Researching Your Family History

Getting started

The aim of this site is to provide you with access to the research tools you need to create your family history.

Using information learned from your relatives, you can search for births, marriages and deaths and order certificates of these events from the GRO. The birth certificate will give you an exact date and place of birth, the father’s name and occupation, and the mother's maiden name. The marriage certificate will give the date and place of the marriage, the forenames and surnames of the couple, and their ages (before 1855 it will only show either ‘full’ if over 21 or ‘minor’ if under). It also lists the residence and profession of the father plus the names of the marriage witnesses.

You can then use these facts to search the census. Search for the known family members and you will often find the whole family listed with their ages (using SmartSearch). This information can be used to search for further births and marriages, so you can work your way back through the generations. The census will allow you to work back down the tree and help you to find any living relatives.

See our paleography/handwriting section for help with interpreting difficult writing.

It’s helpful to record the information you find in a family history program such as RootsMagic, which will enable you to print trees and create a family history.

As you work back, ask relatives if they can provide stories or information about particular family members.


RootsUK houses a collection of essential records for your family research, with the resources being especially useful for investigating the lives of your 19th and 20th century ancestors. In this introductory guide we take a brief look at each area of research that you can carry out using the resources of the RootsUK website, finding out what the records are and how to use them.

The RootsUK online service offers a wide array of material, but its main strengths lie in the accurate census transcripts, combined with access to the complete General Register Office BMD indexes. These are what have particularly attracted many subscribers, although there is also other material to explore, for example the 2005 London Electoral Roll.

Follow the links below to find out more about the records that can be accessed by members of RootsUK.


Smart Search logo

SmartSearch™ is a way of searching the birth, marriage and death data for 1984 onwards. It utilises an intelligent search system to perform a reverse look-up, and allows you to search for:

  • the partner from a marriage record
  • the complete family at the same address as the person whose census record you are viewing
  • a birth record from a death record
  • a birth record from a census record (only works for men, or for women who still use their maiden name)

SmartSearch™ can also be used in census transcripts from 1851 onwards to:

  • Find the rest of family at an address
  • List a complete household
  • Search for a birth records (only works for men, or for women who still use their maiden name)

RootsUK Research Guide by David Tippey

Getting Started

Researching Your Family History Using RootsUK

  1. Getting started
  2. RootsUK
  3. Smart Search™


The census

  1. What is the census?
  2. What does it tell us?
  3. Possible pitfalls
  4. Using the census
  5. Paleography (how to deal with difficult handwriting)
  6. Working with the census

Anatomy of the census page

  1. How the page is numbered
  2. The census information
  3. Other marks

About census indexes

  1. Using census indexes

About census transcripts

Using census transcripts

  1. Search terms


Birth, marriage & death records index

  1. What they provide
  2. Why buy certificates?
  3. Finding certificate references
  4. BMD Index Transcripts
  5. BMD Index Images
  6. Ordering certificates
  7. Additional features

Other resources

London Electoral Roll (2005)

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