Family history

People visit Kresen Kernow from all over the world to discover more about the lives of their Cornish ancestors. We have a huge range of documents that can help you find out who your ancestors were, where they lived, and what their lives were like.

Some of the most useful sources are parish registers, which were kept from 1538. The parish was a unit of local government, and these records are vital for discovering your ancestors’ baptisms, marriages and burials. Kresen Kernow is home to registers from all of the 257 parishes in Cornwall, although current registers will still be in use at the churches. We also look after over 500 Methodist, Quaker, Congregational and Baptist registers. You can view these registers on microfiche in our reading room, where transcripts are also available.

Kresen Kernow is also home to over 65000 wills dating from 1600 – 1857, and register copies of wills from 1858-1941. These can tell you what belongings your ancestor owned, and give you important clues to their family relations and the type of life they led. Wills after 1857 are available online.

In 1837 civil registration was introduced in Britain, so people had to have a birth, marriage and death certificate. These are also very useful sources, and copies are available for a fee from the Registration Service.

The census is very useful for learning more about your ancestors after 1841. Compiled every ten years, it describes who lived in each household in Britain, their ages and jobs. The easiest way to access these is online via sites such as Find My Past; this can be accessed for free online at Kresen Kernow and public libraries or via subscription at home. Censuses are available from 1841-1911, and a register can be accessed for 1939. Census data is closed for 100 years.

Other useful sources for family history held at Kresen Kernow include poor law records, deeds, leases, tithe maps, school registers, gaol registers, photographs and much more. Newspapers can be a very useful source for birth, marriage and death notices as well as funeral reports and obituaries. Published studies of particular surnames may also be of use.

You can view the Kresen Kernow guide to researching your family history here.

Key search terms: baptism, marriage, burial, census, graveyard, monumental inscription, will, individual names and surnames, parish names or place names

Key collections: P (Parish records), MR (Methodist records), AP, DRB (Probate records), SF (Quaker records)

Recommended reads:  The Cornish family: the roots of our future by Bernard Deacon, 2004. Individual family name studies are also available through the catalogues.

Watch: you can watch videos about many items in our collections, including useful family history sources such as parish registers and wills, on our YouTube channel.