First steps in researching your Oxfordshire family history

Where do you start when looking for Oxfordshire ancestors?

A remarkable amount of information about Oxfordshire and the people who have lived here over the past 850 years is available online.

Even so, Oxfordshire History Centre has unique resources both digital and archival which you’ll want to investigate if any of your ancestors lived or worked in Oxfordshire.

Sources for building your family tree

Oxfordshire birth, marriage and death records

Birth or baptism, marriage, and death or burial records, are key building blocks for family history.

Church of England baptisms, marriages and burials

As a Diocesan Record Office, Oxfordshire History Centre holds most of the completed registers of baptisms, marriages and burials compiled by Oxfordshire’s Church of England parishes since the 16th century.  Most of these have been digitised.

The digitised records for baptisms up to 1915, marriages up to 1930 and burials up to 1965 are available online from the genealogical subscription site Ancestry.  Public library users can often consult Ancestry free of charge through their local library service.  Members of Oxfordshire Libraries can currently (June 2020) access Ancestry at home.

Some of the registers for later dates have also been digitised. These digitised records, and some original registers deposited with us more recently, are available at Oxfordshire History Centre.  Contact us if you are not sure whether the registers for the parish and/or dates you are looking for are available.

Oxfordshire birth, marriage and death records

Registers of all births, marriages and deaths in England & Wales since July 1837 have been kept by the local Registrar who sends copies to the General Register Office. Indexes are available online.  Information about these and other records held by the GRO can be found here. The GRO or local Register Office will supply a copy of the full entry for a fee.  You can find details of the Oxfordshire Registration Service here.

Indexes and transcripts of Oxfordshire’s Anglican parish registers and some non-conformist registers

Oxfordshire Family History Society (OFHS) has spent many years transcribing, indexing and helping to digitise original records of interest to family historians.

The various indexes they have compiled are available through their Search Suite on computer at Oxfordshire History Centre.  These can be used to search for a particular surname and its variant spellings across all parishes in the county, e.g. Oxfordshire marriages 1538-1837 or county (excluding Oxford city) baptisms 1538-1851. A complete list of all the indexes available can be found here.

Transcripts of Anglican parish registers and deposited non-conformist registers for Oxfordshire and North Berkshire are available at Oxfordshire History Centre.  PDF files of these publications can also be consulted in Oxfordshire Libraries.  They can be particularly useful in cases where an online search for an Oxfordshire ancestor has failed, since local knowledge of names and places may result in more accurate transcriptions.

Grave registers and monumental inscriptions

Some grave registers are held in Oxfordshire History Centre’s archive collections.  Details of original records and transcripts held can be found on the History Centre’s online catalogue Heritage Search.

Transcripts of some grave registers including Oxfordshire Family History Society’s transcripts of the Oxford municipal cemeteries’ registers from 1894 to 2010 can be consulted in hardcopy or online at Oxfordshire History Centre or Oxfordshire Libraries.

Details of the inscriptions on gravestones and monuments in over 150 of Oxfordshire’s burial grounds have been transcribed and published by Oxfordshire Family History Society. They can be consulted at Oxfordshire History Centre and Oxfordshire Libraries.

Census returns and 1939 Register (England and Wales)

The Census returns show your Oxfordshire ancestors in a household group and as part of their community every 10 years from 1841 to 1911.  So does the 1939 Register for England & Wales which was compiled at the outbreak of WW2.

Online access to census records

Web sites offering online access to census records and the 1939 Register can be found here - please note access to some of these sites is restricted to subscribers. They can be consulted free of charge at the Oxfordshire History Centre & Oxfordshire Libraries.  Members of Oxfordshire Libraries can currently (June 2020) access Ancestry at home.

It can be worth checking more than one source as the data-sets on some resources may have gaps. Also, some of the transcriptions on which the indexing relies may be flawed.

Census indexes and transcripts for Oxfordshire

Oxfordshire Family History Society’s transcriptions of the 1841 and 1851 census returns for Oxfordshire and North Berkshire and their indexes of personal names and place names from the 1841-1901 census returns can be consulted at Oxfordshire History Centre and Oxfordshire Libraries.

Because of the local knowledge of the compilers, these indexes can be particularly useful in cases where the transcription on which a subscription site’s index relies for its search system is flawed.

Oxfordshire wills

Surviving Oxfordshire wills for 1516-1857 have been digitised and are available through Findmypast. Searchers can access this website free in the Oxfordshire History Centre Searchroom or from an Oxfordshire Libraries computer. See our factsheet for more information about these wills.

Further details of sources for wills and probate can be found on our online site.

Transcripts of early wills for some communities in Oxfordshire have been made by local researchers. Details of these transcripts can be found on Heritage Search in the Local Studies collection catalogue by searching under ‘probate records’ or similar terms.

Histories of Oxfordshire people and families

Published family histories and biographies of Oxfordshire people are listed on our online catalogue Heritage Search.

The pedigrees of landed and titled families are listed in genealogical dictionaries such as Burke’s Landed Gentry and Burke’s Peerage, Knightage and Baronetage. Searchers can consult these volumes in the Oxfordshire History Centre Searchroom or at Oxfordshire County Library.

Some useful online sources of biographical information are listed here - please note access to some of these sites is restricted to subscribers. They can be consulted free of charge at the Oxfordshire History Centre and Oxfordshire Libraries.  Members of Oxfordshire Libraries can currently (June 2020) access Ancestry at home.

Background reading

Guidance notes from organisations such as the Society for Genealogists and the Family History Federation can be useful if you are new to family history or returning to it after a break.

Both Oxfordshire History Centre and Oxfordshire Libraries have a range of books on family history research. Titles to help you get started include:

  • Who do you think you are? An encyclopedia of genealogy by Nick Barratt (2008).
  • Birth, marriage and death records, by David Annal and Audrey Collins (2012)
  • Tracing your ancestors using the census, by Emma Jolly (new edition 2020)
  • The street-wise guide to doing your family history, by Mary Teviot (2018)

Where to find help and further information

  • Oxfordshire History Centre has an enquiry service for Oxfordshire family history and local history enquiries.  Contact us if you are not sure whether the History Centre has the information you are seeking.
  • If you intend to visit Oxfordshire History Centre to consult original sources, check our website for information on booking seats and registering for an Archives Card.
  • Oxfordshire Family History Society volunteers have spent many years transcribing, indexing and digitising Oxfordshire records. Their collective knowledge and access to the Society’s transcripts and indexes is therefore extensive. Their web site gives lots of information about the Society including its publications, search services and help desk.
  • OFHS also maintains a page of useful web sites for family historians and offers some extensive “hints and tips from the search desk”.
  • You can order certificates of births, deaths and marriages which took place in Oxfordshire after 1st July 1837 from the Oxfordshire Registration Service.
  • Suggested sources for finding more about your Oxfordshire ancestors and their lives.