Where to start a family history
and some Family History Sources & products currently available
This page has hyperlinks to numerous useful website, the majority of which are free to search.

Please see my 'Contact' page re email address.

Initial ideas for research

By far the most important and urgent place to start tracing a family history is with living relatives, some of whom whose mere existence is presently unknown to you. Papers and photos of family history interest are being thrown out, shredded, or burned every day, often as a result of a death. These are the irreplaceable items, as archives are safely deposited and you have the rest of you life to hunt them down.

The other problem is that many families inherit small suitcases, or boxes, of old photos with no names on them. Granny might know who they are, but you'll need to ask her to write the names on the back of the important ones, or, even better, ask to help her do it so you can read the writing later. Try to borrow and scan as many old photos and old documents as possible, that way they can be stored on CD (with names & dates) and you can quickly return the originals to their loving owner. Later, you may be the only family member who has access to most of them, as elderly people have a habit of ‘tidying up’ their affairs, to save someone else doing it when they are gone.

Somewhere in the world there will be an elderly relative, albeit a very distant cousin, uncle or aunt, who has important family papers and photographs, often they even have things about your branch that your immediate family has never seen. There may even be a sibling of one of your grandparents, or one of their issue who has a family bible.

To give you an example, please see 'Sailor's life' page.

Always carefully check every step in your research, as a mistake made early-on in your work may waste years working on someone else's tree!

photos by Chris Drakes September 2012

After all, you wouldn't want to take the 'Wong' road by mistake, as in this one at Horncastle, Lincolnshire - sorry for that one!

If you are having trouble finding a recent ancestor, the following may be of interest

In many rural villages before the mid-19th century people were not as fussy about registering their children, with the result that before WWI (1914) there were quite a number of elderly people who were born in the UK and who were uncertain of their own ages. This can seriously affect the ages given in Census returns and can frustrate research in GRO and Parish Registers. This situation continued for some groups of people: in the 1960s one of my cousins married a really nice and caring man who was born to a Gypsy family and sadly didn't know his own date of birth; so, they celebrated his birthday on hers. Tracing his family history could prove to be rather difficult.

It is worth remembering that in the early days of WWI and WWII many people with German or German-sounding names changed them by Deed Poll, and, between the wars, many Jewish people changed their names due to the anti-Semitic problems of the 1930s. This may account for difficulty in tracing some family names prior to this period, and searches of Deed Poll records may help. Similar changes have occurred throughout our history, sometimes 'just to fit in with English names' or because 'no-one else could pronounce the family name'. This has occurred with people from various countries such as French-Huguenot and Polish immigrants. Even some of the Normans took English names after 1066, often from place-names that were associated with the lands they held. There have been many immigrants to the UK over the past 300 years for various political or religious reasons and many of them will have anglicized their surnames on or shortly after arrival.

Another cause of spelling changes is 'local dialect' and this causes particular problems prior to the mid-1700s when spellings were not formalized, but were phonetic (that is by sound) in Britain. This meant that it didn't matter how you spelt a name, or any word for that matter, it just mattered what sound the spelling made when spoken in the local accent. The first complete Dictionary of the English Language was written by Dr. Samuel Johnson and published in 1755. Prior to this date, though there were some rather inadequate dictionaries, there were few Nationally-recognized spellings for many English words; the more formalized spelling of names was soon to follow. So, you need to forget that your name has a double 'll' or 'es' instead of 's' on the end, when undertaking research before this period.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries many fathers just 'disappeared', and some even started a second family elsewhere. In some cases mothers either didn't know or never told who the child's father was. Sometimes both parents died, or children were just abandoned, and they were brought up in the local workhouse or by a children's society, whilst many of these records have survived, some haven't. During WWII, when children were evacuated from cities to the countryside, some of their mothers never claimed them after the war; as a result there are many elderly people in the UK who have never been able to trace what happened to their parents, and some of them who don't even have a photograph of their parents. If your ancestors fall into these categories, it may be impossible to push some of your ancestral lines back at all. In this case a DNA test might be useful in helping you to identify your ethnic make-up over the past five generations. [see DNA page]


Prior to the UK's 1926 Adoption Act, which came into force in 1927, many babies were adopted by personal agreement between their birth-mother (sometimes father, or both parents) and their new parents and, as such, will have no official record. 'Adoptions' before 1927 only have the legal status of 'Fostering' and thus no entitlement to financial inheritance unless specifically named in a Will as a beneficiary. Prior to the 1926 Adoption Act, the Salvation Army frequently helped to place 'unwanted' children with new families, as did several other religious organizations. Mothers sometimes signed away all parental rights at a local solicitor's office, thus creating a formal record for posterity; such records are difficult to trace. Also, many a 'younger child' in a large family was actually the illegitimate child of an elder daughter, and was just 'added on' to the end of her parents' children; this is sometimes more noticeable when there is a break in regular pattern of childbirth and a bigger gap before the youngest child was born. In such cases, it is extremely unlikely that the birth-father will ever be known, except by DNA checks with a suspected father.

If you were adopted as a child, you can receive a great deal of help about tracing your birth parents and siblings; but, if you are closely related by birth to someone who was adopted (e.g. a brother or sister or half-brother/half-sister), you have been very much left without any hope of tracing that person, until now.

At present (November 2005), you can register an interest in someone who was adopted, and it may be matched with a similar enquiry made by that person, if they have made one. If not, then your interest will be held on file pending that adopted relative making such an enquiry, if ever.

However, from 1st January 2006 a new agency began operation, which will actively help you to trace such an adopted relative, for a fee.

In both cases mentioned above you will require documentary evidence of your relationship, such as the adopted person's birth certificate (which you can draw fairly easily if you have their rough year of birth and their birth name isn't too common; e.g. not John Smith!), and your own birth certificate.

