Useful documents for local history research



Our libraries have books on how to research local history as well as those on Sussex, its towns and landscape. We also have biographies and works by local authors.

Try our lists of recommended reads:

Search for and reserve other local history books using our online library catalogue.

Newspapers and magazines

Local newspapers are a great source of information for local history, and some stories may even have been featured in national newspapers.

Some of the papers in our libraries date back to the 1740s, and you can use online versions of the Times newspaper from 1785 onwards in the library and at home using our online reference library. You just need a library card and PIN to sign in.

Newsletters by local organisations are another useful source of historical information.

Census returns

Every 10 years the UK has a census to count all the people and households in the country. It asks questions about employment, living arrangements, transport, health, ethnicity and migration.

This survey of the entire population is a great source of historical information. Census returns over 100 years old are open for public viewing.


Trace the development of places with current and historical maps. Our large collections of maps in our East Sussex Record Office and libraries cover the whole of East Sussex, its towns and countryside.

Directories, rate books and other records

A property, its owners and occupiers can be researched using street and trade directories, rate books, and the records of businesses, schools, manors and landed estates.

Most of these records are at the East Sussex Record Office, with some directories also available in our main libraries:

Electoral registers

Electoral registers list the names and addresses of people who can vote. They can be used to trace the history of a person or property.

Current and historical registers are held in most libraries and the East Sussex Record Office. The registers held by the Record Office are listed in ′ East Sussex parliamentary electoral registers’ (see Guide to poll books and electoral registers).

Find out more about using electoral registers.

Parish registers

Parish registers are very useful if you are trying to trace a person. They contain information about baptisms, marriages and burials.

East Sussex Record Office has parish registers from 1538 (copies are available at main libraries). The full list is in the Guide to registers.


Wills indicate economic trends and changes in society. Individual wills help you build a picture of a person’s wealth, social status, land and property, as well as their likes and dislikes. Read our guidance on how to find a will.

Sounds and images

Local history can be brought to life using more than the written word. Our libraries have sound recordings, videos and CD-ROMs, and large collections of illustrations, photos and postcards.

We helped people share and archive the personal, often overlooked stories of those who fought and lived through the World War II – borrow our reminiscence collections.

More sounds and images can be found online at: