How to trace your family tree in england ireland scotland and wales


5 Free Genealogy Sites for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland

Make Instant Discoveries About Your Ancestors Here

Researching ancestors from England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland? Here’s a list of free genealogy sites for the UK and Ireland where you can find everything from census returns and military service records to birth, marriage and death indexes.

We have included only sites that offer mostly or completely free records in our list, but you should also read our Guide to UK and Irish Research for many more resources and help with your research.

Make Instant Discoveries in Your Family Tree Now

Imagine adding your family tree to a simple website and getting hundreds of new family history discoveries instantly.

MyHeritage is offering 2 free weeks of access to their extensive collection of 18 billion historical records, as well as their matching technology that instantly connects you with new information about your ancestors. Sign up using the link below to find out what you can uncover about your family.

Discover New Genealogy Records Instantly

Once you’ve checked out these resources read our list of 50 Free Genealogy Sites to Search Today.

Free UK and Irish Genealogy Sites for Finding Your Ancestors

Free UK Genealogy

This effort includes three separate UK-focused projects powered by volunteers who transcribe important genealogical records and place them online in searchable databases. Search these three UK genealogy projects via the links below.

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FreeBMD: Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales

FreeCen: 19th century census records for the UK

FreeReg: baptism, marriage, and burial records from parish and non-conformist registers of the UK

GENUKI

“GENUKI provides a virtual reference library of genealogical information of particular relevance to the UK and Ireland. It is a non-commercial service, maintained by a charitable trust and a group of volunteers.” You’ll find access to a great selection of resources and records on this easy to navigate site.

UK National Archives

The National Archives of the United Kingdom has a wide variety of free research databases online, including military records and asylum records. They have done a beautiful job of providing access to just about every type of family history information you might be looking for–whether it be in the form of a searchable database or an easy to read guide.

18 Billion Genealogy Records Are Free for 2 Weeks

Get two full weeks of free access to more than 18 billion genealogy records right now. You’ll also gain access to the MyHeritage discoveries tool that locates information about your ancestors automatically when you upload or create a tree. What will you discover about your family’s past?

Claim My 2 Week Free Access

National Archives of Ireland

The National Archives of Ireland have done a really good job of making their online databases simple to find and use. They offer census records, soldier’s wills and more in their genealogy section. This is the place to start if you are looking for an Irish member of your family tree.

UK BMD

This site has thousands of links to genealogy research sites for the UK. They list both paid and free resources, but it seems that most we have used have been free. Many of the sites are geographically focused, or center on one surname–but others are much more extensive. You’ll have to dig around on UK BMD to find what you need.

Don’t forget that many of the sites we have included in our free ancestry search article (such as FamilySearch), as well as our best genealogy research sites infographic, are also very helpful when researching your ancestors from the UK and Ireland.

You might also like:

The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Researching Your Ancestors in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland

The 10 Collections You Need to Know for Irish Genealogy Research

Image Credit: James Morley

How to trace your ancestors in the British Isles

The British Isles’ greatest export over the past few centuries has been its people, meaning that many, many tens of millions of people today in America will be proud to claim ancestor connections back to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These diaspora populations sometimes chose to come to America for the new opportunities it offered, and at other times were fleeing the terrible conditions in the British Isles.

Finding out about your family connections to the British Isles will be a revelatory experience, often taking in epic, dramatic and often tragic eras of history – everything from the devastation of the Irish Potato Famine and the brutality of the Highland Clearances, to the adventure of the Gold Rush, the pioneers and of course the Pilgrim Fathers and their quest for a new land full of promise to live and worship in the way that they wished.

Here are 3 steps to help you learn what you need in order to fulfill your quest to trace your ancestral connections back to Britain.

1. Take stock of what you know

Ensure that you have gathered every possible clue of names, dates and places relating to your ancestor in America, before trying to trace them back to Britain. This collection of clues will help you to identify the correct person in Britain.

Ask family members if they have handed down information, which may point you in the right direction, but beware that details may have become muddled over time.

Study the other people in the dwellings, neighbourhood, occupations and places of worship in which your ancestors lived in America. When arriving in a new place people often congregate with friends or family members, or people from the same country or place of origin. The clues you find out about your ancestor’s communities will help you learn more about where to look for their origins back in Britain.

Investigate their surname – while many surnames do have multiple places of origin, gaining some background information about the places your ancestor’s surname came from will give you hints about probable places they originated in Britain.

