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How To Know Which GRO Index Is The Correct One

How To Know Which GRO Index Is The Correct One

This post relates to the Birth and Death Indexes in England & Wales. Often when searching the GRO Indexes or searching for people with particularly common surnames you might find yourself with a few, possibilities as to which is the correct certificate. Most people will guess and hope for the best, if it’s not one then they’ll buy another until they have the correct one. But there are actually a few tricks you can apply to figure out the correct one.

Firstly you’ll need to know how the GRO indexes were organised, once you know this you can apply a few techniques to figure out the record that is most likely to be the correct one.

  • The GRO indexes were compiled quarterly that is all the records that were registered in that quarter. This is why you will often see on popular sites “JAN-FEB-MAR” or “Q1”.
  • Each County was divided in to Registration Districts which were in turn subdivided in to Sub-Districts which again were divided in to Civil Parishes. Over the years these Sub-districts and districts did change every now and then.
  • The entries for each Sub-district are ordered by Date of Registration rather than by Date of Birth or Death.
  • Each Sub-district will usually start on the right-hand page which is odd numbered.
  • Up to Q4 1911 there were up to 10 entries on each page of the indexes, but after Q4 1911 there were 6 entries per page.

You might know from census’s or from other ancestors where you should be looking so for example take the Registration District of “Cheshire” in England, this is divided in to further Sub-districts including “Birkenhead”. This is as far as the GRO will detail which is where this technique comes in handy. In the Birkenhead Sub-district there are 3 Civil Parishes, so in this example I have three “John Smith’s” born in the “Birkenhead” registration district. All in Q4 (Oct-Nov-Dec) 1873. (Screenshots Below from and

While these three records look identical if you wanted to be sure on which one is your ancestor, you would expect to have to buy all three certificates to rule two out. But with a few simple steps you can actually find out which of the 3 districts these records relate to. The information on the three “John Smith’s” we have available to us is:

John Smith A

  • Volume Number: 8A
  • Page Number: 479
  • Line Number: 211

John Smith B –

  • Volume Number: 8A
  • Page Number: 451
  • Line Number: 212

John Smith C –

  • Volume Number: 8A
  • Page Number: 444
  • Line Number: 214

Step 1 – Extract all births for that quarter

The first step is to extract all of the births for that quarter. You can do this easily by going to FreeBMD and searching for just the registration district and the quarter. Then copy and paste the results in to a spreadsheet. You should then have a quick look through to get rid of any obvious errors such as duplicates or discrepancies. You can use the Page Map-District Index to get the page range of the particular district any outside of this range can be deleted, sort by page number and you should end up with something similar to the following screenshot.

Step 2 – Look up the Expected Page Range

In the same way as in step 1, find the expected page range using the Page Map-District Index and open up a new sheet in your spreadsheet. Then input the page numbers between the ranges for example, Birkenhead’s expected page range for Q4 1873 is “425-511” This should look something like the following screenshot:

Birkenhead page numbers


Step 3: Go back to the spreadsheet, and open up a new sheet in the same workbook. In the first column fill in the series of cells with the page numbers from 425-511

Step 4 – Use the formula to count how many entries are on each page

In Column B in your second sheet type in the function bar (The bar with the “fx” function symbol above the sheet) the following formula: =COUNTIF(Sheet1!E:E,A1) and pull it down to apply it to all of the rows with values. In this formula each part can be changed to suit your needs:

  • “Sheet1” this is the name of the original sheet in your spreadsheet.
  • E:E,A1 Means that it will count the values in column E that match the value in “A1” of the second sheet. i.e if you wanted to count from column B in a sheet named “birkenhead” by a value in B1 of the second sheet you would use: =COUNTIF(birkenhead!B:B,B1).

