Are you curious to know more about your heritage? Did you know that you can access amazing resources for free, which allow you to carry out your own family history research? Family history can be a time-consuming hobby, but it is very exciting, and this blog post by Helena Quinn (Visitor Services Assistant) aims to provide you with useful tips and resources that you can access.
In our search room at Barnsley Archives and Local Studies in Barnsley Town Hall, as well as at branch libraries across the borough, you can access Ancestry and Find My Past for free through our library subscription, and both sites are great resources for starting out. You can access census records from 1841-1911 and the 1939 register on Ancestry, and on Find My Past you can also access the 1921 census. Census records are a great starting point if you have names and know the area your family was living, as you can often find multiple generations living together. They also provide an address, which may help you narrow down a search. The later census records also feature where people were born, how many children they have had and even how long a couple had been married for. All these details help to piece together the story you are trying to uncover. Details such as where someone was born, or how long they have been married can help you determine whether you have found the right person. There are lots of other record sets available on both websites which you can access in our search room or in your local branch library.
When starting out with your research, we recommend you start with yourself and work backwards to ensure your findings are as accurate as possible. Names and dates of birth, marriage or death can really help also and if you can discover maiden names, this is also useful to know. Don’t be afraid to discount family trees you have already found online that have been created by others, it is good practice to double check that someone has the correct information. On both sites, you have the option to view the transcript, or an image of the original. Always look at the original records, as names or places can sometimes be transcribed incorrectly. It can become quite tricky to trace people so far back, especially when they have a common surname, as there may be several people with the same name at the same time. We recommend you record the information you have found, either on paper or online (there are various free family tree sites).
To help you determine names of parents, marriage dates or last known addresses, birth marriage and death certificates can be another useful tool. These have to be purchased, and are held by the local registry office, but they can also be purchased online from the general registry office. You can also search the general registry office index online. Resources that you can access in the archives are local parish registers (physical or copies on microfilm/microfiche) which contain baptism, marriage, and burial records. As Barnsley Archives is not a diocesan record office, we only hold the microfilm/fiche copies, but these cover the Barnsley borough. The microfilm and microfiche are readily accessible in our search room, and we have several readers available.
We also hold electoral registers for the Barnsley borough, either physical copies or on microfiche. Some early registers for places in the borough are held physically at West Yorkshire Archive Service because of how Barnsley was divided before 1974, but we do have microfiche copies of these. When looking at an electoral register, it is essential that you have the address, or a relatively good idea, of where your family member was living as it is difficult to just sit and browse the register. The registers are divided into polling districts, with a street index at the front.
For Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council cemeteries, we have cemetery indexes available which you can view in our search room, as well as some cemetery plans. Churchyards can be more difficult to find out about, however we do have monumental inscriptions for most of the churches in the area (these were mostly surveyed in the 1970s, so they will reflect what was there at that time, rather than when someone was first interred). The copies of the inscriptions are in our local studies library, which is in our search room in Barnsley Town Hall.
When tracing an ancestor who was in the military, Ancestry and Find My Past have different record sets available which you can search. We also have a Roll of Honour for the Barnsley area for those who served during WWI, which was created by the Barnsley War Memorials Project. This book is available in our local studies library to view. You can also apply to the Ministry of Defence for military records, please see the government website for more information on this.
When researching a relative who worked as a miner, you will need to contact the National Union for Mineworkers if you would like to access things such as staff records. Our biggest collections that relate to coal mining in the area are the Women Against Pit Closure records, and you can find the guide to these collections here https://www.experience-barnsley.com/our-archives/collections/guides.
To access the resources we have available, you can visit us at Barnsley Town Hall Monday – Friday (please check our website for our latest opening times https://www.experience-barnsley.com/our-archives ). If you have not registered as a user with us previously, we require you to bring 2 forms of ID with you when you are signing up. As an ARA accredited service, we follow the regulations set out by the Archives and Records Association. You can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further questions.
Read our previous blog for even more family history top tips: https://barnsleymuseums.art.blog/2020/10/12/family-history-top-tips/