5 Steps to Finding Your English Ancestors

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Aside from keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity, the British have been known to preserve a document or two. If you come from English or Welsh stock, that leaves you with tons of possibilities for finding your family history.
Of course, no genealogy research is without its challenges, and for once, it’s not the lack of records – it’s how to find your ancestor within them. Between common names (John Smith, anyone?) and geographical boundaries, as well as what defines being “English” sometimes researching your English ancestry resembles looking for a needle in a haystack.
Tips for researching your English ancestry online:
1. Follow the bread crumbs (or in this case, scones). Like with most genealogy research, start working backwards in US records to try to pinpoint your English immigrant ancestor’s town or place of origin. Not everyone came from London or Liverpool. Once you know where they came from, get to know the area through maps and gazetteers, and learn about the history of their place of origin. That will give you insight into what records are available and the time periods and information they contain.
2. Use the catalogs. On, the Card Catalog shows over 1,500 results when narrowed down to English collections. From vital records and censuses (the English and Welsh ones) to wills and pension records, a search for your English ancestor can turn up a lot of results.
And on, there are also plenty of options. If your family came from Durham, Norfolk or Kent, there are records that aren’t yet indexed, but you can still browse the images.

Of course, if you are searching English records, you’ll need to turn to the site that specializes in UK genealogy research: FindMyPast. While the site’s collection of US and Canadian records is growing, the real treasure is all the English, Welsh, and Irish records they have in their collection. You can find all their records in their A-Z list.

3. Get familiar with the available records. Knowing what is available and when will save you time and keep your efforts from being wasted by hunting fruitlessly for a record that doesn’t exist – or isn’t yet online. Instead, by knowing what is available, you may know there’s an alternative record that you can get the same information from and put your effort in where it’s more likely to be rewarded. Start with the FamilySearch Wiki to learn about researching in the British Isles.

4. Put the “re” in research. Continue to evaluate and explore what you have learned and what documents you have already. Sometimes, those older documents will shed light on a problem once looked at with a fresh eye. Have you gotten all the leads and information from your census and vital records? What about those passenger lists and naturalization records?

5. Keep calm and carry on. This phrase may be overdone, but it’s still good advice, especially when it comes to your English genealogy research. Often, brick walls aren’t insurmountable. Just because you can’t find the solution to your genealogy problem right now doesn’t mean you won’t in a week or a month or a year. New items are being indexed and added to online collections all the time. Take a creative approach, put it aside and tackle a different problem, do some cluster and collateral research, come back to it later, and repeat tip #4.
To learn more about finding your English family history and the records available, purchase our OnDemand webinar, Best British Genealogy Research Strategies or pick up our English genealogy cheat sheet.