Guide to British Isles Research

      Compiled and annotated by Linda Jonas

Where to Begin


Before beginning your British Isles genealogical research, you should do is find out what information is already available about your family.

Start by looking for your family at If you use the Search for Ancestors screen, you will search the following databases:

The International Genealogical Index (IGI): The world's largest genealogy index is the International Genealogical Index. The IGI is a large database containing more than 600 million names. Several million additional names are added yearly. The IGI primarily indexes births, baptisms (called christenings), and marriages.  It rarely contains deaths.

The IGI is an extremely valuable research tool that every researcher needs to understand and consult, but good research techniques require that every entry found in the IGI should be checked in original sources to insure accuracy. The entries on the IGI are in two categories: events that were extracted from official records, and events that were submitted by individuals.  If you click on an entry to reveal the details, look at the "Messages" and "Source Information" and you will know the source of the entry.  If the Batch number begins with a C or a M, this is an extracted record and you should see a message similar to "Extracted birth or christening record for the locality listed in the record."  The extracted entries are much more reliable than those submitted by individuals.

Vital Records Index: These records have all been extracted from official records.

Ancestral File™: The Ancestral File contains lineage-linked information on about 20 million people. With Ancestral File, you can print pedigree charts and family group sheets of families contained in the database. Ancestral File was created many years ago, and the pedigrees were submitted by individuals. The database contains many research errors and computer merging errors, but it can provide good clues for further research. The file is now closed, and no corrections are currently being made.   

Pedigree Resource File: This file was created from pedigrees submitted from individuals who uploaded GEDCOM files to Only the index is onlinel the actual pedigrees are on compact disc. Most Family History Centers will have the compact discs, but you can also purchase any that interest you from

Other Websites

Next, check other Internet sites that contain large databases of genealogical records.  The largest of these is  This site is essential for U.S. and British Isles research.  If you don't have a paid subscription to, you can use it free at most Family History Centers and at many public libraries.  You will want to look at their pedigree collections in the Trees and Community section. Also use Cyndi's List to see what other genealogical websites exist. To save your favorites sites for future reference, you may want to create a separate folder for Genealogy in your Internet Browser's list of Favorites or Bookmarks.

You will want to regularly return to,, and Cyndi's List

Family History Library Catalog

After you have checked the Internet to see if anyone has been researching your family, you will use the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) to look for published family histories or genealogies that have been published by someone else. You should also check the catalog of your local public library. A distant relative may have already done much of the work for you. Look for local histories that may contain details about your ancestor or his community. After looking through the many secondary and compiled sources, you are ready to look at original records.

Family History Library Catalog™ (FHLC): The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has a very large collection of records from the British Isles.  In fact, one entire floor in the Family History Library is devoted to the British Isles. The majority of the Family History Library's microfilm and microfiche materials are available to researchers at Family History Centers through rental and indefinite loans.  In addition, the FHL has a photocopying service to copy pages from books. Mastering the FHLC is your key to finding research materials available in the Family History Library (FHL). Family History Library call numbers are given for many of the records in this Guide to British Isles Research so that you can find them easily in the Family History Library Catalog.

Get started with your British Isles Research

Hopefully you have now found the place of origin in the British Isles of your ancestor.  You are now ready to begin research in the records of the British Isles. If you need help with tracing your American ancestor to his place of origin in the British Isles see Tracing Your Immigrant Ancestor.

General British Isles

Have you used the "Where to Begin" section to find out what information is already available about your ancestors? If so, use this section to help you get into British Isles research materials.  Most of the materials listed are available from the Family History Library through Family History Centers worldwide.

The following items are only a select list of materials. These items are in the process of annotation.



Bevan, Amanda, ed. Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office provides a good overview of the wealth of resources that are available at the Public Record Office. Advice is given on how to get into each of the record classes and what approach will give the best results. Further references are also supplied for you to study a particular subject in depth.

Chapman, Colin. Tracing Your British Ancestors provides an overview of the basic record groups to be found in British Isles research. It includes comments on England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Channel Islands, and Isle of Man.

Hamilton-Edwards, Gerald. In Search of British Ancestry.

Herber, Mark D., Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. This book is an excellent and very comprehensive guide to English records. It focuses on English research, but also contains information on Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. Highly recommended.

Pelling, George. Beginning Your Family History in Great Britain is a concise introductory text focusing on the essentials of research back to the sixteenth century in Great Britain.



