BIFHS-USA | Guide to British Isles Research

BIFHS–USA  |  Guide to British Isles Research

General Information

I. Where to Begin  |  II. General British Isles   

I. Where to Begin

Getting Started at the Los Angeles Family History Library

When you walk into any Family History Center, the first thing you should do is find out what information is already available about your family. The resources listed below will get you started.

The International Genealogical Index (IGI): One of the most valuable resources at any Family History Center is the International Genealogical Index. The IGI is a large database containing hundreds of millions of names. The IGI is available at

The IGI is an extremely valuable research tool that every researcher needs to understand and consult, but good research techniques require that every entry found in the IGI should be checked in original sources to ensure accuracy.

Ancestral File: The Ancestral File contains lineage-linkked information on about 20 million people. With Ancestral File, you can print pedigree charts and family group sheets of families contained in the database. Ancestral File is an old database that is now closed. It contains errors, but it is most useful for finding family trees that were compiled many years go.

Pedigree Resource File: The Pedigree Resource File has been compiled from family trees submitted by GEDCOM to The indexes are online at, but the actual pedigrees are available on Compact Disc.

After you have checked the International Genealogical Index, the Ancestral File, and the Pedigree Resource File, you will use the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) to look for published family histories or genealogies that have been done by someone else. A distant relative may have already done much of the work for you. Look for local histories that may contain details about your ancestor or his community. After looking through the many secondary and compiled sources, you are ready to look at original records.

Family History Library Catalog (FHLC): Mastering the FHLC is your key to finding research available in the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City. The majority of the Family History Library's microfilm and microfiche materials are available to researchers at Family History Centers through rental and indefinite loans. Books cannot be ordered, but many of them have been digitized and placed online at

If you need help with tracing your American ancestor to his place of origin in the British Isles see Tracing Your Immigrant Ancestor.

II. General British Isles

Have you used the "Where to Begin" section to find out what information is already available about your ancestors? If so, use this section to help you get into British Isles research materials. The British Isles Family History Society - U.S.A. maintains a large research collection at the Los Angeles Family History Library. This section is a guide to that collection, however most of the materials listed are available from the Family History Library through Family History Centers worldwide.

The following items are only a select list of materials. These items are in the process of annotation.

A. How to Do British Isles Research

Bevan, Amanda, ed. Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office (5th edition) provides a good overview of the wealth of resources that are available at the Public Record Office. Advice is given on how to get into each of the record classes and what approach will give the best results. Further references are also supplied for you to study a particular subject in depth. Book 942 A5p no. 19 1999.

Chapman, Colin. Tracing Your British Ancestors provides an overview of the basic record groups to be found in British Isles research. It includes comments on England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Channel Islands, and Isle of Man. Book 942 D27cc.

Hamilton-Edwards, Gerald. In Search of British Ancestry. Book 942 D27ham.

Herber, Mark D., Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. This book is an excellent and very comprehensive guide to English records. It focuses on English research, but also contains information on Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. Highly recommended. Book 942 D27hm.

Pelling, George. Beginning Your Family History in Great Britain is a concise introductory text focusing on the essentials of research back to the sixteenth century in Great Britain. Book 942 D27p 1984.

B. Finding Aids

Kew Lists are a detailed list of records housed in the National Archives, formerly known as the Public Record Office [PRO]. The Public Record Office (located at Kew, Richmond, Surrey) houses the national archives of England and the United Kingdom. Until 1996, the PRO records were divided between two buildings, one in Chancery Land and the other at Kew. All records have now been moved to Kew. The Kew lists that are available to Family History Centers were published between 1986-88 with a 1992 update. They describe primarily records that were then located at Kew. The Kew Lists contain the Current Guide followed by the class lists.

The Current Guide is divided into three parts:

The Current Guide is followed by the Class Lists. Each class is given a Public Record Office class reference which is comprised of a lettercode followed by a number. The Class Lists are arranged in alphanumeric order on microfiche 6092285 - 6092372.

The Kew lists are the finding aids for the Public Record Office. They allow you to refer to specific documents when requesting copies from the PRO. For finding aids of other repositories see National Inventory of Documentary Sources below.

