Last updated: 31/12/2012
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This guide is
designed to help you start to uncover your family’s history in
Cornwall. There are many resources you can use on the internet, as
well as places you can visit in Cornwall to help you. Some
websites charge for access to information but you can access some
of these for free in certain locations across Cornwall.
Some tips for getting started
- Firstly, organise what you know already and decide what you
want to find out. This will prevent you getting sidetracked by
- Remember, other members of your family often know lots of
useful information, so starting with yourself and working backwards
write down all that you and your relatives know about your family.
Using family letters, photographs, news cuttings and bibles can
- Write down everything that you learn, noting where the
information has come from. Include notes about when a search has
been unsuccessful to prevent you looking in the same place
- Start to draw a family tree or chart, leaving space to add more
information when you find it.
- Read a book or magazine on genealogy (family history) -
there are lots available from libraries and bookshops, to give you
an idea of what sources you may need and the information you can
expect to get from them.
- Look at some online guides such as the BBC family history
website, the National
Archives guides or GENUKI UK and Ireland a virtual
reference library of genealogical information.
Very useful records
Censuses are a valuable source for family historians and were
compiled every ten years from 1841. You can currently access them
for the years 1841-1911. They contain information such as names,
addresses, ages and occupations. The easiest way to use them is
online, which you can do from home (but you may have to pay) or for
free via the People’s Network computers in Cornwall’s pubic
These church records list baptisms, marriages and burials and
generally cover from the 1560s to the present day. They vary
in the detail they contain, but can include names, ages,
occupations and where people lived. For more details see
the Cornwall Record Office collections pages
or the Cornwall
Family History Society website.
Record Office (CRO) holds the original registers for Cornwall’s
257 parishes and they can be accessed there via microfiche (it is
also possible to obtain copies). Further microfiche copies of local
registers are available at our county-wide service points.
Transcripts of some registers are available at CRO, the Cornwall
Family History Society and the Cornish Studies Library (CSL). Bishops
Transcripts (contemporary copies of parish registers) are also
useful, as are Non-Conformist registers (mainly Methodist), both of
which are available at CRO.
Commonly known as birth, marriage and death registers and
certificates, they began in 1837 and continue until today. The
Service (RS) charges a small fee to search them for
you, but they can contain a wealth of useful information, e.g.
names, maiden names, occupations. There is no public access to the
original registers themselves, but the indexes can be accessed
through Cornwall Family History Society or for free, online at
Local places to visit
Although a lot of information can be acquired remotely, it can
be a rewarding exercise to visit the repositories that hold the
original documents. Outlined below are three useful places to
visit or contact.
Cornwall Record Office
Record Office is open for you to visit and explore your
family history. It holds parish registers, Bishops Transcripts,
probate records (wills, administrations and inventories), copies of
the census returns, as well as thousands of other records for you
to see. Particularly useful for your family history research are
poor law records, deeds, leases, tithe maps and school admission
registers. Prior to your visit it may be best to consult the
catalogues to check that what you require is available. Many of
the documents at the Record Office can be copied.
Cornish Studies Library
Studies Library is also open for you to visit and is a
reference library where you can drop in and access any of their
wealth of resources. It holds a vast collection of books and
journals relating to Cornwall, a photographic archive, as well as
census returns, some parish register copies and transcripts and
trade directories. You can consult their extensive collection of
old newspapers, periodicals and maps. There are facilities to sit
and study quietly, or chat about your family history findings.
To acquire birth, death or marriage certificates from the
Registration Service it is helpful if you can
provide the district, names and date when the event occurred. The
RS will search two years either side of the date supplied. For
marriage certificates, additional information such as where the
parties lived can be very helpful. Applications can be made by
phone or post (enclose an SAE) and must be accompanied by the fee
(cheques payable to Cornwall Council or you can pay by credit/debit
card over the phone). Unsuccessful applications will receive a full
refund. For application forms please visit the Registration
Service web pages or contact Certificate Applications
(Registration), PO Box 94, Truro TR1 9AZ, Telephone: 0300 1234
Frequently Asked Questions