If you are completing genealogy research in the UK, or looking to start, you are in one of the best countries to do so.

The UK has rich and detailed genealogy records dating back to the 1500s. But before we get into this, let’s first look at an introduction to genealogy.

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What is Genealogy?

Genealogy is the study of family ancestry, deriving from the Greek words ‘Genos’ meaning family or offspring and ‘ logos’ meaning knowledge. In other words the knowledge of your family, which is sometimes translated as “the science of studying family history.”

There is, however, a slight definition difference between genealogy and family history.

Where family history focuses more on the life stories of the lineage, including health, education, occupation and residencies. Genealogy is more of a list of ancestors with documentation including birth certificates, marriage licence, and death certificates. Genealogists usually try to date back their ancestry as far as they can go.

Both are dependent on each other and it is wise when completing your genealogy to learn a little about each person. As well as being very interesting, learning of their achievements and abilities gives us clues to finding out information about related people. Aiding in completing the ancestry search.

History of Genealogy

Genealogy Julius Cesar

Genealogy has always been a part of human nature. So how far back does it go? Throughout history, we can find examples of rich and fascinating tales of genealogical recordings and references.

Descendants from God

The first records of genealogy were introduced orally, with no formally written documentation except for what we can find in historic text and poems. The Romans were fond of their genealogy, in their writings, we can find passages of text where the heroes were descendants from gods. One of the most famous examples is Julius Caesar, who is said to have been sprung from the line of gods Aeneas and Venus.

There are many civilisations across the world believed their most important people to be from godly descent. Many holy and sacred texts from around the world have books dedicated to genealogy and lines of descent.

Descendants from noble lines

In the western world, the first documented genealogy was between 1100 and 1500. With the focus on royal and noble lines, genealogy was used to ensure only the real successors earned the right to the throne. Some royal lines have been traced very accurately, for example, Queen Elizabeth II traces back to 825 to the lineage of Egbert of Wessex.

Written recordings of the ‘common’ population

From the mid-1530’s Henry the VIII created the Church of England. Which under the new law, the Church of England had to maintain a register of baptisms, marriages and burials, which the vast majority of the population adhered to. This is one of the main reasons why the UK has some of the best genealogical records in the world.

Really accurate genealogical records properly took effect in 1875, where penalties were issued in England and Wales for non- compliance in registering these documents.

Today our marriages, divorces, births and deaths are recorded with a local registry office. There are more than 600 registration districts throughout the UK and they all fall into a pipeline to the GRO (General Register Office).

We are lucky in the UK that our records go back so far. We are able to find out a great deal about our genealogy and who we descended from.

Types of Genealogy?

There are many ways to record and organise your genealogy research, we will outline the different types below.

  • Family Pedigree Chart
  • Ascending
  • Descending
  • The estate
  • The agnatic
  • Cognitive
  • Genetic Genealogy
  • Psychogenealogy

A Pedigree Chart is a common form of documenting your line of ancestry. The word pedigree derives from the Latin words, ‘Pedi’ meaning ‘foot’ and ‘grus’ meaning ‘crane’. A ‘crane’s foot’ with the lines and split lines, is used to resemble perfectly the succession of decent through the generations.

The Ascending genealogy is searching the direct ancestors of an individual (normally beginning with you). This can also be referred to as ‘backwards’ genealogy.

The Descending genealogy is looking for the descendants of an individual. This is also referred to as ‘forward’ genealogy. This can be from an important figure in history.

The Estate genealogy (also called Probert genealogy), is where professional genealogists trace beneficiaries for unclaimed estates left from the deceased with no wills.

The Agnatic genealogy is focused only on the male side of the ancestry history.

The Cognitive genealogy is search for the ascendants or descendants of an individual with a different name.

Genetic Genealogy is the science of studying the genetic chromosomes, genes and DNA of someone’s ancestry. It is used to research the genetic origins of an individual. Also, it can be used for further genealogy study, by linking people with unknown relatives (such as cousins etc) who can combine genealogy research. Scientists classify groups of humans with similar genetic genealogy into ‘haplogroups’. – Groups of people from a common ancestor.

Psychogenealogy is the study of psychoanalysis and genealogy combined. Scientists in this field have looked at the inheritance of behaviours, traumas and neuroses through a multitude of parents, believed this can go as far back as seven generations. This term was founded by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who believed that our connections to our ancestors can live in our unconscious minds. Which can bring both positive (humour, enthusiasm and creativity) and negative traits (debts, sadness and relationship problems) with us in our lives. Researchers say psychogenealogy can help individuals recognise and control the influence of the family ancestry.


Purpose of Genealogy?

Family PortraitResearching your genealogy can be done for a variety of reasons. Many begin out of curiosity or providing your family with knowledge on where they came from. But there are far more reasons to research your genealogy. Whatever your reasons, they are personal and special to you, your lineage and your ancestors.

