Family history

Old family photo of parents and six children

Liverpool Record Office is the main centre for family history research in the city.  There are always experienced members of staff on hand to help. We encourage those starting their family research to visit the Family History Helpdesk, which runs every Tuesday 1.30pm to 4pm. The helpdesk is run by volunteers from the Liverpool and South West Lancashire Family History Society. 

Our research service can also carry out information searches for a fee.

Sources for researching your family tree 

We have a huge range of sources, much of it on microfilm, microfiche and public access computers. The Digital Library is a collection of subscription websites including Ancestry and findmypast that are free for all library members on the library computers.

Ask the family

The family itself should be the first port of call if at all possible. Are any older family members still alive? Can they provide information such as dates, addresses, occupations, or religious affiliation? They may also have documents that will be useful to you. These could include birth, marriage or death certificates, entries in family bibles, copies of wills, funeral cards, even books awarded as school prizes. If you are lucky there may be some old photographs. Don’t dismiss family legends or stories – these are often embellished, but may contain an element of truth.

Old family photo of parents and six children

Births, marriages and deaths indexes

Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths started in England and Wales in 1837. We hold microfiche copies of the indexes to births, marriages and deaths, 1837 to 2004, often referred to as the General Register Office (GRO) Index. These indexes will give you sufficient information to purchase copy certificates with full details from a local register office or the General Register Office.

The Ancestry website and Find my Past websites, available free via the Digital Library on all library computers, have birth, death and marriage indexes from 1837 to 2006.  The BMD and the Lancashire BMD websites are also available via the Digital Library.

Census returns

Census returns give details of all the members of individual households, including children, servants, visitors and so on, who were present on the night the census was taken. You can discover names, addresses, ages, occupations and places of birth. The first national census giving details about individuals was taken in 1841. A census has been taken at 10 year intervals, except in 1941, ever since. To guarantee confidentiality the information is not released for 100 years.

The Ancestry website and Find My Past have all available censuses, including 1911. The latter are by subscription but you can access them for free via the Digital Library on any Liverpool library computer.

Parish registers    

Parish registers are the main source of information for family historians before the start of civil registration in 1837. They give information about christenings, baptisms, marriages and sometimes burials. 

The earliest register in the Record Office is for St.Mary, Walton-on-the-Hill, which starts in 1586/87. Until registers with a standard format were introduced the amount of information varies.

Please note that many of the registers can only be consulted on microfilm or online at the Ancestry database. For registers that have not been microfilmed or digitised the original volumes can be viewed by appointment only in our search room.

Burial records

Burial records often include details of the deceased’s last address, age and occupation, vital information for family history research. We hold the records of Liverpool churchyards and cemeteries. These include private cemeteries and, from the mid nineteenth century, those maintained by the council.  The crematorium records from 1908 to 1992 are also available on microfilm.

Copies of inscriptions from gravestones often give biographical information about the deceased and other family members. A number of volumes of monumental inscriptions are kept in the Record Office.

The Ancestry website has digitised most of Liverpool’s parish graveyards, but not the municipal cemeteries. This can be accessed for free via the Digital Library on any Liverpool library computer.

Street directories

Liverpool Street Directories start in 1766 and were published until 1970. They contain a list of names of inhabitants, an alphabetical list of streets with inhabitants (from 1839) and a list of trades and professions (from 1827). They can be a useful source for finding out where a family lived in Liverpool, but they do contain a number of errors and omissions.

The directories are available on microfilm. Some have been digitised and are available via the Digital Library on any library computer.

Electoral registers

We have electoral or voters’ registers, for Liverpool only, from 1832 to the present. The registers show who was entitled to vote in elections, but remember that the right to vote used to be much more restricted than it is today. To find out more about consulting the registers contact us.

Wills

If you're lucky enough to find your ancestor’s will it can tell you a lot about their relative wealth and how they lived and it may well give details of your ancestor’s relatives.

Indexes of wills from 1458 to 1837 are published by the Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, with the originals available at the Lancashire or Cheshire Record Offices.

The Ancestry website has digitised probate calendars from 1858 to 1966. These are available for free via the Digital Library on any Liverpool library computer.

Other sources          

Other useful sources include: newspapers, hospital records, workhouse admission registers, school records (particularly registers), records of orphanages or children’s homes, court records and maps and photographs of the area. For more information on these sources contact us.