The Larkfield Society

Where memories are recalled

What is the Difference between Genealogy and Family History?

Copyright – Jeanne Bunting, December 1997,
This file may be copied and distributed free of charge, but only in its entirety, including this paragraph. It may not be copied or distributed for financial gain, neither may it be used in any kind of publication.
This file is a lengthened version of the file which appeared on the Sports and Recreation Community at the beginning of December, 1996.

My dictionary says it is the study of family lineage, but those of us who have delved into it can tell you that it is much more than that dictionary definition! My dictionary also says that since the 18th century it has developed into subsidiary disciplines and list amongst them – history. Family History is far more interesting than Genealogy. It is here that we place people in their time period and find out how they lived, putting the ‘meat on the bones’ so to speak. Laverne Galeener-Moore has written a humorous book described as “An uproarious, irreverent romp through the field of genealogy. Her title, “Collecting Dead Relatives”, sums up for me the way in which some people tackle their genealogy and family history, galloping backwards in time collecting dates and places – rather like train spotters collect train numbers! This is not the way to do it! Read on to find out how you can best trace your own family history in the UK and also how you can become addicted to the fastest growing hobby in the UK.
I have always brought my children up to believe that if you can read, you can do anything (though computer manuals soon put paid to that theory!)! I would suggest that you start by buying a book or borrowing one from your local Library. Books for upwards of £3.00 are available from most local Family History Societies. BASIC SOURCES by Andrew Todd and BEGINNING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY by George Pelling are good for beginners. Another useful book is the Federation of Family History Societies publication THE FAMILY HISTORIANS ENQUIRE WITHIN by FC Markwell and Pauline Saul. The Society of Genealogists (see below) has an excellent bookshop and their booklist can be downloaded from their web page at
There are also two excellent publications which are available in England, the USA, Canada and Australia at least. They are FAMILY TREE MAGAZINE which is for the more experienced researcher and also the new PRACTICAL FAMILY HISTORY which is aimed at beginners. FAMILY TREE MAGAZINE is a monthly magazine, while its sister magazine is bi-monthly. Subscriptions are available for both magazines and further details can be obtained by e-mail from

But don’t believe everything they tell you! I can remember my grandma (my mother’s mother) and my Nana (my father’s mother) quite clearly. We used to visit them often, but I never once asked them about their early life. Now, they were both born in 1879 and if they could remember things their grandparents had told them about their early life, I would have been told of things which happened a century and a half ago. Most of us leave it too late to question our relatives. Use a cassette recorder or video camera and ask about other people in the family. Dates and places are vital and although exact dates cannot always be remembered, they can be sometimes pin-pointed from “before the war”, “just after the war”, “I was still at junior school”, “your mother was six at the time” etc. Draw up a family tree and update it each time you get new information. Show it to your relatives – it helps to jog their memories.
Take copies of any certificates and photos etc. that they may have. I can recommend the laser copy technique for copying old photographs. They can cost somewhere around £1 for an A4 sheet, but you can often get several photographs on one sheet. I used this technique recently when we were in Canada and I was able to borrow family photographs just for the day. And while on the subject of photographs, write on the backs of all your photographs or on a separate piece of paper the names and relationships of everyone in those pictures. So many people have acquired family photos with no identification on them. Once those who would have recognised them are gone, so too is any hope of finding out who they all are.
Remember also to write down your own memories for your children. My sister and I recently got our 88 year old mother to write some of her early memories. It really does give an insight into the way she lived when she was a child.

