Tracing your family tree

Stage 1 - Beginning your family tree

Begin by asking your family to help map out a family tree. Make a note of any places the family may have lived and also ask about middle names and occupations. This could be a good excuse to get in touch with 'lost' relations!

With a date of birth (or approximate year) and place of birth ('Sandal, Wakefield' rather than just 'Wakefield'), you can apply to the Register Office in the district where the birth occurred. You can obtain the contact details of any office from your local office or the national General Register Office­ website.

In most cases a birth certificate will give you the names (including mother's maiden name) and occupations of both parents.

Stage 2 - Marriage certificates

Now you can look for the marriage certificate of these parents. Some guesswork may be needed to decide on a possible year and place. A good place to start is the 5 years before the birth of the eldest child, in the district where the birth was registered. If you are not successful you will need to look in the GRO Index.

The GRO Index is a list of all the births, marriages and deaths registered in England and Wales since 1837 (It was not actually compulsory to register until the 1860s). Sometimes the GRO is referred to as the St. Catherine's indexes after the building they were housed in for many years.

  • Wakefield Library has the index up to 1960. Telephone: 01924 305375
  • Leeds Central Library has it up to the year 2000. Telephone: 0113 247 8290

There is no charge for using the index but it is a good idea to phone ahead before you visit. The records are on microfilm and you will need to reserve a machine to read them on.

If you can't get to the library, you can access the indexes on the internet at and Both these websites charge a fee to access the information. See stage three for more (some free) alternatives.

Stage 3 - Alternatives for finding certificates

You could look on the web page. As the name implies there is no charge to view entries, but not all information has been entered yet. In general the older entries are more complete.

For each year entries are organised alphabetically in 4 calendar quarters, with the registration district at that time shown. Apply in the first place to that district, be aware that registration boundaries have changed over the years and the register may now be in a neighbouring district. The reference number given is only useful if you apply to the General Register Office (GRO) in Southport, they hold copies of all registers.

Local Offices charge to produce a certificate. Many (including Wakefield and Pontefract) can take payment over the phone.

GRO (PO Box 2 Southport PR8 2JD. 08456 037788) charge for certificates, if you are able to give the St Catherine's Index reference number then a discount applies.

You can obtain the contact details of any office from your local office or the national General Register Office­ website.

Stage 4 - Using other resources (census records)

Another very useful source of information is the census material. For a small fee you can access the returns for 1851 to 2001 at the National Archives­ website.

Note: old census returns are NOT available on our website.

All libraries have some information about their communities. Larger collections can be found at Castleford, Pontefract and Wakefield libraries.

Here are some of the resources available in our libraries:

  • Census returns, West Riding 1841 – 1881
  • Census returns, Wakefield District 1841 – 1891
  • Census name indexes
  • Trade directories, which list inhabitants, shopkeepers etc.
  • Poll books and electoral registers
  • Newspapers and indexes
  • International Genealogical Index
  • Printed parish registers
  • Published pedigrees
  • Photographs
  • Family scrapbooks
  • Maps
  • General books on local towns and villages
  • Preliminary research only (free)
  • FREE access to: and

Visit the archives for:

  • Parish and non-conformist registers
  • West Riding wills 1858 – 1940
  • National wills index
  • Registry of Deeds
  • Electoral registers and land tax returns
  • Quarter sessions records
  • Maps
  • Fee-based research service

Visit your local museum for:

  • Photographs
  • Objects and other material relating to local individuals and families

Help us improve

Select how useful the page is
Back to top