This Records Office Guide will explain what is likely to be found there and how it is going to be useful.
County Record Offices (CRO) are the main repositories for archived records specifically relating to the local area they serve.They will generally be the main centre for family history research in the county. Most counties have a single record office serving the whole county. Several counties have multiple record offices serving different areas or boroughs within the county.
The biggest headache in locating record offices is boundary changes. Records that relate to your area often end up archived in their original shire county despite the introduction of unitary authorities and metropolitan boroughs and counties.
To view the set up of counties before the changes implemented in 1974, click here.
The addresses of Record Offices can be found on the relevant page for each county on our UK County Index .
Each County Record Office (CRO) website is listed on the relevant county page in the Reference Library on the UK County Index. Please refer to this for specific directions and opening times.
Most research venues require you to have a CARN card (or reader ticket).See below.
Births Marriages and Deaths
The system of civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales was established on July 1st 1837. The country was divided into registration districts based on poor law unions. Today the system is based on the areas of local authorities. Each registration district is under the control of Superintendent Registrars and divided into sub-districts. Copies of registers are sent to the Registrar General and the indexes are compiled.
The indexes are divided into quarters for each year up to 1983. Remember that the index relates to the time of registration NOT the time of the event. Since 1984 events have been arranged in alphabetical indexes covering a full year. Exact place of birth is not given, just the name of the Registration District with a different reference numbering system.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) Indexes and copies have been distributed nationwide. Some can be viewed in local libraries, County Records Offices or even Local Archive and History Study Centres. You will not be charged for viewing these images. These images are available online but the odd sheet is missing.
Further Useful Information:
The three lists on Genuki ~ GRO Indexes Registration Districts, provide the reference numbers of the registration districts for births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales.
- 1837-1851 (Roman numerals)
- 1852-1946 (Arabic numerals plus a letter)
- Reference Numbers for each County
These reference numbers also serve as the Volume identifier in the General Register Office's indexes (at the Family Records Centre in London and many other libraries and family history research centres).
Roman numerals were used for the reference numbers until 1851 when the districts were modified and Arabic numerals plus a letter were used. As the older register indexes are updated the Roman numerals are being replaced by Arabic numerals.
Alphabetical listing of locations in England and Wales can be found on:
The term '"Parish Registers"' is taken to include Baptism, Banns, Marriage and Burial Registers of the Church of England. It does not include records of Baptists, Methodists, other nonconformists or Roman Catholics.
The earliest registers start in 1538 and they are still kept today, although their relevance to the family historian decreases after 1837.
1538 Basic information for Baptisms, Marriages and Burials
1754 Witnesses & Signatures added to Marriages
1813 Father's occupation and abode added to Baptisms and Abode & age added (sometimes occupation) to Burials.
1837 Age & abode together with Father's name & occupation added to Marriages.
Most of the parish registers are now stored in a County Record Office, although a few are still in the individual churches.
Parish Finder does things like find the distance between two parishes, and the parishes surrounding a given location. This second feature is great when one of your ancestors decided to get married in a parish a few miles away and didn't leave a record of where to look!
More information about what can be found and when can be seen in:
FTF Guide: Parish Registers
How do I find them?
Registers are held in many different locations and there is no comprehensive index to them. Before the 1850s the vast majority of burials were recorded in the parish registers of the Church of England, although some nonconformist chapels had their own burial grounds. After that, the situation becomes much more complex, with the beginning of private and civic cemeteries.
If the death took place before the mid-1850s, you should start by looking in the relevant parish burial registers. Most Church of England registers are deposited in county record offices, although later ones may still be held at the church. An Act of Parliament in 1853 enabled local authorities to purchase and use land for the purpose of burial. So although many burials continued to take place in local parish churchyards (particularly in rural areas) the situation in large towns and cities became much more complicated. You will need to consult maps of the area to find out which cemeteries and churchyards were situated closest to the personís home address.