This should give you something similar to the following screenshot although you will probably see lots of numbers over 10, which need to be looked in to. You can then colour code based on the anomalies, these anomalies will be the last page of each district:

Step 5 – Look for breaks or differences in the Data

Looking for breaks or difference in the data will hopefully show you where the districts split and what page numbers relate to which Civil Parishes. Pages for this year should have up to 10 entries per page. However the data is almost never perfect. The most accurately written/transcribed districts will have data that will have all 10’s a few 9’s and some 0’s as page breaks. The Birkenhead district is not a particularly friendly one. It has loads of 10’s and 11’s which shouldn’t really be possible. You can go through these and check for duplicates missed, for example in page 440 I have “11” entries when really there should be 10. You can see below that there is a “Nelli Hardcastle” and a “Nellie HARDCASTLE”. This is obviously the same person so we can remove this. It’s also worth going through any with more than 10 entries individually using the GRO’s new search function and searching each name individually to make sure the page number is correct I found around 25 discrepancies this way in Birkenhead’s data.

Once you’ve sorted out all of the anomalous numbers you can figure out which parishes relate to which page numbers. You can download my spreadsheet here if it is needed as an example. In the Birkenhead spreadsheet of the eighty seven page numbers there are eighty two “10’s”, two “9’s”, two “4’s” and a “0”. We know that in this year each page would have had a max of 10 entries per page so as we know there are 3 parishes within the Birkenhead district we can deduce which ones are which. As a new page would be started after each parish we know that a 4 must mean that the page was only half filled in, indicating the end of a parish. From this we can deduce that the following page numbers relate to the following parishes.

  • 425-476 – Birkenhead
  • 477-495 – Tranmere
  • 497-511 – Wallasey

Going back to our John Smith’s we can now tell which one is from which parish. In this particular example there were only three parishes and three John Smiths. some districts have many more smaller parishes which will narrow down your search massively. We can also work out from the position in each district the page number is from which month of the quarter each John is likely to have been registered. We now know from the above data that our John Smith’s parishes are as follows:

John Smith A – Page 479 – Tranmere sub-district (Almost certainly Registered October as page 2/18 for Tranmere)

John Smith B – Page 451 – Birkenhead sub-district (Almost certainly Registered November as page 26/51 for Birkenhead)

John Smith C –  Page 444 – Birkenhead sub-district (Probably Late October/Early November as page 19/51 for Birkenhead)

Now if you were searching and you knew that your John Smith’s family all lived in Tranmere then you know which one to buy first!


Validating Old Place Names That No Longer Exist

Validating Old Place Names That No Longer Exist

Often when looking for ancestors, you will come across a place name that you don’t recognise and when you try to look it up, it doesn’t exist anymore. Usually you’ll find these in places that have changed governments or allegiances to differ countries throughout the last couple of hundred years. It’s good practice to record the place as it was at the time that the particular record was written. Some steps you can take to get the correct, or most accepted, spellings and locations are:

1 –  First you’ll need to know the rough area the place will be in, usually you’ll have at least a county or failing that a country or region. Once you have narrowed it down or know exactly where it actually is on a map then you can start to check various sources to verify its name.

2 –  Try referring to old maps, this will be the second step for finding a places original name. If you know the area then you can scan old maps from the time your original source was written.

3 –  The further back in time you go the more vague and blurred the spellings of places can get. So some times a place will have multiple spellings but no official spelling. When this is the case you might need to look for a local historian. There’s often at least one of these in each town and they shouldn’t be too hard to track down these days.

4 – Bare in mind the languages spoken in the location you’re trying to find. Some regions may have more than one spoken or written language possibly due to pre-existing borders that have changed between regions. One place may have two or more very different names which is why you might struggle finding it on a map.

5 –  Some places may be known differently locally compared to nationally or internationally so if you’re having particular trouble finding a place on a map, it might not actually exist as that name and could be a localised nickname.

6 – Don’t get too stressed trying to get everything standardised. Its your tree and can be personal preference. Some people like to standardise all of thier towns or villages whereas others like to name it as it was at the time that person was living and what they would have known it as. Both methods work but if you standardise the place names make sure the boundaries have stayed the same over time and haven’t moved meaning your ancestor was actually living in the next town over.

Open Ended Questions to Ask Older Generations of Your Family

Open Ended Questions to Ask Older Generations of Your Family

Almost everyone will have older members in their family that might not be around for that much longer, so it’s great to ask them about their lives and the lives of their Siblings, Cousins, Aunties, Uncles, Parents and Grandparents. The majority of the time they will jump at the chance to give you what you’re after as long as you don’t go down the ‘survey’ avenue. I’ve seen a lot of posts on forums and online communities asking about this and a lot of people write out pages of questions relating to the height, weight what colour eyes etc each ancestor had and it rarely gets any real response.

