Researching family history at the Archives Centre

City of Westminster Archives Centre holds many sources to assist you with your family history research.

Most of our records cover the Westminster area including the former Metropolitan Boroughs of Marylebone and Paddington, but we also offer access to an extensive range of online resources and books to assist you with wider research.

1. Researching family history

Using our searchroom

Researchers visiting our searchroom have access to the following facilities and resources:

Commissioning a researcher

If you need someone to search through records on your behalf, we recommend using a professional record agent. Details of professional researchers are found through the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives.

2. Accessing resources remotely​

To access our resources remotely, you can:

4. Census returns

England and Wales' first official census was taken in 1801 and has been taken every 10 years to the present day with the exception of 1941.

As the information remains confidential for 100 years the latest census available is 1911 as pay-per-view on 1911Census.co.uk by FindMyPast.

Pre-1841 censuses

Until 1841, the census records were mainly statistical although some do list the main householder. We hold the 1821 and 1831 censuses for St Marylebone which have a surname index.

View the pre-1841 censuses and lists of inhabitants information sheet

1841 to 1901 censuses

A census record is particularly useful from 1841 onwards. Entries provide age, occupation and place of birth as well as indicating an individual's relationship to the rest of the household.

The 1841 census is less informative than later ones as it rounds down ages of people over 16 to the nearest 5 years, and doesn't give precise details about place of birth or relationships within the household.

We holds copies of censuses from 1841 to 1901 for Westminster, St Marylebone and Paddington. The 1841 census for Paddington and the 1861 Census for Pimlico and Belgravia have not survived.

Street indexes

All the censuses we hold are indexed by street and are available in the searchroom.

Name indexes

The following name indexes have also been compiled:

  • 1841 to 1901 censuses - indexes are available for a fee via National Archives and Ancestry (Ancestry is also available for free in the searchroom and in all Westminster public libraries
  • 1851 census - an index is available on microfiche at the Archives Centre
  • 1861 census - an index is available for a fee on FindMyPast
  • 1881 census - an index compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church) for the whole of England and Wales is available on microfiche and CD at the Archives Centre (it is also available for free on the internet as FamilySearch)

5. Education and business records

School records

School records like admission registers and log books contain information like the child's parentage, date of birth and place of origin.

Our school records date from the 17th to 20th centuries for the United Westminster Schools, Grey Coat Hospital, St Marylebone Grammar School, St Marylebone Charity School and more. Details of pupils attending Westminster School were published from mid-16th Century to 1886.

Charity schools were established by the 1720s, founded initially by private donations. We hold some parish and charity schools' records, but most children may not have received schooling before the establishment of board schools by the 1870 Education Act. Even then, poor parents were discouraged from sending their children to school due to school fees. In 1891, free elementary schooling was provided for all children.

Publications

Schools in Westminster, St Marylebone and Paddington (PDF, 528 KB) - brief notes on school records held by the Archives.

We hold the Alumni Oxonienses, a register of students at Oxford University, 1500 to 1886, and Alumni Cantabrigienses, a register of students at Cambridge University from the late 13th century to 1900.

View full details of all publications in the Westminster libraries catalogue

Business records

We hold some businesses records and occasionally contain wages/salaries books, list of employees, details of pensions and more. Where individual staff information hasn't survived, you can still consult the records to understand your ancestor's working and daily life. 

Petty sessions are a valuable source for locating ancestors who were licencees. Licensing registers normally show date and particulars of the licence, name and address of the public house, name of licensee, date and details of transfers of the licence, disqualification of the premises and a record of any convictions. Find out more about our Petty Sessions records

Published biographies of trades people such as Goldsmiths and Architects can be found through the Westminster libraries catalogue.

6. Finding your ancestors

Discovering where your ancestor lived can help you trace your family tree. Census records, electoral registers, poll books, trades directories and rate books can all provide further information.

Trade directories

London directories lists individuals and where they lived. They mainly list people involved in trade, commerce and the professions, and, as people had to pay to be listed, they are far from comprehensive.