Discover the family skeletons! You can work backwards a generation at a time using certificates. Birth certificates give the maiden name of the mother and also the address at the time of the event. Marriage certificates the names and occupations of the partner’s fathers as well as addresses at the time. Death certificates give the age at death (you can therefore work out the birth year) and the address at the time and cause of death. After 1837 it was a legal requirement to register these events although people did not always do this in the early years. This is known as Civil Registration. Returns were made originally to the General Register Office at Somerset House in London by local registrars and events of each type are indexed alphabetically for each quarter of each year from 1837 to date. Marriage certificates are also indexed by spouse’s name. A reference number gives the area. After certain dates, extra information is given in the index other than Christian name and surname. This is mother’s maiden name for births, spouse’s surname for marriages and age at death for deaths. Once the reference number has been found from these indexes, a copy of the certificate can be ordered for £6 and sent to you post free. Access to the indexes is free of charge.
So, to give an example, you would look for the marriage of the couple who appeared on a birth certificate. The marriage certificate would tell you their fathers’ names. You would then look for a birth for each of the fathers, or their marriages. Since the age of the marrying couples is either in full on the certificate, or it says “Full age” (usually 21) then you would work back from there to look for a marriage. Of course, it is much easier if you have an uncommon name or combination of names.
The indexes were originally moved from Somerset House to St. Catherine’s House and this year to The Family Records Centre, 1 Myddleton Street, Islington EC1R 1UW, telephone 0181 392 5300. Certificates can also be ordered from the Local Register Office where the event took place. Addresses for these can be found at The indexes are also on microfiche at a number of Public Libraries if you cannot get to London and are also available at Mormon Family History Centres which I will come to later. One other way of obtaining certificates is to use a Record Agent which is the most economical way of obtaining certificates if you live abroad. Record Agents advertise in FAMILY TREE MAGAZINE and PRACTICAL FAMILY HISTORY. I would not recommend writing directly to Southport for certificates as I have heard the cost for this is in the region of £16.
The Scottish Civil Registration indexes which started in 1858 are available on microfilm at the Society of Genealogists and also at the Family Records Centre in London. They are also available at Family History Centres. To apply for a certificate you need to contact The Registrar, New Register House, Princes St., Edinburgh, EH1 3YT. If you go to New Register House in person, you are able to copy details from certificates, unlike in England, but a fee is charged. See below under Parish Registers for details of an on line service for Scottish records starting sometime in the new year.

One of the Public Record Offices employees wears a T-shirt bearing the legend, “Old Genealogists Never Die, they just Lose their Census”! Every 10 years from 1801 a census has been taken. The most useful ones for Family Historians are from 1841. After 100 years, these are available for public scrutiny. Those available for viewing at present are kept at the Family Record Centre (address above). Local Studies Libraries often have their own areas or counties. The dates that the census were taken are as follows: 7 June 1841, 31 March 1851, 8 April 1861, 3 April 1871, 3 April 1881, 5 April 1891, 31 March 1901. In 1841, they give name, address, age (usually rounded to the nearest 5 years), sex, occupation and whether or not born in the county. From 1851-1881 extra information is given – relationship to head of household, whether married or single, actual age and place and county of birth. Limited place and sometimes street indexes are available. Many local Family History Societies have name indexed their own area especially for the 1851 census. Access to the census is free of charge.
The census is a wonderful way of finding family groups. Often, you may find grandparents living with the family and you are immediately back another generation. With small villages, it takes a comparatively short time to search the whole village, but when it comes to large towns, you do need to have an address and this is where the certificates come in also. There is usually an address where the event took place. If it is between census years and your family are not at that address, try finding a certificate for a child born to that family in one of the census years. The most important information on the census is the place of birth. Before Civil Registration and before the Census, you will have to refer to the Parish Records which I will describe next. Without a place of birth, you would have to search every parish in the area, but if the census gives a place of birth, then you have a starting point.
There is a national index to the 1881 census on microfiche. It was compiled by the Mormons in conjunction with the Federation of Family History Societies and local Family History Societies. It is on microfiche and can be seen at most Family History Centres and also at the Society of Genealogists. Many local Family History Societies also have a copy which their members may look at. It has four sections. A surname index, a birth-place index, an as enumerated index and a census place index. All are cross referenced, but I would remind you that you must go back to the original as there are mistakes in the index.

