Researching your family history online

Family history is always best started by talking to your family to find out what they know and what records they have. Once you have a bit more information you can start using the tools listed in this guide.

We recommend trying all tools as the information available differs slightly across the resources. 

1. Ancestry

Ancestry contains records for the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States. It does have resources for other countries too but there are far fewer. The records span from the 14th century almost up to the present day.

It is a useful stepping stone for researching your family history and discovering useful dates, names and locations, however, you will have to use your initiative and possibly spend some money to find other important information like certificates or records.

Using Ancestry

You must be in a Westminster library to access Ancestry, either on a library computer on on your own device via the libraries' wifi. 

Go to Ancestry

Look through historical records using the Ancestry search page.

For more information on how to use Ancestry, please visit their learning centre.

View our other online resources

2. Findmypast

Findmypast is an online family history resource available for free within all Westminster libraries. It differs from Ancestry as you can search for a particular address, and names are often entered differently allowing you to find further information.

The databases on Findmypast cover births, marriages and deaths (including overseas and military), censuses, military, migration and parish records spanning 1538 to 2006.

Records unique to Findmypast include Royal Household staff, apprentice, workhouse and parish records. There are millions of parish records from local family history societies, you can search census records by address and there are a great many records in the Westminster Collection.

This list of databases shows you everything available. It also allows you to specifically pick out which one you wish to search.

Using Findmypast

You must be in a Westminster library to access Findmypast, either on a library computer on on your own device via the libraries' wifi. 

Go to Findmypast

  1. Don't sign in straightaway; you can perform searches and find results beforehand.
  2. When you've found what you're looking for, click to view the record.
  3. This will take you to a login page where you must click “Continue as a guest”

You can search through records easily using the search function.

3. Other resources

The BBC provides a wide variety of tips and methods including those featured in 'Who Do You Think You Are?'' which helps celebrities trace their ancestors.

The Westminster City Archives are especially useful if you have ancestors from Westminster, Marylebone or Paddington.

You can also find other helpful sites on Gateway to Websites.

You may have famous ancestors or they may have been mentioned, paid for an advert or sent a letter to newspapers, so check The Times digital archive and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


Last updated: 17 October 2016
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