  1. To find birth parents- many adopted people trace their ancestry to find out where they came from, and often to locate their birth parents and family. Or this can be used to find children of adopted parents.
  2. To determine paternity- some people may be anxious to find out who is the real biological father of a child from times past when DNA testing was absent.
  3. Reconnecting with lost family– many people have fond memories of someone from their childhood and are looking for a way to reconnect and find them.
  4. To find medical history– many people search their medical history to assess their risk of getting certain medical conditions for themselves and their children.
  5. To find relations to famous people- you may want to see if you are linked to any famous ancestors.
  6. To find a resemblance in a family portrait- maybe you or someone in your family look like an old portrait and you want to trace the relation.
  7. To find out how your ancestors were involved in history– you may know of an ancestor of yours being related to a historical event and want to find out their role.
  8. To validate stories– maybe you heard tales of ancestors from your grandparents and the curiosity leads you to find out the true stories.
  9. Preserving legacy- there may be a particularly important member of your family who you want to preserve their life story.
  10. Historic studies– people may just be interested in the ancestry of a famous family.
  11. Writing a Book – some people may want to write a book for their own ancestry or a historical event and are using genealogy for research purposes.
  12. Religion- the largest church in the world who actively advocates its membership to discover their genealogy is the Mormon church (Church of Latter-day- Saints).
  13. To find out about community history- many people are interested in how the culture of a community was formed, and what to find out about the families and people who influenced and shaped it.
  14. To pass on family traditions– many families have traditions that are vital to their core identity and wish for these ideals to be preserved along with the family name. Recording them and the ancestry of these traditions strengthens the bond for the future generations to follow.
  15. Proving lineage to join a society- for many people, providing their ancestry grants them access to certain societies and clubs. Often a direct line to that ancestor is required to join.
  16. To find heirs to family inheritance– many unclaimed fortunes are passed over to professional genealogists to find their rightful heir.
  17. Determining who owns the land- this can be completed personally or by a professional team of genealogists, but sometimes when the land is large enough determining the rightful heir can be difficult.


How to get started on researching your genealogy?

Before you get started you need to discover the reason for tracking your genealogy. This will keep you on track to stop you from going down the rabbit hole.

Genealogy research can very quickly become out of hand and send you down a trajectory that’s hard to come back from. In just 4 generations you trace up to 30 individual people!  Having a plan and a source that keeps you focused on a goal is the key to staying on track. It is also vital in keeping you motivated if you hit brick walls and feel you’ve exhausted your resources.

Ask questions and reach out for help to your family

One of the best ways to get information is to ask your family- especially while they’re still alive. You may be surprised how much information you’ll be able to retrieve.

Record with interviews and videos

When retrieving this information from family members it’s an amazing idea to record them speaking or even better video them. You’ll be able to capture their accent, their appearance, body language and mannerisms. It’s the best way to pass on information to future generations.

Come prepared with a ready-made list of questions. You can ask about their school, romances, marriages, children, jobs and more. Capturing their emotions as they answer will be precious.

Ask for official documentation from your family

As well as finding out stories, ask for documentation to validate and trace your ancestors. These can be newspaper cuttings, photographs, certificates, licences, diaries, bibles and letters. Trying to build as much information from your closest family members first will serve you well and make your research easier.

Ask what genealogy has already been completed

Don’t forget to ask around your family to see what genealogy research has already been found and recorded. This can save you a valuable amount of time and effort.

Follow a pedigree chart

A pedigree chart works best when you begin with you and the basic essential information of each person including name, date of birth, birth location, marriage date and location, death dates and location.

To get started, write out these details for yourself then draw two lines, one for each of your parents. Continue to fill in these details trying to complete as much information per person as possible.

As we mentioned earlier you can see how quickly the lines escalate!

This is why is it important to decide what type of genealogy you will research so you have a systematic approach to follow.

According to Gen UKI there are three commonly adopted ways to record your genealogy:

  1. Work on the agnatic line only. Many people just focus on male-line ancestors. Recording the wives, brothers and sisters too. This approach is simply working from your father, his father, his father and so forth. With marriage and women taking on the male name, it is more difficult to trace the female lines.
  2. Extended Family Tree approach. This is a tree which grows to include cousins and many distant cousins.
  3. Ancestry Chart. This is just working to trace as many ancestors as possible through male and female lines.

Sources to use for genealogy research

Free Sources

Local Library and Archive Office

You will be able to find a whole bunch of records and information in person. Try not to limit your research to just online sources. Much of the valuable information you’ll need will be unavailable on the internet.

Look for information in books, vellum, microfilm and microfiche. Some of these precious and delicate records may be held in the archive which holds the originals.