Questions should asked in a way that opens the person up and gets them talking, often going off on tangents completely unrelated to the original question, and this is where the really interesting stuff comes out.

– Favourite Memories Growing Up?

– Who were you closest to from your extended family (Cousins etc)?

– What was the house you grew up in like?

– We’re you evacuated during WW2 (If applicable)?

– What was the best time of your life?

– What was your alcoholic drink of choice when you were young?

– How did you meet your partner?

– Did you ever go on holiday when you were young? If so where?

– Who were your best friends in school?

– Do you have any family recipes and where did they come from?

– How many jobs have you had? And what was your favourite?

– Are you named after anyone?

A lot of the above questions might seem a bit pointless, but they are intended to open up conversation and not make the person feel like they are being interviewed. The most interesting stuff always comes from natural conversation. Ideally you want their personal impressions of subjects or accounts, rather than facts. Facts are easy to find but individuals opinions are not!

What Sources You Should Be Looking At In 15th-17th Century English Research

What Sources You Should Be Looking At In 15th-17th Century English Research

Most people can trace their tree back to at least the 1800s using conventional methods such as Birth/Marriage/Death and Census records but not many realise they can go back a lot further than this using other record collections. Most records still need a visit to an Archive especially older more specialist ones as they aren’t often digitised, and when they are they haven’t always been transcribed to be searchable. Your best bet for sources are:

1 – Wills

A great source of information if you can find one, they are often very detailed depending on how meticulous the person was. Especially useful pre-parish records as they’ll often list all living children.

2 – Property Transfers and Title Deeds

Before 1677 no written deed was necessary for a piece of property or land until the statute of frauds made it compulsory. Before this the only way land could be passed from one person or party to another was through enfeoffment which involved the passing of land in the presence of witnesses. These are mostly found in County Record Offices but some can be found in: The National Archives, British Library and Land Registry.

3 – Civil and Criminal Legal Cases

Recently loads of Prison Registers have been digitised by sites such as Ancestry and FindMyPast however these only start from around the late 1700’s. With regards to earlier records there are the Assize Court records which start from mid 1500s where the most notorius cases were heard twice a year by judges appointed by the Monarch. Old Bailey Trial Records start from 1674 and records related to over 197,000 court cases have been digitised and are available online at The majority of your time will be spend looking at local archive court records as you’ll have a lot more chance of finding an ancestor, unless they were particularly infamous.

4 – Inquisitions Post Mortem

These were local inquiries into the most valuable properties, these were issued to discover what income and rights were due to the crown and who the heir or heirs should be. These can be found at the National Archives.

These inquiries took place when people were known or believed to have held lands of the crown, and therefore involved individuals of considerable wealth and status. All have been indexed, and many are published in English.

5 – Manorial Documents

The majority of the other record sets will be catered more towards the higher classes however manorial documents will be catered more towards the working classes and can include: court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, franchises, wastes, customs or courts of a manor. These can be found in the National Archives.

6 – Registers of Taxes and Oaths

This will usually be for Land or Business owners so if you suspect your ancestor might have owned one of these then looking at the taxes they might have paid will help you get a better picture of their life.

7 – University Registers

Primarily for the Oxford or Cambridge Universities but others may still have records too. A wealth of information can be obtained from university records and it could open doors to published literature in which your ancestor was involved.

8 – Clerical Records

If your ancestor was a part of the clergy then they could be in the Clergy of the Church Of England Database. This contains loads of records relating to Education, Appointment, Death and amongst other things.

9 – Livery Company Records

Records of London’s Livery Company Records can be found online and contains the details of 75,000 apprenticeship bindings, 49,000 admissions to the freedom, and over 350,000 named individuals from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.

10 – Pedigrees of Titled Families

These are very colourful in the information that they contain however should be taken with a pinch of salt due to the fact that they would have been compiled with the vested interests of one or more people who might have had anterior motives.