Cemetery and crematorium records are generally held and maintained by local authorities. Their addresses can usually be found on the relevant local authorityís website, and in local phone books. Contact details for over 1000 burial grounds and crematoria can also be found at The Bereavement Services Portal
This page will give you more information about cremation and burial in England and Wales as well advice on visiting cemeteries and graveyards: Searching for the Deceased.
Alongside the personal details of your families, one of the most useful sets of documents for you will be the census returns. The census is one of the most useful sets of records available. Placing an ancestor with their parents and siblings when they are young, or finding them in later life with a spouse and children are just a few of the things that can be discovered.
This guide will give you more information on using these valuable sources of evidence for your research:
FTF Guide: The Census
Other Types of Records:
Using original records: Manuscripts and Special Collections
FTF Guide: Adoption
FTF Guide: Coroners' Records
FTF Guide: Court Sessions and Victuallers Licences
FTF Guide: Directories: Trade, Street and City
FTF Guide: Electoral Registers and Poll Books
FTF Guide: Emigration and Immigration
FTF Guide: Hospital and Asylum Records
FTF Guide: Manorial, Land and Estate Deeds
FTF Guide: Historic Maps
FTF Guide: Illegitimacy
FTF Guide: Military and Maritime Records
FTF Guide: Newspapers
FTF Guide: Photographs
FTF Guide: Poor Laws and Workhouses
FTF Guide: School Records
FTF Guide: Stillbirth
FTF Guide: Taxation Records
FTF Guide: Wills and Probate
Visiting a Records Office or Research VenueCARN is an abbreviation for County Archive Research Network.
To obtain a ticket, bring a proof of your identity including name, current address and signature (e.g. driving licence or household utility bill and cheque guarantee card) so staff can issue you with your free readerís ticket.
Remember that UK passports alone are not sufficient as they do not provide proof of address. All ticket holders are required to keep to the searchroom rules at all times. These rules are to make your stay enjoyable and to ensure that the historic material in the Record Office survives for future generations. The record office reserves the right to suspend or refuse to issue a readerís ticket. A full list of searchroom rules is displayed in each record office in reception, and in the searchroom.
Once you have a CARN card (or reader ticket as they are sometimes called) they are valid at most research venues. Different venues have different systems - some collect your card and return it to you when you leave the centre, others require you to keep it about your person whilst in the centre. Bear in mind that all people using the Research Centre must have a card. Some venues will allow people to sit in reception and wait for you, but not all.
Take notes with you
Take notes with you on paper rather than in a book or pad. Some venues strictly enforce the loose sheets only rule and will not allow folders or even spiral bound pads.
It is a good idea to make some brief notes as to what you wish to research in Biro as a heading for a few sheets. Once inside the Record Office, many will only allow the use of pencils so doing this will keep the information that you started with obvious to you.
Take some spare sheets but don't go over the top - many venues will search your belongings on the way in and the way out, so don't embarrass yourself by trying to take in things that are not allowed.
If you wish to use a camera you should ask. Some places allow the use of photography, others do not. Some venues allow photographs of some documents but not others. Most do not allow the use of a flash, so evaluate the use of the camera without flash before you take it.
Mobile phones may need to be switched off, or perhaps silenced. If you should need to use your phone whilst in the Records Office, please respect the needs of others and do so in the cafť or reception area, not in the search rooms.
Some CROs have air conditioning, essential for preservation of documents, so wear layers and comfortable shoes and clothing that is easy to reach, stretch and sit in.
Wash your hands before you enter the search rooms if you can, and again if hands get sweaty - sweaty hands make for dirty documents! Pay a visit to the toilet before you enter the search room, since you may be halfway through looking at a vital fiche that the staff will require you to put away before leaving the room - very irritating!
Look around at the other people that are searching as well. Some will appear to know exactly what they are doing, and more than happy to help you wind a spool onto a fiche reeler. Some people will look as though they own the chair/the book/the entire Records Office (woe betide you...!) But remember - they were all first timers once upon a time too.
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