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Researching From Abroad


The premier resource for people wishing to research British and Irish ancestry from outside the British Isles must surely be the LDS Family History Library, with its very large number of branches throughout the world, and its immense collection of microfilmed material.

This apart, the problems of researching from abroad must differ from country to country. Here I mainly provide information on researching from North America, taken in the main from various directories and catalogues that were kindly obtained for me by Ruth Satterthwaite. I hope this information will prove helpful - but I cannot personally vouch for its utility. However, I also attempt to provide some brief advice on commissioning research here, that will I trust be of reasonably general utility.

Published Guides

Some recommended guides, aimed at North American readers wishing to research their British roots, are:

A. Baxter. In Search of Your British & Irish Roots, 4th Edition, Baltimore, MD, Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., 1999. ISBN 0-8063-1611-X.

"Whether you conduct your research in person or by mail, this book will guide you in tracing your ancestor in Britain or Ireland. Noted genealogist Angus Baxter provides practical instructions for locating records abroad and shows how easy it is to do it by mail - or on a vacation trip." Provides detailed information for each county, including listings of the parish registers held in each county record office.

S. Irvine. Your English Ancestry: A Guide for North Americans, Salt Lake City, UT, Ancestry, 1993. ISBN 0-916489-53-1.

"Records chosen for discussion here date back to the mid-eighteenth century and can be consulted in North America without great difficulty. . .Records included had to fall within at least one of the following categories: the collections of the LDS Family History Library; printed records which may be in public, university or genealogical society libraries; records which have been gathered in some central location in England; records which have been indexed."

S. Irvine. Your Scottish Ancestry: A Guide for North Americans, Salt Lake City, UT, Ancestry, 1997 ISBN 0-9164896-55.

S. Irvine, Sherry and N.M. Hickey. Going to Ireland: A Genealogical Researcher's Guide. Trafford Publishing, Victoria, Canada. [ISBN 1 55212 077 5]

Very favourably reviewed in the (UK) Family Tree Magazine, June 1998.

See also A-Z of British Genealogical Research, a concise guide to researching British ancestry at a distance, whose text was prepared for the Compuserve Genealogy Forum, and has been edited for inclusion here by permission of the author, Dr Ashton Emery.


British Isles Family History Society - U.S.A. has a library and provides research help.

British Isles FHS of Greater Ottawa - publishes a quarterly journal, Anglo-Celtic Roots, and for its members has regular meetings, and free query and advisory services.

International Society for British Genealogy and Family History: PO Box 3345, Centennial CO 80161 USA

Irish Genealogical Foundation:.

The Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA):

Information Sources

There are many books about North American immigrant records - a good starting point is:

L D Szucs and S H Luebking (eds.) The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy (Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Inc., 1997).

In Chapter 13, "Immigration: Finding Immigrant Origins", the main subheadings are: Principles of Immigration Research, American Sources for Documenting Immigrants, and Foreign Sources and Strategies.

Library of Congress Holdings

The following list documents about British Isles Genealogy that are available in the US Library of Congress.


Many genealogy books of British origin, including the excellent set of Gibson Guides (booklets by Jeremy Gibson on various types of records, each with a county by county listing of what records are now held where) are also published in the USA, by:

Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.: 1001 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21202-3897, (Tel: 1-800-296-6687)

Commissioning Research

When you have exhausted the possibilities of your locally-available resources, you will probably want to have further searches carried out for you here. The ideal solution is to find a conveniently-located cousin with whom you can cooperate on researching your family. Failing this, you might be able to obtain some assistance - perhaps in exchange for help you can give them - from members of family history societies based in the areas which your ancestors come from.

In general, though, you are likely to need to commission professional assistance. Many record offices and some family history societies either provide such a service, or will send you a list of genealogists and record agents for their area. Such a list may well be accompanied by a disclaimer, saying that inclusion in the list does not imply an actual recommendation. In such circumstances you might also seek advice from the appropriate professional association:

Association of Genealogists and Record Agents (AGRA), 29 Badgers Close, Horsham, West Sussex, RH12 5RU, UK

Association of Scottish Genealogists and Record Agents (ASGRA), P.O. Box 174, Edinburgh, EH3 5QZ, UK

Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI), 2 Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Eire

Many professional genealogists and record agents advertise in the (UK) Family Tree Magazine, and in the newsgroup soc.genealogy.marketplace. A number of record agents specialize in obtaining birth, marriage and death certificates from the General Register Office (St. Catherine's House), London - and provide a much cheaper and faster service than the official postal service.

At the time of writing, relaively few record offices or family history societies here have, leave alone will respond to queries sent by, email - though the number is increasing. You will therefore need to conduct most of your interactions with them by post. It is standard practice when writing from abroad to enclose a self-addressed envelope and an International Reply Coupon. (Such a coupon can be exchanged here for surface mail postage stamps.) However a cheaper alternative is to obtain a supply of UK and/or Irish stamps - perhaps from your local genealogical society.

Making Payments from Abroad

The following article is from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright 2001 by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author.

Sending Cash Overseas

Did you ever need to pay for a copy of a birth or marriage record held in some archive outside of your own country? This can sometimes be difficult. Not every repository of genealogy data in the world is equipped to handle credit card transactions. While credit cards are becoming more pervasive, you may well find places that still require cash or checks. The problem is that they normally require payment in the currency of their own country. How do you pay them when you cannot easily purchase pounds or francs or crowns or rubles?

There are several ways to send foreign currency. First of all, you can go to your local bank and buy a cashier's check in almost any currency. However, the fees are quite steep. Many banks or credit card agencies charge a minimum of $25.00 for sending cash abroad. That isn't cost-effective for a $5.00 check!

One service that I have used in the past is Ruesch International. They will sell you checks in foreign currency. However, Ruesch now seems to be focusing on business transactions and has raised their fees to $20.00 and more for single purchases of checks. Information is available at although you will have to make a phone call to place the order. There is no on- line ordering at that site.

A second method is with International Currency Express. While usually cheaper than Reusch, they are still higher-priced than what I want to pay. You can find details at:

I'd still suggest using a credit card wherever possible. The currency conversion fees charged by VISA, MasterCard and American Express are much lower than the fees listed above. In addition, credit cards are generally safer. You can usually get your money back from a credit card company in case of non-delivery of the goods, something that is much more difficult when using checks. However, when the receiving agency will not accept a credit card, check out the above alternatives.

In Canada, most banks, Trust Companies and Credit Unions allow the purchase of foreign money orders. Money orders can also be purchased through the post office. Info is available at Canada Post's website under Supplementary Residential Services.

Another service that has been recommended to us for making payment from the U.S. is International Currency Express Inc. - though we have no personal experience of using it.

A Note on Telephone Numbers

The official international standard for citing a telephone number takes the form:

+(44) 1234 567890

Here the plus sign signifies whatever code is needed locally in order to get an international dial tone, and 44 is the international dialing code for the UK. (The code for the Republic of Ireland is 353.) The next group of numbers identifies the exchange.

However, within the UK the above number would be typically be cited as:


or, in a document which is more than a year or so old, as:


(In April 1995 almost all area codes in the UK were altered by the addition of a one after the leading zero.) In either case, there in fact might be additional hyphens and/or spaces - these have no significance.

This Information Service contains copies of, and links to, documents that might give telephone numbers in various different formats, at the whim of the author/editor - it is hoped that the above explanation will enable any reader to interpret such numbers correctly, wherever he or she is located.