Websites To Help You Find Old Local Maps

Websites To Help You Find Old Local Maps

Whilst it’s great learning about your ancestors, a lot of people neglect to learn about the places they lived or even the land they they might have owned or worked on. The majority of us will have ancestors that lived and worked in rural areas, be it in the United Kingdom, Europe or the USA. There are websites dedicated to preserving and displaying old local maps.

1. (USA & Ireland) has Maps from: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, Nautical Charts, Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Great Lakes, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Texas as well as general maps of: America, Railroad Maps, Ireland Maps.

Each category differs vastly in what it offers and all have loads of maps within, of various shapes and sizes. The website itself is quite dated (as is the case with most genealogical sites) however it has no problems with it’s functionality. It also offers large scale prints in it’s shop of any of the maps it offers on the site.

2. (WorldWide)

“Based in Portland Maine, Historic Map Works, LLC is an Internet company formed to create a historic digital map database of North America and the world. Drawing on the largest physical collection of American property atlases of its type, it is our aim to be the single best online destination for map enthusiasts and researchers alike.

In addition to our own atlas collection, we incorporated our scans of the antiquarian world map collection from the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education located at the University of Southern Maine. Combining these collections allows site visitors a vast amount of information spanning several centuries of cartographic information.” – About Page

Their collections include: United States Property Atlases, Antiquarian Maps, Nautical Charts, Birdseye Views, Special Collections (Celestial Maps, Portraits, and other historical images), Directories and other text documents. They too offer large scale prints of the maps they offer and often have sales.

3. The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project (Canada)

“Between 1874 and 1881, approximately forty county atlases were published in Canada, covering counties in the Maritimes, Ontario and Quebec. Thirty-two of these atlases were produced for Ontario by the following five companies: H. Belden & Co. (17); H.R. Page & Co. (8); Walker & Miles (5); J.H. Meacham & Co. (1); H. Parsell (1). Two types of county atlases exist for Ontario, those which covered a single county or multiple adjacent counties, and those which were published as supplements to Dominion of Canada atlases. In total, 40 Ontario counties were covered by these 32 atlases.” – McGill University Site

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project is run by McGill University and offers a nice drop down menu at the top of the page that allows you to search by  County, Township or Town. Each item in the drop downs contains one map of the area. You can view large versions of any of the maps for free!

4. Old Maps Online Web + App (Worldwide) 

Old Maps Online is not only a powerful website but it also offers apps available on the Apple App store or on Google Play. It started as a collaboration between Klokan Technologies GmbH in Switzerland and The Great Britain Historical GIS Project which is based at the University of Portsmouth, UK. They offer over 400,000 Old Maps and whilst the app has its downfalls when zooming and scrolling the sheer scale and intuitive interactive map give it an edge especially as they’ve gone down the Mobile route. The majority of niche genealogical sources seem to be about a decade out of date when it comes to design so its nice to see a fresher website.

DNA Shared Between Two People Checklist

DNA Shared Between Two People Checklist

Whether you are looking up the percentage you share between a known relationship or have just got back your DNA results and want to know what the possible relationships are between you and your matches the checklist below will help you figure out the possibilities.

Identical Twins

100% DNA Shared


50% DNA Shared

Full Siblings

50% DNA Shared (Approx)

Half Siblings

25% DNA Shared (Approx)


25% DNA Shared (Approx)


25% DNA Shared (Approx)

Double First Cousins

25% DNA Shared (Approx)

Great Grandparent/Great Grandchild

12.5% DNA Shared (Approx)

First Cousins

12.5% DNA Shared (Approx)

Great Aunt-Uncle/Great Nephew-Niece

12.5% DNA Shared (Approx)

Half Uncle-Aunt/Half Nephew-Niece

12.5% DNA Shared (Approx)

First Cousins Once Removed

6.25% DNA Shared (Approx)

Half First Cousins

6.25% DNA Shared (Approx)

Great Great Aunt-Uncle/Great Great Nephew-Niece

6.25% DNA Shared (Approx)

Half Great Aunt-Uncle/Half Great Nephew-Niece

6.25% DNA Shared (Approx)

Double Second Cousins

6.25% DNA Shared (Approx)

Second Cousins

3.125% DNA Shared (Approx)

First Second Twice Removed

3.125% DNA Shared (Approx)

