Are you ready to begin researching English ancestors? Learn strategies & tips to begin tracing your ancestors now that you've traced them back "across the pond".
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Researching English Ancestors – Let’s Get Started

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Are you struggling to begin researching English ancestors? Your earlier research indicated your ancestors came to America from England, but where do you start?

Many American genealogy researchers look forward to – and dread – being able to “jump the pond” to in their genealogy research of English. Maybe you already have.

Was your experience like mine?

My Talbot(t) family research landed me squarely on English soil, and I had NO IDEA what to do next.

Really.  I had not an idea how to proceed.

See, you are probably like me. When you research ancestors on American soil, you know what records they generated. You know where they lived and how that location impacted their life choices.  You understand their religion and how to find those records. You understand your ancestors. (Or as my children used to say when they were younger: “You get them.”)

But cross the Atlantic to English soil, and I don’t “get them”. Additionally, I didn’t know what resources were available and where/how to find them.

But I will. 🙂

Researching English Ancestors – Let’s Get Started

If you area ready to research your English ancestors on English soil, for purposes of this post, I am going to assume you have exhausted your resources and strategies here in America. [Refer back to immigrant research posts here.]

As you began your research in England – perhaps a new location for you, the following will be good resources to learn the nuances of English ancestor research.

Note: This post is aimed at getting the researcher started in their English research and avoiding that initial overwhelm as you track your ancestors back to England.

English Census Records

Similar to the US, England created census records.  As US researchers, we are familiar with census records and they can be the core of our research both here in America and for our English ancestors.

The 1841 census is the first census  taken in England that is helpful to researchers and subsequent censuses were taken every 10 years. Look closely at the headings and the information gathered as this varies from US census records.

A few interesting facts to consider:

  • Census records actually started in 1801, but prior to 1841, the English census records did not contain names.
  • The 1841 English census rounds the ages of those listed down to the nearest “5”. So, a 24 year old might be listed as 20 years. Children under 15 years of age are listed with their actual age.
  •  The 1911 census is the most recent census available for public viewing.
1841 English Census page
Example of census categories from the 1841 English Census (Source:

Birth, Marriage, Death Records of Your English Ancestors

1837 is an important year to remember as you began your research into your English ancestors. Before 1837, BMD records will be found in parish records. After 1837, BMD records are found in the civil registrations.

Parish Records (Prior to 1837)

In 1837, birth, marriages and deaths were recorded through civil registration. Prior to 1837, birth, deaths and marriages were recorded in parish records. Going back to 1538, these are a gold mine!  The difficult thing is Parish records need to be researched in their individual counties and there were many parishes throughout England! Unfortunately, not all parish records are digitized.

Where to find parish records that are online?

Tip: For those parish records that did not survive or are too difficult to read, the bishop’s transcripts my span the gap. Bishops were required to record birth, marriages and deaths occurring in his parish. Essentially, the bishop was creating a list of his activities throughout a year.

Notice the types of information recorded.

1828 Bishop's Transcript for burials in Langley, Esses, England
Example of the 1828 Bishop’s Transcript for Burials in Langley, Essex, England

Civil Registrations (After 1837)

When civil registrations began in 1837, the result was a national birth, marriage, death index. The Civil Registration indexes is just that, an index. The index is used to order a copy of the actual certificate.

Find the England and Wales Birth, Death and Marriage Registration Indices can be found on  Here is an example of the type of information found on the marriage registration index.

England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837
Example from the England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005 (Source:

Other Resources for Researching English Ancestors


For accessing those records in English repositories or for help untangling your English ancestral lines, you sometimes will need a researcher based in England. For those occasions, I recommend Legacy Tree Genealogists.

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Are you ready to begin researching English ancestors? Learn strategies & tips to begin tracing your ancestors now that you've traced them back "across the pond".
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  • Bartholomew O'Donovan

    In the article, Researching English Ancestors the role of the Bishop and the role of the Parish Priest in the Church of England or Episcopal Church as it is in USA is confused. These two national churches are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
    In the Anglican Communion There are three orders of ordained ministry, Bishop, Priest and Deacon.
    The Bishop’s Transcripts are the reports sent by the Parish Priest to the bishop at the Diocesan Office.The Bishop is the top official in each Diocese. A Diocese consists of a number of Parishes. (Sometimes the lowest order of ministry, the Deacon may be also in charge of a parish but this is rare. He is usually under the care of a priest and in training for his eventual ordination as a priest.)
    There are about 40 Dioceses in the Church of England and there are other Dioceses of the Anglican Communion in the Church in Wales, the Church of Ireland and the Episcopal Church of Scotland.
    I would be happy to expand further on this topic if need be.

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