Kew Lists are a detailed list of records housed in the Public Record Office [PRO]. The Public Record Office (located at Kew, Richmond, Surrey) houses the national archives of England and the United Kingdom. Until 1996, the PRO records were divided between two buildings, one in Chancery Land and the other at Kew. All records have now been moved to Kew. The Kew lists that are available to Family History Centers were published between 1986-88 with a 1992 update. They describe primarily records that were then located at Kew. The Kew Lists contain the Current Guide followed by the class lists.

The Current Guide is divided into three parts:

Part 1 contains an "administrative history of each institution, outlining the development of its organization and functions and indicating the classes containing its records." The institutions are in numerical order. For a complete listing of the institutions, see Administrative Histories. Part I of the Current Guide is on FHL fiche 6092282..

Part 2 describes record classes in alphanumeric order. FHL fiche 6092283.

Part 3 is a name and subject index to Parts 1 and 2. FHL fiche 6092284.

The Current Guide is followed by the Class Lists. Each class is given a Public Record Office class reference which is comprised of a lettercode followed by a number. The Class Lists are arranged in alphanumeric order on microfiche 6092285 - 6092372.

The Kew lists are the finding aids for the Public Record Office. They allow you to refer to specific documents when requesting copies from the PRO. For finding aids of other repositories see National Inventory of Documentary Sources below.

National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United Kingdom and Ireland (NIDS) is a finding aid collection on microfiche. NIDS is produced on microfiche in annual units by Chadwyck-Healey. It provides detailed listings including exact reference numbers for the collections in British archives, libraries, and museums. Using NIDS enables a researcher to plan an effective research trip, to write to a repository with a specific record request, or to hire a record agent to search a specific record.

Use the NIDS Register for a listing of NIDS repositories, descriptions of records, Chadwyck-Healey microfiche numbers, and FHL microfiche numbers.

A name and subject index to NIDS is on FHL fiche #6341118 (28 fiche). The index is contained on fiches 16-28 of the set. To use the index, look under the name or subject desired to obtain a reference number. Then look in the numerical listing of finding aids on fiches 1-15 to find the Chadwyck-Healey [CH] fiche number. A sample CH fiche number is 0.048.039. This is the Register of Testaments for Lanark, Scotland. "0.048" is the number assigned to the repository (in this case 0.048 is the Scottish Record Office). ".039" is the fiche number that contains the Register of Testaments for Lanark. To convert a CH fiche number to an FHL fiche number, use the NIDS Register.

Public Record Office Current Guide (1996 version). It is the update to the Current Guide contained in the Kew Lists above and has the same format.

You can search the Public Record Office Catalogue online.



Fitzhugh, Terrick V.H. The Dictionary of Genealogy: A Guide to British Ancestry Research. This dictionary contains descriptions and locations of the historical records of interest to genealogists. It includes explanations of obsolete terms, translations of the most-used Latin documents, and details about numerous family history societies.

MacLennan, Malcolm. Gaelic Dictionary.

Martin, Charles Trice. The Record Interpreter: A Collection of Abbreviations, Latin Words and Names Used in English Historical Manuscripts and Records. This book is a standard reference work, a "must" if you are reading old documents. It contains sections on Latin abbreviations; French Abbreviations; Glossary of Latin Words; Latin Names of Places; Latin names of Bishoprics in England, Scotland, and Ireland; Latin forms of English surnames; and Latin Christian names.

Richardson, John. The Local Historian's Encyclopedia provides the local historian and genealogist with basic information on a wide range of subjects including: land and agriculture; local community and its administration; taxes, services, rents, rates, and other dues; archaeology; education; social welfare; law and order; public utilities and services; transport; religion; the local militia; architecture; place names; coins and tokens; heraldry; trade, commerce, and industry; and bibliography. This book contains a wealth of difficult-to-locate information.

Saul, Pauline. The Family Historian's Enquire Within.



Cassell's Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (6 vols.) On microfilm:

Vol. 1 0599360 Item 1
Vol. 2 0924936 Item 1
Vol. 3 0599360 Item 2
Vol. 4 0929936 Item 2
Vol. 5 0599361 Item 1
Vol. 6 0599361 Item 2

Bartholomew, John. The Survey Gazetteer of the British Isles.

Landranger Map Series is a collection of 204 maps covering all of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales). The map scale is 1:50,000 (1-1/4" to 1 mile). At the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the maps have been bound into three very large volumes and are located on a table next to the British Reference desk. All 204 maps are completely indexed in the Ordnance Survey Gazetteer of Great Britain (see below).

National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (4 vols.)

