Tracing your ancestors?
For all births, death and marriages since 1837, you’re almost certainly better off using civil rather than church records. The Family Records Centre (FRC) provides access to some of the most important sources for family history research.
The FRC holds the indexes to births, marriages and deaths registered in England and Wales since 1st July 1837, and census returns for the whole of England and Wales for each of the ten-yearly censuses from 1841 to 1901. You can’t consult the registers themselves directly; instead you use the indexes to order certificates. The UK censuses are also availalbe on-line.
There’s a long-running voluntary project to index the Victorian (1837-1901) records online, at http://freebmd.rootsweb.com
1837online.com is part of an independently-owned business that is dedicated to providing high quality genealogical services to professional and non-professional researchers.
Ancestry.com is a commercial site with an online collection of family history information from historical records, newspapers, as well as census, immigration and military records.
For records before 1837, and just occasionally after that, church registers are your best option. These consist of baptism, marriage and burial records for every parish in the country, and have been kept since the mid-sixteenth century – though many of the earliest registers are no longer in existence, and those that do exist are often almost illegible and very scanty in terms of information.
Later records are particularly useful: baptism registers recording parents’ names, and marriage registers giving father’s names, for instance. But don’t forget that your ancestors may not have been members of the Church of England, or (more recently) may not have been married or buried by the church, or indeed baptised at all.
Archdeacons' and bishop's transcripts (also known as register bills) are copies of parish registers made annually by each incumbent: most are available on microfiche, the remainder on microfilm. The dates of the transcripts in this list are covering dates only and conceal large gaps, particularly before 1725 and after 1837.
Cambridgeshire. Parish records from the last few decades may still be kept in the respective parish churches. However, the great majority of parish records from the county, including all the earliest, are kept by the Cambridgeshire Archives Service, which collects, preserves and actively promotes their use.
A complete list of Original Parish Registers held by the Cambridgeshire Record Office was revised on 16th May 2000. Listed are all microfilm parish registers and bishop's transcripts held at the Record Office, Cambridge and also those held at the Record Office, Huntingdon.
Norfolk. Registers of baptisms, marriages, burials and banns of marriage from part of the Diocese of Ely in southwest Norfolk (Fincham and Feltwell deanery) are on deposit at the Norfolk Record Office. Records for the extreme west of the county have been deposited in the Wisbech and Fenland Museum (parishes in the Wisbech Lynn Marshland deanery) and Welney parish records are stored at the Cambridgeshire Record Office.
Staff at the record offices may be happy to give simple, limited information on e-mail request, but for more protracted searches you’ll need to do the work yourself, or employ a local agent to do it for you. You can email Cambridge, Huntingdon or Norfolk direct.
International Genealogical Index. Many parish records from Cambridgeshire, west Norfolk and indeed throughout the world have been indexed by members of the Mormon religion (thanks to their belief in converting people posthumously). The results are accessible at the online International Genealogical Index, which forms a good starting point for pre-1837 research.
You should be aware, however, that the records are neither complete nor are the transcripts always entirely accurate. References should always be checked against the original records when possible.
Living relatives may have some knowledge, but remember memories can be inaccurate.
The Diocese of Ely itself holds no records which are likely to be useful to you, and so for further information you should contact one or more of the agencies listed above. Happy hunting!