Are you new to family history? The 1911 census could be the first step of an exciting journey into your family’s past.
Discover your family tree
The 1911 census provides an invaluable snapshot of life in the early 20th century, but for the family historian it is just a small part of a much bigger puzzle.
Before you start searching the 1911 census, you should make sure that you have the information necessary to start tracing your family history. The best place to start is with your immediate family; older relatives may be able to tell you something about your recent ancestors.
Ask the family about their history
No research can replace hearing first-hand accounts from the people whose history you want to trace. They may know the names of relatives whom it would take months to trace by searching documents alone, and may well have family stories that you won’t find in any records.
It is advisable to record your conversations, or at the very least take notes. This acts as a useful reminder of your source once your family tree begins to grow, and is also a document of your personal history for future generations. You should also remember that investigating your family's past may uncover some unpleasant surprises, as well as allowing you to discover fascinating facts and happy episodes.
Here are some of the basic questions that you may wish to ask your relatives. However, don’t just stick to these; you may have many more specific questions that you’d like to ask your family.
- What was their full name? Did they actually use this name, or did they have a middle name or nickname that they preferred?
- Where and when were they born?
- Did they ever talk about holidays or spending time elsewhere?
- When did they die? What was the cause of their death? Where were they buried?
- Were they married? If so what was the name of their spouse? When and where did their spouse die?
- When did they marry? Where did the marriage take place? Was this the only marriage for both parties?
- Where did they live?
- Did they have children? If so, what were their children’s names?
- Did their children marry and where did/do they live? If they are deceased where and when did they die?
- What was their occupation? Where did they work? Did they serve in the military/do an apprenticeship?
- What school or schools did they attend? Did they attend university?
- Were they a member of a church or chapel? Which religious denomination were they?
- Do you have any documentation of their life, such as birth, marriage or death certificates, last will and testament, passports, or other written records?
- Do you have any photographs or newspaper clippings of them? Do you know anything about their physical appearance, or accent?
- Would any other relatives have further information, memories or records relating to them?
The family home: heirlooms and history
The family home and the objects inside it can also help you find out more about your family: they may even be what got you interested in the first place. Look at old photographs, letters, cine films and videos to help provide answers and raise new questions. Also, look for interesting objects around the house and then ask about them. They may well have their own story related to how they came in to the family, or they may revive a memory or an anecdote from a family member.
A complete guide to starting your family history (new window) can be found on our sister site findmypast.co.uk.
Family history records: a guide to the records on findmypast.co.uk
Once you have spoken to your family, you can start to authenticate and expand upon their information. In order to do this you will need to look at more records.
Birth, marriage and death indexes
The most common place to start is by obtaining birth, marriage and death (BMD) certificates. The civil registration of these events with the General Register Office (GRO) became compulsory in England and Wales in 1837, and findmypast.co.uk holds the official BMD indexes of the GRO for England and Wales from 1837 to 2006. Looking at these records is an essential step in gathering the data for your family history as they supply the information that links one generation with another. Birth certificates record the date, place and, of course, name of the person born; the names and addresses of the mother and father; and the father’s occupation. Marriage certificates record the names, addresses and occupations of the people getting married as well as their fathers’ occupations. On death certificates you will find a person’s name, age at death and occupation; the cause of death and place they died and the name of the informant, who is often a relation.
Search the birth, marriage and death indexes now (new window)
Baptism, marriage and burial: Parish and other religious records
If you need to trace a birth, marriage or death before 1837, then you will need to look for the records relating to the baptism, marriage or burial of a person. Since these were conducted by the church (which in most cases was Anglican), you will need to consult parish records. However, not everyone belonged to the Church of England. Nonconformists, Catholics, Quakers, Jews, Moravians and members of other religious movements kept their own records, which can be found elsewhere.
Parish and Nonconformist records are now also available online. findmypast.co.uk has a collection of over 22 million parish records dating from 1538 to 2005 as well as some Roman Catholic, Jewish and Nonconformist records, and the collection is growing all the time. Search the parish records (new window) now
If the 1911 census has whetted your appetite for family history, you will find out even more from earlier censuses. You will find records for each census from 1841 to 1901 on findmypast.co.uk.
Search the 1841-1901 censuses (new window) now.
Overseas travel and emigration
If you hit a dead end with your research it may be that an ancestor went abroad, or that a birth, marriage or death took place overseas. Passenger lists and passport application registers
findmypast.co.uk, in association with The National Archives, is the official site for the UK Outbound BT27 Passenger Lists (new window). Try searching for them in findmypast.co.uk’s outbound Passenger Lists: 1890-1960. You may also want to look at the register of passport applications (new window) which records applications for passports between 1851 and 1903.
Births, deaths and marriages overseas
There are a number of resources you can consult if the birth, marriage or death of an individual took place overseas, such as consular records, military records or civil service lists.
- Consular records are the records of the of the British Consul or UK High Commission, which was responsible for noting the births, marriages and deaths of British subjects abroad.
- Military records also contain lists of births, marriages and deaths relating to people who were serving overseas, as well as historic lists and roll calls.
Other overseas records
If your relatives were employed abroad in a civil capacity there are a number of resources available on findmypast.co.uk that may be of use, such as the Bengal Civil Service Gradation List and the India Office list (new window). You can find a comprehensive guide to using all of these family history records (new window) on findmypast.co.uk.
Britain’s military documents are a useful source of information for many family historians, especially those relating to the First and Second World Wars, since these conflicts affected most British families. findmypast.co.uk has an extensive collection of military records (new window), which includes lists for both World Wars; births, marriages and deaths in the armed forces between 1761 and 1994; the Waterloo Medal Roll and the Waterloo Roll Call.
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