Ordnance Survey Gazetteer of Great Britain indexes all (approximately 250,000) place names in the Landranger map series. The gazetteer provides the Landranger map number and a grid reference. Each entry contains the following information [this is the example used by the Ordnance Survey Gazetteer]:

Houses of Parliament GLON TQ 3079 51º 29.9' 0º 07.2'W X 176 177

The name of the place is followed by the county abbreviation [GLON is Greater London]. Next is the National Grid reference [TQ 3079] followed by the latitude and longitude. A feature code is next [A = antiquity (Non Roman); F= forest; H = hill; R = Roman antiquity; T = City, Town, Village, etc; W = water feature; X = all other features]. The final number(s) is the sheet number of the Landranger map(s). Since map sheets overlap a place can appear on more than one map. The Houses of Parliament appear on map numbers 176 and 177.

To locate the place on the maps, the only essentials are the map number and the grid reference. For Houses of Parliament you would obtain Landranger map number 176 or 177. The grid numbers appear along the edges of the map. For the "3079" in the above entry, follow the top (or bottom) of the map to number 30 and the left (or right) side to number 79. The intersection of the two grid lines is the southwest corner of the grid square that contains the Houses of Parliament.

In the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the Ordnance Survey Gazetteer is located on the table with the Landranger maps (see above).

You can also search the Ordnance Survey Gazetteer online.



British and Irish Biographies is a collection of numerous biographical publications on several thousand microfiche. It includes many obscure sources. The biographies were published during the years 1840-1940. The index is fiche #6342001. Instructions appear on the first fiche in the index.

British Biographical Archives is a compilation from 324 biographical reference works published between 1601 and 1929. Copies of the references were cut out and assembled into one alphabetical sequence, then put onto 1260 microfiche. It is easy to use and is on FHL fiche 6029710 - 6029735. To see the title page of the original source, see FHL fiche 6029709.

Marshall, George. A Genealogist's Guide lists family histories that appeared in print prior to 1903. It is book number 942 D24m, also on FHL film 0496451. It is continued by Whitmore's A Genealogical Guide.

Whitmore, J. B. A Genealogical Guide continues Marshall's Guide (above). It lists family histories published up to 1953 and is on FHL fiche 6054492. It is continued in Barrow's The Genealogist's Guide.

Barrow, Geoffrey. The Genealogist's Guide continues Whitmore's Guide (above). It lists family histories published up to 1977. It is book number 942 D24b, also on FHL fiche 6026284.



British Military and Naval Records: Muster Rolls include military records of Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War. They are housed at the National Archives of Canada. They are on microfilm, FHL films 0928940 - 0928947; 1689400 - 1689403. These records are indexed in the Index to British Military Records "C" Series below.

Index to British Military Records "C" Series 1757-1896 Located at the National Archives of Canada are records maintained by British forces stationed in North America. They include some muster rolls of American Loyalist regiments 1777-1783. The first FHL film number is 1683760.

List of Records of Disbanded Militia Regiments for transmission to the custody of the Master of the Rolls : The records of disbanded Militia Regiments of some English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh units are on 141 microfilms beginning with FHL film number 0917951.

Pension Records: At the time of discharge from the army, a soldier would be examined and discharged at one of two hospitals: the Royal Hospital Chelsea or the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Check the Chelsea records first and if your ancestor is not found, then check the Kilmainham records.

Royal Hospital (Chelsea, London) Pension Records: The Chelsea Regimental Registers are lists of soldiers discharged to pension. They are arranged by the regiments in which the soldier last served and by admission to the hospital. They give the award date and rate of pension. They are on 31 microfilms, numbered from 0854645 to 0854672 and 0852020 to 0852022. [Computer No. 0383327.]  James D. Becket created an index to part of the records for the period 1806 - 1838 and these indexes are on FHL films 1544780 and 1595009.

Royal Hospital (Kilmainham, Dublin) Pension Books (1759-1863) are arranged in chronological order. The British Isles Family History Society - U.S.A. is in the process of indexing these records. They are on FHL microfilms 0867585 to 0868534.



Apprentice Books of Great Britain: By an Act of 1710, a stamp duty was imposed on apprenticeship indentures. The tax records are in the Apprentice Books of Great Britain and give the name of the apprentice, address, name of the father, and name and trade of the master. The index to apprentices for the years 1710-1774 is on FHL,films 0477624 - 0477635. The index to masters 1710-1762 is on FHL films 0477636 - 0477637. If the stamp duty was paid in London (regardless of the location of the apprenticeship) the details will be recorded in the Town Registers. Otherwise they will be recorded in County Registers. Inland Revenue Town and County Registers are on FHL films 0824662 - 0824683; 0838740 - 0838850; 0841361.

Where to Begin / General British Isles / England and Wales / Ireland and Northern Ireland / Scotland / Channel Islands / Isle of Man /

Copyright © 1998-2006 Linda Jonas. All rights reserved.