Half First Cousin Once Removed

3.125% DNA Shared (Approx)

Half Great Great Aunt-Uncle/Half Great Great Nephew-Niece

3.125% DNA Shared (Approx)

Second Cousins Once Removed

1.563% DNA Shared (Approx)

Half Second Cousins

1.563% DNA Shared (Approx)

First Cousins Three Times Removed

1.563% DNA Shared (Approx)

Half First Cousins Twice Removed

1.563% DNA Shared (Approx)

Third Cousins

0.781% DNA Shared (Approx)

Second Cousins Twice Removed

0.781% DNA Shared (Approx)

Third Cousins Once Removed

0.391% DNA Shared (Approx)

Fourth Cousins

0.195% DNA Shared (Approx)

Third Cousins Twice Removed

0.195% DNA Shared (Approx)

Fourth Cousins Once Removed

0.0977% DNA Shared (Approx)

Third Cousins Three Times Removed

0.0977% DNA Shared (Approx)

Fifth Cousins

0.0488% DNA Shared (Approx)

Fifth Cousins Once Removed

0.0244% DNA Shared (Approx)

Sixth Cousins

0.0244% DNA Shared (Approx)

Sixth Cousins Once Removed

0.0061% DNA Shared (Approx)

Seventh Cousins

0.00305% DNA Shared (Approx)

Seventh Cousins Once Removed

0.001525% DNA Shared (Approx)

Eighth Cousins

0.000763% DNA Shared (Approx)

Researching Your Freemason Ancestors

Researching Your Freemason Ancestors

The Freemasons have a reputation for being a very secretive an secluded organisation, but depending on the locations/lodge there can actually be a lot of information available on its past members. Generally speaking a lodge is unlikely to offer up any information relating to an Entered Apprentice or Fellowcraft Mason but would be able to offer information on a Master Mason.

Before getting in to Freemason research its good to read up on how the freemasons actually work and what they do. Members of a lodge are known as “Accepted Masons” this means they have been accepted in to the lodge by its members. Freemasons in general have three degrees of Masonry: Entered Apprentice, Fellow of the Craft and Master Masons.

1 – Freemason Collections on Ancestry

The records Ancestry offers include over 1.7 Million Names transcribed in both the English and Irish collections. This can help you find out what order or jurisdiction your ancestor was a part of. Finding out this information will be the most helpful data you can have on them as it will open doors to the types of records that could be available to you.

2 – The Library and Museum of Freemasonry

“Library and Museum is the repository for the archives of the United Grand Lodge of England, the governing body of English freemasonry. Information about individual members is based on Annual Returns of members compiled by individual lodges and sent to Grand Lodge. The earliest such Returns date from the 1750s. These were used to create registers of members. Members are listed in the Registers under their lodge and according to their date of initiation or joining.”

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry offers three centuries worth of freemasonry records and artefacts. The staff here can help you search for your ancestor by name in thier digitised records but can also search outside of the digitised records pre-1750s or post-1921. There is a fee payable for staff searches in which the lodge is not known however if it is, then it is usually free.

3 – Find and Contact the Local Lodge your Ancestor was part of.

If you know where your Ancestor lived and you suspect they might have been a Freemason then you can use google to find out what the local lodges in the area were or still are. Each lodge should have some contact details somewhere either on their own site or on the site of the Grand Lodge that they would be a part of. Each Lodge usually has a secretary that can help with any enquiries and as each lodge is relatively independent then prices could vary between them.

If you still cannot find anything, you might find that contacting the Grand Lodge will yield some answers. There are Grand Lodges in varying jurisdictions. For example in the US There are Grand Lodges in each State. However in England there is the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).

4 – County Record Offices in the UK

The various County Record Offices in the UK hold a lot of local Freemason records, the reason for this due to the persecution of Freemasonry which in turn resulted in the Unlawful Societies Act which was effective from 1799 to 1965. Although in it’s final years it fell in to disuse. This act forced Freemasons to register their organisations and also the names of the members within them to the Clerk of the Peace and the Local Quarter Sessions. Which whilst unfortunate for the members of the Freemasons at this time, it is massively helpful to Genealogists in the modern day. These records can include: Names, ages, addresses, occupations and age and date of joining the lodge and sometimes date of leaving. Just find your local Record Office and take a look through the records available. If in doubt email them!