Sadly, if you think that you have an adopted half-brother or half-sister, who is the child of your father, and the 'father' section of his/her birth certificate is blank, as was often the case, neither of these methods will be available to you. However, if the adopted child's mother had other children whom you can trace, and if they can prove their relationship to the adopted child by their birth certificate(s), and if they are willing to help you by applying themselves, and then introduce you if the adopted person agrees, then you may still have some success. Though, in such a case a this, you are unlikely to be able to actually prove you relationship without a DNA test. [see DNA page]

All these methods of tracing adopted relatives are loaded with precautions to prevent any unwanted contact being made with the adopted person. No-one wants to upset to them as a result of such enquiries, and they will always be in control of whether or not you eventually make contact with them. No information will be given to you without their prior consent.

Advice about tracing an adopted relative can be obtained from: Adoptions Section, General Register Office, Smedley Hydro, Trafalgar Road, Southport, PR8 2HH, UK; tel: 01514 714830. The staff there are very helpful on the phone; if your case is suitable, they will send you an application form by post.  NB. Both the applicant and the adopted person must be over 18.

For help with tracing original UK birth records for adopted children after 1926, please see:

The Salvation Army (Worldwide Relative Tracing & Missing Persons)

You may also wish to use the worldwide services of The Salvation Army, who will search for you for a reasonable donation according to your circumstances. They put a lot of work into these searches, often for people of very low income, so please be generous.

They traced my half-brother in Canada for me in 1991, whom I'd never met. The reason that I hadn't been able to find him was that he was one of the few who have dropped the ‘s’ and is known as ‘Drake’ and he was using his family nick-name as his first name. The Salvation Army were brilliant.

However, if someone doesn't want to be found they will respect that and just tell you that they are well.

For online information about the 'Family Tacing Service' run by the Salvation Army, please see: Salvation Army Family Tracing Service.

Major Library & Archive Sources

UK National General Registry Office (GRO) index of births, marriages and deaths, from September 1837 to the present date. Microfiche versions are available at main libraries covering 1837 to about 1992. The Family Records Centre in London (this is to close soon, but will be available on-line; see below) holds these indexes in book form covering 1837 up to about 12 months prior to the current date. Anything more recent will require you contacting the local Registry Office where the event took place.

NB. These are indexes only, and are free to use, but you cannot view the details without buying a certificate, except in Edinburgh for Scottish records, where a set daily fee allows such access. However, recent death indexes show the date of birth, where available.

International Genealogical Index (IGI) - this is the Mormon records of baptisms and marriages from about 1590 to about 1880s, but it is not complete. Copies on microfiche are available free at main libraries, but the Internet version is better and is also free (see below).

Census returns

It may help to know the dates that each Census was taken; these are particularly useful where a child's age is shown in months, weeks, or days: 6th June 1841; 30th March 1851; 7th April 1861; 2nd April 1871; 3rd April 1881; 5th April 1891; 31st March 1901; 2nd April 1911. (NB. In 1841 adult ages were rounded down to nearest 5 years, but children were exact).

The 1921 Census will probably be released in 2022. The 1931 Census was destroyed in a 1942 fire, during WWII. The 1941 Census was not held because of WWII. The next Census was held in 1951 and every decade thereafter. The latest Census was in 2011 and may be the last in the UK, as the authorities apparently have access to much more information about us on the various databases that are currently available to them.

Photographs of the original pages of the 1841 to 1911 UK Census returns are now available via ( if in USA). The originals are held at the National Archives at Kew, south west London; County Record Offices & main Libraries usually hold copies of their respective county, so, you may not need to travel to Kew if your family was close to where you now live. The National Archives also hold numerous other useful records, see,

The 1841 Census is the earliest of use for family history research; the earlier ones are a numerical count of the population and do not show names. You will need to remember that, during the 1841 Census, children under 15 years old were shown as their exact age, but other people's ages were rounded down to the nearest 5 years. Also, it is estimated that about 5-10% of people are completely missing from the 1861 Census, and that up to 5% are missing from most Census returns because of error, evasion, sleeping rough, etc.

Access to the searchable Mormon version of the 1881 Census, can be made purchasing the CD set (see below), or you can use it free at most main libraries.

You will need to be aware that ages, especially of women, vary dramatically between census returns, often being fairly accurate in youth and old age but way out in between! I have numerous instances of wives gaining only 4 years in every 10 that passed, and one who didn't age at all between two censuses! The children's ages in the household are usually accurate and stand as a good bench-mark. Where they came from (i.e. were brought up) is frequently shown as their place of birth and this is not always the same place. Also, you can find three or four different 'places of birth' for the same person between 1851 and 1911. The 1841 Census only shows whether they born in the county of residence or not.

Another useful point to be aware of is that, prior to 1926, boys could marry as young as 14 and girls as young as 12; fortunately, such early marriages are scarce, but they indicate the fact that some children have always matured quicker than others. During the medieval period, such marriages were more commonplace in landed families; children might be married off as young as 4 to join two royal or noble families, linking their lands and loyalties, but they seldom actually lived together until they were older.

Whilst on the subject of Census returns, it should be noted that an 1865 Act of Parliament required the numbering of houses; so, you don't always see numbered houses before then.

NB. The last ever UK Census will be taken on 27.3.2011. The Government considers that other computer records will supply even more useful information about the UK population in future.

In addition to these National Census records, a few earlier Parish Censes records exist; they show lists of names of landholders. However, you would be very lucky to find records for the parish where your ancestors lived.

