Now you have built your tree to 1837 and checked the 1841 census, and you are on a roll. However, from 1837 the census stop and civil registration have gone, You may have been lulled into a false sense of ‘this is easy.’ The UK is excellent in the newer records and has a lot online. Once you get to the beginning of civil registration, and the census hasn’t begun, things start to get difficult, but there are ways to locate more information about your family.

Finding Records Before 1837

Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, began Church records in 1537, but don’t expect to find them from that date as many have not survived. In 1598 the Bishop’s transcripts began, which are a good substitute so you should be able to get back to 1600 with time and effort.

An Interesting piece about Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell wasn’t actually a Cromwell; his birth name was Thomas Williams, and he called himself Cromwell after his uncle and was only distantly related to Oliver Cromwell. He kept the name until he died and his children and grandchildren were called Cromwell. Some did change their name back due to the negativity it caused.

Finding records

The easiest way to find records before 1837 is to search for the following records.

Church Records

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

Church records cover parish, congregational and chapel registers that are created by the church authorities. They contain all baptisms (or christenings), marriage and burial records and include names places and dates. Often the birth or death date may not be given, and I suggest you use the baptism and burial date or use circa/about etc., to show the date is an approximation. You can find these records at:

There are many more localised transcribed registers too if you search for them. If you can also compare them to the originals too, that is better as sometimes they can be wrongly transcribed.

Poor Law records

Many families turned to the parish at some point, to keep them. Poor law records have names and birth dates in, as well as where they were born and parents details. You can find the name of spouse and marriage details and burial date and location.

Poor law records include churchwarden accounts, settlement certificates and removal orders. Bastardy bonds and examinations and apprenticeship records.

Poor law records were at a parish level until 1834 and on poor law union levels after that.

Prior to the 1600s records of the poor were usually with the feudal lord or Manorial lord, as well as Catholic monasteries. It was Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic church that leads to the Poor Law Acts in 1597, 1598 and 1601, which began the Poor Law System in 1601.

Court Records

An ancestor of yours could be mentioned in government court records. You can find interesting  information in these as plaintiffs, defendants, jurors and witnesses were all named, but may also have an address, occupation, description, family details including marriage and spouses name, death and age.

Quarter sessions are the circuit courts held every three months in each county.

The court record is not the easiest of documents to use as most are not indexed, and the handwriting and terms are difficult to understand.

Occupational Records

Knowing your ancestor’s occupation is very important for distinguishing from other people of the same name. If your ancestor was a skilled labourer, you might find apprenticeships,  or trade or guild records.

Probate Records

Probate records are the court records dealing with wills and distribution of a person’s estate after their death. Until 1858, the Church of England courts dealt with proving wills. In wills, you often find details of a person’s, family, and they include the wills themselves, testaments, administrations or admins, inventories, codicils, bonds and act books. Your family did not have to be rich to leave a will, and they are worth looking into as they are well indexed, but it may take time to search several indexes and also to understand its archaic language.

Rules of English Primogeniture to Aristocracy

If you have English aristocracy in your family, it is essential to understand primogeniture. It sounds much more difficult than it is. Primogeniture defines the rights of inheritance for English aristocracy.

The first surviving son is the only one that can inherit both the title and the property. If the father was Sir, Lord or Baron etc., this son becomes the same on his father’s death.

The second surviving son is more than likely an officer in the military. The only way he can get the title and property is if the elder son dies interstate (dies without leaving a will.)

The third etc., sons often served God, becoming vicars and the like. The church was not a negative thing as may early parishes paid the equivalent of £40,000 to £100,000 and even more, in wages and expenses, depending on position, which was an excellent salary in those days.

There was no way a daughter could inherit either the property or the title, and it would bypass her and go to the closest male relative.  If she wanted the title (or female equivalent) and the property she would have to marry the male relative who inherited. Very Downton Abbey!

If they were nobility, the title could be transferred, but only to someone else who was nobility.

Monumental Inscriptions

Monumental inscriptions are memorials to people who have died, and the most common are headstones, gravestones, tombstones and plaques. Inscriptions vary but can include the name of the deceased, age, date of death and sometimes birth, age and names of relatives.  They may consist of occupation or cause of death.

Manorial Records

Many people lived and worked on the land belonging to the local manor, and their details may have been saved on the manorial records. These records are not well kept or indexed, but if you find them they may have information about your family, and sometimes the lease past through generations.

Military Records

If your ancestors were in the military, the is information to be found there, but you need to know the regiment, or on which ship he served.


Heralds were men appointed by the government to visit all areas of the country granting, and regulating, the use of coats of arms. These were granted to mainly knights, landed gentry and gentlemen. You may find information about relationships here.

Land Records

Land and property records show details of ownership and transfer of land and property. There is an assortment of information including names, addresses, occupations, property description, terms of transfer, heirs and relations and neighbours.


Newspapers are much the same as they are today, with articles, notices and news. If you had ancestors in the news, you can find lots of information, but it is not always true or correct. The birth, death and marriage notices are usually correct and can help find relatives.


There are many different ways to find older documents, but they are not always easy. To look for more information click here or check out this Findmypast blog here. Also watch this space for more about these different things to search.

If you have any questions or comments, post them here, and I will get back to you.









I am a genealogist with over 30 years experience. When I started my family tree I had to drive all over the country and site for hours in libraries and archives. Today it is much simpler as usually you can find the information on the web.


Meghan · June 22, 2018 at 10:27 am

Have you ever wondered who really is in your family tree? How far does your family tree really go? Really how many family members do I have? You will find out things that you have never known including things your parents never told you never the less you will learn more about your family and yourself using this website then ever before good luck and let me know about your news that you never knew about your family tree…

    admin · June 22, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Hi Meghan,
    Thanks for your remarks. I am fascinated by the things I find out that the family never knew. My great-grandparents lost two babies and the family members who remembered them couldn’t believe it. However the best thing I found is about my husband. He has two sisters, but it turned out really he had three sisters, one of which was adopted. We finally met her a couple of years ago. That was amazing!
    My family goes o 1505, but I have more people but need to figure out how they connect. It is a very addictive hobby, and I love it.

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