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A beginner's guide to searching for records on Findmypast

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Niall Cullen
4 November 2019

Your family's amazing story is waiting to be discovered on Findmypast. This handy guide shows you the records you'll need and how to find them.

Getting started with Findmypast's records is easy. Our billions of individual records are divided into nine broad categories. Here's a summary of what you can expect to find in each and how they'll help your family research.

This is one of the categories of records you'll probably use most often. These records, commonly known as BMDs, detail the most important events in your ancestors' lives and are essential for every family historian. Parish records consist of baptisms, marriages and burials and will usually help you take your research back further.

Like BMDs, census records are some of the most used resources in genealogy. As censuses were usually taken every decade, these detailed collections are fantastic for tracking your family over generations. Where censuses don't survive, other land and survey records make useful substitutes and can include electoral rolls, rate books and estate records.

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1911 Census of England and Wales

Most people will have a connection to the military in their family's past. Findmypast's military collection is one of the most comprehensive online and includes service records, rolls of honour and regimental resources from history's most pivotal wars. What's more, military records tend to be very detailed - a real boon for genealogists.

Our ancestors were travelling the world hundreds of years ago and the records that those movements have left behind help to tell their life stories. Findmypast has a fascinating array of passenger lists, naturalisation records and other travel resources to help you trace your globetrotting relatives.

Our historical newspapers are some of the most popular resources on the site and it's easy to see why. If you can't find your ancestor in our other records, be sure to try the newspapers where you could find them mentioned in an article or even see a photograph of them. There are hundreds of titles to explore from all over the UK, Ireland, America and beyond, and the collection is continually growing.

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These records are fantastic for family research because they usually include some of the most detailed records available. From crime, prison and punishment records to workhouse registers and government collections, some of your most surprising discoveries await in these resources.

You can explore your relative's school life and how they made a living with our exciting collection of work and education records. You'll find all sorts of resources in this category including apprentice registers, trade union memberships and Merchant Navy records.

Examining social history records provides a window into the world in which your ancestor lived. Street and trade directories are particularly useful if your relative ran a business. You will also find an eclectic range of almanacs and publications amongst our directories and social history records.

One of the smaller collections of records on Findmypast but still useful in its own right, our churches and religion category includes records of the clergy and church ceremonies.

How to search records on Findmypast

So now you know what records you can expect to find, how exactly do you go about unearthing them? There are different searches you can try, depending on what you're looking for and the information you have to hand.

1. Homepage search

When logged in to the site, use the search box on your personalised home page when you know minimal information on the person you're searching for. It will search all the records on the site based on the criteria you enter.

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You can enter basic information like a name, birth date and location via homepage search.

2. Category search

When you know what type of record you want to find, you can narrow your search to just that specific category. You can access each of the nine distinct categories via the 'Search' option on the blue menu at the top of your screen when logged into the site.

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Select a record category to restrict your search to those type of records.

Once you select a category, you'll be taken to a dedicated search page for all the records that lie within that category. Carry out a search from this page and you can use the filters to further narrow your search into subcategories or jump quickly from one category to another.

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Category search page for travel and migration records.

3. Record set search

This should be used when you know the exact Findmypast record set you want to search. The quickest way of accessing individual record sets is through our A-Z of records. Type the record set name or part of the name into the A-Z search bar and your selection will appear.

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View all of Findmypast's record sets on the A-Z page.

Once you've selected the record set you want to search, you'll be taken to its individual search page, which often includes search fields unique to that record set. This makes it really useful for pinpointing the specific record you're looking for.

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The record set search page for Findmypast's British Army Service Records.

See our simple yet powerful search tools in action on the video below.

Still need help navigating the site? Read more help guides or contact our friendly Customer Support team in Scotland.