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Research your Family History - Library blog

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Research your Family History

For the Plymouth History Festival we have been taking a look at some of the ways you can discover Plymouth's history through your local library. 

So far we have explored books, newspapers and maps

For our final blog we're sharing all the ways we can help you discover your family history. 

If you're just starting out, the first thing to do is try to gather as much information as possible using what you already know and talking to relatives.


All libraries provide free access to Ancestry Library Edition and Find My Past.

Births, marriages, deaths and divorce

The civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales began on 1 July 1837. For records before this you'll need to look at parish registers.

Births, Marriages and Deaths are available on Ancestry Library Edition and Find My Past.

The Central Library has a complete set of the General Register Office indexes on microfiche, including:

  • Births and deaths from 1837 to 2015

  • Marriages from 1837 to 2015

  • Overseas from 1761 to 2015

  • Civil partnerships from 2005 to 2015

  • Adoptions from 1927 to 2015

  • Provisional indexes for births and deaths for 2016

A collection of local parish registers can be found in the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office and online at Find My Past.

You can buy copies of Plymouth birth, death or marriage certificates online

Census records

In the UK, censuses have been taken every ten years since 1801 (except for 1941). The first useful one for family historians was taken in 1841 when names were recorded for the first time.

Original census records up to 1911 are available online in all libraries through our subscriptions to Ancestry Library Edition and Find My Past.

Street and name directories

Street directories are arranged by street name and property number.

  • Plymouth: 1812 to 1970 (with gaps)
  • Cornwall: 1823 to 1939, various dates
  • Devon: 1720 to 1939, various dates
  • BT National telephone directories: 1880 to 1984 through Ancestry Library Edition.

Electoral registers

The current Register of Electors for Plymouth is held in the Central Library.

Historical registers are available on Microfilm in the Central Library, indexed by street and then property number.

Help and advice 

Some of our libraries run weekly family history workshops where staff can help you to get started or offer advice if you get stuck. 

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