Researching Ancestors In The German Military

Researching Ancestors In The German Military

Anyone with German Ancestors know that German Research can be at times, very tricky but once you’ve got the people you’re after you can find lots of very interesting sources. One of the most important sources beyond Birth, Marriage amd Death records are Military records. Below are some great resources for finding anyone that was in the German Military.

1 –  Deutsch Dienststelle (wasT)

Probably the most important German Military Collection around is the Deutsch Dienststelle (wasT) as it allows you to request the records for any German that was a member of the Wehrmacht. This however comes with a few hoops to jump through for obvious reasons. You cannot request any records of someone that was a member but is still alive without their permission. You can also not get any record of someone unless they died in the field or as a prisoner of war without the permission of their next of kin. It is worth noting however that some members of the Forum der Wehrmacht state that the archive are still likely to release documents as long as the person has been dead longer than 10 years and sometimes without the permission of next of kin depending on circumstances.

This is however not a free resource and records cost around 20 Euros, which depends on the amount of time taken, difficulty and number of records. Of you are requesting a full genealogical enquiry the waiting time can be up to 24 months so its good to get as much information as humanly possible before sending it off. Make sure you state your goals in the form and that you’d like copies of all sources found.

2 – German Red Cross Tracing Service

The German Red Cross Tracing Service is a great resource for finding people if they seem to have fallen off the face of the earth. It’s primary use is not for Military records but its so simple to use that it’s worth a punt every time. It also includes a Missing Person Photo Search feature that requires little information but can yield great results.

3 –  Federal Archive – Military Department

These archives include loads of records relating to: The Prussian army from 1867 onwards, The Army of the North German Confederation, The Imperial Navy, The Colonial Protection Force and the Freikorps, The Reichswehr, Wehrmacht, and Waffen-SS, The German Work Units in the Service of the Allied Forces
the National People’s Army including any border troops and The Bundeswehr. However although they house a lot of records, a lot of records have been lost due to war.

4 –  Federal Archive – Branch Office Ludwigsburg

This is the Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes. It can be an incredibly interesting resource although be it a rather dark one and holds information on units and people involved with War Crimes. Data can include Scenes of crimes, suspects and culprits. The majority of the time this also includes anyone mentioned in the cases. It’s worth searching these archives if you suspect that you have an ancestor that might have been in a unit that was involved with any war crimes.

5 – Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge

This site is a lot like the German equivalent of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It can help you find fallen or MIA soldiers. This can be searched using cemetery search and they even offer photo services on the contact form where you can request photographs of any of the graves.


Understanding What Is Meant By “Second Cousin Once Removed” And Similar Relationships.

Understanding What Is Meant By “Second Cousin Once Removed” And Similar Relationships.

A lot of people and myself included when they start researching don’t know the actual meaning of relationships like “Second Cousin Once Removed” or “Third Cousin Twice Removed” and only know the simple stuff like great grandfather, great great grandmother etc.

A few things first, in genealogy and on most genealogy related websites the “Great Great Great Grandmother” relationship type is often abbreviated to things like “3xGGM” and “5xGGF” Meaning “Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather”. You get the point, good to know as it saves a lot of time and makes it a lot easier to understand.

With regards to Cousins, it’s actually a really easy concept to learn and one that will allow you to read tree’s and work out relationships with ease. The way it works is in “Generations”. So a “First Cousin” is what most people would just call their cousin, they are the children of your aunts and uncles, simple enough. A “Second Cousin” is where it starts to get a bit more complicated (But stick with it). These to you would be the children in the same “Generation” as you but children of your grandparents children.

Relationship Generations

So say a couple (The Grandparents) have two children , Bob and Tom and Bob and Tom both have two children each and each of those children have a child (See chart above). In the chart Max and Jill are First Cousins. Max and Ben are First cousins once removed. The removed part is where the different generations come in, they are one generation removed from eachother. Ben and Harry are Second Cousins, this is because they are the same generation (So no removal), but have two ancestors between them and their shared ancestors (The grandparents). If Ben were to have a child it would be Harry’s Second Cousin Once Removed and Max’s First Cousin twice removed.

Cousin Chart

The chart above is really helpful for all of the other relationships too. Just replace the “Self” with the person you want to start with, it could be you or could be anyone else then work your way to the person you want to find a relationship with.

Guide To Researching French Records

Guide To Researching French Records

The further you go back in your tree and the more branches you find, chances are you’ll find a French ancestor. Unfortunately with French research you need to know the exact place that person was born (Or get very lucky with a unique surname) to be sure you’re looking at the correct person.

French records are indexed by town (Archives de la ville de ____) and/or Departement (Archives Departementales de ____) Plus modernised versions i.e. Rouen incorporated adjacent towns so some records are in the Archives Municipales (Old Rouen), some are in the Mairie de Sotteville or Grand Quevilly or Petit Quevilly, some are in the Seine Maritime Archives. The key is that there is no National Register like the UK BMD.

Cordier Birthplace

Often finding the starting point is the hardest thing. In my research almost all records that I have linked to a French ancestor have simply listed a birth place as “France” which might as well say “Born on Earth”. If you’re reading this though, chances are you have a rough idea or exact location in France the person is from. Finding that missing record that gives an exact location is what will open the door to your French branches.


One really useful website if you don’t know where exactly in France a person is from is GeoPatronyme. It plots where a certain surname is popular and when used on quite unique names, it can narrow down locations massively. Using the French name I have been researching the picture below shows where the majority of people with the Cordier surname live.

Cordier Distribution is probably the most popular French Genealogy website currently and although it is a paid site it can be manipulated in such a way that allows you to get the basic information you’ll need to search the relevant archive for the actual records. An example I came across that will help demonstrate this was when researching “Pierre Louis Oscar Cordier”. All I knew about him came from English Records and luckily one census listed his birth place as Vendee, France.


On Genealogie you can do a free search but can’t view records and they are vague about the year i.e they’ll show 1900-1925 for any year between them. In this case, I searched ‘nom’ as Cordier, ‘prénom’ as ‘Pierre Oscar’ and then on the results page, under ‘Initiale du prénom’ chose ‘O’ to pick up the ‘Oscar’. Straight away, at the top of the list is a Pierre Louis Oscar Cordier born sometime between 1850 and 1875 in La Roche-sur-Yon. Narrowing it down by going back and searching again using exact years each time i.e searching 1850, 1851, 1852 etc and putting in ‘Cordier’, shows this man was born 1842.

(Edit: This particular search doesn’t work now but a similar one can be found for his marriage which leads to the same conclusions)Pierre Cordier Search

You can then choose to either pay for the record and get it straight away with no fuss or head over to the Vendée archives and try to pick it up on their free Etat civil database. If you want to learn more about French records and plan to do a lot more French research it’s worth using this method as you’ll get used to using and reading French Records.

Unfortunately most district archive sites don’t make it easy to directly link, but a quick check of the index for 1842 (at the back of the births section, not right at the back) shows me he’s there, number 192 (image 92 of 357).

Battle of Waterloo 1815

French Military Records

If the person you are looking for was in the French Military there are a few different avenues you can persue in order to find the sources you need.

The French military records, held at the Service historique de la Défense in Vincennes, have in the past been difficult to access until recently with a change of leadership, things are getting slightly easier. This however will require a trip to the archives either by you or a local researcher.

Jean Baptiste Alexandre Cordier

Gallica.bnf & Google Books

Another way is by looking at official documents, gallica.bnf has loads of searchable records that can be viewed for free, so is definitely worth a look. One way I’ve found particularly fruitful is using Google Books to search for French Military results. One good way to find sources relating to a member of the military is by searching for the surname followed by first names. For example searching for an ancestor called “Jean Baptiste Alexandre Cordier” in Google books should be done “Cordier Jean Baptiste Alexandre” as well as trying abbreviations of each, like bte or bapt in place of baptiste as well as using initials only.

Ste Helene Medal

The Ste Helene Medal was given to soldiers that fought for Napoleon and we’re still alive in 1857. If the person you are researching falls in to this date range then this can be a very valuable resource. The Ste Helene website not only has documents and translations but also portraits of many of the higher ranking officers.

Ste Helene Medal