Family History tips for beginners

How do I start my family history research?

Prepare yourself by reading as much as you can about the sources available to you and talking to older members of your family. Ask them about relatives and ancestors and whether they have any certificates, photographs, diaries, family bibles or other papers which could help you with your research.

You may even find that other relatives have already made progress with your family tree and are willing to share their information with you. It is also worth contacting your local family history group to see if anyone else has researched your name or family.

Start with your parents and work backwards through the generations. Remember, for each set of parents you will have two lines to follow so you need to ensure you record all of your research, even when you don’t find anything in a particular source, so that you are not looking at the same source twice. Keep a record of all sources you view and where they were found so that you know where a particular piece of information came from.

Moving on… to birth, marriage and death certificates

Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in 1837, and you can buy a copy of any certificate from the register office where it was originally issued. So you can start filling in the gaps in your family tree. For example: grandad’s birth certificate will detail his parents, great-grandma’s marriage certificate will give her age and details about her father, and so on.

If you don’t know where or when these events took place the General Register Office (GRO) Index lists all births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales from 1837 onwards. The GRO index is accessible online via the two main family history gateway sites, Ancestry and Find My Past, where it can be searched by name. If you hold a Hull library card you can access both sites free of charge in the Hull History Centre and most Hull public libraries. This information is also on Yorkshire BMD and FreeBMD.

Errors in the indexes are not uncommon, especially where transcripts were made during indexing. It was not until 1875 that penalties were imposed on parents who did not register a birth within six weeks, so some births were never registered, while some could be registered a number of years after the birth of a child. If you can’t find a birth in the year you think it should be in, try looking a couple of years after just in case it was registered later.

Copies of certificates originally issued in Hull can be obtained from Hull Registration Service.

Certificates of those registered elsewhere in England and Wales can be obtained from the relevant local registrar or from the General Register Office.

Moving on… to the Census

Taken every 10 years since 1841 except during the Second World War, the census lists everyone in the household on census night, including visitors, and gives: name, age, place of birth, occupation, and relationship to head of the household. The 1911 census, which is the latest census you can gain access to due to privacy laws, includes how long a woman has been married and how many children they have borne.

It is worth remembering that any records which have been transcribed may have been transcribed incorrectly and that spelling is not always accurate. It may therefore be necessary to try different variations of a surname. Also, the enumerator only recorded those in the household on the night of the census. If a member of a family was visiting elsewhere at this time, they will not be recorded in their own household.

The 1841-1901 censuses for the Hull and Sculcoates district are available on microfilm at the Hull History Centre and have been indexed by street. However, census returns from 1841-1911 are available on Ancestry and Find My Past, where you can search by name or address.

1921 Census

Taken on 19 June 1921, this census is a survey of 38 million people living in England and Wales covering 8.5 million households together with private and public institutions, from prisons, public schools, military bases and workhouses.

It offers a fascinating snapshot of life 100 years ago in the aftermath of the First World War by providing more detail than any previous census. Not only does it include age, birthplace, occupation and residence as found on the census from 1841-1901, number of rooms and members of the household from 1911, but it also provides their place of work, employer details and gives "divorced" as an option for an individual's marital status.

What make it important is that it will be last census release for England for 30 years, with the 1931 Census lost during the Second World War and due to the war the 1941 Census was never taken.

Unfortunately the 1921 Census cannot currently be viewed free of charge on the Findmypast Library Edition and we are therefore unable to answer any enquiries or provide free access to it in the History Centre.

Two regional hubs have been chosen to provide free access to the 1921 Census and it can also be accessed free of charge at The National Archives in Kew.

Further details of how to access the Census can be found on the Findmypast website.

1939 register

An important addition to census-type records is the 1939 Register,  taken on 29 September 1939. All civilians in Great Britain and Northern Ireland had to give details of name, address, marital status, date of birth and occupation, and the information was used to issue identity cards. The records for England and Wales are now available to be searched by name or address on Find My Past. However please note if the person concerned is still alive, or under the age of 100, then the record will be closed.

Moving on… to burial records

Burial records can provide you with a lot of information, even alerting you to the fact that your ancestors had more children than you were aware of. Many children died in infancy and the only way they can be traced is through records such as these. There may be a headstone that can be photographed, but even if there’s no stone there will certainly be an entry in a burial register somewhere. Tracking down the right register can take a little detective work since there were over 50 burial grounds inside the city boundary.

Hull Corporation opened its first public burial ground in 1861 and now has four large municipal cemeteries (Western, Eastern, Northern and Hedon Road). The original records for these can be viewed at Chanterlands Avenue Crematorium, where the records of cremations in Hull from 1901 are also kept, and access is via Hull City Council Bereavement Services. Copies of these municipal burial registers are also held on microfilm at the Hull History Centre. They are arranged by date of burial within each cemetery and give the plot number for each grave. Plans of the cemeteries are available at the Centre and may be photocopied.

