Family history

We can help you with your family history research whether you're a beginner or an experienced researcher.

If you're just starting out, we recommend you try to gather as much information as possible using what you already know and talking to relatives.

All libraries provide free access to Ancestry Library Edition and Find My Past.

Unless otherwise stated the following resources are held in the Central Library.

Births, marriages, deaths and divorce

The civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales began on 1 July 1837. For records before this you'll need to look at parish registers.

Births, Marriages and Deaths are available on Ancestry Library Edition and Find My Past.

We have a complete set of the General Register Office indexes on microfiche, including:

  • Births and deaths from 1837 to 2015
  • Marriages from 1837 to 2015
  • Overseas from 1761 to 2015
  • Civil partnerships from 2005 to 2015
  • Adoptions from 1927 to 2015
  • Provisional indexes for births and deaths for 2016

A collection of local parish registers can be found in the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office and online at Find My Past.

You can buy copies of Plymouth birth, death or marriage certificates online. 

Buy a copy of a certificate

Census records

In the UK, censuses have been taken every ten years since 1801 (except for 1941). The first useful one for family historians was taken in 1841 when names were recorded for the first time.

Original census records up to 1911 are available online in all libraries through our subscriptions to Ancestry Library Edition and Find My Past.

Street and name directories

Street directories are arranged by street name and property number.

  • Plymouth: 1812 to 1970 (with gaps)
  • Cornwall: 1823 to 1939, various dates
  • Devon: 1720 to 1939, various dates
  • BT National telephone directories: 1880 to 1984 through Ancestry Library Edition.

Electoral registers

The current Register of Electors for Plymouth is held in the Central Library.

Historical registers are available on Microfilm, indexed by street and then property number.

  • Plymouth Devonport: 1934, 1935, 1938, 1939, 1946, 1952, 1954 to 1965, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1980
  • Plymouth Drake: 1934 to 1939, 1946, 1952, 1954, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1981
  • Plymouth Sutton: 1935 to 1937, 1946, 1952, 1954 to 1965, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1977, 1978

Online newspapers

Times Digital Archive (Access in a library or from home if you've a library card)
The complete digital edition of The Times (London) from 1785 to 1985. Newsbank has The Times archive from 1985 to date.

Newsbank Newspapers (Access in a library or from home if you've a library card)
Full text articles from a range of local, national and international newspapers from 1998 to date.

British Newspaper Archive (in library use only)
Access to millions of pages of British and Irish newspapers from 1710 to 1955. 100,000 pages are added each month. You'll need to register and log in with your own email address.

Local publications

  • Plymouth Civilian War Dead: Roll of Honour 1939 to 1945
  • Plymouth Naval War Memorial: Roll of Honour WW1 and WW2
  • The Visitation of Devon and the Visitation of Cornwall

Other resources

  • Cornwall Protestation Returns
  • Devon taxes: 1581 to 1660