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We've designed this guide 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. You can access some archives for free in certain locations across Cornwall. The Archives and Cornish Studies Service is home to a wide range of helpful sources, however, these are not publicly accessible while our sites are closed in preparation for our move to Kresen Kernow. We are still running an enquiry and copy service though, so please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any queries.
Some tips for getting started
- First, 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. 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 local libraries and bookshops. These can 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:
Very useful records
Censuses are a valuable source for family historians. 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 access them is online. You can do this from home (but you may have to pay) or for free via the People’s Network computers in Cornwall’s public libraries.
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.
The Archives and Cornish Studies Service holds the original registers for all 257 parishes in Cornwall. Access to these is not available while we package and prepare to move our collections to Kresen Kernow (from September 2018 - summer 2019). However, transcripts of some of the registers are available via the Cornwall Online Parish Clerks website and from Cornwall Family History Society. Images from some of the registers are also available from Family Search and microfiche copies of some local registers can be viewed at our off-site service points.
Commonly known as birth, marriage and death registers and certificates, civil registration began in 1837 and continues to the present day. They can contain a wealth of useful information, including names, maiden names and occupations. There is no public access to the original registers themselves but birth, death and marriage certificates are available from the Registration Service for a fee. It is helpful if you can provide the district, names and date when the event occurred. For marriage certificates information such as where the parties lived is also helpful. You can make applications by phone or post (enclose an SAE). For application forms please visit the Registration Service web pages or contact:
Certificate Applications (Registration)
PO Box 94
Telephone: 0300 1234 181
You can also access the registration indexes through Cornwall Family History Society or for free online at FreeBMD.