Here is a brief guide to the sources I use for WikiTree profiles of English people. The England Project also has a Profile Standards page which is helpful.
Please feel free to make suggestions or edits.
Last updated by Fuller-8857 11:23, 23 July 2021 (UTC)
Civil registration of births in England (and Wales) began in September 1837. An index was made of the information entered on birth certificates. You don't get all the details, but the index gives enough information to be useful for WikiTree.
I prefer to search FreeBMD.org.uk first. It's a transcription project being completed by volunteers and is getting closer and closer to completion. The most useful search parameters are:
- Year and quarter, between 1837–1983 (Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec)
- Registration district (if you know where the event took place)
Wildcards (eg. *) are accepted in the name fields. You can enter the child's mother's maiden name on FreeBMD if the birth took place after 1912. You can get a unique URL for your source by clicking on its page number.
Don't miss this! If you register for a FREE account at the General Record Office you can search a similar index there and view the mother's maiden name for births between 1837–1919. This is super-helpful when there may be more than one birth registration with the same name around the same time. It can also help find births of children who died before the next census.
The search functionality on the GRO site is a bit more restrictive than FreeBMD, so it can be easier to use GRO once you know what you're looking for.
The same index is also available on FamilySearch via FindMyPast. It's on Ancestry too, but FreeBMD is freely available to anyone so it's good to use that for your source when you can.
Be aware that...
- If there is no mother's maiden name given on the GRO index, it is likely to mean that the mother was unmarried when she registered her child's birth
- The location given in the index is the registration district where the birth was registered – not necessarily the place where the child was born. Eg. a birth that took place in the village of Eastrington, Yorkshire, would have been registered in the district of Howden (a nearby town).
- You can also order a copy of a birth certificate on the GRO website. A PDF costs £7 (check their price list).
If I'm not actually sure exactly where the birth happened, I enter the county name in the location field on the profile (correct but not precise). Mark as "uncertain."
It's easy to copy and paste from FreeBMD or GRO.gov.uk.
FreeBMD will be getting a makeover soon and should include automatically-generated citations for use in WikiTree. Hooray!
As with other countries, many baptisms from England can be found on FamilySearch. And as with any index, there can be errors.
Another FREE option is FreeReg.org.uk, another volunteer project. Some counties have much better coverage than others. so it's much less complete than FreeBMD but you get a full transcription of all the information from the parish register. Worth trying. You can generate a citation automatically.
It's often worth viewing an image of a baptismal entry if you can. It depends on which county the baptism took place in, but Ancestry and FindMyPast are often helpful for this (subscriptions required). You can often glean extra bits of really useful information, eg. the father's occupation or the family's residence (as opposed to where the baptism took place), which are missing from the FamilySearch records.
Civil registration for marriages also started in 1837. You can search FreeBMD.org.uk for marriage registrations in a similar way to births. You can also enter the spouse's surname or forenames if you know them, and use wildcards.
You can order copies of marriage certificates from the GRO but you can't search the index on their site.
The same index is also available on FamilySearch via FindMyPast and on Ancestry.
FreeReg.org.uk has marriage records from parish registers.
As with baptisms, Ancestry and FindMyPast have lots of images of parish marriage records – it depends which county you're looking at. Viewing the parish register entry can remove the need to order a certificate, but it depends where you want to spend your money.
FreeBMD.org.uk has an index of death registrations, as well as births and marriages. It also started in 1837. Ages at death were only included on the index from 1867 onwards.
You can search the GRO index to find the age at death for registrations from 1837 onwards, and order copies of certificates there.
The same index is also available on FamilySearch via FindMyPast.
As before, Ancestry or FindMyPast may be of use when it comes to viewing images of burial entries in parish registers.
Wills and probate
You can search for the will or probate of someone who died between 1858–1996, and from 1996 onwards on the Find a will page of the GOV.UK website. This can be handy for confirming addresses, next of kin, and exact places of death.
Ancestry also has the same information but Find a Will is FREE – but the search functionality is more limited. (You could use the other sites to find the record, then cite Find a Will on your Wiki profile so others can view it easily).
Remember that not everyone had a will.
Censuses have taken place in England every 10 years since 1841, except for 1941, and the 1931 census records were destroyed by fire in 1942.
The records currently available are 1841–1911. The 1921 census will be available on Findmypast in "early 2022"! Put the date in your diary...
The best ones for us are 1851–1911. The most useful parts are:
- Marital status
The 1911 census also tells you how many children (alive or dead) a married woman had had. The 1841 census has more limited information (no birthplaces or relationships between household members, ages rounded down).
These records are available on FamilySearch (though it's sometimes very hard to find people even when you know where they lived! – the search functionality is poor). Ancestry and FindMyPast also have them and are a bit easier to use, though you need a subscription. Viewing images rather than relying on a transcript is always good if possible.
FreeCen is another member of the FreeBMD and FreeReg family and provides searchable transcripts of census returns. Coverage is still patchy so FamilySearch is probably a better free option currently. You could always sign up to help!
As a bonus, there was a 1939 Register taken, which collected information used to create identity cards, ration books etc during World War II. It gives:
- Address (though sometimes you need to do some detective work to find out which town/village it was in! Google usually sorts it out)
- Date of birth
- Marital status
- Occupation (it even says "Unpaid domestic duties" for housewives!)
This is also available at Ancestry and FindMyPast. Entries for people who may still be alive are redacted.
The Gazette is where official notices are published about all sorts of things. Of particular interest to researchers might be items like naturalisation of 'aliens', official changes of name and bankruptcies.
Old newspapers are an absolute treasure trove of all kind of seemingly irrelevant information which can be really interesting and helpful for researchers. You can access the British Newspaper Archive through its own website or via FindMyPast. Subscription required but it can be more than worth it.
It's where I found out that my GGGG grandfather, George Atkinson, had been assaulted in a pub in 1844:
"Thomas Lazenby, green-grocer, was charged by George Atkinson, with an assault. Prosecutor went to the Three Crowns, where he found the prisoner, who, after some abusive language, hit him on the eye, by which it was much swollen… Defendant admitted the assault, but pleaded complainant’s having provoked him, and said he was sorry for what he had done… Mr. Palmer said they both appeared to have, rather unfortunately, warm tempers; and defendant was bound in £10 to keep the peace for six months…" 
Thomas Lazenby turned out to be the GGGG grandfather of my partner :)
- ↑ HULL POLICE COURT. THURSDAY. Before Sir W. Lowthrop, and Mr. Palmer.
Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 12 April 1844, page 6. British Newspaper Archive. Accessed 13 Jan 2019