Extent of Research

Leaving aside questions of how patient, resourceful and lucky you are, this really depends on what sources of information are available. The British Isles has very extensive records, which are held in a variety of national and local collections.

In England and Wales you should be able (especially if you are blessed with a set of unusual surnames in your family) to trace your family roots with comparative ease back to 1837 (when national birth, marriage and death registration began). Getting back beyond 1837 normally relies mainly on the use of parish registers - with luck, and allied to other types of records, these might enable you to trace your family back to the late 16th century. Beyond this can be extremely difficult, unless you can tie in to a well-documented pedigree, for example of royalty or a great landowning family.

In Scotland national registration started later than in England and Wales, in fact in 1855. On the other hand, the Scottish certificates are more informative, and themselves can be viewed on microfiche. The earliest parish registers in Scotland date from 1553 but many parishes started after this date, with a very small number starting as late as the 19th century.

Researching Irish ancestry is bedevilled by the fact that many census records, and Church of Ireland parish registers, were destroyed when the national archives were burnt in 1922. However Roman Catholic parish registers mainly survive, though few date back beyond the end of the 18th century. There are various other sorts of records, but it is very rare for anyone to be able to trace a line further back than the early 17th century.

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