However, they predate the first useful census returns of 1841, and, as time went on they began to include short histories, details of schools, hospitals, local officials, etc.

Trade directories are also useful as they post-date the 1891 census and continued to be produced until 1991. They can be also be used as a name index to the census returns. Directories up to 1816 have alphabetical list of names only. From 1817 onwards odd years do contain street directories. From 1855 the principal separate sections of Kelly's Directories are streets, commercial (tradesmen listed alphabetically), trades (tradesmen listed by profession) and court (people of social standing listed alphabetically).

Our holdings of London Directories, 1736 to 1991 are available on microfilm. We also hold 3 series of local directories for St Marylebone, Paddington and Pimlico dating from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. View a complete list of our holdings

Historical Directories is a searchable digital library compiled by Leicester University of selected local and trade directories for England and Wales from 1750 to 1919.

Court guides

View a complete list of our holdings

Rate books

The first poor rate was imposed by an act of 1597 to 1598 and rate books were compiled to keep a record of each person's assessment and whether or not it had been paid. As well as rates taken to pay for the relief of the poor, rates were also levied for the repair and maintenance of highways, the parish watch, sewers and general improvements.

Rate books give the names of rate payers listed by street, and detail the amount of rates paid. The rate payer is the person paying the local taxes and can be the occupier or owner of the house. The books can be used to establish how long someone was at a particular address and are often available from the start date of a building or first occupation of a street.

Our collection starts in the 16th century and runs to 1968. There is an index by street to both St Marylebone and Westminster. Unfortunately, there is no street index to the Paddington rate books and only one set of rate books every 10 years is extant for the parish and Metropolitan Borough of Paddington from 1860 to 1910. Apart from this, virtually all rate books have survived, making this one of the most reliable sources we have. Information sheet 11: pre-1841 censuses provides a full list of our holdings, as does our council records webpage.

Electoral registers and poll books

Poll books can show where your ancestors lived and their political inclinations. Prior to 1832, there was no fixed qualification and franchise eligibility depended on local circumstances and tradition. It was generally linked to ownership of land, by men over 21, of property worth £10 or more a year. Only about 1 in 10 men and no women could vote.

Poll books were published from 1696 right through to the 1872 Ballot Act when secret voting was introduced. The information contained usually includes the person's name and who they voted for, and sometimes address and occupation. View a full details of our poll books collection and read more with our information sheet on poll books.

The 1832 Reform Act extended the franchise, and lists of people entitled to vote in local or parliamentary elections have been compiled every year since then (apart from during the two World Wars). They can be used in conjunction with rate books to establish how long someone was living at a particular address and are especially useful as they list all of the residents who are entitled to vote, not just the head of household. There were voting restrictions, for example women over the age of 30 were only given the vote in 1918 and women over 21 in 1928. Remember that only British citizens have the right to vote so other nationalities are not listed.

Our collection of electoral registers is far from complete for the years 1832 to 1900, For the old City of Westminster (South Westminster) the complete series begins in 1906. The St Marylebone area series begins in 1918 and the Paddington area series begins in 1902.

8. Gravestone, cemetery and undertaker records

Monumental inscriptions

For some churchyards we have monumental or gravestone inscriptions. Inscriptions can provide birth dates and family relationships. View a full list of monumental inscription information sheet.

Cemetery registers

To trace burials after 1853, you must consult cemetery records. By the mid-19th century, London churchyards were full to overflowing and so parishes bought land outside London to provide new cemeteries.

After the 1853 Burial Act, burials took place in surrounding cemeteries rather than churchyards. View cemeteries and crematoria used by the City of Westminster, Marylebone and Paddington and the location of their registers.

View contact details for the modern cemetery department

Undertaker records

Funeral records can help with identifying where an individual is buried. Burials often took place miles from where a person died. These records can also contain the deceased's name, age, date of death, place of burial and funeral items supplied.