Join a society

You may find that being around like-minded people can help motivate and give you valuable advice. That’s why joining a genealogy society can be beneficial for you. GENUKI has a great list of societies you can join here.

Mormon Church

You can’t talk about sources of genealogy research without mentioning the Mormons.

One of the biggest and best sources of free ancestry and genealogy is from the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS Church). Not only do they own the free website FamilySearch, but they have over 4,600 local family history centers in 126 countries, dedicated to providing free help to anyone looking to research their ancestry. Whether they are belonging to the church or not.

The church has the largest collection of family records in the world. Through the Genealogical Society of Utah and FamilySearch, the LDS church has gathered information on more than 3 billion deceased people, compiling data and records from government archives, churches and libraries dating back to 1894.

For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, discovering genealogy is an important aspect of the religion, as they believe in reuniting in the afterlife. Which is why they are dedicated to providing all these free services to the general public as well as their members.

Family History Centres

The Family History Centres run by the LDS church are all linked to a central database of information called the ‘Family History Library’ which is an immense library of records including the International Genealogy Index (IGI). The IGI has millions of baptism and marriage records taken from parishes. The volunteers at these centres are there to help you and guide you on tracking your genealogy for free.

Free Online Sources

FamilySearch is a non-profit organisation providing records of data for free from over 100 countries. If you are getting into your genealogy now, this is a great website to use as there will be more features to be added to the software, as it is built with an open-ended architecture in mind.

Cyndis List is recommended as a great free starting tool for genealogy research.

GENUKI is a great free online tool run by volunteers. You can access data from the UK and Ireland.

UKBMD UK Births, Marriages, Death and census records for the UK.

UKGDL companion site to UKBMD, this site is the genealogical Directories and Lists on the internet. Combining records from school lists, trade directories, electoral rolls, passenger lists, old photographs and more.

UKMFH companion site to UKBMD, the UK Military Family History provides links and information to families in the military.

FreeBDM is a free online search tool to help transcribe the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and to provide free Internet access to the transcribed records

Free UK Genealogy  Free UK Genealogy uses volunteers to provide online access to family records from governmental sources, parish churches, and other trusted institutions.

FreeCEN part of the Free UK Genealogy group which provides free census data.

FreeREG part of the Free UK Genealogy group, is a free search tool for finding information on parish registrars.

Paid and commercial sources online

If you’re not quite able to find what you are looking for there are commercial sources that you can use for a fee. Sometimes it’s worth using more than one source to allow you to compare transcriptions- if you can afford it! See a list of these sources below:

Ancestry.co.uk has worldwide access to records and not just limited to the UK. It’s one of the biggest genealogy search sites you can use which also allows you to create your family tree.

Find My Past allows you to create your family tree online too. It’s got access to birth, marriage, death and census records along with military and migration records.

Genes Reunited also has access to the basic records for genealogy records, which makes this site unusual is that you are able to contact with other people researching the same names.

192.com isn’t your typical ancestry search tool. It’s a modern-day record specialist that has access to the births, marriages, death and census records too.

The Genealogist allows access to birth, marriage death, census and parish records. You also get access to a variety of other directories and lists to enable genealogy research.

Start recording your genealogy in UK today

Beginning your genealogy starts with you. Alongside tracing back to find out your ancestry, you should consider tracking and collecting your life stories today for your future families for generations to come.

Imagine while completing your genealogy research you come across a relative who not only had created wonderful genealogical records of your ancestry, but they also had a rich and interesting family history story alongside each person. – Jackpot! Not only would this be a helpful and time-saving find, but what a wonderful surprise! You’ll also have access to unique information, offering insight to the person you are today.

That’s where Reliving come in.


Reliving is an app that can assist your genealogy research by encouraging you to record your life and your loved one’s today.

The Reliving app is designed around a forward-looking genealogy documenting tool. Instead of backwards-looking apps such as Ancestry or FamilySearch.

How Reliving helps document and record our genealogical research?

Instead of having scrapbooks and note pads scattered around a room, you can use the Reliving app to neatly organise and record all your findings around your ancestors.

It also has a deep memory storage section where you can easily store any media including photos, videos and recordings in an easy-to-find place.

You can organise your family members into a family tree for a pedigree chart visualisation.

Reliving interview featureInterview Feature

The Reliving App has a specific interview feature which lists various questions to ask.

Media capture & storage

Preserve images and videos for future generations. Not only will they get to see the likeness in their ancestor’s appearance, but they may even recognise mannerisms and body language.

Creating your genealogy using a range of media makes it more interesting to future generations, and it will encourage them to take interest in researching their own family tree.


Find out more

If you would like to find out more about how you can begin researching and recording your genealogy get in contact here.

Save your legacy with Reliving today.