1. An overview of Historical documents
Historical documents consist of various types of records such as:
Once you have identified the type of historical record that will be of use, you then need to find out where that document is kept and on what type of medium it is kept or recorded. For example, many registers and census records exist in their original format (ie. a handwritten register or ledger) but members of the public are not allowed access to these ‘originals.’ Instead, they may have been copied onto microfilm or microfiche, or the information may have been transcribed by a third party. In the case of Civil Registration Records, the original registers cannot be viewed by the public, but Birth, Marriage and Death certificates can be issued for a fee by local Register Offices or the General Register Office in Southport.
- Civil Registration Records
Birth, Marriage and Death registers, recorded by the Registrar General from 1st July 1837
- Parish Records
Baptism, Marriage and Burial registers, recorded by the church prior to 1st July 1837 but also afterwards
- Other Historical Records
• Census records, the earliest available being 1841 and then every 10 years until the latest census release of 1901 (1911 should be available in 2011)
• Wills, administrations and death duty records
• Newspapers and periodicals – (periodicals could be magazines, pamphlets etc. that are issued at regular intervals)
• Trade directories
• Poll books and electoral registers
• Rate books
Historical documents can usually be found by searching indexes. These indexes will refer the researcher either to:
Indexes, copies or transcriptions can be held in handwritten or typed booklets or ledgers; on microfilm or microfiche; online or in CD ROM format and they can usually be found in local libraries; with Family History Societies; at County Record Offices; in National Collections or online (sometimes freely available because of the good willed nature of many genealogy enthusiasts.) They can also be purchased from commercial organisations, Family History Societies or accessed via online subscriptions.
- an original document, or
- to an exact copy of the document or to a transcription of the document.
Original historical documents are usually deposited at libraries, County Record Offices and in National Collections, but sometimes Parish Registers can still be found at the church.
2. A note on indexes and transcription errors
Indexes and transcripts of original documents may be handwritten or typed into booklet, CD ROM, microfilm or microfiche format. You should check with the organisation before making any purchases or long trips to visit a Record Office in case you need to book a computer or microfilm/fiche reader in order to view the indexes.
Also be aware that indexes and transcripts, by their very nature, have been ‘interpreted’ by someone. This can often lead to transcription errors where the person creating the index has been unable to read the original document and has indexed their ‘best guess.’ This is quite normal when dealing with historical records. The best course of action if you are unable to find the record you require is to start thinking ‘laterally’. For example, maybe the surname Incles has been recorded as Inkles or Inches?
And perhaps the name you are looking for was misheard by the person recording the event and the informant didn’t realise because they couldn’t read or write. So perhaps ‘Dolly Hargreaves’ was registered as Dorrie Hargreave, Dorothy Hardgreave or Hargreves!
3. Where next
Use the information pages on the right to find more detailed information on Civil Registration Records and Parish Records. Then click on Searching for Historical Records for information on where to start your search.
If you are totally new to genealogy, click on Tracing your Family Tree for advice on where to find online, printed and practical help.
To research events in Scotland and Ireland you can find guidance by clicking on the FAQs.