In 1534 Henry VIII, as the Head of the Church of England, created a rift with the Roman Catholic Church. Quakers and Jews were allowed to marry in their respective churches, and they still hold their own records today. However, Roman Catholics were greatly suppressed and were forced to attend the Church of England services, or pay a fine; as a result, they held their services in secret. The Roman Catholics held Baptisms and Marriages ceremonies in secret, but had to repeat them in the English Church in order to comply with inheritance laws; they were also compelled to be buried in the Parish Churchyard. From 1753, Lord Hardwicke Marriage Act made only Church of England marriages legal, except for Jews and Quakers, who were still exempt. In 1778 the laws were relaxed and by 1791 the Roman Catholics were allowed to hold their own services. In 1836, The Dissenter’s Marriage Act 1836 permitted Dissenters to marry in their own chapels and churches or by civil agreement; they had to inform the Registrar.

The Table of Kindred and Affinities in the Book of Common Prayer forbade Anglican priests from performing marriages between a man and his dead wife’s sister; this originates with the Book of Job in the Bible. However, people tended to ignore the law; there were 1,000 such marriages recorded between 1835 & 1848 and such marriages continued until The Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act, 1907. Other important Acts were: The Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act 1921; The Age of Marriage Act 1929, which made marriage under 16 illegal; The Married Women’s Property Act, 1882, which allowed married women to own property in their own right. All these Acts have some bearing on research and may be the cause of problems that you encounter.

Non-Conformist Records

Prior to the opening of the General Registry Office in the September Quarter of 1837, there were other places that you could Register a birth, in addition to Baptismal Records at Parish Churches. One such place for Non-Conformists was at Dr. William's Library, Redcross-Street, near Cripplegate, London. Dr. Daniel Williams was a leading Non-Conformist Minister in London; he died in January 1715/6 and established the Library in his Will. There is a very interesting, dedicated website to the study and preservation of his records, which are now held at Dr. William's Library, 14, Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0AR; there is public access for research: Dr. William's Library

                                                                                                                                    Copyright Chris Drakes

An 1817 Birth Certificate, Registered at Dr. William's Library, Redcross-Street, near Cripplegate, London in 1821 - pre General Registry Office; it was signed by the Surgeon and the Nurse in attendance. (Not related to our family, but very interesting none-the-less)

Trade Directories

Local Trade Directories, which were the equivalent of a phonebook before telephones existed, can also be found in the relevant County Record Office and some main libraries. Copies of most Trade Directories, and an enormous amount of other nationwide data, are available at the Society of Genealogists, London; entry is for a fee, but is free to members. Theirs is an excellent facility and it is well worth joining this society, particularly if you live within reach of London and will used their records. Much of the data they hold is unique and includes such items as privately produced family histories and collections of family papers.

You can search some directories free on-line at 'Historical Directories', a University of Leicester Project. This is an excellent website and, last time I checked, there were 160 directories with 'Drakes'; 88 with 'Drax'; 1 'Draxe'; 12 'Draks'; 12 'Dracas'; 44 'Dracass'; 2 'Dracus'; 1 'Draias'; 3 'Drakas'; 1 'Draikes', and 1 'Drakehouse', and that doesn't include multiple entries of the names in each directory! University of Leicester - Historical Directories of England & Wales

The London, Edinburgh & Belfast Gazettes

You can search and copy the original pages from old editions of the London, Edinburgh, and Belfast Gazettes free of charge, via: The Gazette - Official Public Record. These Gazettes contain a wide variety of information about people in the UK, including some Court and Bancruptcy records. However, though can select and copy an entry, you will need to check the text against the picture, as their photo-to-text-conversion programme makes a few errors that may confuse you later.

Old Maps & Voters' Lists

Recent local voters’ lists, and sometimes old ones, are available at most main libraries, as well as local Ordnance Survey maps back to the Victorian era, and older maps. (See 'Old maps')

Birth, Marriage & Death Certificates

The Family Records Centre,1, Myddelton Street, London EC1R 1UW is now permanently closed. All records are now at The National Archives, Kew. GRO Birth, Marriage & Death indexes will, eventually, be available free on-line.

Free birth, marriage and death references for the English/Welsh General Records Office are available on: FreeBMD. However, these have been put on there by members of the public on a voluntary basis, so are not complete and may contain errors. I recommend that you double-check any references from here, or any other secondary source before you ordering a certificate. It is a very useful site and will get even better with the progress of time.

You can search microfiche copies of the GRO indexes at most main public libraries (usually in the Local History section of the Reference Library). You can search and view the original GRO indexes, Census Returns, documents for baptisms, marriages & burials, The Probate Index, and much more online via membership of This is a brilliant website and well worth joining. Though the annual fees appear quite high at first (or your can 'pay-per-view'); there is also a free trial period. You will get good value for money with 'World' membership, compared with belonging to several other sites or travelling to Libraries or Archives, especially if you live a long way off. If you join nothing else - join this website - it is brilliant. Seen my Ancestry page for an example of what you might be able to achieve with this membership. You will also get access to numerous family trees that have been put on-line by private researchers like you; some of these are of exceptional quality and show numerous links to official documentary proof.

Once you have a birth, marriage, or death certificate reference, you can order a certificate in person at the Family Records Centre. If you don't want to travel up to London, the most convenient method (for about £1 extra, but less the train fare, time & lunch costs!) is by phone: 0845 603 7788; they accept some debit/credit cards. The cheapest remote method is on the Internet at £11.00 (from 16.2.2019) each certificate, including p&p, for the purchase of birth, marriage & death certificates. If you do not have a reference there will be an additional charge to obtain a certificate using this service. Priority certificates, if ordered before 4pm, are posted First Class post the next day for a fee of £23.40 (this will have increased). This service was originally conducted by the General Register Office (GRO), latterly by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), and now by the Home Office Identity & Passport Service: (NB. the Internet service is only available to UK residents, but may have changed by the time you read this)

Don't forget that you can obtain the reference from the microfiche records at most major libraries, or via; these cover the whole of England and Wales, but not Ireland and Scotland.


