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 irrelevant information.
- 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 help this.
- 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 twice.
- 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 public libraries. To learn more about the census see our Public records page.
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.
Cornwall 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 Registration 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 FreeBMD.
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
The Cornwall 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 online catalogues to check that what you require is available. Many of the documents at the Record Office can be copied.
Cornish Studies Library
The Cornish 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 181.