The site also allows you to download certificates and census images for just £1 each. The bmd index coverage has been extended to include additional years but check the availability of images as more recent events cannot be downloaded directly from the site.

  • Free thing.jpg UKBMD Project Free sites for many English counties, searchable birth, marriage and death database. The sites are volunteer projects and updated regularly; well worth a visit to see how well your county interests are covered.

  • Family History Online Online records compiled by Family History Societies - over 66 million records including parish registers, memorial inscriptions, censuses, poor law documents and others. PPV but very reasonably priced - most records cost a few pence to view. Includes the entire National Burial Index (NBI).

  • Family Relatives Pay-per-view (PPV) or subscription available. Contains BMDs, WW1 and WW2 military records (death indexes), Phillimore Marriage parish registers. Overseas BMDs available free.

  • British Origins Subscription site offering Boyd's Marriage Index, miscellaneous records of Wills, Apprenticeship records, London Burial Index, Passenger Lists ... and much more.


General Hints & Tips For Online Searching


Family History Detectives - Step by Step Guides




Searching for Hatches, Matches And Dispatches




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