Visit ‘First Avenue House’, 42, Holborn, London WC.

Conditions when I last went included: No ‘I.D.’ was required, I walked in, had to empty my pockets, and was checked with a metal detector.

However, it is always best to take good proof of your identity such as a passport or driving licence plus a recent utility bill with your address, when going to a facility like this for the first time, as security conditions change.

Inside, there are rows of books with summaries of Wills between 1837 and 2000. It then cost me £5 to get a copy of a Will. It is a wonderful facility and staff are very helpful.

Surname searches

Though instructions to record baptisms, marriages and burials were first issued in 1538, most very early parish registers have not survived for a variety of reasons. Prior to that date the only records, if any, were kept by individual priests who presumably took whatever records they had with them as they moved from place to place. I understand that, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a considerable amount of documentary evidence was destroyed; I have often wondered if any useful UK genealogical records have survived in the Vatican, if so they will undoubtedly be in Latin.

Baptisms & Marriages 1538-1880s in many countries around the world can be searched FREE via the Mormon’s website, known as the International Genealogical Index (IGI), including Ancestral Files: NB. For UK records, they initially used the Bishop's Transcripts of Parish Registers to make the IGI, and spellings are often very different to the original parish registers and, being copied twice, are open to further errors. You may need a bit of 'lateral thinking' to find your ancestors. Also, various periods for a some Parishes are not included and need to search via local archives or at the original church.

Where possible, you are advised to double-check important data against the original Parish Registers. One instance that I found was regarding two brothers who were listed in the IGI with different mothers (in error). When I checked the original record, their mothers were shown as the same person; the incorrect mother's name having come from the line above in the original Baptism Register, which referred to a different family altogether. Whilst this seems a serious criticism of this website, you must remember that this was a mammoth task, completed by volunteers over many years, it is available to you free of charge with an excellent search engine, and that on the whole the IGI is a brilliant website - you just need to be careful to double check these, and all other records, many of which also contain errors - even the General Registry Index (GRO).


                                                               hand drawn by Chris Drakes                  [blurred, but best I could get]

The shields of Drax (Drakes) Monastery & Selby Monastery, both of West Yorkshire,
showing the similarities between them; they were both run by Black Canons.


Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, for Names search to find all who died in both world wars. It is very interesting, but also very sad; it was the first thing I ever did on the Internet. The youngest First World War grave that I have seen, was a 14-year-old English soldier near Arras; he had lied about his age and had borrowed his brother's birth certificate to enlist.

There is an interesting new website dedicated to official records about British Armed Forces: Forces War Records. If you decide to try it out and pay their initial fee with your bank card - you MUST log in and go into 'YOUR PROFILE' and then UNCLICK THE 'AUTO RENEW' BOX or they will continue to deduct the monthly payment of £8.95 from your bank until you do so, as they did with mine! If you want to be a long-term member, there are cheaper offers available via their website, rather than making single monthly payments. This being said, I found that their dealings with me were fair and honourable despite it being my error in not checking thoroughly; they refunded my single overpayment immediately after I emailed them to complain.

If your ancestor died whilst serving in the American Forces since the 1840s, you may be able to trace their grave, or memorial, via the American Battle Monuments Commission website, which covers, 'The Mexican War', 'The Civil War', 'The Spanish-American War', both 'World War I' & 'World War II', 'The Korean War', 'Corozal American Cemetery', and 'Vietnam War Missing'.

If your ancestor is believed to have been in India, there is a specialist site worth searching their index, which is free (Full UK membership is £15 per annum): The Families In British India Society (FIBIS)

If the surname that you are research appears to have a French origin, then your ancestor may have been a French Huguenot (Protestant). You should check The Huguenot Society's brilliant free site, which has family trees: The Huguenot Society. I was able to push a friend's line back to the 1500s in a village in France in one evening.

Army Lists and Rolls Calls. If you suspect that an ancestor might have served in the Army in India, Canada, The Iberian Peninsula, or elsewhere abroad since the 1600s, the following might help; though you will need to pay to obtain full search results, you can undertake a brief search free and often get good information about their Regiment and rank via: (Some researchers are members of this and Most results seem to be about Officers, NCOs and medals awards. You can either buy credits for specific results, or full membership if you will be making regular use of the website. In 2010/11, this company was sponsoring the TV programme 'Who Do You Think You Are?' offers a forum for asking questions about any surname, however the free search only shows ‘Drake’ & ‘Drax’, with the option for you to include any similar names in the ‘Drake’ forum. The problem is that there are so many ‘Drake’ enquiries that are marked as 'The Drakes’ that it is difficult to identify any actual ‘Drakes’ entries. However, persistence may offer results. The last time I visited ‘Drax’ it had only one entry on it, but it linked me to an excellent ‘Drax’ website that I hadn't found using the Google search engine.

You can make surname searches via the best search engine for finding ‘family tree’ items, i.e., which should give you most of the websites that contain the surname you are researching. You'll need to be imaginative and think of phonetic spellings, e.g. Drakes can be found written as Draykes, Drakehas, Dracas, Dracass, Drakehurst, Drax etc. Also, the ‘k’ might be read as ‘l’ making ‘Drales’ and the ‘s’ as ‘n’ or ‘r’, making ‘Dracan’ or ‘Draker’. You can use it to find others who are working on the same surname, the locations they lived in, local history groups or family history societies & etc. Obviously you need to be selective about which pages you open, especially if your surname has an alternative meaning! A friend of mine innocently tried to find some biographical data about the TV gardening presenter ‘Gay Search’; boy was he surprised! (Another lesson learnt)

UK and Irish genealogy:

Federation of Family History Societies will help you find the Family History Society for the county you are researching. The Family History Society pages often contain useful links to family history sites that are relevant to their county. They trade as FFHS (Publications) Limited, Unit 15 and 16, Chesham Industrial Centre, Oram Street, Bury, Lancs., BL9 6EN; website: In 2010, they removed their on-line search facility and replaced it with a hyperlink to: 'The National Burial Index - Version 3', with 18 million Anglican parish, non-conformist, Quaker, and Roman Catholic burials in England & Wales, is now available on CD-Rom at £30.00 via Federation of Family History Societies - National Burial Index.

