Reference sources for family history

Reference sources for family history banner

The British Library’s collection of reference sources for family history and genealogy research consists of bibliographies, indices, dictionaries, and guides.

About the collection

Reference sources for family history and genealogy research complement primary sources held at the British Library – India Office records family history, UK electoral registers, microfilm copies of the General Registration Office, and service lists for the Army, Navy and Air Force. They provide an introduction to family history and genealogy research, and help you locate records and other primary sources held outside the Library, including regional and parish registers and, increasingly, online.

What is available online?

Several sites offer free access to indexes and other genealogical information:

  • London Ancestors: portal to family history sites for London
  • Family Search: union index to both parish and non-parochial registers is the International Genealogical Index
  • Mormon Migration: index of records and primary sources on the circa 90,000 Latter-day Saint converts emigrants from Britain in the 19th century
  • FreeGen: limited date range of births, deaths, marriage, census information, baptism, marriage, and burial records
  • Free UK Genealogy: census and church registers containing baptism, marriage, and burial records
  • GenUKI: guides on conducting family history research
  • Historical Directories: digitised trades directories covering England and Wales from 1760s-1920s
  • London Lives: 240,000 digitised manuscript and printed sources about 18th century London
  • Old Bailey: 200,000 trials held at the Old Bailey, or Central Criminal Court in London from 1674-1913
  • Royal Gazette: notices, including the Queen’s honours and awards, wills and probates and insolvency.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The Library subscribes to Find My Past, the genealogical database which contains births, marriages, deaths and parish records, as well as Census returns (1841 – 1911) and other primary sources. You can use this database in our Social Sciences Reading Room.

On shelves in our Humanities Reading Rooms, you'll find genealogical reference works. Poll books are mostly held in the Social Sciences Reading Room.

Most genealogical works are kept in storage and can be ordered using Explore the British Library catalogue.

What is available in other organisations?

Genealogy societies and associations

  • Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives: the professional organisation promoting high professional standards in the field of genealogy and historical research in England and Wales.
  • College of Arms: the official heraldic authority for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and much of the Commonwealth including Australia and New Zealand.
  • Family Search: a non-profit family history organization established by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • Federation of Family History Societies: educational charity co-ordinating and assisting the work of organisations interested in family history, genealogy and heraldry.
  • The Heraldry Society: educational charity promoting and extending interest in and knowledge of heraldry, armoury, chivalry, and genealogy.
  • Irish Genealogical Society Library: one of the most important collections of Irish genealogical materials in private hands.
  • Scottish Genealogy Society: houses a unique collection of books and manuscripts including local histories, military, trades and profession lists, directories, peerage and heraldry, school and university rolls and individual family histories.
  • Society of Genealogists: whose library’s collections are particularly valuable for research before the start of civil registration of births marriages and deaths in 1837

National and regional record offices and archives

  • General Register Office: records of every birth, marriage and death registered in England and Wales, starting from July 1837.
  • Guildhall Library: a public reference library specialising in the history of London, covering maritime history, business history, clocks and clockmakers, historic law reports, parliamentary papers and statutes.
  • London Metropolitan Archives: some of the most important family history sources for London, including parish registers, electoral registers, land tax records, parish poor relief and boards of guardian registers, which include workhouse records.
  • The National Archives: military records, wills, historical census data 1841-1911, and a wide range of other records for genealogy and family history research.
  • National Archives of Ireland: collections of records which are relevant to Irish genealogy and local history.
  • National Archives of Scotland: records created by Scottish government from the 12th century to the present day, along with private records created by businesses, landed estates, families, courts, churches and other corporate bodies.
  • Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: resources for family history research include public and private records, church records, valuation books and maps, estate records and more.

How to guides

Family history: a guide to sources

A guide to sources for family history and genealogy research, and where to find them.

Search the India Office Records for baptisms, marriages and burials

How to search the India Office Records for baptisms, marriages and burials

Get a Reader Pass

A guide to how to obtain a British Library Reader Pass to use our Reading Rooms