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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.
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 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. To learn more about the census see our Public records page.
Church records list baptisms, marriages and burials and generally cover from the 1560's to the present day. They vary in the detail they contain, but can include names, ages, occupations and where people lived. You can find further details on the:
Cornwall Record Office (CRO) holds the original registers for Cornwall’s 257 parishes. You can access them there via microfiche and 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) also have transcripts. Other useful records available at CRO include:
- Bishops Transcripts (contemporary copies of parish registers)
- Non-Conformist registers (mainly Methodist).
Commonly known as birth, marriage and death registers and certificates, civil registration began in 1837 and continues to the present day. The Registration Service (RS) charges a small fee to search them for you. They can contain a wealth of useful information, including names, maiden names and occupations. There is no public access to the original registers themselves. You can access the indexes through Cornwall Family History Society or for free, online at FreeBMD.
Other useful records
If you are researching pauper ancestors, or ancestors who may have been in the workhouse, then the Poor Law Guardians' minute books can be a very useful resource. You can find out more about them by visiting The Poor Law Project #2 page.
Local places to visit
You can get a lot of information remotely but it can be rewarding to visit the places 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 family history research are:
- poor law records (see also The Poor Law Project #2)
- tithe maps
- school admission registers
Before your visit it may be best to consult the online catalogues to check that what you need is available. You are able to copy many of the documents at the Record Office.
Cornish Studies Library
The Cornish Studies Library is also open for you to visit and is a reference library. You can drop in and access any of their wealth of resources including:
- a vast collection of books and journals relating to Cornwall
- a photographic archive
- census returns
- some parish register copies
- 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
Birth, death and marriage certificates are available from the Registration Service (RS). 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 information such as where the parties lived is also helpful. You can make applications by phone or post (enclose an SAE). Applications must include the appropriate fee. Please make cheques payable to Cornwall Council. Alternatively, 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
Telephone: 0300 1234 181