A free Parish Registers website is currently available for searches and its database growing in size as volunteers provide new data. If you have time to volunteer your help, please contact them; if not, then you can still search the database free of charge. Freereg.

A UK family tree website, where you can search for, and e-mail, people working on any particular surname. You can enter your tree and search for your family names free of charge. Registration is free. There used to be a sister-site, a UK 'friends' website, where you could search for and e-mail people you had lost contact with, such as former neighbours / classmates / workmates. Registration was free:, but this site sadly closed on 26.2.2016.

Database of nearly 2,000 Lincolnshire Criminals Transported to Australia, Gibraltar and Bermuda between 1788 and 1868. and type 'Convict Archive' in the search box; if you have a name with varied spellings, try the first three letters only (e.g. 'Dra' for Drax, Dracas(s) & Drakes). If you click on any relevant entry, it should give you the transportation destination, and the crimes committed. There may be similar sites for other counties?

A History of South Kirkby, by Aaron Wilkinson, published by South Kirkby and Moorthorpe Town Council, in 1979, page 91, shows, 'Paver’s Marriages - In the 17th century, a gentleman named Paver collected thousands of ancient marriage records and these were later printed and published. Some of the records pre-date the parish registers by a hundred years. Most of the people listed were locally important people, which probably means that their licences to marry had been issued by the Archbishop of York, which would also mean that the records of those marriages were kept at York. This explains how Mr. Paver was able to see and copy them. Had the licences been issued at the local church, they would now be lost to us. The poorer people, who could not afford an expensive special licence, had their marriages solemnized in the local church by the vicar.' These records can be viewed at:

Old Bailey records (1674-1913) can now be searched and viewed on-line at This is a fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s Central Criminal Court (CCC) - The Old Bailey.

By far the most rewarding family history website has got to be, but you will need to subscribe to membership to get the full benefit from it, and it's fairly expensive. However, if it saves you from making trips to various archives around the country, or even the world, it has to be well worth the fee. Via this website, you can make surname searches of Census indexes, and then view a photographic copy of the original document. You will find that there are errors between the index and the original, such as when 'Drake' is mis-read as 'Drakes' by the person(s) creating the index; I have found quite a few of these. I suspect that there will be others indexed as 'Drake' that are actually 'Drakes', but, since Drake is a far more common surname, I haven't had time to got through them all. There is also has a searchable register of slaves and slave owners under: 'Slave Registers of former British Colonial Dependencies, 1812-1834'. If you join nothing else - join this website - it is brilliant!

There is a brilliant website for finding information about early markets and fair locations, which is arrange by counties. Gazetteer of Markets and Fairs in England and Wales to 1516

Are you interested in the history of London? The Institute of Historical Research has a brilliant website with numerous links.

Newfoundland records and Atlantic Ship Crews

Many Dorset families have had strong links with Newfoundland over the centuries, including Trans-Atlantic marriages, with seamen finding wives in Newfoundland, who were often also descended from Dorset families that had settled there. Along with such links, may come American Indian and Basque DNA to present-day Dorset families, such as my own ancestors - especially those in the Weymouth and Poole areas. There is a brilliant family history website for Newfoundland's Grand Banks, which has lots of local genealogical data, including many Dorset surnames.

I suspect that my Michigan Native American & Basque DNA may have come through my Dorset family line for the above reason; see My DNA.

The Newfoundland Crews Database has over 30,000 seamen from 270 Newfoundland and Labrador registered vessel crew lists from 1915 to 1942.

There is an extremely interesting chapter in the small booklet Old Poole Town by Olive Knott, pages 3-7, which describes the above situation: 'Recruits for the [Newfoundland] fishing trade were drawn from many villages and small towns in the area. Agricultural work was badly paid and scarce, so that there was no lack of volunteers for this arduous but more renumerative occupation. ...... They went usually for one winter and two summers to Newfoundland where they fished extensively for cod and other fish, salted and packed it. Some ventured further north to the coast of Labrador where seals were to be found in plenty. ...... At this time a number of people from Poole and the surrounding area settled permanently in Newfoundland, and in the same way many a fisherman who sailed from Poole brought back a wife from the island so that through the interchanged, even until the present time [1975], names on the electoral lists of Southern Newfoundland are identical with those in Poole and the surrounding district. ...... After the [1790s] war with France ended there was a gradual decline in the Newfoundland fishing trade. ...... Many of the settlers in the island found life too difficult and returned to their own country.' This and other very interesting booklets by Olive Knott can often be found for sale on &; you are strongly advised to check both websites for the cheapest before buying, as prices can vary quite widely.

While on the subject of sailors, it may be of interest to note that an occupation shown as 'AB' in Census Returns stands for 'Able Bodied Seaman'.

Booklet about Family History on the Internet
‘Family History on the Web, an Internet Directory for England & Wales’, at £4.95, from the Family Records Centre, or from FFHS (Publications) Ltd., Units 15-16, Chesham Industrial Estate, Oram St. Bury, Lancashire BL0 9BZ; e-mail enquiries: This is a useful book for ideas, but since the Internet is constantly changing, don't spend money on out-of-date editions!

Family History books

There are numerous ‘family history’ books on the market; a lot of them are of poor standard and many are often confusing. The following books are ones that I own and use.

‘Introduction to Family History’, published by The Family Records Centre, 28 pages, at £3.99. An excellent, continually useful, and concise introductory booklet; to get you started without spending lots of money.

