Keeping it in the Family

Interest in genealogy – the study and tracing of a line of descent, or family history - has never been more popular.

Television programmes such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ ‘Long Lost Family’ and ‘Heir Hunters’ have inspired people to delve into their own family histories to discover the lives and experiences of their ancestors.

Websites such as Ancestry and Find My Past offer online access to records to help you to trace your family.

It looks really easy on the television – but how can you begin your journey into the past?  

A good place to begin tracing your family history is 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, as you begin to build a picture of the generations who went before.

Note as many facts as you can: 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.  

Back up your notes with as much documentary evidence as you can gather, as this is vital.

Documents can be informal, such as a family Bible or an old photograph album, but 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.

If you need any guidance at this stage, your local library has lots of family history books available for loan that will help you to shape your research and as a library member, you can access Ancestry free of charge.

For the personal touch, you can also drop in to one of our family history help desks, which are run by a member of the ARK team and take place once a month in each of Knowsley’s branch libraries. The sessions are free of charge and are perfect for putting you on the right track and guiding you through the maze of resources available in the ARK that will identify and confirm your ancestral lineage.

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 being recorded. From then on, the records were made 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.

Records of births, marriages and burials have been kept by the Church of England since 1538. Each parish kept a register of all of 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 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 UK 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 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 of the other local sources, such as trade and street directories (the Victorian version of the Yellow Pages!), maps, parish magazines and the comprehensive archive collections, we can now offer a seamless service to family history researchers, supported by our Team, with  many years’ experience in assisting researchers to get the most out of the Archive.

Why not call in and start your journey into your genealogical past?

You can visit the ARK at the Kirkby Centre, Norwich Way, Kirkby, L32 8XY.
For more information about the ARK or to find out about the services on offer, call 0151 443 4365 or email

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