Delve into the Parish Chest! Before 1837, you will need to look at Parish Registers. In 1538, Thomas Cromwell decreed that incumbents were required to keep a book containing records of baptisms, marriages and burials as well as banns of marriage and recent legislation made it compulsory for all completed books to be lodged with Local County Record Offices and for the public to be able to see such records. Not all registers have been deposited and it is sometimes difficult to view the ones which have not. It is however your right to have access to such records. Until the 1730s, registers were kept in Latin. Hence you may find an entry which says ‘Guilliamus filius Guilliami’, which means ‘William son of William’. The amount of information in Parish Registers varies from parish to parish and from parish clerk to parish clerk. Some made a very full entry including the wife’s maiden name and the date of birth of the child, while others will simply give the date of the baptism and the parents’ Christian names. Much later, non-conformist churches appeared and were recognised but they still had to keep the same records. Some non-conformist records are on microfilm, at the Family Record Centre, (address above) while others are held locally. Access to Record Offices is usually free of charge though a few are now charging £1-£2 for a day.
There is a useful file in the ROOTS forum library (Section 1 Information files) called PARISH.ZIP. It is an ACCESS database of all parishes in the whole of the UK giving their country, county, eastings and northings and ordnance.Survey map reference. It also has a built in query which allows you to find all parish within a specified radius which also gives the angle and direction from the specified parish. This can be very useful when you need to widen the search for an event which you cannot find in the parish where you expected to find it.
Just as with the census, many local Family History Societies have transcribed and indexed local parish registers, but here I must issue a word of warning. Useful though a transcript and index may be, it is not regarded as a primary source. You should always go back to be original. A transcript is one person’s interpretation of a record. It is not necessarily correct. You may interpret it differently, and also, there may be more information than there is in the transcript. Many of these transcripts and indexes are for sale from the local Family History Societies either in booklet form or on microfiche. Many are also available to look at in local County Record Offices and at the Society of Genealogists.
The indexes to the Scottish Original Parish Registers are available at the Family Records Centre and at Family History Centres. These date from 1553. From early 1998 a fully searchable index of Scottish birth and marriage records from 1553 to 1897, and death records from 1855 to 1897 will be available on the Web on the page of the General Register Office for Scotland at h and this page also gives details of how to apply for certificates.

The Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have filmed as many, but by no means all, of the Parish Records as they have been able to obtain access to. Some Bishops will not allow their records to be filmed because of the religious implications. These films have been surname indexed on computer and microfiched the average date range being from the 1500-s to the 1870s. They can be seen at the Family History Centres at the Churches. Most Local Studies Libraries have their own County and most Local History Societies have the whole country. Access to Local Studies Libraries is free of charge, as is access at Family History Centres, though the Mormons are grateful for any donations they may receive. Because tracing their family history is a very large part of the Mormon faith, they have many family history records and have been generous enough to open up their centres to non-Mormons. Records you can find there include not only parish registers, but also census and many other kinds of records. Their main library is in Salt Lake City in Utah which houses many millions of records. Most of these records are on microfiche or microfilm and for a small charge you can order any of these records, which you can look at at your local Family History Centre.
The IGI is also available to view on CD-ROM at these centres. It is part of Family Search which is a suite of finding aids. Apart from the IGI, there is also Ancestral File, the American Social Security Death Indexes, some American Army Indexes to those who died in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the Salt Lake City Library Catalogue. This is particularly useful as far as the IGI is concerned, because you can do multiple searches for names, parishes, dates etc. and copy your findings onto a floppy disk which you can take home and use in your own computer. Family Search is also available at the Society of Genealogists and at the Family Records Centre, although at the latter, you are not able at the time of writing this, to download onto disc though I understand this will be possible early in the new year.
Once again, you should remember that the IGI this only an index and only as good as its indexers. I found on a tombstone a reference to an Eleanor Trick, wife of William Trick, daughter of Thomas and Mary Lancey of Barnstaple. She died in 1820, aged 60. I could not find her in the IGI or in a transcript of the Barnstaple registers at the Society of Genealogists. There was a Henry ‘son of’ born to Thomas and Mary in 1760, but no Eleanor. When I looked at the actual register, I saw that the entry had been squeezed in between two others and quite clearly said ‘daughter’ of Thomas and Mary Lancey, and because I knew what I was looking for, I could just make out Elenor. I could see how the Elenor could have been transcribed as Henry, but not how ‘daughter’ could suddenly become ‘son’ in both transcript and IGI!