‘Tracing your Ancestors in the Public Record Office’, 6th revised edition, by Amanda Bevan. Published by PRO 2002, ISBN 1 903365 34 1, 524 pages, at £15.99. The ‘bible’ of PRO research, but a lot to read and absorb if you are a beginner.

‘Tracing your family tree’, by Jean A. Cole and Michael Armstrong. The complete guide to discovering your family history. Published by Guild Publishing 1988, by arrangement with Thorsons Publishing Group, no ISBN, 208 pages. This extremely well written book came from a ‘discount bookshop’, price unknown, but probably about £9.99.

‘The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History’, by David Hey. The complete guide to discovering your past. Published by The Softback Review by arrangement with Oxford University Press, 2001 reprint, no ISBN, 517 pages. This very useful encyclopedia-type book came from a ‘discount bookshop’, price unknown, but probably about £9.99.

‘The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers’, 2nd edition, edited by Cecil Humphrey-Smith. Published by Phillimore & Co. Ltd., 1999 reprint, ISBN 0 85033 950 2. Available from the Family Records Centre bookshop, 305 pages, at £50.00. This is a collection of County maps showing parishes and the year their existing parish records began, following by a complete record of the years covered and locations of original records, copies and transcriptions including the IGI for every UK parish. This is an excellent volume but an unnecessary purchase in the early days of research. You will find it indispensable once you get back beyond 1837; because of the price, folk tend to borrow someone else's copy and hang on to it for too many weeks! I eventually bought a copy to save all the hassle for borrower and lender.

Available from the ‘discount book stores’, such as are found in most High Streets in the UK, is a thin hardback book for recording your family tree. It makes a nice record to show family and friends, but you need to keep it neat so it’s best to write things in a rough notebook first; later, you can take your time to write it neatly in the book, when you're in the right mood, taking care to use the same pen each time; a different colour ink or a bit of quick scrawling ruins the appearance of the whole book.

‘Genealogical Books’, are publishers that deal mainly in USA material, but they quickly got me 'The Origins of Some Anglo-Norman families', a book on Medieval English families that I could not get in the UK; it arrived within just a few days:

The best book on Lincolnshire Wolds life, that I have found so far, is Studies in the History of Lincolnshire – The Lincolnshire Wolds in the Nineteenth Century, by Dr. Charles K. Rawding, published by the History of Lincolnshire Committee, 2001. It is brilliant and is a real 'must read' for anyone wanting to understand Victorian rural life on the Lincolnshire Wolds, and it may help to understand various attitudes and issues that come up during any Lincolnshire Wolds research.

London Children's Hospital records 1883 to 1902

Medical & staff records covering the early years of The Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street, London, which was England’s first in-patient children’s hospital. You can trace patients or members of the medical staff. Also, see Historic Hospital Admition Records Project (HHARP).

The Mormons - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, England Distribution Centre, Family History CDs, 399, Garretts Green Lane, Birmingham, West Midlands, B33 0UH (or Salt Lake City Distribution Centre, 1999 West 1788 South, Salt Lake City, Utah 84184, USA) hold records that are not easily available elsewhere. You can arrange to view microfilms at one of their record office across the country.

S&N Genealogical - a family tree software company, which includes: ‘S&N British Data Archive’.

The 1841 to 1891 Census for London (other counties will eventually follow) are available on CD at £49.95 per Census; these are photographic copies of actual Census pages, as seen on microfilms. The 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 & 1891 London Census CDs are available now.

They also stock an extensive list of CDs of parish records, and other family tree related sources.

This is an expensive way to research, but it is so very convenient to do at home at your leisure, and you must take into account accommodation costs, travelling time and costs, plus lunches out, & etc., involved in travelling any distance. (You are very lucky if you live near the archive you need).

They will post you a current stock list free of charge. Their adverts are often on the back page of various family tree magazines; they are the largest UK family tree CD stockist that I know of. They are based at West Wing, Manor Farm, Chilmark, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP3 5AF, and also have an office in Jersey; tel: 01722 716121; International tel: +44 1722 716121; website: - the UK people/business/map Directory search website:

Other countries often have similar online search facilities for residential & business addresses and phone numbers, e.g.

Contacting lost (living) relatives via Traceline (an ONS service)

Sadly, this service, which was based at Stockport, ceased about 1.4.2008 and there is currently no other Government-run alternative. You will have to search official records by other means, such as: phone books,, Voters' Lists, Marriage & Death Registers, & etc.

Free BT phone book checks

All you need is a surname and a county and you will get a list of all people in the BT phone book chosen

photo by Chris Drakes

Think you might be related to Medieval Kings or Earls?

The Foundation for Medieval Genealogy website is a brilliant resource to help you find a possible family link to Royalty or Earls; it includes several links to other interesting pages that are well worth reading through: Medieval Lands Index

The possibility of being related to a titled ancestor, or with luck Royalty, seems to be the wish of many genealogists, but this wish is not so far fetched as it first appears. It has been estimated that well over a third of the UK population are related to Royalty, or Noble a family, somewhere back in their past.

