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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree May 2019 > The golden era of family history

The golden era of family history

The Victorian period is rich for family historians, when the state took record-keeping of our ancestors’ lives very seriously. Family historian Chris Paton guides us through the era’s key records to help you strike gold in researching your 19th century kin in the time of Queen Victoria
Illustration of an English church wedding in 1840, in the early years of civil registration.

The month of May sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria.

With the exception of the present queen, no other British monarch has presided over such a long reign and period of momentous change. As much as Victoria is remembered for her devotion to her husband and cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, her ongoing legacy has also been determined by the impact of the many actions and policies that were carried out in her name across the world.

Victoria was the monarch who in 1876 became the ‘Empress of India’, the much-loved imperial overseer of a British Empire on which the sun was said to never set, with colonies as far apart as Canada and New Zealand. Conversely, Victoria also reigned over a United Kingdom in which a million people in Ireland starved to death following the failure of the potato crop on which they subsisted, as Ireland’s plentiful food stocks were exported for colonial use. The Industrial Revolution of Britain thrived under her watch, with various domestic crusades carried out in her name to improve the morality of the nation, and internationally, the practice of African slavery was finally ended in British colonies during her lifetime. The capital city of the Canadian province of British Columbia is today named after her, as is the smallest state of the Australian mainland.

A legacy of records

As much as the Victorian era is documented in the landscape around us, however, from place names and statues erected in the queen’s honour, its most useful legacy lies within the records created during her reign that are of such importance to the genealogist today.

Victoria was born at Kensington Palace on 24 May 1819, and was crowned at Westminster on 20 June 1837. She died on the Isle

of Wight on 22 January 1901.

Within her lifetime her governments continued a virtual revolution in the administration of the United Kingdom, implementing various policies and acts established prior to her coronation. In 1834 England and Wales introduced a new system of poor relief, soon to be followed in Ireland and Scotland; the Great Reform Act of 1832 saw the first major extension of the electoral franchise, and the abolition of ‘rotten boroughs’; while the Registration Act of 1836 led to the implementation of civil registration a year later, in a system that continues to this day.

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About Family Tree

Discover the rich records of the golden era of family history, as we trace our ancestors from the Victorian age. Reflect on your roots and sense of identity. And make use of 25 fabulous free resources to learn more about your kin. From DNA sleuthing tips to document research skills, and family stories - find all this and more in Family Tree...