We hold the records of William Tookey and Sons, Marylebone High Street; William Garstin and Sons, Wigmore Street; T Vigers and Co, 9 Eccleston Street; and J H Kenyon Ltd, 45/47 Edgware Road.

9. Non-conformist and Catholic records

'Non-conformist' describes those who didn't conform to the Church of England; it includes Baptists, Methodists, Huguenots, Quakers and others.

A religious census taken in 1851 suggests that a quarter of the population belonged to non-conformist congregations.

In 1754, Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act made marriages outside the Anglican Church illegal, although Quakers and Jews were exempt.

It is possible that your ancestors may be a non-conformist if you find their marriages, prior to 1837, appearing in the Anglican parish registers but not their baptism or burials. This could indicate non-conformist families marrying in conformance so their marriage was valid under law, but celebrating baptisms and burials in their own chapels.

After Civil Registration in 1837, non-conformist churches could be licensed for marriages. The Non-Parochial Register Act of 1840 requested all non-conformist groups (except Jews) to surrender their registers, and a further collection was made in 1857. The registers collected are held at the National Archives.

We do not hold any original Roman Catholic registers. However we do hold transcripts of various registers.

10. Parish and workhouse records

Parish records can be a rich source of information as they include apprenticeship indentures, school records, settlement papers, bastardy bonds, workhouse and charity records. Information Sheet 13: poor law records contains a summary of our holdings.

Settlement certificates, examinations and removal orders

Under the Poor Law Act of 1601, every parish was made responsible for its own poor.

An Overseer of the Poor was elected each year to levy a poor rate on all householders and to hand out sums of money for the upkeep of the parish poor. Since some parishes had better job opportunities than others, it was inevitable that people would leave their home parish when times were hard to search for employment elsewhere.

However, if they later became paupers needing parish relief, it seemed unfair that their new parish should be expected to support them. This led to the Settlement Act of 1662 which declared that your Legal Place of Settlement could change. People could obtain a settlement in any parish through marriage, apprenticeship and domestic service for over a year or occupying property worth more than £10 per annum. Anyone not fulfilling these criteria could be removed to their original parish. Until 1743, when a child acquired its mother's place of settlement, vagrant pregnant women can be found being hurried from one parish to another so that the baby would become the responsibility of another.

When paupers moved after 1697, they needed to carry a settlement certificate with them to show that their parish of legal settlement would take them back if necessary. If they requested poor relief, the parish they had moved into would examine them to see where their legal right of settlement lay.

Examination books contain many interesting biographies of paupers and, thanks to a volunteer indexing project, an index of 60,000 names from St Martin-in-the-Fields settlement examinations for 1732 to 1775 is available online.

Bastardy bonds

Parish registers generally will not name the father if a child is illegitimate. When a woman didn't marry, she and her child were liable to become a burden on the parish and officials were consequently anxious to trace the father. The pregnant woman would be questioned about the father of her child and once his identity had been established, he would then be required to pay for the woman's lying-in and to support the child, so saving the parish expense. An index is available in the searchroom for St Margaret, Westminster bastardy depositions 1711 to 1752.

Apprentice records

If your ancestor were in trade, a craftsman or professional person, the chances are that he or she would have been an apprentice. The 1563 Statute of Apprentices forbade anyone to practise a trade or craft without first undergoing a period of apprenticeship. This usually lasted 7 or 8 years, commencing at the age of 12 or 14, unless sponsored by a parish or charity when it might begin much earlier, and continuing until 21 or marriage. The terms of apprenticeship contracts were written up in documents called indentures. We do not hold many records of ordinary trade apprentices because this was a private arrangement between parents and master.

However, there are many records for 'Poor Law' apprentices. Pauper children who lived on the charity of the parish were sent out to employers to learn a trade and cease to be a financial burden on the local community. An apprenticeship indenture or entry in a register of parish apprentices normally includes the name of apprentice, date of indenture, age, parents' names, name of person to whom they were assigned, their trade and term of apprenticeship. Some Westminster children were sent to work in mills in the Midlands and north of England.