National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United Kingdom and Ireland (NIDS) is a finding aid collection on microfiche. NIDS is produced on microfiche in annual units by Chadwyck-Healey. It provides detailed listings including exact reference numbers for the collections in British archives, libraries, and museums. Using NIDS enables a researcher to plan an effective research trip, to write to a repository with a specific record request, or to hire a record agent to search a specific record.

Use the NIDS Register for a listing of NIDS repositories, descriptions of records, Chadwyck-Healey microfiche numbers, and FHL microfiche numbers.

A name and subject index to NIDS is on FHL fiche #6341118 (28 fiche). The index is contained on fiches 16-28 of the set. To use the index, look under the name or subject desired to obtain a reference number. Then look in the numerical listing of finding aids on fiches 1-15 to find the Chadwyck-Healey [CH] fiche number. A sample CH fiche number is 0.048.039. This is the Register of Testaments for Lanark, Scotland. "0.048" is the number assigned to the repository (in this case 0.048 is the Scottish Record Office). ".039" is the fiche number that contains the Register of Testaments for Lanark. To convert a CH fiche number to an FHL fiche number, use the NIDS Register.

Public Record Office Current Guide (1996 version) was purchased by BIFHS-USA at the PRO. It is the update to the Current Guide contained in the Kew Lists above and has the same format. This version is not available on open stacks. Ask one of the BIFHS-USA Board members to use these materials in the Los Angeles Family History Library.

You can search the Catalogue of the National Archives online.

C. General Reference

Fitzhugh, Terrick V.H. The Dictionary of Genealogy: A Guide to British Ancestry Research. This dictionary contains descriptions and locations of the historical records of interest to genealogists. It includes explanations of obsolete terms, translations of the most-used Latin documents, and details about numerous family history societies. Book number 942 D26f 1991.

MacLennan, Malcolm. Gaelic Dictionary is book number 491.63321 M224p.

Martin, Charles Trice. The Record Interpreter: A Collection of Abbreviations, Latin Words and Names Used in English Historical Manuscripts and Records. This book is a standard reference work, a "must" if you are reading old documents. It contains sections on Latin abbreviations; French Abbreviations; Glossary of Latin Words; Latin Names of Places; Latin names of Bishoprics in England, Scotland, and Ireland; Latin forms of English surnames; and Latin Christian names. Book number 422.471 M363re.

Richardson, John. The Local Historian's Encyclopedia provides the local historian and genealogist with basic information on a wide range of subjects including: land and agriculture; local community and its administration; taxes, services, rents, rates, and other dues; archaeology; education; social welfare; law and order; public utilities and services; transport; religion; the local militia; architecture; place names; coins and tokens; heraldry; trade, commerce, and industry; and bibliography. This book contains a wealth of difficult-to-locate information. Book number 942 H2rjo.

Saul, Pauline. The Family Historian's Enquire Within. Book 942 D27mf 1995.

D. Finding Places: Maps and Gazetteers

Cassell's Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (6 vols.) on microfilm:

Vol. 1 — #599,360 Item 1
Vol. 2 — #924,936 Item 1
Vol. 3 — #599,360 Item 2
Vol. 4 — #929,936 Item 2
Vol. 5 — #599,361 Item 1
Vol. 6 — #599,361 Item 2

Bartholomew, John. The Survey Gazetteer of the British Isles. Book no. 942 E5ba

Landranger Map Series is a collection of 204 maps covering all of Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales). The map scale is 1:50,000 (1-1/4" to 1 mile). At the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the maps have been bound into three very large volumes and are located on a table next to the British Reference desk. In the Los Angeles Family History Library, the maps have been laminated and placed in labeled drawers in the map area. All 204 maps are completely indexed in the Ordnance Survey Gazetteer of Great Britain (see below).

National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (4 vols.) is in the map area, book 914.2 V819.

