I am focusing particularly on Ancestry UK here, because I am a great fan of theirs and this year they have completed the digitisation of several new and very useful datasets for Londoners, in conjunction with the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). I do also have a subscription to FindMyPast, but the main advantage of this has been for the 1911 census. Now that Ancestry has announced that they, too, will soon have the 1911 census, I will struggle to find a compelling reason to continue with two subscriptions.
To get the most out of Ancestry for researching London ancestors, you need their Premium UK subscription, which is slightly more expensive than the basic UK one. I believe you can access this for free at various libraries around the country, including the London Family History Centre. So if you don't want to go to this expense straight away, check to see if your local library or archives provide free access.
Once you have access to Ancestry UK's premium service, you will find the five main datasets for London parish records as follows:
- London, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812
- London, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906
- London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921
- London, England, Deaths and Burials, 1813-1980
- London, England, Poor Law Records, 1834-1940
One of the most compelling justifications for the additional cost of this service is in the London, England, Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921. Not only can you search for pre-1837 marriages on here, but for the post 1837 marriages, you can download the actual marriage certificates, saving a fortune in GRO fees! I have gradually gone back over all my Londoners, where I hadn’t yet purchased the marriage certificate, and downloaded them for free.
Of course, you can also do the same for baptisms and burials, but you won't find the actual birth or death certificates here. If you are resisting paying for lots of death certificates, however, the London Deaths and Burials, 1813-1980 may provide extra information such as "age at death", which can help confirm that you have the right person. It is always good genealogy practice to "kill off one's ancestors"!
Burial and Poor Law records can help in other ways. For example, they can provide details of children who died too young to appear in any censuses. The 1911 census gives numbers of children, both alive and deceased, so these datasets can help you find some of these additional children you may not have known about before.
Having sung the praises of these Ancestry records, I must now add a small word of warning. They are not as well organised and easy to use as you might expect of a major archive. For example, they have been organised according to the current London Borough in which they are located, not necessarily the most useful finding aid. However, with a bit of persistence, and some knowledge of London geography, it possible to find the parish you are looking for.
There are also some errors and anomalies. Cliff Webb at the West Surrey Family History Society has recently published a series of helpful booklets on the Ancestry coverage of Baptisms post 1813, Marriages post 1754 and Burials post 1813 for South London and Surrey. You can purchase them here for a very modest fee. I don't know of an equivalent for London north of the Thames, but if anyone does, perhaps they could let me know.
I have really only scratched the surface of these valuable datasets here, but I do hope that this helps if you are searching for London ancestors. Please feel to comment below or contact me directly if you have any queries or comments.
London Roots Research