Getting started in family history

Most people are initially interested in their immediate ancestry, and while you needn't start by looking at that, it is uaually a good way to connect yourself to the past.

Make a list of your siblings, parents, and grandparents along with their dates and places of birth so far as you know them. If this has got you back to people who were alive at the time of the 1911 census you can look for them on that. Unless they have a rare surname, you are likely to need to search for them using year and place of birth to separate them from other people with the same or similar names. You may need to allow for some people not appearing to age linearly or their place of birth changing over time, perhaps because it gets more approximate or their parents forgot which child was born where. If you have not got back as far as a census, you will need to make use of birth and marriage records to see who ancestors parents are.

Organise your documents. Keep as much information as possible on the family tree. Use a notebook to keep a record of each source consulted - name of archive or other location you found the information, the date, the actual document, the page number (or census reference, etc.). Make a note of any puzzles or questions as they arise. For electronic records, make a back-up copy. Never base future research on an assumption! Always use the trustworthy evidence that you have.

The BBC has a helpful guide to Getting started on-line

What is available in the local area

Most of the libraries in the Waltham Forest area have internet-enabled computers available to the general public, with a subscription to family history websites such as Ancestry and Find My Past. You can use them for free! Bear in mind that these subscriptions will not allow access to specialised collections.

There are numerous free websites that provide useful FH material. Examples include:
WFFHS records - records for the local area
Family Search - LDS genealogical records
FreeBMD - GRO Birth, Marriage, and Death indexes for England and Wales
Historical Directories - Trade & street directories back to the 1760s
Booth poverty maps - Charles Booth’s poverty maps of late 19C London
British History has much useful information on all aspects of British history
Cyndi's List lists more genealogy sites

Local archives

There are several archives that have potentially useful, locally relevant FH resources, such as parish registers, electoral registers, newspapers, maps and much more. Each archive has its own website. It is best to phone in advance to check opening times. Take a pencil, not a pen.
Waltham Forest Archives and Local Studies library (Walthamstow): 020 8496 4381
Newham Local Archives (Stratford): 020 3373 6881
Redbridge Local Archives (Ilford): 020 8708 2417
Barking & Dagenham Local Archives (Dagenham): 020 8227 2033
Hackney Local Archives (Hackney): 020 8356 8925
London Metropolitan Archives (Barbican): 020 7332 3820
Guildhall Library (City of London): 020 7332 1868
Essex Record Office (Chelmsford): 01245 244644 and SEAX

Quick guides

We've produced a couple of quick guides from doing our own research:

Contacts for help

WFFHS has some experienced members with considerable knowledge of local records. Please ask nicely when you would like them to help or to do a look-up for you. You can contact them via our contact form here.