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Help and advice for Researching from Abroad

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Researching from Abroad


Genuki's FAQ page answers the most common questions which newcomers to the site have. The purpose of this page is to provide some basic information for newcomers to Genuki who come from outside the British Isles and are not familiar with its geography and genealogical resources.

The scope of Genuki is the United Kingdom and Ireland (that's the "UKI" in the name). The UK and Ireland are regarded as being made up of England, Ireland (i.e. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), Wales, and Scotland, together with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Together, these constitute the British Isles, which is the traditional geographical term for a group of islands lying off the north-west coast of mainland Europe. Strictly, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not part of the United Kingdom: they are territories for which the UK is responsible but are legally independent. Wikipedia's article Terminology of the British Islescovers the topic in exhaustive detail.

Online Guides

Genuki has a number of beginners' guides and there are many others online cover researching British and Irish family history. Even if you are not actually new to genealogy, I'm new to genealogy. How do I begin? on the FAQ page has links to articles which will provide orientation specific to the British Isles.

Published Guides

There are a number of books on British and Irish genealogy specifically designed for a North American readership, but most of these are now seriously out-of-date, especially with respect to online resources. An exception is:

  • Sherry Irvine. Your Scottish Ancestry (Revised): A Guide for North Americans  Ancestry, 2013. This is the Kindle edition, older print editions are now of limited use.

Otherwise you are better off using dedicated online resources such as's British Isles Genealogy & Family History, designed for a North American readership.


If you are unfamiliar with the geography of the British Isles, Administrative Regions of the British Isles provides an overview. Note that there has been extensive local government reorganization in the UK over the last 40 years and the historical counties which are important for family historians have partially been superseded by modern "unitary authorities" for the most important urban areas. (Previously, every town was located in a county, but this is no longer the case.)

Guides to the traditional counties include:

Genuki has a page for every county in the British Isles, as well as pages for individual towns and parishes.

Genuki has a number of gazetteers, and tips on locating a particular historical place will be found in the FAQ: How do I locate a particular place?.

Where are the records?

State records for England and Wales are held in the UK National Archives at Kew; local records (including most church records) are held at local record offices (often called "county record offices", even where they serve a unitary authority rather than a county). Links to record offices will be found on the relevant county page on Genuki.

Scottish state records are held by National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. This includes all records before the Act of Union in 1707, but also all later civil registration and census records, as well as most church records, which unlike those of England and Wales, are held centrally. Scotland does not have local record offices.

The situation in Ireland is more complicated. The National Archives of Ireland hold records for the whole island of Ireland up to 1926 and thereafter for the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland only. The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland holds all records for the six counties of Northern Ireland. For the period before 1926, some records are held in duplicate by the two repositories, and printed sources are usually held by both.

Some sets of records, such as those for the armed forces, cover the whole of the British state (including the whole of Ireland before 1926) and are held centrally at Kew.

The British Library in London and the national libraries of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland also have significant holdings of interest to genealogists.

The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not part of the United Kingdom (they are Crown Dependencies) and all their records are held locally.

What's online and what isn't?

Genuki has countless links to online indexes and transcriptions, but the following is a rough guide to what records are or are not online:

  • Scotland has all its main records (civil registration, census, church records) available online at its pay-per-view service ScotlandsPeople.
  • Census: records for England, Wales and Ireland are available online in their entirety.
  • Civil registration: all the indexes are available online; some certificates are online for Northern Ireland; none for England & Wales or the Republic of Ireland.
  • Church records: there is no central digital source for the main body of English and Welsh church records, though many are on FamilySearch and on commercial data services; Ireland is gradually digitising these records.
  • Other records: there’s almost no sort of genealogical source for which there not some online records either at national or local level. There’s no way of guessing which records have been digitised - look for links on the relevant Genuki page. Links to many local record indexes will also be found at UKGDL.

Free Data

There are many free online indexes to British and Irish records. Links to indexes of local resources will be found on the Genuki county and parish pages. The main large-scale free indexes are:

  • FamilySearch (many church records)
  • FreeBMD (civil registration in England & Wales)
  • FreeCen (England, Wales, Scotland, 1841-1891)
  • FreeReg (parish registers, whole British Isles except Ireland
  • Irish Censuses at the National Archives of Ireland (1901 and 1911)
  • The index to the 1881 census of England & Wales can generally be searched free of charge on commercial data services which have census indexes

CAUTION: The first four of these are projects in progress and do not necessarily have complete data for a particular period or type of record.