Where there’s a will, you’re away! After 1858, indexes of all wills are kept at Somerset House in London. Copies of the will can be obtained for a small fee. The indexes contain useful information and can be consulted free of charge. Before 1858 wills can be in Local Record Offices or at the Public Record Office, Kew. Some wills have not survived – the Devon ones were destroyed in the blitz. Wills usually contain names of the family and often the relationship to the deceased as well as what was left to whom. PRO leaflets on this and many other subjects can be downloaded from
I have been able to construct whole families from a will. One will in particular helped me to find an address for a family in London who I suspected had ‘done a flit’ from Devon. The executrix of the will was given as daughter to the deceased and was a daughter of whom I knew nothing. I eventually found her birth certificate and found that she had been born in London whereas the rest of the large family had been born in Devon. She was born in 1870 and the family were still at the same address in the 1871 census.
Early wills were written in Latin and you may need to have them translated. Later wills were written in Secretary Hand and were also difficult to read, but there are several books explaining how to read old handwriting. You will find them listed in the SOG book-list.

Reading between the lines! Copies of almost every newspaper ever published are available for consultation at the Newspaper Library at Colindale in North London. Many have been microfilmed and are available in Local Studies Libraries. Obituaries and wedding descriptions contain a wealth of detail and there are reports of all kinds of events which may contain an ancestors name. Access to the Newspaper Library is free of charge. Web page will tell you more about the library.
It takes a long time to go through newspapers. However, the time spent can be well worth it and you can find some real gems. One of my great great grandfathers was an agricultural labourer. I found an obituary to him and it turned out that he was a Methodist minister on Sundays and often walked 15 miles there and back to fulfil a preaching engagement, working in the fields again on the Monday morning. I also found that another great great grandfather had a dog called Carlo. The newspaper report told how the dog’s howling had been heard coming up through a drain in the centre of the town of Bideford. Apparently some boys had thrown it off the quay and it had crawled up through the drains and into the town.
Local Studies Libraries often have card indexes to some of the names in their local papers. This was how I found the obituary of the Methodist minister. The other advantage of a Local Studies Library is that photocopying is cheaper and also you do not have to wait for the newspaper that you want to read, because most of the papers are on microfilm.

Trade directories can be found in most Public Libraries and Local Studies Libraries. The Society of Genealogists has a good collection as does the Guildhall Library in London. There are also a number at the Family Records Centre and at most County Record Offices. They are especially valuable if you have an unusual name. My maiden name was Attersley which is very uncommon. I found an entry in a trade directory for a Charles Attersley who was a scale-maker. This was when I first began my Family History. I eventually found that he was a great great grandfather and I was able to find addresses for him in London for each of the census years – a different address for each of the census years!
Trade directories, especially for London and other large cities and towns can be very useful for telling you where a particular road an be found. There is usually a description at the top of each section of the road index which says that for example, Mile End Road (which was where Charles Attersley lived in 1881) ran from Whitechapel Road to Bow Road. Used in conjunction with maps, you can often pin-point the actual house that your ancestor lived in. There is an excellent run of old Ordinance Survey maps from the 1880s which are available from the Society of Genealogists covering most of London, showing street names and also actual houses.

