The first port of call when it comes to finding out the basics about your relatives, even if your interest in family history is minimal – is through census records. Bursting with useful information that can see your family tree grow within minutes, the most popular genealogy sites store these, enabling you to reach names at speed.

The said, you may reach a certain point where you’re looking for facts before the Census began. General registration of records of birth, deaths and marriages began in 1837, and the first useful Census was collected in 1841. (The first ever Census actually dates back to 1801, but has no useful information – it’s essentially just a list of names!) What about before that? What are your options?

Winding the clock back further, records can be found in the main parish registers. It was Henry VIII who decreed that each of the 11,000 parishes should keep a record of baptisms, marriages and burials from 1538 onwards. Although these don’t hold as much information as the Census gives us, they’re a useful and reasonably reliable source. Britain actually has some of the greatest in the world, in terms of accessibility and detail.

Parish registers can be found in county archives, but it’s worth remembering that whereas a Census would tell you where your relative was born, a parish register will only tell you about their baptism. This is a small but potentially vital detail, which could have a huge impact on your research.

When you come to look through these registers, you’ll be looking for specific entries for particular people. This means you need a name to go from. Equally, it’s important to remember you may need to physically visit a church or record office as there’s no central archive. The information available, even then, is likely to be sparse, as it all depends on the vicar who recorded it. Some only mention the facts, whereas others might have included details about wedding preparations.

As heir hunters, we very rarely have to use records predating the census records. For probate researchers, Parish records are mostly used when working on a Trust case, which may have been going on for some time. Even in this instance, it’s usually only helpful to determine someone’s age. That said, for those interested in ancestry and family history, Parish records are incredibly helpful, and we would recommend delving that bit deeper if you’re wanting the full works.

If you are a solicitor, trustee of an estate or an individual having trouble with finding an heir to a Will, get in touch today to find out more.