FamilySearch Family History Library

FamilySearch has a wide range of UK records online. However, it has many more sources microfilmed but not yet digitised and any of these can be consulted in any FamilySearch Centre run by the LDS Church anywhere in the world. The catalogue of materials is in the FamilySearch Catalog and local centres can be found from the Find a Family History Center page.


The British Isles have a number of national and dozens of local family history societies. A local society is well worth joining, even if you live outside the British Isles, as a source of local knowledge about and contacts in the area where your ancestors came from. Genuki has a definitive list of links to family history societies.

There are a number of UK societies which are dedicated to ancestors who migrated to the UK from another country, but they may also be of use to those whose ancestors who migrated to that country from the UK:

The following societies offer help and resources for those tracing British and Irish ancestry from North America:

Commissioning Research

When you have exhausted the possibilities of your locally available and online resources, and cannot manage a research trip to the British Isles, 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. This is particularly the case when looking beyond the core census, civil registration and parish records: naval and military records are extensive, complex, and vary by period; older legal records are almost impossible to find and interpret, perhaps even read, without specialist expertise.

Almost all genealogical researchers will either have their own web presence or will at least have their contact details listed somewhere on the web. Many record offices and some family history societies either provide such a service, or provide on their web site a list of researchers for their local area.

ExpertGenealogy has lists of researchers for Ireland and the individual geographical areas of the UK.

Lists of independent researchers, especially on the sites of public bodies, will normally be accompanied by a disclaimer saying that inclusion in the list does not imply an actual recommendation - in most cases, anyone can request inclusion in such a list.

However, there are three national organizations which certify the professional skills of genealogical researchers in the British Isles, and each has a list of members on its web site, who can therefore be guaranteed to have the requisite expertise. In these case, the organization itself can be called upon to adjudicate in the case of any dispute with a listed researcher, which may be particularly important where you are geographically remote from the person you have employed.

Both AGRA and ASGRA have on their sites a code of practice which outline what you should expect of someone doing paid research on your behalf. The Society of Genealogists' leaflet Hints & Tips Six: Employing a Professional Genealogist gives detailed advice.

Making Payments from Abroad

The currency of the UK is the pound sterling (£). In 1999 the Republic of Ireland replaced the Irish pound with the Euro (€).

With the rise of the Internet and prevalence of electronic banking, making payments for UK products and services from abroad is no longer the complex matter it used to be. Almost all sites that require a payment provide facilities for paying by credit or debit card, for which the location of the purchaser is irrelevant. 

For making payments to private individuals, online payment services such as PayPal are ideal, not least because neither party has to reveal the details of their bank account.

As yet, Bitcoin is not widely accepted for online payments in the UK.

While it is possible for a UK recipient to cash a non-sterling cheque drawn on a non-UK bank, this involves additional, often hefty charges and variations in exchange rate may affect the ultimate value of the amount sent. For those reasons you should never send a cheque in your local currency without first making sure that the recipient will accept it.

Most goods and services purchased from commercial suppliers within the UK and the Republic of Ireland are subject to Value Added Tax (VAT), though printed books (not e-books) are exempt in both jurisdictions. In principle, therefore, if you make a mail-order purchase from outside the EU, you should not have to pay this, but in practice only the largest commercial organizations will have any facility for deducting it from the purchase price.

A Note on Telephone Numbers

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

country code - area code - subscriber number, e.g.
+(44) 1234 567890

Here the plus sign signifies whatever code is needed locally in order to get an international dial tone (within the EU this is always 00), and 44 is the international dialing code for the UK. The code for the Republic of Ireland is 353. If a phone number on a site relating to Ireland or Irish genealogy is not given in full international format, you will need to establish whether it connects to Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland to select the appropriate country code.

The second group of numbers is the area code. 

If dialling from within the UK, the area code must be preceded by a 0, and UK numbers are therefore normally cited for domestic use as:


but the 0 should be dropped when dialling from overseas.

Within the UK, if you are dialing from a phone line with the same area code, this can be omitted.

UK mobile phone operators use eleven-digit numbers starting 07 (in principle, the first five digits identify the carrier).

If you are making frequent overseas calls to private individuals (e.g. family members) the UK, it is worth using an instant messaging facility for free messaging, or a VOIP (Voice over IP) application or free voice or video calls. Of these, Skype is probably the most widely used.

Wikipedia has a useful article on Telephone numbers in the United Kingdom

This page was originally compiled by Brian Randell.