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Using the Public Records Office

Public records are held today on every aspect of our lives, and it wasn't very different in the past. The Public Record Office (PRO) at Kew, in London , houses one of the most complete archives in the world, running unbroken from the Domesday Book in 1086.

Whilst everything is expertly catalogued, there is no 'subject' index as such at the PRO, and the records are generally in the categories relating to their multitude of original purposes. To make even reasonable use of the wealth of information available, it is therefore necessary to learn something about the nature and purpose of the various kinds of records. For example, who was responsible for what sort of affairs? Who is likely to have written to whom? What kind of information had to be kept for posterity? and so on. With over 500 km of records on the shelves, there is no practical limit to the depth to which you can investigate your ancestors, and the extent of the learning process.

Dig Deep and Wide

Potential family history data is more or less unlimited and you need to agree some approximate aims before you launch into record office searching, and perhaps to revisit them as you are confronted with new possibilities and decisions at different stages in your research, It is usually better to do a few things and do them well, or, put another way, to dig deep rather than journey wide.

As well as the PRO at Kew, the main public records of births, marriages and deaths are held at the Family Records Centre (FRC) in Myddleton Street, London. This is run jointly by the General Register Office of England and Wales (GRO), part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Public Records Office (they have a floor of the building each). These comprise civil births, deaths and marriages records dating from 1837, legal adoptions from 1927, and census returns from 1841 to 1891. The census records held at FRC are the only main records not held at Kew.


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