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2. Now you’re ready to look at British records

If your ancestor arrived in America from Britain in the past few centuries then you’ll find there are a wealth of nation-wide collections of historic records that you can search. The reason why it’s good to be able to search nation-wide is that it will help you locate your ancestor in the records even if you’re not sure precisely whereabouts they came from in Britain.

Census records – the census records for England, Wales and Scotland will help you find ancestors from 1911 back to 1841. For Ireland the only complete censuses to survive are the 1911 and 1901 Censuses. The census (and birth, marriage and death records) for England and Wales are held together, with Scotland separately, and Ireland separately again.

Useful websites include:

  • www.ancestry.co.uk
  • www.findmypast.co.uk
  • www.myheritage.com
  • www.thegenealogist.co.uk
  • www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  • www.familysearch.org
  • www.census.nationalarchives.ie
  • www. freecen.org.uk

Birth, marriage & death records

The birth, marriage and death records (BMDs) are searchable as national databases. These records began to be collected in the mid-1800s, like the censuses. The BMD records are available for:

  • England and Wales, BMDs from 1837 
  • Scotland, BMDs from 1855
  • Ireland, BMDs from 1864 for all (with marriages from 1845 for Protestants only)

Useful websites for BMDs are the same as those for the census listed above, and:

  • https://civilrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/
  • www.freebmd.org.uk

Parish registers of baptisms, marriages & burials

There is no one single place to find all the parish registers – but many are available online and more continue to be added. Parish registers continue to be kept up to present times, recording the baptisms, marriages and burials of people within a parish. They are useful as they have been kept for centuries.

Many of us will be able to use parish registers to trace our ancestors back into the mid-1700s relatively easily. Before that it does get progressively harder, as some records haven’t survived the passage of time, and because the level of detail kept can be scant. However if you’re fortunate you may be able to use parish registers to trace your family lines back into the 1600s and even 1500s – to the time of King Henry VIII.

Useful places to search for parish registers include the websites listed for the census above, plus:

  • www.freereg.org.uk
  • https://churchrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/

Parish registers have often been transcribed by family history societies (see more below).

3. Exploring more deeply

Using the census, BMDs and parish registers you will have cast the net wide and hopefully found details to locate your ancestor in the British Isles, and to start to gather the branches of your family tree in Britain.

Other records

There are other records that will also prove well worth searching. Here are just some examples:

Passenger lists, Military, Land records, Newspapers

These may all be explored in the popular genealogy websites mentioned above. No single site has all the records – but they each hold millions of records.

There are thousands of archives around the British Isles. A very useful starting point is the UK National Archives website, which has a ‘Find an archive’ map: https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/find-an-archive

The main national archives of the British Isles are:

  • National Archives - https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/
  • National Records of Scotland - https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/
  • National Library of Wales - https://www.library.wales/
  • Public Record Office Northern Ireland - https://www. nidirect.gov.uk/proni
  • National Archives Ireland - https://www.nationalarchives.ie/
  • National Library Ireland - https://www.nli.ie/
  • British Library - https://www.bl.uk/

Family history societies are also extremely well worth contacting. They tend to concentrate on the ancestry of a particular county or local area. This means that among the members there is a wealth of local knowledge and often when you become a member you will be able to access the records on the members-only area of that family history society’s website.

There are good listings of family history societies at:

https://www.familyhistoryfederation.com/societies-az

https://www.safhs.org.uk/

Need a hand? If you have a query about tracing your British ancestors, email us at [email protected] and we’d be very happy to try to help you. Good luck with tracing your ancestors back to England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales – you’re sure to love the journey.

Find your ancestors in Family Tree

Are you trying to find an ancestor or deceased family member? If so, we encourage you to search our Family Tree, the largest single family tree in the world. It contains over a billion names. The tree is free and public, and the ancestor you're looking for may already be in it.

Gather everything you know about your deceased relative - their full name, birth or death information, if possible the names of parents, spouses or children - and follow these steps to find out if they are listed on Family Tree. Or click on the button below and go directly to our "Search" page.

Family Tree Search is a quick way to start building or adding more information to your family tree

If you want to find a relative who might be in the Family Tree, go to the FamilySearch website and then in the Family Tree tab select Find . Get ready to sign in or create a free FamilySearch account. (You can also access this page via the tab Search and select Family tree .)

On the Find page, enter what you know about your deceased relative. The system will open a page with a simplified search bar that works for the initial search. However, for best results, we recommend that you open the advanced search function by clicking More Options .

