Tracing your ancestry


  1. Overview
  2. How we can help
  3. Useful addresses


Tracing your ancestry can be a very long, time-consuming process, so before launching into the project it is important to take some preliminary steps:

  • Decide which line of your family tree you wish to trace. It is so easy to be sidetracked by coming across records of other branches of the family, or unrelated families of the same name, and so waste time and effort.
  • It is always advisable to talk to older members of your family in the first instance and note down what they can remember. Look through family documents and memorabilia and search out any certificates that you already have, and any other relevant papers and photographs.
  • There are lots of books you can purchase or borrow from your local library, and also several monthly publications relating to Family History available at Newsagents.
  • Join a Family History Group. Genealogy is such a popular hobby that lots of local clubs and classes have sprung up.

How we can help

The Registration Service can help you with specific certificates or record searches.

For other help and information, local libraries can be an invaluable source, as they have relevant local publications and also often hold census records on microfiche or microfilm. See local history and heritage for more information.

There are many sites on the web that can provide help and information on genealogy and you can purchase various computer programmes to help you organise and store your data, once gathered.

Before 1837 there were no nation-wide schemes of registration, so it is important to know the place in which a person lived. If you do not know this the International Genealogical Index (IGI or Mormon Index) prepared by the Genealogical Society of Utah can be useful. It is an alphabetical index of names extracted from records the Society has filmed, which indicates the parish and county in which each one occurs.

Parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials in the Established Church generally begin between 1538 and 1598 and should continue to the present, unbroken except for the period 1640-1660. The amount of information varies, ranging from full details of parents, place of residence and occupations to merely a name and date.

Bishop's transcripts are copies of all entries made in parish registers, and sent in annually to the bishop. They survive from the 17th century onwards and are particularly useful in cases where the original registers are lost or difficult to read.

Registers of non-conformist churches were sent to London in 1837.

Marriage licence bonds and allegations: some marriages were licence rather than by banns. The bonds and allegations (which are part of the licence process) can provide extra information on the parties to a marriage.

Monumental Inscriptions: gravestones are also useful in giving some detail on a person's family relationships. Many churchyards have been surveyed in this way.

Wills and probate records give valuable detail about a person's social status and family relationships. Letters of administration or "admons" were granted usually to a person's next of kin when he or she died without leaving a will and are rather less informative. Up to c.1760 inventories listing the testator's movable goods were often attached to the will.

Useful addresses

Local Studies Collection

The Word
45 Market Place
South Shields
NE33 1JF
Tel: 0191 427 1818

Tyne & Wear Archives Service
Blandford House
Blandford Square
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel: 0191 277 2248

Durham County Record Office
County Hall
Tel: 0191 383 3253