Visiting Hertfordshire to look for Ancestors
People who visit England hoping to find out something of their
roots, but who know little of the availability of the relevant genealogical
records, etc., are often disappointed. For instance there is no point it
turning up at a church (which may well be locked) and expect to see the
registers, as these are now almost always held in the relevant county records
office, which in Hertfordshire is HALS.
Any birth marriage or death certificates, and any census searches, should be
done online so you are well prepared before you come and can plan out what
you need to see. The facilities available in the
National Archives at Kew can be very
useful, including many document sources unavailable elsewhere. It is very easy for the unprepared to spend a lot of time travelling
round chasing records, or looking for ancestral homes or family graves with little to show for their efforts. If time in
England is limited there are a number of ways of making a visit to an
ancestor's home area more productive.
- Join your local family history society and talk to people
who have come to England to search for their own ancestors - to see what
worked (or didn't work) for them. Get a good book on researching English
Family History if you have not already done so. The book
Your Family History in Hertfordshire is very
important if you are interested in old documents relating to the county. Get a large scale map of the area your family
- By far the most enjoyable and cheapest (if possible) is
to find a distant relative living in the area who is interested in family
history, and who has already researched the relevant family. I have had
great satisfaction in taking Canadian relatives round the old family
farmhouses in Devon or lunching Australia relatives in an ancient
Buckinghamshire hotel by a centuries old market place before borrowing a
key to allow them to see the inside of the nearby tiny non-conformist
chapel where their forebears had worshiped. Another Australian relative
was thrilled when we took a detour from a busy London Street and I showed
him his ancestor's tombstone.
- If possible spend at least six months, and preferably a
year, before coming to England, carrying out research. Much can be done
online (see the
for how to to it) or through your nearest Latter Day Saints Family History
Centre (address on familysearch).
Most of the main indexes should be available, and parish registers and many other documents can be ordered on microfilm (although I
believe the delivery period can be a month or more.) Any registration
certificates needed can be ordered well in advanced.
- There is a lot of local
material which can only be consulted in the UK which will help add flesh
to the bones of the long departed, such as old newspapers, maps, legal
documents, rating books, poor law returns, wills, etc. You may not have
much time or prior knowledge to make the most of such sources unless you
have done the groundwork first. The more important Hertfordshire records
will be at HALS, but there are
many other repositories - often in London - which hold specific records.
Many are indexed at the document level (i.e. the document is indexed but the
hundreds of name sit contains are not) and can be located via the
National Archives and
Access to Archives web
sites. This could show where the most relevant documents, such as manor
records, are held.
- Search online. There is an increasing amount of
information on the web - including very detailed histories of some villages.
I try and keep the appropriate pages on this site updates to show these -
but things change so fast I cannot be fully up-to-date. (Tell
me if you find an important site that I have missed.) Most towns and
villages now have web sites (the official council site may end .gov.uk) as
do many churches and chapels. There are many local history societies and if
they do not have a web site details are often listed on the local site, or
on the Hertfordshire County Council
site. There is a web site giving details of
- If your ancestors lived in Hertfordshire during Victorian
times it could be very helpful to track them down online in the
census - and look at their
nearest neighbours as well. For instance, while their house may have been
redeveloped out of all recognition their local public house might still be
- Have a good search on the Web using standard search
engines such as Google. Many towns and villages now have
their own web sites, and there are some private sites which have an
enormous amount of historical information on a particular locality - for
instance for Leverstock
Green and Brookmans
Park. You never know what you will find. Look in the
Hertfordshire County Council Online
Library Catalogue and also their database of local societies - as there
may be a local history society which may be able to help.
- Have a good look round the area using
Google Maps. The
satellite views provide a very good idea of the area as it is now, and it is
possible to zoom in to see the layout of surviving old properties to a
considerable degree of detail - for instance you can tell whether there are
still standing gravestones in churchyards. In addition many Hertfordshire
towns and villages were visited by the Google Streetview van in late 2009
and early 2010 and the process is presumably continuing. This can allow you
to "walk" along the roads in your ancestor's home town or village,
identifying the surviving old houses. Old Ordnance Survey maps are
also available at Old-maps and
will show you what the area was like over the last 200 years.
- Hire a professional genealogist who knows the area, and
the relevant records, to do the donkey work. He could also plan an
itinerary for visiting the area to include both ancestral homes (when they
be identified) and other local history features of interest. While this
may seem expensive, the cost of travelling to England, or even of
travelling from some parts of England to London, and staying for one night
in a good hotel room, could easily pay for two or three days of an
experienced genealogist's time.
Finally, have a good look round this site and follow up any
leads. If you find specific gaps ask. I plan to add many more pages to the
site - and am happy to move any pages you want up my priority queue.
It is perhaps worth adding a note about travel in
Hertfordshire. Travel routes are dominated by the presence of London, and have
been so since Roman times. Transport by road, rail and even canal is far
easier if you are travelling in a north-south direction, while in much of the
county east-west travel means windy back roads and there is no rail option.
Bus services are also limited - particularly in the more rural areas.
If you have a limited amount of time, or do not drive, you
should plan your visit with care. and if there are several well-spaced towns
you wish to visit, a base in London, travelling out to Hertfordshire on
different railway lines on different days, might be an answer. There can be
significant discounts on train tickets if booked online well in advance. Most of the
records are at HALS in Hertford
(tucked in the south east corner of the county), while St Albans is in a more
central position and has many historic buildings, including Roman remains, a
magnificent Abbey, an ancient town centre and two museums.
One particular warning. Due to thefts and vandalism many
churches and chapels are normally locked so do not expect to turn up and see
where your ancestors were baptised or married if you haven't checked on access
arrangements in advance.
||Update to draw more attention to useful web