Knowsley ARK - Who do you think you are?

Do you ever wonder who your ancestors were? Could they have been famous (or infamous)? Did they live well, or struggle in poverty? Where did they live? How did they make a living? Did they have a trade or skill that has been lost to today’s online, automated society? Where were they born? Where did they live? Did they marry? Did they have children? What were their names? And so it goes

Most of us are not distantly related to royalty, but once you start researching your family’s history, you can become engrossed in the many layers of information that you reveal.  

Interest in genealogy – the study and tracing of a line of descent, or family history - has never been more popular. This is reflected on television, with programmes such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ that have inspired people to delve into their own family histories to discover the lives and experiences of their ancestors. 

Television shows have a habit of making the whole research process look simple, as the featured celebrities on their own curated journeys of discovery are whisked into archives and shown the evidence of their ancestry. However, in the real world, it can feel intimidating to approach your local archive service to begin your journey into the past. This month, we’ll be looking at some hints and tips for beginning your family history research. 

It’s always a good idea to start with what you already know. Write down everything you know about your family and who told you about it, even if you doubt the accuracy: there is often a grain of truth in family legends which might just give you an all-important breakthrough in your research.

Talk to as many family members as you can, not forgetting other branches of your family. Note as many snippets of information as possible, such as names and dates of birth, marriage or death; addresses; jobs, trades and professions held by family members; religion or place of worship and family names, especially surnames on the female side of the family.  

To support this anecdotal information, collect as much documentary evidence as you can gather, as this is vital. Informal documents, such as a family Bible or an old photograph album are particularly useful. Official documents and certificates, such as birth, marriage and death certificates, are extremely helpful in confirming family ties. Search for evidence of trade union membership, exam board certificates, membership of clubs or societies… anything that might add to the growing picture. 

Once you have assembled as much information as possible from your own sources, it’s time to start looking at the official records.

Knowsley Archives Service, based in The ARK in the Kirkby Centre, should be your next port of call, as it is here that important sources of information relating to the official records relating to the life events of birth, marriage and death are held.

The Civil Registration Indices – also known as the St Catherine’s House Index, the General Register Office Index or simply the GRO – are key to finding information about births, marriages and deaths. Civil registration of these life events in England and Wales began in 1837, 1855 in Scotland and 1864 in Ireland. The indices provide references that enable you to obtain copies of certificates from the General Register Office. The indices are available online through Ancestry and FreeBMD, but we also have the information on microfilm for the years 1837 – 1983. 

Together with Civil Registration Certificates, Census returns are probably the most useful way of helping you to trace your family back to about 1800.  The Census gives a snapshot of the population on a particular night and is important because it reveals who was in a family. The information listed includes a person’s name, age, occupation, address and place of birth.

Taken every ten years in England and Wales, the first Census was taken in 1801 with a head count. In 1841 more personal information was recorded. From then on, the records were created using the same registration districts and sub-districts as births, marriages and deaths – enabling family history researchers to link the Census returns and the Registrars’ records. It’s worth noting that, due to the sensitivity of the information held, the Census is closed for 100 years. 

The ARK holds Census Returns from 1841 – 1901 for the Knowsley area and some Liverpool districts and the 1881 Census details for the whole country on microfiche. This information is also available through Ancestry – including the 1911 Census and the 1939 England and Wales Register, taken at the outbreak of World War II. Additionally, we hold copies of local electoral registers reaching back to 1832 until the present day, revealing the status of those eligible to vote in registered households. 

The Church of England has kept records of births, marriages and burials since 1538. Each parish kept a register of all the events which took place within its boundaries. The ARK holds microfilmed copies of local parish registers as well as some Protestant non-conformist and Catholic registers. Alongside the parish records are some local cemetery records on microfilm and microfiche which complement the parish records.

Another resource to help you track down your ancestors held in the ARK and also available online is the International Genealogical Index on microfiche and microfilm. Compiled by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it refers to baptisms and marriages taken from parish registers across the U.K. and includes material researched by members of the Church. 

Local newspapers are also useful sources of information, from news stories of the day to family notices and images, and there are several historic publications available to view on microfilm: the Prescot Reporter (1859 – 1985); Prescot Weekly Times (1907 – 1916); the Ormskirk Advertiser (1857 – 1874) and the Kirkby Reporter (1955 – 1979). 

Combined with all the other local sources, such as trade and street directories, maps, parish magazines and the comprehensive archive collections, you can search across all these resources to build your family tree. However, we understand that it’s not always easy to get going and you might hit barriers along the way. That’s why we are re-launching our popular Family History Help Desk. 

The Family History Help Desk is run by an approachable and knowledgeable member of the Archive’s Team with many years’ experience in family history research, who will guide you through the maze of information and resources to help you to discover your family connections. The sessions are run on a drop-in basis and we’ll do our best to answer your questions on the day. If you have a more complicated query, we might need to follow it up after your visit, or you might require an additional appointment. 

Sessions will take place once a month in each of Knowsley’s branch libraries, starting at Prescot Library on 7th June, 10:00am-1:00pm and Stockbridge Library from 2:00pm-5:00pm. For information about dates for the rest of 2022, contact your local branch library or Knowsley Archives Service. 

You can find out more about the Family History Help Desks and Knowsley’s heritage by visiting our website email or call 0151 443 4291/4365. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook and find Knowsley Archives on Flickr, WordPress and Soundcloud.


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