Family history

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Sources of information to help you research your family history.

To start researching your family history, gather as much information from home as you can, mainly by:

  •  talking to relatives;
  •  making a list of birth dates, deaths and marriages as far back as you can; and
  •  finding out what parishes your relatives lived in – lots of the information you need will be in church records.

Getting started

When you are starting out, the National Archives and GENUKI (UK and Ireland genealogy) have useful guides.

Cumbria County Council's Historical Research Service page tells you how to use the Cumbria Archive Service to search for Cumbrian ancestors.  You can pay for them to help research your family tree.

Church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials

Church registers are one of the main sources that family historians use.  They often predate civil certificates of birth, marriage and death and 19th century census returns.  The four Cumbria Archive Centres each hold church registers relating to their part of Cumbria. 

By working back through these registers, you may find information relating to several generations of one family.

If you don't know which parish your family lived in, you can use the International Genealogical Index (IGI) in each Cumbria Archive Centre.  You can search by name through many of Cumbria's church registers of baptisms and marriages that took place before about 1875.  You can also search IGI via the FamilySearch website.

Cumbrian census returns

Census returns were taken every ten years from 1841, and are currently available from 1841-1911.  The detailed schedules are closed for 100 years after their compilation.  They record everyone living in the county on census night, and show the ages, birthplaces and occupations of entire households.

Census returns are arranged by historic county and held in the following Archive Centres:

  • Cumberland 1801-1901: Carlisle and Whitehaven
  • South Cumberland and Lancashire North of the Sands 1841-1891: Barrow and Whitehaven
  • Westmorland 1841-1901: Kendal Library and the Kendal and Whitehaven offices.

You can pay to use the Ancestry site to find census records for the whole country.  Cumbria Libraries offer access to this site without you needing a subscription.

Census returns for 1911 can only be seen at

Buying birth, marriage or death certificates after 1837

Official certificates can help you start researching your family tree, particularly if you don't have enough information to take you back into the 19th century.

You can buy copies of post-1837 civil certificates from:

  • Superintendent Registrars in the district in which the event was originally registered; or
  • You can look at the indexes to these certificates (which contain only limited details) at the Barrow and Whitehaven Archive Centres and at Carlisle Library.

Cumbrian wills and inventories

These can be very useful, but remember that very few people left wills.  Staff at the Archive Centre closest to the place you're interested in will know more about where to find wills and inventories. 

Be aware that records were based on areas of the country which are very different to the districts in place today, so may be difficult to find.

Related links and information

As well as the websites mentioned above, you may find the following sites useful:

  •   Family History UK has an online community, including discussion forums, updates and the change to post names you are looking for to see if others can help.
  • has a free online family tree option and a 14-day free trial.


Published: 30 July 2012 - 10:34am