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Family history research in Bedfordshire

Tracing your family tree in Bedfordshire

Tracing your ancestors can be fascinating but it takes time and patience. By doing some preparation before you start searching in the Bedfordshire archives, you'll be able to make best use of your time when you start your research. Here is what we recommend. If you are unable to visit us yourself, we do have a research service |for remote users.
  • The place to start enquiring about your family history is at home. Ask your family if they have any recollections that may be useful, such as full names of grandparents, dates and places of birth, marriage and death, occupations, where people lived. But remember that memories are not always reliable and this information cannot be taken as fact. 
  • Find the family bible if there is one, and diaries, copies of wills, certificates and old letters which family members may have kept.
  • Read one of the many guides to family history research available in bookshops and libraries. They explain how to start your search, the sort of sources you're likely to use, what information you can expect to find in them and where to see them. This will be invaluable for making sense of the records in the next stages of your search.
  • Find out if anyone else has done work on your family by contacting a local Family History Society, such as Bedfordshire Family History Society which will usually have a register of members' interests.
There are many other online resources| to help you in your search.

Once you've done this background work, you're ready to go out searching for your Bedfordshire roots!

If, like most people, you start your search with birth, marriage and death certificates to confirm the information your family has given you, you'll be using civil registration records.  You can check some of the indexes free of charge at Freebmd| and full copies of the indexes for a fee at Find My Past | (new window) and Ancestry| (new window).  Ancestry is also available free of charge here and with any library in Bedford Borough or Central Bedfordshire local authorities.  If you know when and where an event took place you can also approach the local Bedford Registrar . We do NOT hold copies of the indexes in this office and we do NOT issue civil registration certificates of birth or death. Once you have the reference from the index you can order copies from the General Register Office| (new window).

Most of the other sources you're likely to use after this are held by us. The main source will be the parish registers| of baptism, marriage and burial, which are all deposited here (except the most recent, which will still be in use in the church). Indexed transcripts| of the registers up to 1812 are available to buy in book form and on microfiche.
You will also want to look at the International Genealogical Index|  but remember to check anything you find there against original sources. Copies are always liable to contain errors and omissions.
Other useful sources we hold for family historians are shown below. Some are described in more detail on other sections of this site and some can also now be found online, so look out for the links provided.