Tree Search looks and functions much like the FamilySearch Historical Record Search tool. We did it on purpose, of course. Any search strategies you have learned for this page will be equally useful here. Let's go through each filter individually and see how they work.

1. Names

Let's consider some recommendations for filling in the fields for full name.

  • Enter the person's last name in the Last Name field.
  • Use the Name Variation tab to list maiden names, nicknames, aliases, other spellings of the first name, middle surnames, and any name changes that may have occurred during the person's lifetime.
  • 2nd floor

    Entering the gender of a person Male or Female if known, will narrow your search results.

    3. Events from life

    In the line "Add event from life" enter the information you know about where this person was during his life. Be sure to change the filter from Any to Birth , Marriage , Residence or Death . This will probably make your search more accurate.

    4. Family members

    In section Add family members , enter what you know about the person's spouse, father, mother, or other relationship. You can use the same guidelines and strategies for entering names here as before.

    5. Exact Search

    Directly below the Family Members section is the radio button Show exact search . Be careful using this option. Use it only when the system produces search results in such a volume that you cannot analyze. The actual data in Family Tree may differ slightly from the names, dates, and places you enter, so it's best to be flexible with your search criteria.

    It is important to note that by enabling the checkbox Show exact search , it is not necessary to immediately search for exact criteria. The system opens fields opposite all search filters on the screen, which you can select or leave blank. It is strongly recommended that you fill in only those fields for which you absolutely need to search by exact criteria. Start your search using a small number of these fields. In other words, you can search for exact criteria for a specific date of birth without using other fields.

    After entering the information you know, press Search to search for your ancestor's profile in Family Tree. When the system returns the search results, click on the name to see a summary of that person's information. Then click on the name in the dropdown box to go to the person's page.

    Helpful Hints for Finding the Right Person

    Too Many Results

    Use the gray button filters at the top of the page to quickly narrow your search results:

    In the search, as shown in these screenshots, I first enter my great-grandfather's name. As you can see, this broad search brought up a lot of results - too many to explore. If I click on the filter Birth and select a specific region of the world, I can immediately decrease that number.

    No results or matches

    If your initial search was unsuccessful, use the search bar on the right side of the screen to change your criteria. Note: Depending on your screen size, the search bar may be initially hidden. If so, press Search in the right corner to open it.

    To broaden your search, you can change things that might be too specific, such as the exact year. Increasing the date range for a particular event can be an effective way. You can also try selecting Birth or Place of residence instead of Any in the Life Event section. If applicable, use the "Name Option" line to enter your maiden name, alias, or other spelling of the first name. Then press Search .

    If you still can't find the person you want after editing your search, that person may not have been added to Family Tree. In this case, you can add this person yourself.

    To add a person to the Tree, you will need their name, and then you can enter as much additional information about them as possible, such as where the person was born or where they lived.

    Hint: If you are missing information about your ancestor, try to find it in the historical record, for example, in a birth certificate, marriage certificate, military card or death certificate.

    Using the "Settings" option to customize your search results

    Experienced researchers will certainly appreciate the functionality of the "Settings" section that appears at the top of the search results page. In Preferences, you can make important decisions about formatting and exporting search results.

    For example, the first option in the "Settings" section is the choice of displaying search results as a data page or as a fixed table: data page. The format makes it easy to scroll through and find matching results.

    In contrast, with a fixed table, we can analyze a small subset of the search results that we think are promising and see how they match what we knew about the person.

    Next in the Preferences panel is the Language Options section. Here you can choose to view the information as it was originally entered into FamilySearch, or view it with minor edits, which we call "translations," to make it easier to read. A simple example would be "January 1855" which, if refined or translated, would be "January 1855".

    Last but not least in the Preferences panel is the option to download search results to your computer. Perhaps you have your own methods of accounting and filtering information. If yes, then you can download the information in any of the following file formats: XLS, XLSX, CSV, ODS, TSV and ODS.

    Find your ancestors in FamilySearch Family Tree!


    Ready to learn something new about your ancestors? There is room for everyone in our Family Tree. We want everyone to help in its creation!

    Select a deceased ancestor and see if their name is among the 1.2 billion names in the FamilySearch Family Tree! Find a person's profile and enjoy stories, photos, timelines and more about them. Then think about what you know about this person and what you can add to their profile. Perhaps one of the relatives will thank you in the future!

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