Genealogy and Family History "How to" with the 1901 Census Online

I’m new to this. How do I trace my family history?

Begin with the closest members of your family (you, your brothers and sisters, your parents) and work your way backwards in time. Records and documents, family information, stories (and the odd bit of hearsay) can give you a real start.

What are 'records' and how can they help me?

These are anything that, as the name suggests, record an event. 

For family historians, important records are ones that show the names of our family members and ancestors as well as other information. Many of these are official records like Census, Birth, Marriage and Death (BMD), immigration and military records. But they could also be something as everyday as a phone book. 

Using the names in these records along with what you’ve learned from other sources you can uncover a treasure trove of information about your ancestors.

What can help me discover my ancestors?

There are millions of records out there. But with our search engine and trees, it’s easier to find the names that matter to you – from both Britain and further afield. 

To find out more about the available records and how to search, take a look at Records and how to search  

But it’s not just about records. We’ve also taken a lot of the hard work out of building a family tree with our online family tree building tool.  No difficult work for you – just click and start your tree straight away. And to bring it to life, you can add all sorts of interesting things you might find – from family records to photos. And you can share it online with family members, so they can see what you discover. 

Once you’ve started your tree we’ll even automatically search our record collections, and other people’s trees, to find potential matches for names you’ve got. You can also make contact through with other people who might be searching for the same ancestors as you. Find out more here 

OK I’m ready to start. What do I do?

Start by writing down all the names and dates of all the relatives that you can think of. 

Rough dates and a place (of birth, marriage, death or residence) are better than nothing. Make sure you keep a record of anything you’re not sure about, until you can be absolutely certain. 

Then start filling in the details on your online family tree. By starting a tree you’ll know what gaps you need to fill in and what you need to go next to go further back in time. Plus, once you’ve filled in a name, place and date we will automatically start searching for matches for them.

Time to Start Digging

Look in your loft and cupboards for old documents, letters and photographs. 

Try to collect old Birth, Marriage and Death certificates, and ask relatives to have a look for anything that might be useful to you – any information is useful information. Also, talk to older relatives about what they remember – you can uncover some little-known facts and fascinating anecdotes.

Update your family tree

If you have access to a computer scanner, you can scan in any documents you might find and attach them to the relevant person in your family tree. 

This will help you keep everything together in one place – and of course, will bring a whole new dimension to your family tree by helping to bring your ancestors’ lives to life.

Now start searching our online record section

Once you’ve collected all the information you can, it's time to start looking at official records. 

Start with the one family name – it’s easier to focus on one name rather than trying to look for everyone. Most people start with the father's line – but the easiest name to start with is the one you know the most about. 

It’s more difficult to trace ancestors with common surnames, such as Brown or Johnson, unless your family came from a small town or village. So it’s a good idea to choose a more unusual surname to start with. 

Make sure you search chronologically backwards from yourself, ensuring that you have found the correct ancestor at each step. If you start searching for records for people a few generations back without having the full details about the relatives in-between, you risk getting confused between people of the same name. 

Good luck with searching your Ancestry and Family History Online.

More help

* Download blank census forms

* View a sampling of handwriting examples

* Getting Started

* Tony Robinson's Ancestry Tutorial



1901 Census Online

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