Ordnance Survey Gazetteer of Great Britain indexes all (approximately 250,000) place names in the Landranger map series. The gazetteer provides the Landranger map number and a grid reference. Each entry contains the following information [this is the example used by the Ordnance Survey Gazetteer]:

In the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the Ordnance Survey Gazetteer is located on the table with the Landranger maps (see above). In the Los Angeles Family History Library, the gazetteer is located on top of the map case that contains the maps.

You can also search the Ordnance Survey Gazetteer online.

E. Biographies and Family Histories

British and Irish Biographies is a collection of numerous biographical publications on several thousand microfiche. It includes many obscure sources. The biographies were published during the years 1840-1940. The index is fiche #6342001. Instructions appear on the first fiche in the index.

British Biographical Archives is a compilation from 324 biographical reference works published between 1601 and 1929. Copies of the references were cut out and assembled into one alphabetical sequence, then put onto 1260 microfiche. It is easy to use and is on fiche #6029710 - #6029735. To see the title page of the original source, see fiche #6029709.

Marshall, George. A Genealogist's Guide lists family histories that appeared in print prior to 1903. It is book number 942 D24m, also on FHL film #496,451. It is continued by Whitmore's A Genealogical Guide.

Whitmore, J. B. A Genealogical Guide continues Marshall's Guide (above). It lists family histories published up to 1953 and is on FHL fiche #6054492. It is continued in Barrow's The Genealogist's Guide.

Barrow, Geoffrey. The Genealogist's Guide continues Whitmore's Guide (above). It lists family histories published up to 1977. It is book number 942 D24b, also on FHL fiche #6026284.

F. Military Records

British Military and Naval Records: Muster Rolls include military records of Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War. They are housed at the National Archives of Canada. They are on microfilm at the LA FHC, films #928,940 - #928,947; #1,689,400 - #1,689,403 (Computer No. 0198411). These records are indexed in the Index to British Military Records "C" Series below.

Index to British Military Records "C" Series 1757-1896 Located at the National Archives of Canada are records maintained by British forces stationed in North America. They include some muster rolls of American Loyalist regiments 1777-1783. The LA FHC has the complete 89-roll index in the Canada Film Area. See Computer No. 0611036.

Military Records of Disbanded Regiments: The records of disbanded Militia Regiments of some English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh units are in LA FHC on 141 microfilms. See FHLC Computer No. 0311810 for a complete listing of films.

Pension Records: At the time of discharge from the army, a soldier would be examined and discharged at one of two hospitals: the Royal Hospital Chelsea or the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Check the Chelsea records first and if your ancestor is not found, then check the Kilmainham records.

Royal Hospital (Chelsea, London) Pension Records: The Chelsea Regimental Registers are lists of soldiers discharged to pension. They are arranged by the regiments in which the soldier last served and by admission to the hospital. They give the award date and rate of pension. They are on 31 microfilms, numbered from #854,645 to #854, 672 and #852,020 to #852,022. [Computer No. 0383327.] The film series is complete in the LA FHC. James D. Becket created an index to part of the records for the period 1806 - 1838 and these indexes are on films #1,544,780 and #1,595,009.

Royal Hospital (Kilmainham, Dublin) Pension Books (1759-1863) are arranged in chronological order. The British Isles Family History Society - U.S.A. is in the process of indexing these records. They are on microfilm #867,585 to #868,534.

G. Other Sources

Apprentice Books of Great Britain: By an Act of 1710, a stamp duty was imposed on apprenticeship indentures. The tax records are in the Apprentice Books of Great Britain and give the name of the apprentice, address, name of the father, and name and trade of the master. The index to apprentices for the years 1710-1774 is on films #477,624 - #477,635. The index to masters 1710-1762 is on films #477,636 - #477,637. If the stamp duty was paid in London (regardless of the location of the apprenticeship) the details will be recorded in the Town Registers. Otherwise they will be recorded in County Registers. Inland Revenue Town and County Registers are on films #824,662 - #824,683; #838,740 - #838,850; #841,361. See FHLC Computer No. 0374156.

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The BIFHS–USA Guide to British Isles Research has been compiled and annotated by Linda Jonas.
Copyright © 1998-2008 Linda Jonas. All rights reserved.