The Harleian & Surtees Societies

The Harleian Society has been publishing Genealogical records for over a century. Their publications include printed and bound versions of the 16th century Herald's Visitations, when those using coats of arms had to justify their right by descent or immediately cease use. In doing so, the Heralds, Flower & Glover, created one of the best resources of Medieval Family trees in the UK. Many of these family records are particularly interesting as they include minor Baronial families, whose name might otherwise be lost to us. Copies of the publications of The Harleian Society are available at various county archives and main libraries, as are the similar publications of the Surtees Society. These sources are where most people get their early surname history from: &

Other sources used

The 1881 Census CD set from the LDS (Mormons)
The 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1891 Census on microfiche at Lincoln Archives & Library
General Registry Office (GRO) birth, marriage & death indexes on microfiche at my local main library (most major town libraries hold copies)
Lincolnshire Parish Records on microfilm at Lincoln Archives
Various sources at local libraries & archives, especially Lincoln
Public Record Office at Kew.
National Army Museum, Chelsea
Imperial War Museum, London
Plus an ever growing army of fellow researchers around the world who freely share data with me

Putting your Family Tree Online

Want to store your family history online, either 'privately', where it can only be viewed by those who have your permission, or for 'public' viewing, so that others who are researching the same lines as you can make contact in either case? There is a good facility for this at

Family Tree Programmes

There are numerous family tree CDs available at about £10 each that will be adequate to stored your data, but you will eventually grown out of them and move on, probably to either Broderbund or Sierra.

I have an expensive family tree program (£50), though I prefer to use a simple layout in MS Word, a sample of which can be found on my ‘Trees’ page, to give you an idea. This sample shows the start of the earliest Drax (Drakes) tree that I am currently working on.

Confusing dates around 1752?

English records used the Julian Calendar prior to 1752, and the Feast of the Annunciation, which was always celebrated on 25th March and was the first day of the new year, and 24th March the last. From 1752 to the present, the Gregorian Calendar has been in use with the new year beginning on 1st January, and ending on 31st December. Therefore, prior to 1752, the years recorded in Parish Registers began on 25th March, and ended on 24th March when the Registers were signed by the Rector/Vicar, if there was not an interregnum [i.e. no priest in charge, during a change-over], and the Churchwardens.

Found someone who was both 'baptised' and 'christened' in Parish Records and don't understand why?

Strangely, in the early 1800s Parish Baptism Register at Winteringham, Lincs., most children were ‘baptised’ then ‘christened’ a couple of months later, and most of those who weren’t also 'christened' had died shortly after they were ‘baptised’.  In the 1960s, the Vicar of Winteringham was asked what the difference was between 'baptism' and 'christening', and even he thought they were the same thing!

However, it turns out that 'baptism' could be, and usually was, performed in the home at the very earliest opportunity after the birth, in case a child died before it could be 'christened', and thus ensure that its soul was safe should it die in early infancy. The actual 'christening' ceremony would be performed later, when the parents were able to bring the child to church.

It appears that this was probably common practice elsewhere as well, but few parish priests recorded the home 'baptisms' in the parish registers, unlike the Reverend Grainger of Winteringham, who not only recorded the 'baptism' and 'christening', but also the birth date of each child. He also later added the further note 'died', if the child died in infancy.

Lost someone? Maybe there fell on hard times and were in the workhouse?

There is a dedicated 'Workhouse' website that may help you; it includes Census Returns, and also helps you to understand the concept of a 'workhouse' and the conditions experienced there by the inmates.

Are you due an unclaimed inheritance via ‘Bona Vacantia’?

‘Bona Vacantia’ literally means ‘vacant goods’ and is the legal name for ownerless property that passes to the Crown. ‘’ administer the estates of persons who die intestate without known kin and collect the assets of dissolved companies and failed trusts. A list of 'Unclaimed Estates' can be downloaded. In England and Wales, you must be a close blood-relative (i.e. descending from the same grandparents on one side), which includes half-blood links but not 'in-laws', to make to claim. Second-cousins (i.e. descendants of great grandparents) do not qualify, unless they were dependants of the deceased at the time of death. However, in Scotland and Northern Ireland second-cousins can make a claim. If there are no such close-relatives, the money goes to the Treasury. Probate Research Companies (Heir Hunters) go to great lengths to try and trace relatives; they search for the legitimate heirs to estates left behind by people dying without a valid Will. They usually work on a percentage commission basis. Some of these companies, including 'Fraser & Fraser', are featured in the BBC1 TV series "Heir Hunters", between 2007 and 2011.

Inheritance is strictly in accordance with the Will left by a deceased. Where there is no Will, claimants are strictly in the following order: husband/wife; if none living, then children (then grandchildren, & etc.); if none living, then parents; if none living, then siblings (then their children, & etc.); if none living, then grandparents; if none living, then aunts & uncles who are blood-related; if none living, then 1st cousins on both paternal & maternal sides, and so on until all descendants of the deceased person's grandparents have been considered. The nearest group of relatives get an equal share, any others get nothing. (e.g. if the estate is to be divided between two siblings, but one died before the deceased, their half goes equally between their children. If their are no children of that sibling, it all goes to the surviving sibling, but not to their husband/wife.)

It might of interest to note here that the UK Intesticy Laws restrict who can inherit from an estate where there is no Will. In England: only descendants of the deceased person's grandparents can inherit. In Scotland: only descendants of the deceased person's great grandparents can inherit. If there are no surviving descendants within these restrictions, the entire estate goes to the Government. It doesn't matter how many generations down the family tree the claimants are, they have a right to make a claim on the estate as long as they are blood-related (or adopted into that family). Husbands/wives of a descendant can have no claim on the estate, but their children/grandchildren/great grandchildren can.  See Relationships for a chart showing descendant relationships.

It may also be of interest to note that, once a person has been legally adopted, they cease to be a descendant of their birth-family, but have full descendant rights in their adoptive-family, as if a blood-relative.

Want something different, such as an unusual and beautiful wall chart to display your family tree on?

The Parish Chest is a family history and genealogy shop where you can buy CDs, maps, books, blank family tree charts, parish transcriptions, etc.  In fact, just about everything you need to help trace your ancestors and build your family tree. They have some brilliant tree-charts for you to record and display your family names.

Or maybe some Lincolnshire postcards, photographs, posters, & etc.?