The History Centre also holds the original records of the privately-owned General Cemetery, in Spring Bank West (burials 1847-1972), the registers of which have also been microfilmed.

Then there are the city’s churchyards – some still open, some long closed. Most of their original records are housed in Beverley, with East Riding Archives

Monumental inscriptions (transcripts of churchyard headstones) are available for Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire in a series produced by the East Yorkshire Family History Society. They are arranged by place for villages and by church for Hull and are available to buy from the Society or for reference use in the History Centre.

Moving on… to church records

Sooner or later your research will take you back before 1837, so you’ll no longer be able to buy copies of birth, marriage or death certificates. So what next? The answer is parish registers – records of baptism, marriage and burial. These began to be kept back in the 16th century and of course still continue today.

Your census research will probably have given you a year and a place of birth for your earliest ancestor, so you’ll need to check the baptism registers for local parish churches around that date. Hull’s two main Church of England parish churches were Holy Trinity and St Mary’s Lowgate, but there were many others in the suburbs plus literally dozens of non-conformist chapels – so your detective skills may be needed.

You’ll need to visit the East Riding Archives in Beverley to see the originals of most of the Church of England records, although the History Centre keeps a copy of the Holy Trinity Registers and a small number of transcripts are also available. Some of these parish records are now available on Find My Past as part of their Yorkshire Collection. Catholic records are held by the Diocese of Middlesbrough.

Some nonconformist records, i.e. those protestant churches outside of the Church of England such as Baptists, Methodists, Quakers and Presbyterians, are kept at the History Centre. The catalogues of these churches are searchable on the History Centre online catalogue. The East Riding Archives also holds nonconformist records so you may find you have to search these records in both the History Centre and at the Treasure House in Beverley.

Other useful sources in the Hull History Centre

There are many other sources in the History Centre which may help your research:

Poll Books were printed after elections and list those who voted for each candidate, often giving the address as well. The last Poll Books produced were for the 1868 election after which the secret ballot system was introduced. The History Centre holds Hull Poll Books from 1747 to 1868.

Burgess rolls and electoral rolls list individuals entitled to vote at local and national elections, but remember, not everyone was registered to vote as initially you had to own property to qualify. All men over 21 were given the right to vote in 1918, and all women in 1928. There were no elections in 1916, 1917 or 1940-1944 due to the world wars. Electoral rolls can only be searched by address, not by name. We hold Hull burgess rolls and electoral registers from 1835 to the present day, excluding the war years.

Street directories from 1791 up to 1968 (though we have none for 1938-1953). However, directories were not produced every year and we do not hold a complete run of them. They are useful for finding out when someone lived at a certain address, but as they were compiled and issued by private publishing companies and primarily intended for business purposes, information can be selective. It is possible in most directories to search by address or surname, and businesses can be searched by type of business.

The index drawers in the searchroom and the library area allow you to search for an individual, a business, a street or a society individually indexed within certain records held at the Centre. Records such as fishing crew lists, Quarter Sessions records and business records can be searched in the searchroom, while the library area has indexes to newspapers, relevant periodical articles and societies. There is also a ships index for those ships registered in Hull from 1804.

We also hold an extensive collection of historical maps of the area and local newspapers are available to view on microfilm. Don’t forget the History Centre online catalogue, as the collections contain numerous documents relating to named individuals including wills and marriage settlements.

Moving on… to further useful websites

Commonwealth War Graves Commission for members of the armed forces killed in wars.

The International Genealogical Index, known as the IGI, is a website belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). The site contains millions of baptism and marriage references from parish registers which go back beyond civil registration in 1837. The site is free to use.

The British Newspaper Archive can be used to search local newspapers around the country, including the Hull Daily Mail (1884-1950) and the Hull Packet. This can be used free of charge in the Hull History Centre and Hull Libraries.

Some records of merchant seamen are available on Find My Past, as well as army records which go back as far as the Napoleonic Wars. The site has some records for World War I, as does Ancestry, but they are not complete as many were destroyed in World War II. Records from the American, Canadian and Australian census records are available on Ancestry. Passenger lists are also available on these sites.

Family History helpdesk

These are held at the History Centre on the 1st and 3rd Thursday mornings of the month between 10am and 12 noon. To check dates visit the helpdesk webpage. Members of the East Yorkshire Family History Society are on hand to help you get started or to give you ideas if you are stuck. You don't need to book, but it can get busy so come early.