Researching your ancestors from Great Britain and Ireland

A guide to researching your ancestors in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, using resources at State Library Victoria.


Parish registers (also known as church records) are an excellent source of information for pre civil registration baptism, marriage and burial records. Many English, Welsh and Scottish registers go back to the 1600s, with Irish records going back to the late 1700s. The information recorded in parish registers varies greatly between countries but usually includes:

  • Baptism records - forenames and surname, date of baptism and fathers name.  They might also list the place of birth, fathers occupation, birthdate and mothers name.
  • Burial records -  forenames and surname, abode, age at time of death, date and place of burial and occupation.
  • Marriage records  -  date of the marriage, brides forenames and surname, grooms forenames and surname and parish. Occupations, previous marital status and witnesses were sometimes included.

You can find excellent Parish register guides for  England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland on the FamilySearch website.

Register of Florence Nightingale's birth (click to enlarge).

Ancestry Library Edition. `England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970', in Ancestry Library Edition [online database], accessed 12 January 2015, Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857. Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Registrar General (RG) 4. The National Archives, Kew, England.


Before you begin

Before you begin to look for a record you need to know

  • the person's name and if possible, the names of their parents or spouse
  • an approximate date of the birth, marriage or death
  • the district where the event may have taken place

Your next step is to use an index to verify the correct name and location of the parish. Some counties included hundreds of parishes, so knowing the exact location is a huge help when you’re trying to locate relevant records. Also try and identify where the parish boundaries were at a specific point in time as many parish boundaries have changed over the years. 

It's also worth checking neighbouring parishes for records as it's possible that your ancestor may have had key events recorded in nearby parishes, whilst still living in the same area.

Where else can I look?

The following websites provide free access to various collections of parish records. There are many other fee based sites also available.

  • GENUKI - a growing number of county pages include parish records
  • DustyDocs - links to free websites in the British Isles containing parish records
  • FreeREG - access millions of records, that have been transcribed from parish and non-conformist registers of the UK
  • Society of Genealogists - lists the copies of parish registers held in the Society's library.


River Stour and weaver's cottages, Canterbury [England],

River Stour and weaver's cottages, Canterbury [England] H96.46/41