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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree December 2017 > Trace your pre-Victorian ancestors online

Trace your pre-Victorian ancestors online

If you’ve researched your ancestors back to the beginning of the Victorian era, don’t give up – there’s much more to discover further into the past, and it need not cost you the earth. Ruth A Symes reveals what you can achieve cheaply or for free online to take your family tree back to the early 19th century and beyond


Free & low-cost research


Going further back into your family’s past than the Victorian period can be a real challenge. The birth, marriage and death records which are so easily available to search and order online these days simply did not exist before the start of civil registration in 1837. Likewise, the decennial censuses of households in England and Wales, which can easily be viewed at any of the commercial genealogy sites, don’t start until 1841.

Finding out more about your family before these dates can therefore be pretty frustrating. There is a more limited range of resources on offer online and these resources will potentially be much more difficult for you to interpret. However, don’t let that put you off. The satisfactions of finding out more about the lives of earlier ancestors can be immense, and your perseverance is likely to be well-rewarded. To get you started on your family history before the Victorians, there are, in fact, many records and other useful historical material which can be searched freely (or at a low cost) online. This article deals only with the records for England and Wales, as significantly different records are available for Scotland.

Genealogy research before 1837 – managing your expectations

There are a number of key reasons why your family might be more difficult to research pre-1837:

• It’s possible that some of the records in which they appeared might not have survived or might be patchy

• Due to the way in which existing records have been transcribed and acquired by the commercial genealogy sites, you might need to subscribe to more than one such site

• The original records might be located in more than one archive

• It’s likely that there will be more confusion over the identification of some of your ancestors from the early period than there is for members of later generations of your family

• The amount of information available on these earlier ancestors will be far more dependent on their social, religious and economic status than it would be had they lived later in the 19th century – in short, the wealthier and more socially prominent they were, the more likely that you will find records about them

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About Family Tree

Come on, it's time to roll up your sleeves, leave the pleasant pastures of the 19th century, the birth, marriage and death records, and the census - and trace your family lines further back in into the past. This is your chance to explore new records, stretch your research and revel in the lives and times of your Georgian, Stuart and even Tudor ancestors.