British Isles DNA by County

British Ancestry - Where to Begin

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Content by
Linda Jonas ©2006

Getting Started

Before beginning your British Isles genealogical research, you should do is find out what information is already available about your family.


Tip: Find your "Genetic Homeland"

One technique for locating the region in which your surname originated is to note the surnames of any close matches (1-5 mismatches, say) to your Y-DNA on 25 or 37 markers. You can determine the distribution of these surnames, as well as your own, in the 1881 Census of Great Britain at this website: You can then look for areas where the highest distributions of these surnames overlap to narrow down the regional origin of your surname within the British Isles. For a more detailed description of this method of identifying your paternal "Genetic Homeland," please visit Tyrone Bowes's site Note that similar sites have been created for those seeking Scottish and Irish ancestors. and


New Feature

Distribution maps of surnames in the 1881 Census of Great Britain are now available for new members on the British Isles DNA website. Simply click here for a list of surname distribution maps. If you wish to have a distribution map for your surname included on our list, please click here to request a map.

Start by looking for your family at If you use the Search for Ancestors screen, you will search the following databases:

The International Genealogical Index (IGI): The world's largest genealogy index is the International Genealogical Index. The IGI is a large database containing more than 600 million names. Several million additional names are added yearly. The IGI primarily indexes births, baptisms (called christenings), and marriages.  It rarely contains deaths.

The IGI is an extremely valuable research tool that every researcher needs to understand and consult, but good research techniques require that every entry found in the IGI should be checked in original sources to insure accuracy. The entries on the IGI are in two categories: events that were extracted from official records, and events that were submitted by individuals.  If you click on an entry to reveal the details, look at the "Messages" and "Source Information" and you will know the source of the entry.  If the Batch number begins with a C or a M, this is an extracted record and you should see a message similar to "Extracted birth or christening record for the locality listed in the record."  The extracted entries are much more reliable than those submitted by individuals.

Vital Records Index: These records have all been extracted from official records.

Ancestral File™: The Ancestral File contains lineage-linked information on about 20 million people. With Ancestral File, you can print pedigree charts and family group sheets of families contained in the database. Ancestral File was created many years ago, and the pedigrees were submitted by individuals. The database contains many research errors and computer merging errors, but it can provide good clues for further research. The file is now closed, and no corrections are currently being made.   

Pedigree Resource File: This file was created from pedigrees submitted from individuals who uploaded GEDCOM files to Only the index is onlinel the actual pedigrees are on compact disc. Most Family History Centers will have the compact discs, but you can also purchase any that interest you from

Family History Library Catalog

After you have checked the Internet to see if anyone has been researching your family, you will use the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) to look for published family histories or genealogies that have been published by someone else. You should also check the catalog of your local public library. A distant relative may have already done much of the work for you. Look for local histories that may contain details about your ancestor or his community. After looking through the many secondary and compiled sources, you are ready to look at original records.

Family History Library Catalog™ (FHLC): The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, has a very large collection of records from the British Isles.  In fact, one entire floor in the Family History Library is devoted to the British Isles. The majority of the Family History Library's microfilm and microfiche materials are available to researchers at Family History Centers through rental and indefinite loans.  In addition, the FHL has a photocopying service to copy pages from books. Mastering the FHLC is your key to finding research materials available in the Family History Library (FHL). Family History Library call numbers are given for many of the records in this Guide to British Isles Research so that you can find them easily in the Family History Library Catalog.

Other Websites

Check other Internet sites that contain large databases of genealogical records.  The largest of these is  This site is essential for U.S. and British Isles research.  If you don't have a paid subscription to, you can use it free at most Family History Centers and at many public libraries.  You will want to look at their pedigree collections in the Trees and Community section. Also use Cyndi's List to see what other genealogical websites exist. Another site that provides comprehensive guides to online research for the British Isles is GENUKI.

To save your favorites sites for future reference, you may want to create a separate folder for Genealogy in your Internet Browser's list of Favorites or Bookmarks.

You will want to make regular visits to,, GENUKI, and Cyndi's List


Get started with your British Isles Research

Hopefully you have now found the place of origin in the British Isles of your ancestor. You are now ready to begin research in the records of the British Isles. If you need help with tracing your immigrant ancestor to his place of origin in the British Isles see Tracing Your Immigrant Ancestor.


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