Family history starter kit

Getting started at Hampshire Archives

The aim of this starter kit is to give a brief guide to the main sources available from Hampshire Archives to help you to research your family history, but also to provide helpful signposting to other sources that may not be local to Hampshire.

Family records and memories are important sources of information and you should gather as much as possible before visiting the Record Office.

Key pieces of information that can be a starting point:

  • Names
  • Dates of birth
  • Marriage dates
  • Date and location of death

More broadly it might help you to know:

  • Places where people lived
  • Their religion or occupation

This information can also be made available in large print or in other languages upon request

This guidance broadly relates to sources you will find on site at Hampshire Record Office, but it also provides signposting to off-site sources. These links have been compiled from multiple sources including The National Archives and the BBC.

Where to start

You may be starting your journey with a wealth of information, dates and names, or you could be starting with only a fragment. Choose your focus and be systematic. Starting with information you already know is a good first step.

  1. Start with your own details and build from there
  2. Choose a way to record your research. You may find you soon have a huge amount of information to sort and store. You should consider how to record this in a structured way (see Family Tree Builders section below)
  3. Consider your methods: online databases, archive visits, collecting oral histories from relatives
  4. Get stuck in!

Collecting stories and oral histories

Do not dismiss family stories. They may have become distorted over time but could still hold a grain of truth that could prove useful as your research progresses. Many cultures have a strong oral history tradition and this can be a fantastic place to begin your family history journey.

Speak with family members informally to:

  • Ask them about their own details (date of birth, marriage, significant milestones)
  • Ask them what they know about others in the family
  • Create links with relatives you may know little about

Ensure you take good notes if you are not recording the conversation. You do not want to forget anything vital.

Recording stories

If you would like to record more formal oral histories from your relatives, Hampshire Archives can lend equipment and advise.

Starting with YOU

A basic method is to start with the information for which you have definite proof. This might be your own birth certificate, or those of your grandparents. However much information you have, the method for research is the same: work backwards through each generation step by step.

It is important to record all information found, including a note of its source.

It may be helpful to read a book on researching your family history. We hold many books at Hampshire Record Office on our open shelves or you can visit your local library. If you are unable to do your own research, we offer a research service

Available support

This starter kit contains hints and tips to help shape your aims, and to get you started. Once you’ve made a start on gathering some initial information you might be ready to explore local sources.

Hampshire Record Office can advise about how to locate sources and identify new lines of enquiry. The Record Office and Hampshire County Council libraries provide free access to FindMyPast and Ancestry. You can purchase your own subscription to Ancestry or FindMyPast which will allow you to access these sites from home – they also have an integrated family tree function allowing you to build your tree within your account and add records to it as you find them. A free trial of these sites may be available.

We can provide limited advice by email, so if you have a query that we can answer, then we will do our best – although we can’t do the research for you, we can point you in the right direction.

Recording your research

The BBC has a series of Family Record Sheets that you can print out to log your family’s details. These can be helpful if you are taking a paper-based approach.

Family Tree builders

Information sheets are great for manually recording data on an individual, but if you want to effectively map out your ancestors you will need to opt for a computer-based tree builder.

Tree builders are helpful ways of making connections between relatives. The following are examples of free versions; we are not endorsing or recommending these providers:

By signing up for a free account on these websites, you can build a tree in your account area

Available records

The following records are available at Hampshire Record Office.

Civil Registration

Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began in England and Wales on 1 July 1837. Public access to the registers is not permitted by law but indexes are available. We hold the indexes from 1837 to 1992 on microfiche and offer free access via Ancestry, FindMyPast (up to 2005/6) and FreeBMD. The General Register Office Index Getting started page gives information about the indexes and how to obtain copies of certificates.

If you find a relevant entry in a Hampshire registration district you can check the parish registers for that district. There is a parish map showing registration districts to 1894 or you can check the UKBMD's page about Registration Districts in England and Wales.

Parish registers

Parish recording of baptisms, marriages and burials began in 1538 but many early records have not survived. A map showing the dates of commencement of registers for Hampshire parishes formed before 1832 is available. We hold parish registers for most Hampshire parishes and they are also available on Ancestry. A helpful table can be found on our Parish registers page.

Hampshire parish registers held elsewhere (eg Southampton, Portsmouth) are also available as microform copies. We do not hold any parish registers for the Isle of Wight.

Portsmouth parish registers are on FindMyPast. 

Visit our Online sources page for more details.

Hampshire Genealogical Society

Hampshire Genealogical Society holds regular meetings throughout the county for its members. It publishes a quarterly magazine and members are able to advertise their interests and request information. It also produced a variety of indexes to Hampshire records: pre-1837 baptisms, marriages and burials (available on CD-ROM), wills beneficiaries and census, some of which are available to non-members.

