Family historians examine written and other material for references to their family name which will track their ancestors, and where they lived, generation by generation, back over time. Although the United Kingdom has one of the largest and oldest continuous collections of public records, very few people can trace their forebears among the names mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Because of the variety of ways in which surnames evolved and became hereditary, it is extremely unlikely that their original bearers will ever be discovered.
Personal name indexes and lists help fix ancestors in time and place. They are vital signposts to other sources tracking people's origins, movements and deaths. Here are some examples of what we and the Family Records Centre have to offer in the way of name lists to set you on your way into the past.
The most important and readily accessible records for family historians are the central registration indexes of birth, marriage and death. The registers themselves trace life events, and show where an individual fits into the family tree, because birth records generally reveal the names of both parents, those of marriage may well give the couple's fathers' names, and death details disclose ages, crucial clues as you try to trace your family back in time. They also reveal where people were at specific dates, which are the key to searching census returns, enumerating the population on a particular day.
The Family Records Centre holds union indexes of births, marriages and deaths registered officially in England and Wales from 1 July 1837 up to about twelve months ago. You can search digital images of the indexes, using the pay to view service offered by http://www.1837online.com. Alternatively, try the growing, but as yet incomplete, database of birth, marriage and death index entries at http://freebmd.rootsweb.com. This runs to 1983 only, but is free. The registers are not open to the public so you will need to purchase a certificate there, or by post from the General Register Office (GRO), PO Box 2, Southport, Merseyside PR8 2JD. You can also order certificates online at http://www.col.statistics.gov.uk. If you live in the United Kingdom, by telephoning 0870 2437788 or by faxing 01704 550013. Credit cards and debit cards are accepted.
At the Family Records Centre there is a computerised link to the Scottish General Register Office (GRO) in Edinburgh, and for a fee you can search the indexes of Scottish registers of births, marriages and deaths since 1 January 1855 and of births and marriages in the Church of Scotland from about 1553. You can also pay to use the indexes of births and marriages, and view digital images of the indexed birth registrations from 1855 to 1903, marriages, from 1855 to 1928, and deaths registered between 1855 and 1953, at http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. At the Family Records Centre too, are computerised indexes of births registered in Northern Ireland after 1922 but for earlier registrations of births, marriages and deaths, starting on 1 January 1864, and for the rest of Ireland, you will need to contact the GRO in Dublin, and the GRO in Belfast for marriages and deaths registered in Northern Ireland since 1922. If your British ancestors were born, married or died at sea or abroad, or served in the British armed forces, there are GRO indexes to registers of these too. Microfiche copies of the GRO indexes relating to England and Wales, and Britons overseas, are also available with us. Local record offices and libraries, and family history centres of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have copies of the indexes as well. A few counties have published their local registration indexes online. Visit http://www.ukbmd.org.uk to find out which these are.
Many of the birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial records held with us duplicate or overlap those held by the Registrar General, which are closed to the public. Consult the GRO indexes on microfiche with us first, and then see if we have complementary consular copies of the appropriate registers here, which you can then search yourself.
Unfortunately, there is no union index to all the references to births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials scattered among our records. The following sections tell you more about selected records in our care, which focus on people's births, marriages and deaths and on telling you where people were and what they did.