Naming Conventions

A big difference between England and Wales is the naming system.

Most families in England adopted fixed surnames by 1400.

In Wales, the patronymic system prevailed into the 19th century.

  • The child was given the father’s given name as a last name.

  • The word ap or ab (“son of”) might be inserted between the son’s name and the father’s name.
  • i.e. David ab Owen meant David, son of Owen.

Closely analyze historical records to distinguish your ancestors from those with the same name.


UK has taken a census every 10 years since 1801, with the exception of 1941

The 1801 – 1831 were taken at the county level, with the Overseers of the Poor, clergy, and local officials serving as enumerators.

  • These census only recorded the name of the head of household, number of families in a dwelling, and the number of males and females.
  • Most of these records were never microfilmed and have been lost or destroyed

Beginning in 1841, the census was organized and collected centally under the office of the Registrar General

  • They also began to list the names of every individual in the household
  • Information requested included name, age, gender, occupation
Civil Records

Compulsory civil registration requirements for birth, marriage and death records began around 1874.

Researching in civil registrations is a two-step process:

  1. Look for an ancestor’s event in the quarterly indexes produced by the UK Office for National Statistics. You can order a copy of the record here.

2. Parish Records:

    • In 1537, a law required the Church of England to record all baptisms, marriages and burials in their parishes.
    • Parish registers contain gaps between 1553-1558 (when Mary I ruled) and 1642-1660 (during the English Civil War and its aftermath).
    • Most records continue until 1874, when civil registration began.
    • Records can be found here however, coverage varies by county.

Probate Records post 1857:

  • Ancestry has a catalog for “England & Wales National Probate Calendar, 1858-1966”
  • For people who died between 1967 and 1995 you must search by mail, for more information click here

Welsh records often refer to people by the farm name where they lived.

Useful Websites

Empire Emigrants

Empire Emigrants are British Citizens who migrated to British Outposts.


Documents are well preserved and accessible.

Documents were kept locally and generally organized by presidencies (provinces)

  • The Imperial Gazetteer of India can help you discover which province your ancestor’s town was in.
  • India Office Family History Search from the British Library
  • Church Register Returns served as civil registers of vital events.
  • If your ancestor was a civil servant visit here for their “writer’s petitions” (job applications).

Australia wa established as a British penal colony in 1788

First Fleet Fellowship is a lineage society for those on the first convict fleet to Australia

Convict Records include information on:

South Africa

Church records are the go-to source for British colonial vital statistics before 1870. Original records are scattered. Check the local parish office or local archives.

The Department of Home Affairs houses birth, marriage and death records.

Records are accessible by request through South African Consulates (Note: It isn’t expensive to order records, but it takes forever to receive a response.

Genealogical Society of South Africa holds cemetery records.

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