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Genealogy and Family History

Explore your roots at VPL and beyond: resources and services for genealogists


The main focus of genealogy resources and services at the Vancouver Public Library is on B.C. and Canadian records, but there are also useful resources and services for those who are interested in tracing their roots in other countries.

This guide provides basic information about civil registration, church and census records in the British Isles and United States, and includes recommended books and websites as well as tips on researching ancestors in other countries.


The guide makes reference to resources available at the Family History Library (FHL) and through FamilySearch. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, houses a vast collection of microfilmed records collected from all over the world.

Reference is also made to Ancestry Library Edition (ALE), a large subscription database available at the Vancouver Public Library. Unlike many electronic resources, remote access from home is not available. ALE must be used at the library.

Beyond Canada


Civil Registration

Church Records

  • Records of baptism, marriage and burial began in 1538 though few early records survive.
  • Most old registers are now in county or city record offices and have been microfilmed.
  • Annual copies called bishop’s transcripts were sent to diocesan offices.
  • Most bishop’s transcripts are also in county or city record offices.
  • Free indexes of English baptism and marriage records are available in FamilySearch.
  • Ancestry Library Edition includes several databases of information derived from English church records including London Parish Records from 1538Pallot’s Marriage Index for England: 1780-1837 and Pallot’s Baptism Index for England: 1780-1837. Records are mainly from the Greater London area but many other parishes are covered as well.


  • A census has been taken in England and Wales every ten years since 1841.
  • Census records are released after 100 years. 
  • The most recent available U.K. census is 1911.
  • English and Welsh census records (1841-1911) are indexed by Ancestry Library Edition and FamilySearch.
  • Ancestry Library Edition also has links to digitized images of the original census records.

Recommended Books


Recommended Websites

ScotlandsPeople is the major source of genealogical information for Scottish genealogical research. The site offers access to an extensive range of indexes and digitized images on a “pay-per-view” basis.

Civil Registration

Church Records
  • Earliest surviving records of births, baptisms, marriages, banns, deaths and burials date back to 1553.
  • Commonly referred to as OPRs (Old Parish Registers).
  • Many gaps; very few death and burial records.
  • Unlike England and Wales, there are no bishop’s transcripts.
  • Records can be accessed directly through ScotlandsPeople.
  • The FamilySearch website includes some data from Scottish church registers along with an index.
  • Ancestry Library Edition has indexes to and extractions from some parish records.
  • A census has been taken in Scotland every ten years since 1841.
  • Records are released after 100 years.
  • The most recent available is 1911.
  • Ancestry Library Edition includes indexes and extractions (but not images) of all Scottish census records from 1841-1901.
  • 1841-1911 Scottish census records (including images) can be accessed directly through ScotlandsPeople.
Recommended Books
Tracing Your Scottish Family History
by Anthony Adolph 
929.3411 A23c

Recommended Websites

Irish genealogical research is particularly challenging because many records were lost in a devastating fire in 1922.

Civil Registration

Church Records
  • The majority of Ireland’s population is Roman Catholic. The second largest denomination is the Church of Ireland.
  • The earliest Catholic records date back to the 1680s. Church of Ireland records date back as far as 1634.
  • Ancestry Library Edition includes a small amount of indexing for Irish church records.
  • A census has been taken every 10 years since 1821.
  • Census records from 1821-1891 have not survived except for a few fragments.
  • Only 1901 and 1911 Irish census records are currently available to researchers.
  • 1901 and 1911 Irish census records, including digital images of original returns, are available free of charge on The National Archives of Ireland website.
  • 19th-century census substitutes include the Tithe Applotment Books (1823-1837) and Griffith’s Valuation (1848-1864).
    • A free index to Griffith’s Valuation, with links to digital images of the original valuation, is available.
    • Ancestry Library Edition includes two important databases: Ireland, Tithe Applotment Books, 1824-1837 (covering Northern Ireland only) and Ireland, Index to Griffith’s Valuation, 1848-1864.  
Recommended Books
by Claire Santry
929.3415 S23f
Tracing Your Irish Ancestors: The Complete Guide, 4th ed.
by John Grenham
929.3415 G82t3
Tracing Your Irish and British Roots
by W. Daniel Quillen
929.341 Q67t1

Recommended Websites


Civil Registration

Church Records
  • Unlike the British Isles, church registers have never acted as official records of birth, marriage, and death in the United States.
  • Records are very complex, as there are hundreds of denominations, many of which have split, merged or disappeared.  Record-keeping practices have also varied greatly.
  • Many U.S. church records are available on microfilm from the Family History Library
  • A census has been taken in the U.S. every ten years since 1790.
  • Most of the 1891 U.S. census was destroyed by fire.
  • The most recent available U.S. census is 1940.
  • U.S. census records (1790-1930) are indexed, with links to digitized images, in Ancestry Library Edition. 1940 is in the process of being indexed.
  • Indexes of and images for some census records are available at FamilySearch.
Recommended Books

 Recommended Websites

Even a brief overview is not possible in this short guide, but here are some tips to get you started on genealogical research in countries not covered in this guide: