Hooked by the the BBC's 'Who Do You Think You Are?' and now interested in finding your roots?  

Many people use the Cumbria Archives to trace their Cumbrian Ancestors. 

Tracing your family history may involve looking through a large number of original documents for the details you need, even if you have started out with web searching. You can look for information on your Cumbrian family tree by visiting one of our Cumbria Archive Centres or by using a professional researcher

Our updated guide 'Cumbrian Ancestors: Notes for Family Historians' is available to buy at our archive centres.

You can check our Family History indexes page which includes cemeteries, monumental inscriptions and newspapers.

Before visiting us you will need to find out more about our Archive Centres and then come along with as much information as you can on your family.

Links to other useful websites

Gather as much about your family as you can from home. Start with yourself and work backwards, trying to compile details of dates and places of birth, marriage and death of relatives known to you and other members of your family. You may find that old certificates of birth, marriage and death help or that older family members recollect some details. Many of the sources that you will consult are church records so it is helpful if you can find out what denomination your ancestors belonged to, and in which parish or parishes they lived.

Find out more by looking at one of the many published guides on family history research. These will save you a lot of time, familiarising you with the steps you will have to take and the variety of archives that you are available in record offices. You can borrow books from your library, or consult one of the on-line guides to family history in England and Wales such as GENUKI's guides on 'Getting Started in Genealogy and Family History' . 

Be realistic! Family history can be time-consuming and it may be that you won't be able to find all the information you would like to find. Although you may be able to make a start with on-line sources available from free and fee-based websites, in Cumbria you will have to spend some time in the relevant Archive Centre in order to consult original source material. We will do our best to help you!

The 4 Cumbria Archive Centres each hold church registers, from a wide number of Church of England and nonconformist churches, relating to their part of Cumbria. 

These are one of the main sources that family historians use as, in many cases, they pre-date the keeping of civil certificates of birth, marriage and death and the 19th century census returns. You may find that you can find out information relating to successive generations of one family by working back through these registers.  If you don't know which parish your family lived in you can look at the International Genealogical Index (IGI), available for the locality in each Cumbria Archive Centre. 

This indexes many of Cumbria's church registers of baptisms and marriages by name for the period before about 1875. Alternatively, you can search the Index online

You can find details of coverage of Cumbrian church and chapel registers by place and date on our Church records guide.

Census returns were taken every 10 years from 1841 but the detailed schedules are closed for 100 years after their compilation. The censuses of 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 should record all people living in the country on census night in that particular year. They are very useful as you will see entire households living together, with information on their ages, places of birth and occupations.

Census returns are arranged by historic county and you can see those for:

  • Cumberland 1841 to 1901 at the Carlisle and Whitehaven Archives
  • South Cumberland and Lancashire North of the Sands 1841 to 1891 at Barrow and Whitehaven
  • Westmorland 1841 to 1901 at Kendal Library, and the Kendal and Whitehaven Archives. 

You can find census records for the whole country online on a number of fee charging sites.  

Cumberland and Westmorland and Furness Libraries can offer access to the websites of Ancestry and FindMyPast without you requiring a subscription, or you can do a brief 'look-up' in one of our Archive Centres.

Certificates of birth, marriage and death can be very useful in helping you start researching your family tree, particularly if you don't have enough information to take you back into the 19th century. To get copies of post 1837 civil certificates you have to buy a duplicate copy.  For historic certificates from the modern county of Cumbria, Cumbria Certificate Services can help. For certificates for elsewhere in the country, approach the Superintendent Registrar in the district in which the event was originally registered or the General Register Office, which covers the whole of England and Wales. 

You can look at the indexes to these certificates, which contain only limited details, at the Archive Centres in Barrow and Whitehaven and at Carlisle Library, and a free online website lists an increasing number of indexed names.

These records can be of great use to family historians but do remember that only a small proportion of the population left wills. Using these records is complicated by the fact that they were based on particular areas of the country, called probate jurisdictions, which are very different to the administrative districts in place today. If you contact the Cumbria Archive Centre nearest to the place you are interested in, staff will be able to tell you about the whereabouts and availability of wills and inventories for the period in question.

Indexes of all wills and administrations of the Diocese of Carlisle (north and east Cumberland and north Westmorland), 1548-1857, and the Carlisle Probate Registry, 1858-1941, are now available on our online catalogue.  Want to take a look?  Simply enter a name in CASCAT (Cumbria Archives Catalogue) and if there is a matching will or probate record in the Diocese of Carlisle holdings, the relevant entry will show, with a reference number beginning with 'PROB'.  The index will give you the deceased's name, occupation, brief address, type of probate record and the year when probate was granted.

Our catalogue guide to Wills and Probate will tell you more about this subject matter.

Please visit our Paid Research web page to find out more about the work our staff can undertake or about private researchers whom you can commission for a fee.

For references to individual documents or the people mentioned in them you'll need to search Cumbria Archives online catalogue. Many descriptions will highlight the existence of the original documents in our care, such as church registers, but won't highlight all the hundreds of names listed within - you'll still need to visit us to look through the names and details.

Tracing your family tree will actually involve a lot of detective work on your behalf using the original sources we look after, but this can be very rewarding! You may find that other family historians may be able to help you out: try contacting the Cumbria Family History Society, the Furness Family History Society or a discussion list.

Good Luck With Your Research!