London Apprenticeship Abstracts, 1442 to 1850 and Apprentices of Great Britain, 1710 to 1774 are available online for a fee at London Origins. We also hold the archives of a number of charities which do include apprenticeship registers within their records.

Charities and almshouses

Until the late-19th century most charities were specific to the local area and tend to have been established by an individual's bequest. They were administered by the parish and typically aim to assist the poor of the parish, help apprentices or provide pensions etc. Charitable homes for the poor can include almshouses. The Charity Commission was established in 1853 and has been responsible for the supervision of charities since then.

Workhouse

Outdoor relief was limited after 1834 and the use of the workhouse became more widespread. The administration of the poor law was transferred from the parishes to boards of guardians after the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act or the 1867 Metropolitan Poor Law Act. Parishes could then join together into poor law unions and the exact date each union was formed is indicated in information sheet 12: workhouse locations.

Records of the boards of guardians are held at London Metropolitan Archives; any records held at the City of Westminster Archives Centre after that date only deal with the collection of rates. A list of the locations of the various workhouses in Westminster, St Marylebone and Paddington can be found in information sheet 12: workhouse locations.

A useful website on the subject of workhouses can be found at Peter Higginbotham's Workhouses website.

Vaccination registers

The Vaccination Act of 1871 required registrars to make a monthly return of births and infant deaths to the vaccination officer. The vaccination registers, when they have survived should list the children's names, ages, parishes and dates of vaccination. The registers have a 50 year closure period on them. We hold the City of Westminster Union vaccination registers, 1919 to 1936.

Militia records

From Anglo-Saxon times, able-bodied men between the ages of 16 to 60 might be called up to perform military service. The term refers mainly to a non-professional force. After the Civil War, the militia was in abeyance but was revived in 1757 when the Militia Act of 1757 established Militia Regiments in all counties of England and Wales. Records can be found in the National Archives.

Militia records can also be found among the parish records as each year, the parish was supposed to draw up lists of adult males, and to hold a ballot to choose those who had to serve in the militia. When they survive the records can be very informative, giving details about individual men and their family circumstances. Details of the Militia records we hold can be found in information sheet 11: pre 1841 censuses and lists of inhabitants.

11. Parish registers

For baptism, marriage and burial records from before the introduction of Civil Registration in 1837, you will need to consult parish registers.

Church of England (Anglican) parish registers from 1539 to the 20th Century are available for the old City of Westminster as well as copies of most registers for St Marylebone and Paddington (the London Metropolitan Archives hold the originals).

Our Anglican registers information sheet lists our parish records collection. Our Church and cemetery records include information on our holdings of vestry minutes etc.

The Registers not held at the Archives information sheet lists Anglican registers not held by the Archives Centre, or, where they are held, with a short section of Orthodox and Jewish records. This list is not exhaustive - there may be other registers that we do not yet know of. 

For a list of Non-Conformist and Roman Catholic registers not held here, see Information sheets 2 and 3 respectively.

Requesting copies of parish registers

We can supply copies of Westminster parish register entries. To order a copy, you need to provide the exact date and the church in which the event was registered. We can also provide census entries where the exact address is known. To request a copy, please contact us by post or by email. A charge of £5 is made per copy supplied.

Baptism registers

Baptism registers usually give the parents' names and sometimes the child's date of birth. From 1813 onwards they give the child's name, parents' names, address, father's occupation, officiating minister and sometimes the date of birth of the child.

Baptism registers don't give the mother's maiden name, unless the child was illegitimate.

Marriage registers

Marriage registers give the couple's name and their parish of residence. The father's name is given if the bride or groom is underage. From 1754 onwards they give names, parish, marital condition, whether married by licence or banns, name of officiating minister, signatures and witnesses. From 1837 onwards they give names, ages (often just "full age" which means 21 or over), marital condition, occupation, address, fathers' names and occupations, names of officiating minister, signatures and witnesses.