Nonconformist records

We hold many nonconformist registers. Registers of baptisms and burials in nonconformist churches were kept from the eighteenth century and, when civil registration began in 1837, many of these registers were subsequently deposited at The National Archives. We have microfilm copies of the registers relating to Hampshire, some of which are available on Ancestry.

Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, in force between 1754 and 1837, made it compulsory for all marriages, except those of Jews and Quakers, to be celebrated in an Anglican church in order to be considered valid and any children legitimate. Therefore, search Anglican registers for marriage entries between these dates.

You can also access a range of non-conformist records on Ancestry.

Census records

The first national census was taken in 1801 and then every 10 years after, with the exception of 1941. Early census returns do not include specific information about individuals.

Returns from 1841 onwards are a valuable source of information about individuals as they record all persons present in each household on a specific night. They also show where individuals were born. The 1841 census shows if an individual was born within the county of residence (indicated by the letter ‘Y’) or within England and Wales (indicated by the letter ‘N’). From the 1851 census onwards a specific place of birth is given. Information about residence, age and occupation is shown on all census returns from 1841.

We hold microform copies of census returns for Hampshire, including the Isle of Wight, for the years 1841-1911. We also offer free access to Ancestry which has census returns for the whole country 1841-1911, and to FindMyPast which also includes the 1921 census. Hampshire County Council libraries also have free access to these websites.

We have copies of The National Archives guides to census records Making Sense of the Census and A Clearer Sense of the Census.

Wills and inventories

Wills can be an invaluable source for family historians, linking family names and wider relationships. Some 16th to 18th century wills also include inventories, giving insights into how our ancestors lived. We hold copies of Hampshire wills from 1400 to 1941. Our online catalogue lists individual wills and inventories, and probate documents proved in the church courts of the Diocese of Winchester up to 1921 are also available on Ancestry.

We also hold the National Probate Calendars (an indexed summary of all wills for England and Wales) from 1858 to 1943 on microfiche and from 1944 to 1952 in original format. The leaflet Getting Started: Wills gives more detailed information about wills, available at Hampshire Record Office.

Electoral registers

These give details of those entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. More information can be found on our Electoral registers page.

Parish register transcripts

We hold a large collection of parish register transcripts, some indexed. There are also transcripts available on our CD-ROM terminals, including the Phillimore marriage index, and we also have several CD-ROMs of searchable parish indexes, such as Hampshire baptism, marriage and burial indexes published by the Hampshire Genealogical Society.

Many baptisms and marriages are indexed on the IGI (International Genealogical Index). Alternatively, a 1992 edition is available in the search room on microfiche.

Monumental inscriptions

These records contain details from gravestones and memorials in many Hampshire churchyards and cemeteries and often include surname indexes.

It may also be useful to research Burial records.

Cemetery registers

Burial registers of some municipal cemeteries are available on microfiche.

It may also be useful to research Burial records.

Online catalogue

You can search our online catalogue for personal and place names noted in original documents, many of which may prove useful for your genealogical research.

Passenger lists

Ancestry hosts passenger lists, which may be useful for people whose families settled in the UK.

Working with archive records

Many records are not available online as fully digitised items, and in some cases, you will only be able to access an index, list or catalogue of records, and you will then need to check the originals in person.

Other useful records

We hold directories including Kelly’s trade directories, Crockfords clerical directories, Burke’s Peerage, Dictionary of National Biography and some Army and Navy lists. You can access our regional and local newspapers, including the Hampshire Chronicle from 1772 to 2007 on microfilm. Newspapers may hold ancestors’ trade advertisements, obituaries or court cases.

British newspapers can be found at Newspapers, which requires an Ancestry login, or the British Newspaper Archive, requiring a FindMyPast login.

Bishops’ transcripts, which are copies of parish registers prepared for the bishop, survive in Hampshire for the period 1789-1858 and, although there are gaps in coverage, they can be useful if the original register is missing or illegible or you are searching for Isle of Wight entries. These are available on Ancestry.

Banns registers can also be a useful source of information. If you know that one of the parties came from a particular parish but you cannot find an entry in the marriage register, check for a surviving banns register, as banns were called in the parish of both parties. These registers are available on Ancestry.

If a marriage is described as being by licence, rather than by banns, it is possible that documents have survived. The couple had to obtain a Marriage licence from the archdeacon or bishop, which involved making a sworn statement (allegation) that there was no lawful impediment to their marriage. These allegations include names, parishes of residence, age and marital status. We have an index to surviving allegations for the period 1689-1837. Allegations after 1837 are available but are not indexed.