Find Your Family History in England

View over the countryside from the Tram Museum 2.jpg

By Glynn Burrows


From talking to relatives to understanding the origin of family names, Glynn Burrows, a family history expert and owner of Norfolk Tours, shares tips on tracing your family’s history back to England on Big Blend Radio.


For the first part of this article, I will take it that you know that your family originated in England and you have an idea where in the country the family were from when they emigrated.

As with any family history quest, we have to start with the known and work backwards. Once the immigrant is found, that’s when the fun starts. What clues are found in local records? Are there any census records which tell us any information about his origins? Did he leave a will mentioning family back home? Are there any family letters? A family Bible? When he died, was there a newspaper report telling about his life and origins? Is there a family story? All of these things can be of use in locating the origins of your immigrant ancestor and the more of them you have, the easier the task will be.

Knowing where your family came from is one of the important things when tracing family history but it isn’t always the most important thing. Sometimes knowing that your ancestor was transported in 1835 for sheep stealing will open doors for you and sometimes a surname will give you the best clue of all. The thing to do as soon as possible, is to amass as much information as possible from family, family heirlooms and local records. It’s then time to look elsewhere.

As an example, I’m using a man who applied for his citizenship in the USA in 1904. On his application, he says that he arrived in 1897 and that he was born on 22 June 1855 in Nottingham. He is married and his wife, Eleanor J, was born in Derbyshire, they have two children with them, both born in the USA.

The first thing to remember is that, in England, we had census every ten years from 1801, except for 1941 and the records from 1841-1911 are available for public consultation and they are also indexed on several websites. (Bear in mind that indexes are only as good as the people who did them and some indexes were compiled by people who don’t have English as their first language and have no interest in accuracy. If you don’t find your ancestor by searching under surname, use birth-place if a small place, try wild cards, using Christian names in conjunction with others in the family or say the surname out aloud and write down what you hear. (My own name comes out as: Burrus, Burris, Burress, etc.)

So, is our man to be found in Nottingham? As it happens, he is. He is there in 1891, a designer and draughtsman in lace and he is with his wife and children; Muriel, aged 6,
Edith, aged 5 and Louis, aged 2. In 1881, he is lodging with George & Susannah Turner, they are both teachers and they have a daughter called Eleanor J. In 1871 and 1861, he is living with his family. In 1871 he is a draughtsman and in 1861 he is a scholar.

Edmund Bush married Eleanor Jane Turner in St Leonard’s Church, Wollaton, Nottingham. The census tells us where the people concerned were born and, from there, we can move on to Parish Registers. Edmund says that he was born in Nottingham and in some, he narrows that down to Radford. His father, Anthony, just puts Nottingham and his mother, Elizabeth, puts Beeston or Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire, as the place where she was born. Looking at the Parish Registers, we see that Anthony and Elizabeth were married in St Peter’s Church, Radford, on 2nd October 1833. Elizabeth’s maiden name was Taylor. (No, not THAT Elizabeth Taylor!)

  • A street corner pub in the Tram Museum
    A street corner pub in the Tram Museum

Going back another generation, we see Anthony Bush was baptised on 26th July 1812 in St. Mary’s Nottingham, the son of William and Elizabeth Bush. Obviously, all of these need to be checked against original records but, having just picked a person on the nationalisation index at random, this proves how it is possible to find family history online quite easily. At that point, you will need to start looking at other options, like Wills, Manor Court Books, Parish Records and other sources.

One thing which this particular family has made me want to explore, is the trade which the family was in. William, the son of Anthony, was a Dyer. Anthony worked in lace-making and Edmund was a designer and draughtsman in the lace trade. Nottingham has been famous for lace-making for centuries and most people who find their ancestors were from Nottingham, will discover their families were involved in that trade in some way. Looking back at the naturalisation paperwork, it tells us that he was a draughtsman and lived at 3148 N Franklin Street, Philadelphia.

During my researches into Nottingham lace-making, I discovered a great article about Robinson & Son & Co who were a very large company in the late C19th. Guess what the article tells me?

“Two years ago the firm made a further step in advance by starting a lace curtain factory in Philadelphia, U.S.A. In consequence of increasing business, this factory has been found altogether inadequate to their requirements, and they have lately removed their machinery to a large new factory specially erected for them at Chester, Pa., about 10 miles from Philadelphia, where they are now engaged in making further additions to their plant, their present producing capacity being about 6,000 pairs weekly.”

So, from a random entry in the naturalisation paper-work, here is how easy it can be to trace family history in England from what you find in records abroad.

Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England. For help or advice about tracing your family history, or if you are thinking about taking a vacation to England visit

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Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England. For help or advice about tracing your family history, or if you are thinking about taking a vacation to England visit

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