David Coulam is a very kind and helpful Lincolnshire local postcard dealer, who also deals in other items of ephemera, including posters and photographs, many of which can be viewed on his website. Lincolnshire Postcards. If you are looking for something particular connected with Lincolnshire, please contact him, as not everything he has will be on his website.

Need some professional help with Archive Research?

You can usually obtain help direct from Archive staff for a set fee per hour; this is often the best course of action for most enquiries in a specific archive. There are a vast number of private researchers, with no formal training, offering services; some of these will provide good research at very competitive prices. However, if you choose to use one of these, I suggest that you make local enquiries to see how good they are at such research, and how their fees compare with others in the same field. Archive staff may help you with a local list of known local researchers. If you prefer the help of a fully trained researcher, I suggest contacting The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives

Coats of arms, often with family histories, for sale

Be very wary of instantly available 'family histories' and their associated 'coats of arms', especially when dealing with these surnames. There are many items being sold as 'Drakes' that are actually based on the surname 'Drake', whilst the real origin of 'Drakes' is 'Drax' & 'Dracas'. However, this being said, there are often some elements that may apply to the surname 'Drakes', and such records often give some idea of the origin of the word as a name rather than a family lineage. I recommend that you take any suggestion that you are actually related to the family with the 'coat of arms' with a pinch of salt! In any case, most of the information is available free on the Internet or in your local main library.

There may be no harm in having a bit of fun, by having a coat of arms on the wall at home, or dressing up in a kilt that is associated with your surname. There are numerous on-line and retail outlets where you can buy souvenirs and clan tartans that are associated with many UK surnames. However, if you want to know the official line as to whether you are entitled to use a British coat of arms, or to officially wear the tartan of a Scottish Clan, please go to the UK government 'College of Arms' website, where you may learn that there are many myths involving such rights and privileges:, especially their frequently asked questions page.

Having stated the above, there are some traders who have a good knowledge of Coats of Arms and their correct colouring. I wish to thank David Humphreys for his kind advice about the correct colouring for the 'Drax (Drakes)' Arms, and in return have entered links to his four websites, where you can buy items with various coats of arms that are linked to most UK surnames and Scottish Clans:;;

Do you know of another useful website?

If you have found a another useful website for general family history studies, or one specific to Drax/Dracas(s)/Drakes research, which I haven't listed, please let me know and I will be pleased to a add a link. Also, if you have used one of my hyperlink and noticed significant changes from my description, please contact me.

Some more of the many Websites that I have used for research
Please click on the titles to connect via a hyperlink

The National Archives - Public Record Office at Kew - Home Page

BBC - History Timelines (useful to put your research into an historical context) (useful to put your research in an historical context)

BBC - History - Your History - Family history

BBC - History - A brilliant list of Family History hyperlinks

Catholic Family History Society Homepage

Bodleian Library - University of Oxford

Explore The British Library (Public Catalogue)

Wakefield Libraries (other towns & counties may have similar sites)

Plus many more websites found using the Google search engine, which is constantly being added to; so, if you haven't searched it for a while, give it another try - also try different wording for your search, as it may find something new for you.

The old Counties of England and their usual abbreviations - first the modern, then the old versions. As with all things, nothing stays the same - boundary changes occur and Counties are re-named, amalgamated & re-divided as time passes, but these are the counties you will see during the majority of your family history research:

(BDF) Bedfordshire (Beds.)
(BRK) Berkshire (Berks.)
(BKM) Buckinghamshire (Bucks.)
(CAM) Cambridgeshire (Cambs.)
(CHS) Cheshire (Ches.)
(CON) Cornwall [no old abbreviation]
(CUL) Cumberland (Cumb.)
(DBY) Derbyshire (Derbys.)
(DEV) Devon [no old abbreviation]
(DOR) Dorset [no old abbreviation]
(DUR) County Durham (Durham)
(ESS) Essex [no old abbreviation]
(GLS) Gloucestershire (Gloucs. or Glos.)
(HAM) Hampshire (Hants.)
(HEF) Herefordshire (Hereford)
(HRT) Hertfordshire (Herts.)
(HUN) Huntingdonshire (Hunts.)
(KEN) Kent [no old abbreviation]
(LAN) Lancashire (Lancs.)
(LEI) Leicestershire (Leics.)
(LIN) Lincolnshire (Lincs.)
(MDX) Middlesex (Middx.)
(NFK) Norfolk [no old abbreviation]
(NTH) Northamptonshire (Northants.)
(NBL) Northumberland [no old abbreviation]
(NTT) Nottinghamshire (Notts.)
(OXF) Oxfordshire (Oxon.)
(RUT) Rutland [no old abbreviation]
(SAL) Shropshire (Salop)
(SOM) Somerset (Somt.)
(STS) Staffordshire (Staffs.)
(SFK) Suffolk [no old abbreviation]
(SRY) Surrey [no old abbreviation]
(SSX) Sussex (SX)
(WAR) Warwickshire (Warks.)
(WES) Westmorland (Wmld.)
(WIL) Wiltshire (Wilts.)
(WOR) Worcestershire (Worcs.)
(YKS) Yorkshire (Yorks.)
(LND) London (both the City of London & suburban Postal Districts)
(IOW) Isle of Wight (part of Hants.)

One more thing. If you are thinking of telling anyone about your family history research, you might be interested in reading the article entitled 'Droit du seigneur' written by Chris Catling and published in Current World Archaeology magazine, no.53, June/July 2012, p.64. Obviously, not everyone shares our interest, nor the thrill of discovering something unusual in our family's past! He also writes about research which shows that 99.92% of us are descended from ancient rulers and 16 million being descended from Genghis Khan. I recommend Current Archaeology & Current World Archaeology & Military History, which are brilliant easy-to-read magazines for the amateur and professional alike.

Please note that I do not receive any sponsorship from any of the suggested website, nor from anyone else; my research and this website are totally self-funded.