Exploring your family history can be a fascinating and rewarding experience, but it can be difficult to know where to start. We have a range of information and resources to help you.
Note down all the dates and events you are certain of concerning your immediate family. Ask other members of your family what they know, but remember it is always best to check information by consulting official records, so you have concrete proof to back up memories!
Family photos are a great way to get people talking, so do ask relatives to see these. It is best to start with yourself and work backwards.
Once you've gathered all the information your family can offer, it's time to plan the rest of your research.
The Kent History and Library Centre has a range of records which will help, such as:
- parish records (including baptisms, marriages, burials and school records)
- census returns dating back to 1841
- wills and probate records
- taxation records (for example property and land taxes)
- electoral registers
Use the archive catalogue to look up the finding numbers for the documents you'd like to see. You can then order documents so they're ready for when you arrive or order digital copies if you can't make it to the centre. Remember to write down accurately the references to any documents you find that might be relevant.
It's important to plan your visit:
- Contact the archive centre in advance. Check the centre you're planning to visit holds the records you want to see and confirm that the records are available for you to view immediately. Speak to staff about booking any additional resources you may need (for example a desk, computer or microfilm reader).
- Bring some identification. To use the archive area, your Kent library card must be activated. We can do this for you as long as you have identification with you. Your identification should confirm your name, current address and signature. Find out more about our library cards and how to get one.
- Talk to staff when you arrive at the centre so they are aware of what you are trying to find out and to ask them for advice.
- National Archives website
- Access to Archives (UK Archives catalogue)
- Discovery (to search and order digitised documents held in the National Archives collection
- Explore the British Library (catalogue)
- Genuki (Links to genealogy websites - a UK website)
- Cyndi's List (Links to genealogy websites - a US website)
Online indexes, lists and records
- Deceased Online - includes records of the Kent and Sussex crematorium (transcripts 1958 - 1995) and Tunbridge Wells Borough cemetery (register scans for 1873 - 1937)
- Free BMD (Searchable database with data drawn from Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales)
- Family Search (including searchable databases with data drawn from UK Parish Records)
- Kent Registration Services - Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates (including a selection of searchable indexes)
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission (including searchable register of soldiers who died in the two World Wars)
- Kent Archaeological Society including:
- Transcriptions of many Kent Tithe Map Award Schedules (names of landowners, occupiers are included)
- Transcriptions of many Churchyard Monumental Inscriptions (Inscriptions on tombstones are included)
- Indexes to selected Kent Medieval and Tudor Wills
- The East Kent Wills Index
- The Old Bailey (searchable records of trials from 1674-1913)
- The Gazette (formerly London Gazette) (searchable archive lists a range of official, regulatory and legal information notices for insolvency and bankruptcy, wills and probate, as well as Armed Service appointments and awards).
If you are a member of the library you can use the websites below for free. You will need you library card and PIN to log in.
To use some of the sites you will need to go to a library and use a library computer. Others you can access from home.
Ancestry Library Edition (library computers only)
Start searching billions of records to help discover your family’s story. Key sources include census records. The UK collections offer census records for England, Wales, Isle of Man, Channel Islands, and Scotland, 1841-1911. There are also sources on Ancestry Library Edition connected with births, marriages and deaths, immigration and travel, military service, wills, probates, land, taxes and crime. A simple search using an ancestor's first name and surname can produce some interesting results, which can be viewed, printed or emailed.
British Newspaper Archive - Community Edition (library computers only)
A partnership between the British Library and Brightsolid online publishing to digitise up to 40 million newspaper pages from the British Library's vast collection over the next 10 years.
So far it includes the following archives for Kent newspapers:
- Canterbury Journal, Kentish Times And Farmers' Gazette - 8 Oct 1836 to 30 Dec 1911
- Dover Express - 7 Aug 1858 to 30 Dec 1949
- East Kent Times - 1 Jan 1859 to 31 Dec 1864
- Faversham Gazette and Whitstable, Sittingbourne, and Milton Journal - 21 Jul 1855 to 31 Oct 1857
- Folkestone Express, Sandgate, Shorncliffe & Hythe Advertiser - 1868-1894, 1901, 1903-1913, 1915-1924
- Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate and Cheriton Herald - 3 Jan 1891 to 28 Dec 1935
- Gravesend Reporter, North Kent and South Essex Advertiser- 02 Feb 1856 to 28 Dec 1872
- Kent and Sussex Courier - 6 Jun 1873 to 29 Dec 1939
- Kentish Chronicle - 9 Jul 1859 to 28 Dec 1867
- Kentish Gazette - 28 May 1768 to 25 Dec 1883
- Kentish Independent - 7 Jan 1843 to 31 Dec 1870
- Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal - 3 Jan 1794 to 21 Nov 1838
- Maidstone Journal & Kentish Advertiser - 5 Jan 1830 to 25 Dec 1902
- Maidstone Telegraph - 1 Jan 1859 to 5 Aug 1871
- Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser - 18 Feb 1881 to 29 Dec 1950
- South Eastern Gazette - 9 Jan 1827 to 30 Dec 1865
- Thanet Advertiser- 26 Nov 1859 to 29 Dec 1950
- West Kent Guardian - 13 Dec 1834 to 2 Aug 1856
- Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald - 5 Jan 1867 to 31 Dec 1950
See the full list of titles.
Free access is restricted to library computers and you will need to register for an individual account. We have a limited number of concurrent licences across the county; to enable a maximum of people to benefit, the product will log you out following 10 minutes of inactivity.
Dictionary of National Biography
Tells the stories of more than 50,000 people who shaped the history of the British Isles and beyond. It also includes more than 10,000 portrait illustrations, and the complete text of the 33-volumes of the first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography.
Visit the Dictionary of National Biography website.
Find my Past - Community Edition (library computers only)
View around 750 million records including birth, marriage and death records, the complete UK census collection (including the official 1911 census), millions of parish records dating back as far as 1538, a vast military records collection spanning 1656-1994, migration records etc. This now includes the 1939 register.
Our subscription excludes memorial scrolls and the Living Relatives database. Our licence states that usage is for research into a user's own family history only, and not for any commercial or other purpose whatsoever and that accessing records on behalf of third parties is not permitted.
The 1921 census is being released in January 2022. Unfortunately it will not be available via our library subscription. You can find out more about the 1921 census and how to access it on the Find My Past website.
The John Johnson Collection
Access thousands of items selected from the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera at the Bodleian Library, offering unique insights into the changing nature of everyday life in Britain in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Categories include Nineteenth-Century Entertainment, the Booktrade, Popular Prints, Crimes, Murders and Executions, and Advertising.
Visit the John Johnson Collection website.
Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland
Search over 45,000 entries including current surnames with more than 100 bearers and those that had more than 20 bearers in the 1881 census. The entries give an explanation of the name’s origins, variations in spelling, and information about geographical distribution.
Access this book on the Oxford Reference website.
Who's Who with Who was Who Online
Who's Who is the essential directory of the noteworthy and influential in the UK and worldwide. Who Was Who includes more than 100,000 entries from the archives of Who's Who dating back to 1898.
Visit the Who's Who website.