Useful documents for family history research

Birth, marriage and death certificates

Birth, marriage and death certificates are the most important resource for beginning your research. Start by tracing the most recent and work back from the present. Since July 1837 all births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales should have been registered.

Find out more about using birth, marriage and death certificates for historical research.

Anglican (Church of England) parish registers

Anglican parish registers provide a nearly comprehensive record of people who were baptised, married and burieds in England between 1538 and 1837.

  • Baptism listings give the name of the father and (generally) the mother. Those recorded after 1812 include details of where the family lived and description of the parents.
  • Marriage registers give the names of the groom and bride. Those recorded after 1754 include the marital status and parish of the bride and groom, their signatures or marks and names of the witnesses.
  • Burial listings give the name of the deceased and the names of the parent if the deceased was an infant. Those recorded after 1812 include the age and abode of the deceased.

East Sussex Record Office has parish registers from 1538 (microfilm copies of some are also available at main libraries). See The Keep – leaflets and guidance notes

Non-conformist records

People who weren’t members of the Anglican faith may have registered details of births, marriages and deaths in the records of their own religion. These are known as non-conformist records.

  • All pre-1837 non-conformist baptism and burial registers are held by The National Archives
  • East Sussex Record Office has copies of some of these records.

Cemetery records

Cemetery records will provide you with the location of your ancestors’ graves. Some cemetery registers are available from East Sussex Record Office.


Wills are a useful source of information about family relationships and property. They often contain details of personal possessions, landed property and names of family members and relations.

  • An index of wills proved in England and Wales from 1858-1943 is available in the East Sussex Record Office Search Room. To obtain copies you need to apply to Principal Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP.
  • Copies of wills and letters of administration for the three probate courts in East Sussex before 1858 are available on microfilm at East Sussex Record Office.
  • A number of other wills made before 1858 were proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. An online index is available on the National Archives website. These include wills of:
    • wealthy people
    • those who owned land in more than one diocese
    • those who died abroad or at sea.

Read our guidance on how to find a will.

Find out what happens when someone dies without leaving a will.

Adoption information

Adopted members of the family can be harder to trace. If someone in your family has been adopted, useful advice about how to trace them is available on the Adoption Search Reunion website.

If you are the person who was adopted, find out about tracing your birth parents.

Census returns

Census returns are a useful source of genealogical information. Generally they give the parish of birth of individuals as well as age, occupation and relationship (if any) to the head of the household.

A census has been held every 10 years since 1801 (except for 1941). They are available for public viewing when they are over 100 years old.

East Sussex Record Office holds the following details of census returns:

  • microform copies for eastern Sussex, 1841-1891
  • microform copies for both East and West Sussex, 1901.
  • a surname index of the 1851 census returns for eastern Sussex.

A number of websites also contain census information. Useful links are available on our page about online resources for family history research.

Tithe maps

Tithe maps follow old parish boundaries and most date from the 1840′s. They can show you where your ancestors lived and what the land was used for.


Obituaries are often contained in local newspapers and may flesh out details about a deceased ancestor. East Sussex Record Office has an index to those in the Sussex Express, 1880-1920.

Coroner's inquests

In the event of a sudden or unexplained death an inquest is held by the coroner. Inquests over 75 years old are available for public viewing.

Coroner’s reports for East Sussex before 1900 have generally not survived, although details are often to be found in local newspapers. Those that have survived can be viewed at East Sussex Record Office. Search for details on the Access to Archives website.

Before 1838 inquests can be found in various court records and details are available in the several books by R F Hunnisett which are available from East Sussex libraries:

Newspapers and other periodicals

  • Newspapers – contain obituaries, reports of coroners’ inquests and court cases. Those from the 1840s onwards tend to be the most useful.
  • Periodicals – are held in libraries across the county. Subjects include genealogy and family history.

Search for suitable resources on the Periodicals list.