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Tracing your family history

This page provides some basic information to help you trace your family history with some links to other useful websites including Find My Past which library members can use free of charge in libraries.

Getting started

Gather as much information as you can from your relatives through conversations and documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates.  As well as names, places and dates, try to find out addresses, occupations and religion.

Draw a rough family tree with this information and use the resources sources suggested below to begin filling the gaps.

Birth, marriage and death records

Birth, marriage and death certificates and indexes, used together with census returns, are the most important sources in family history research.  Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began on 1st July 1837.

Copy certificates are available from the relevant local Registrar's office, prices vary (Sunderland Register Office charges £11.00).  The General Register Office can also supply copies.  To check details of current register offices nationwide see UK and Ireland Genealogy.

You will need the name, the year and the quarter of the year in which the event took place and the registration district to obtain a certificate.  If you don't have these details, the next step is to check birth, marriage and death indexes.  The Local Studies Centre holds a microfilm copy of the General Register Office Index of Births, Marriages and Deaths for England and Wales (also known as St. Catherine's House or GRO Index) from 1837 to 1983.  Computer searches of 1837 to 2005 indexes can be made free of charge in any of Sunderland's Public Libraries using Ancestry.

Sunderland Register Office has made birth (1837 to March 2007), marriage (1837 to 2010) and death (1837 to 1970,1985 to March 2007) indexes.

Some Register Offices elsewhere provide a similar service, check the Local Births Marriages and Deaths section of the UK Birth, Marriage and Deaths website for coverage.

Obtaining a certificate for the earliest event on your family tree that you are sure is correct will provide useful information.  A birth certificate will confirm the date and place and give the child's full name, parents' names and the father's occupation.  This will help you trace the parents' marriage certificate, as you may have the mother's maiden name (included from 1911) and the date before which they should have married.  The marriage certificate will give details of the ages, occupations and residences of the bride and groom, plus the names and occupations of the fathers.  By alternate searching of birth and marriage certificates, it should be possible to trace the family back to the early 19th century when registration began.

Census records

The census recorded individuals at the address they occupied on the day of the census and includes ages, relationship to head of household, occupations, marital status and birthplace.  As well as being a useful tool for cross-checking your birth, marriage and death information, the census provides details of other family members.

The Ancestry website includes the nationwide census for the years 1841 to 1911 (every ten years) and can be searched, free of charge, in Sunderland's public libraries.  The Local Studies Library holds microfilm copies of the census covering the city for these years, except 1911.

Parish records and cemetery records

Family history information before 1837 is to be found mainly in parish records covering baptisms, marriages and burials.  The Local Studies Library holds microfilm copies of most Church of England records for the City (the earliest being 1563).  The amount of information varies, but, for example, a baptism entry usually gives the parents' names (often the mother's maiden name), an address and the father's occupation.  Some Catholic and Non-Conformist records are also held.  The earliest Catholic records date from the 18 century, while few of the Non-Conformist records are earlier than 1850.  Some parish records have been indexed by name.

Burial and grave registers for all City cemeteries from 1856 are available on microfilm.  Some parish and cemetery records have been indexed by name.

Corder manuscripts

The Corder manuscripts are a unique source written in the early years of the last century.  The volumes cover pedigrees of Sunderland families and shipbuilders, together with histories of older Sunderland streets.

The BBC resource on family history provides some general information and links to help you get started.

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