Banns registers

Banns registers have no additional information to marriage registers. They only record the parishes of the couple and the date of the calling of the banns. They are useful in tracing a marriage which might have taken place in another parish.

Marriage licences

A description of our holdings and location of London marriage allegations can be in found on the Marriage licences information sheet

The marriage allegations of the Vicar-General, 1694 to 1850, and Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, 1701 to 1850, are available for a fee on London Origins.

Fleet marriages

Before Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1754, marriages did not legally have to take place in church. In the late-17th century, about half of all marriages in London were clandestine with no banns or licences. One of the most famous centres for clandestine marriages was the Fleet Prison.

Fleet marriages took place in the area just around the Fleet prison by clergymen debtors, and all types of people were married here.

A Friend of Westminster Archives has compiled an index of Fleet marriages mentioned within the St Martin-in-the-Fields settlement examinations for 1709 to 1712. The index is available for consultation in Westminster Archives Centre. The surviving Fleet registers are held at the National Archives.

Burial registers

Burial registers give the name and usually whether the person was a man, woman or child (M, W or C). They sometimes give the age, occupation, address or next of kin. From 1813 onwards they give the name, address, date of burial, age and officiating minister.

It is also sensible to check whether any burial fee books have survived which can provide further information on your ancestor, such as the cause of death.

After 1853 burials were not carried out in central London but in cemeteries in the Suburbs.

International Genealogical Index

The marriage and baptism registers of some churches have been indexed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the International Genealogical Index (IGI). This is a name index to baptisms and marriages from 1538 to circa 1885. Burials are not indexed and it is not a comprehensive index but it is a good place to start searching.

The 1988 and 1992 editions of the IGI for London and Middlesex are available on microfiche at the Archives Centre. The index is also available on the internet via FamilySearch.

Pallot's Marriage Index

Pallot's Index to Marriages is available free of charge on CD in the searchroom. The index covers more than 1.5 million marriage registrations, mainly from London and Middlesex, from 1780 to 1837. It also includes entries from 2,500 parishes in 38 counties outside of London, many of which are not available in other sources.

The original paper slips of the Pallot's Index are owned and held at the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. Pallot's Marriage Index is also available for a fee on Ancestry. Ancestry is available for free in the search room at the Archives Centre and at all the Westminster libraries.

12. Wills and coroners' inquest reports

Wills

Wills and other probate documents can provide a fascinating picture of how your ancestor lived as well as providing details of their surviving relatives. Wills proved since 1858 are stored centrally at the Principal Registry of the Family Division of the Courts Service.

Prior to 1858 church courts dealt with the granting of probate of wills and the issuing of letters of administration. The jurisdiction for granting probate for a will was dictated either by where the deceased owned property or where they died. The City of Westminster Archives Centre holds wills and administrations proved in the Commissary (sometimes referred to as the Consistory) Court of the Royal Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster for 1504 to 1829. A name index is available in our  Search Room.

A list of our holdings can be found in the Dioceses and Peculiar Jurisdictions listings.

Various indexes to wills can also be searched online for a fee at Find My Past.

The PCC (Prerogative Court of Canterbury), 1384 to 1858, is available for a fee through the National Archives.

London Signatures (the Archdeaconry Court of Middlesex's database of wills) can be searched for free.

Coroners' inquest reports

The coroner was responsible for inquisitions into sudden or suspicious deaths. Bear in mind that the sensitive nature of these records means that they are closed to public access for 75 years. Our Coroners' records information sheet, shows the location of Coroners Records for Westminster, Marylebone and Paddington. A full list of our holdings can be found in the courts of laws webpage.

If inquest papers have not survived then local and newspapers are excellent sources of information, containing many of the details recorded in the inquest papers. Details of our newspaper holdings can be found in Westminster Union List of Periodicals (WULOP).

The Times Digital Archive, a fully searchable facsimile edition of the Times covering 1785 to 1985, is available at the Archives Centre and any Westminster Library.


Last updated: 8 June 2017
Rate this page: