Ancestry for all!

As part of a series examining family history resources for beginners, librarian Helen Skilbeck takes an in-depth look at using our core genealogy subscription website,…

So, what is Ancestry….
Ancestry is one of the main genealogical websites in the UK. It has records that can help you to create your family tree and includes the UK census records 1841 -1911, Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes for England and Wales 1837-2005, WWI service records, medal cards and pension information, West Yorkshire parish records (1754 – 1985), as well as passenger lists and telephone directories. Originally an American site, it now covers records from across the world. Most records are in the language of origin so if your ancestors hailed from France or Poland, now is the time to get practising your language skills!

What’s on there?
Ancestry has its own search engine called the Card Catalogue. Select the Search heading on the black menu bar, that appears at the top of each page, then look for Card Catalogue in the drop down menu. Use this to search for any topic or subject you’re interested in, from Leeds parish records to Caribbean obituary notices.

Ancestry homepage
Ancestry homepage showing search menu.

Alternatively, if you know an ancestor’s name, simply select the green Begin Searching button on the home page and type in what you know about your ancestor. You may get lots of results but it’s better to whittle these down using the filter options on the left than limit your initial search to one database and end up missing something.

Two handy links on the Ancestry home page are the UK Census Collection and the UK Birth, Marriage & Death Records, both in the Quick Links section at the bottom of the home page. More about these later!

So, what records are available? 

Census records
Click UK Census Collection under the Quick Links section of the home page to access these records, which were collected every ten years between 1841 and 1911 (data from the last 100 years is kept secret). Or choose a specific census year – bottom right of home page. Census returns provide all sorts of information about residents from all over the UK, including details of everyone from the youngest baby to lowliest servant.
Tip! Where possible, search for household members together by adding an extra name in the Family Member box. This will make it easier to spot the family group you’re looking for. 

1939 England and Wales Register
The 1939 Register was created at the onset of WWII with the purpose of assisting the production of National Identity Cards. It was later used as a basis for the National Health Service Register. It acts as an alternative census, providing name, age and address as well as occupation details and change of names. Select the Search heading on the black menu bar that appears at the top of each page then look for the Card Catalogue and type 1939 into the Title search box.
Tip! Some names are still redacted due to data protection laws – i.e. the person may still be living.

Example of an 1861 census record
Example of an 1861 census record. Can you spot the famous author?

Birth, marriage and death indexes
You won’t find actual birth, marriage or death certificates on Ancestry (only Register Offices hold those) but you can access indexes of registered births and marriages 1837-2005 and deaths 1837-2007. These will identify the relevant three-month quarter in which the event was registered and tell you which Register Office to contact to buy a certificate. Tip! The Births Index includes the mother’s maiden name from September 1911 onwards, making it possible to search for children born with the same combination of surname and mother’s surname… or, to put it another way, siblings!

West Yorkshire parish registers
Looking for a baptism, marriage or burial that took place in a Church of England church? Try this comprehensive collection of records, dating back to 1512. The quickest way to access the relevant database is by selecting Search on the black menu bar on the home page then choose Card Catalogue. Search for West Yorkshire in the Title box (top-left). For Baptist, Methodist and other non-conformist ancestors, there’s a separate collection covering 1646-1985.

Records from the First World War
Ancestry now holds all the surviving service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who served in WW1 and didn’t re-enlist before WW2. You’ll also find soldiers’ pension records and medal cards (1914-1920) and the useful reference document, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919.
Tip! Take a short-cut to the Army databases by looking at the Quick Links on the home page.

Criminal records
If you’ve got a wrong ’un in the family, you may be able to find out something about them in one of two particularly useful resources on Ancestry. The England & Wales Criminal Registers (1791-1892) list individuals charged with all sorts of crimes, and give information about the person in question, their trial, and sentence if convicted. Closer to home, there’s a fascinating collection of Wakefield Prison Records (1801-1914), which covers inmates from the whole of the old West Riding.

What else is available on Ancestry?
For details of wills, try the England & Wales National Probate Calendar (1858-1966). For voting lists, try the West Yorkshire Electoral Registers (1840-1962). For everything else, there’s the Card Catalogue!

How to access Ancestry
Free access to Ancestry is available in all Leeds libraries and community hubs. There is now no longer any remote access to the website.

Please contact the Local and Family History Library if you are having any difficulties – or 0113 378 6982

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Gina Miles says:

    That was informative! Thanks for your great effrort!

    1. Thank you! Pleased it was helpful 🙂

      Best wishes,
      Leeds Central Library

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