Poll Books contain lists of who voted in various Parliamentary Elections. The arrangement within each book various considerably. Some are arranged by parishes, some by hundreds, some by wards. They also very in the amount of information they give. Some will even if addresses. They can be found in large Reference Libraries, County Record Offices and the Society of Genealogists has an excellent collection and has published a booklet giving details of their holdings.
Burgess Books give lists of inhabitants of various boroughs and can be an excellent source for finding addresses for an ancestor. They are available at the same places as the Poll Books, but are not always easy to search. There is no index and the lists are usually by parish or by street so it can take a long time to search for the person you are looking for. However, it can be well worth the time spent. My husband was looking for an address for a Samuel Robinson in Sheffield. I spent about an hour going through the Burgess Book for 1871 and eventually found 4 Samuel Robinsons. Looking at them in the 1871 census, he was able to say which one was his. It would have taken very much longer to search the whole of the Sheffield census.

This organisation has vast library with large amounts of family history information. Many parish registers have been indexed and are available in transcript and indexed form. The SoG arranges lectures and sells various Family History Publications. They will not, however, necessarily have a complete family tree for you as many people expect! They are also a repository for any genealogy or family history material. Membership costs £30 per annum but the Society’s Library can be used on a daily or hourly basis for £7.50 per half day. For more information about the SoG, see their web page – URL above in the first paragraph.

Most counties have a Family History Society – some areas have several. These societies index and sometimes publish local material – parish registers and census. Copies of most of this indexed material are available for consultation and also sent to the SoG and local Record Offices. They arrange lectures which cover all aspects of family history – not just local topics. They sell family history publications of all kinds. They publish a quarterly journal which contains articles of general and local interest, family history news and lists of the surnames which their members are researching. Membership costs between £5-£10 per annum. Details of local Family History Societies can be found at
Just because you have no interests in your home area doesn’t mean that the local Family History Society will not be of use to you. Most of us work for our own local Family History Societies in the hope that there are others in the areas in which we are interested doing the same kind of thing for us. Family History is essentially give and take, although many people are quite happy just to take and not to give. We often find that we cannot directly help the person who has helped us, but we can probably help somebody else which pays the debt.

Many people with unusual names and also some with more common ones collect all references to their surname. These are called One Name Studies and it is usual to collect all references from the General Register Office indexes, from the census, from the wills indexes and so on. An umbrella organisation called the Guild of One Name Studies publishes a register which contains all the names being researched and gives a list of contacts. You may or may not be asked to join before any information is given out. More information, and also a list of the names being researched can be found on their web page –

Surf the web (or as someone once put it, “wade in with lead boots”)! Like the SoG, do not expect to find your entire family history listed somewhere on the Internet. Also, do not expect to find any of the above actual records on line. What you can find is a wonderful collection of all sorts of material for putting the meat on the bones, maybe even indexes of transcripts. Above all you will make contact with other family historians who may be able to help you with your research. You may even find you are related to them. I can thoroughly recommend CompuServe’s Genealogy Forums for this – I have never met a more friendly and helpful bunch of people in all my years in family history. There are people there who will look up records for you, people who may get copies from local County Record Offices, people who will collect certificates for you, and people who will look up names for you on their phone discs. This can be an excellent way of contacting living relatives, especially if you have an unusual name. I wrote to the only Attersley in the London telephone directory and he turned out to be my father’s half brother. The last time they met was at the father’s funeral in 1947. My father was dead, but he had a surviving brother and I was able to reunite the two half-brothers. I was also sent a list of Attersleys in the Canadian telephone directory. I wrote to all of them and they turned out to be second cousins, grand-children of my grandfather’s brother who emigrated to Canada at the turn off the century. We were able to visit them in 1993 and also again this year.

Try Cyndi Howells’ List of Genealogy Sites. There are links to over 28,000 genealogy related pages – From here you can get to the GENUKI (Genealogy UK and Ireland) site which has a great deal of information, county by county.

Good luck with your searches, but beware! Family History is addictive – you will soon be hooked.

Blog Stats

  • 27,730 hits
© The Larkfield Historical Society 2015-2018