Free Genealogy Help

Try out a free Pharos lesson
Irvine’s Genealogy Laws
Genealogy Books
Good ideas from Pharos to help your research
Download free charts to help you plan

Try out a free Pharos lesson

Why not try out a sample Pharos genealogy lesson? We have prepared a free PDF file, laid out as a Pharos lesson, which will help you to understand more about the choices for learning about genealogy on the Internet and gives you hints and tips for making the best use of search engines.

Irvine’s Genealogy Laws

Proverbs, maxims, rules and guidelines are part of life. We use them, we live by them. Generally they are rooted in common sense and integrity and, if followed, help us live a better life or be better at a specific task.

Genealogists can benefit from succinctly expressed words of wisdom as much as anyone. Here are ten that I have put together.

Can you find the element of truth in each of these and apply that to the way you conduct your research?

  • Useful information declines by the square of the distance from the source.
  • The scope or extent of a search, in terms of date range and geographic area, varies inversely with the commonness of the name.
  • Skepticism is the root of all good research.
  • The history of a record is as important as its contents.
  • What is a genealogist without sources?
  • The longest way round is the nearest way to the solution.
  • Small keys can open big doors.
  • Always expect the unexpected.
  • Ratify a fact with research.
  • Nothing is finished in genealogy.

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The Pharos Bookshelf

Welcome to The Pharos Bookshelf. We would like to share with you some useful genealogy books, ones we return to time and time again.

We find two places to find great book selections are:

  • - Used, rare and out-of-print books
  • New: Ancestry Store Books

Books Our Teachers Recommend
There are so many books about sources, methods, strategy, history and geography, with so many formats or perspectives that it is impossible to recommend just one book. Your bookshelf needs at least four books to meet most demands for information: one giving extensive coverage of sources, another that is a friendly and helpful guide, one outlining essential historical fact, and another that contains essential boundary maps for research.

In the following sections, the first four or five books are the ones we use as our essential, basic volumes. The others are on our bookshelves but either they are not used quite so frequently or they cover specific topics or aspects of research.

This booklist may be revised from time to time, as and when the books we use regularly change. However, it does need to be pointed out that a book is out of print, or a book is several years old does not necessarily mean it is out of date. Well presented publications stand the test of time.

England and Wales

  • Ancestral Trails - The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. Mark D. Herber (2nd ed., Sutton, 2005).
  • Tracing Your Family Tree. Jean Cole and John Titford (Countryside Books, 4th ed., 2005)
  • A Social History of England. Asa Briggs (Penguin, 1985)
  • The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. C. Humphery-Smith (3rd ed., Phillimore, 2003)
  • Dictionary of Genealogy. T. Fitzhugh and S. Lumas. (A. & C. Black, 1998)
  • Discovering Local History. David Iredale & John Barrett. (Shire Publications, 1999)
  • My Ancestor was a Bastard. Ruth Paley. (Society of Genealogists, 2004)
  • Nuts and Bolts:Family History Problem Solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques. Andrew Todd. (Allen and Todd, 2000)
  • Oxford Companion to Local and Family History. David Hey. (Oxford, 1996).
  • Probate Jurisdictions - Where to look for wills J.S.W. Gibson and Else Churchill, (FFHS, 5th ed, 2002)
  • Sources for Local Historians. Paul Carter and Kate Thompson. (Phillimore, 2005)
  • Specialist Indexes for Family Historians. J.S.W. Gibson and Elizabeth Simpson. (FFHS. 1998)
  • The Family Tree Detective. Colin D. Rogers, (Manchester University Press, 3rd ed. 1997)
  • The Parish Chest. W.E. Tate (Phillimore, 1983)
  • The Surnames of Wales. John and Sheila Rowlands. (FFHS and Genealogical Publishing Company, 1996)
  • Welsh Family History: A Guide to Research. John and Sheila Rowlands, editors (FFHS and Genealogical Publishing Company, 2nd edition, 1999)
  • Your English Ancestry. Sherry Irvine (2nd ed., Ancestry, 1998) Buy Sherry's book from the Ancestry Store


  • Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives of Scotland. National Archives staff. (Mercat Publishing, 2005)
  • Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians. Sherry Irvine. (Ancestry, 2003) Buy Sherry's book from the Ancestry Store:
    Your Scottish Ancestry: Revised Second Edition
  • Oxford Companion to Scottish History. Michael Lynch. (Oxford, 2001)
  • The Parishes, Registers and Registrars of Scotland. Scottish Association of Family History Societies. (SAFHS, 1993, rep. many times)
  • Scottish Local History. David Moody. (Batsford, 1986 and Genealogical Publishing Company, 1994)
  • The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. C. Humphery-Smith (3rd ed., Phillimore, 2003)
  • Tracing Scottish Local History. Cecil Sinclair. (HMSO, 1994) Ireland Tracing Your Irish Ancestors. John Grenham. Genealogical Publishing Company, 3rd edition, 2005)
  • Tracing Your Irish Roots. Christine Kinealy. (Appletree Press, 1999)
  • The Oxford Companion to Irish History. Edited by S.J. Connolly (Oxford, 1999)
  • The New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland. Brian Mitchell. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2002, reprinted 2008)


  • Grenham's Irish Surnames. John Grenham. (Eneclann CD)
  • Matheson's Special Report on Surnames in Ireland. Robert Matheson. (originally published 1890, Archive CD book at Eneclann)
  • Handran's Townlands in Poor Law Unions. George Handran, editor. (Archive CD book at Eneclann)
  • Pocket Guide to Irish Genealogy. Brian Mitchell. (Clearfield Company, 2nd edition, 2002)
  • Short History of Ireland. Richard Killeen. Gill and Macmillan, 1994)


  • Tracing Your West Indian Ancestors. Guy Grannum, (TNA, 2002)

General, for all of Britain or all of Britain and Ireland 
  • Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives. Amanda Bevan. (TNA: 7th rev. ed., 2006)

  • Road Atlas of Great Britain, 3 miles to 1 inch. (Johnson and Bacon, 7th ed., 1973) or any other atlas at 3 or 4 miles to the inch as long as it is no later than 1973; other publishers include Bartholomew, Reader's Digest and Shell.
  • The Official Guide to George D. Morgan. (Ancestry, 2nd ed., 2008)


Good Ideas From Pharos

Genealogy Websites
How to check the location and hours of a Family History Centre
Find Full Text Books for Family History Online
Make use of Interlibrary Loans

Genealogy Websites

1. Check the contents before you pay for searching at a commercial database website.

All commercial database websites tell you about their contents. Some go into considerable detail, but you may have to follow links deeper into the site to find specifics. It is worth the time and effort – you know whether there is data related to your search and, when planning further steps, you know what has been covered.

A database of millions of names offers no guarantee the ones you seek are included. Similarly, a complete index to all surviving records may be no help at all if the records you need are missing. You will save money and search time if you identify the resources you need and check whether these are part of a database you are intending to search.

2. Read all instructions before you pay and before you search.

Search tools at different sites are not built the same way. Look carefully at the fields available for basic and advanced searches and read any search advice. Search instructions tell you about required information and the use of variables, such as wild card symbols.  Some search tools require a surname and others permit a search on a given name only. Wild card symbols may not be permitted among the first two or three letters of a name. Only by understanding search functions can you avoid frustration and be reasonably certain your search has been a thorough one.

3. Find out whether or not the search can be done at a free site or using a free index.

Gateway sites such as Genuki, Cyndi’s List and Really Useful Sources set out most of the options. Make sure you check them out according to the geographic area and the type of record in advance of your search. Not a bad idea searching the same data at two locations, because different indexers may not make the same errors.

How to check the location and hours of a Family History Centre

Go to and select the tab at the top labelled Library; or you can try this direct link to the Library page:

Scroll down the page to the bottom, where you will see a section headed Family History Centres. There are a few facts about them, and the last line is a link to the search tool which helps you find a centre new you and its open hours.

You can search on the name of the country: England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. If you wish you can be more specific and add the name of the county and/or city. The search results are presented as a list giving street location, hours and telephone numbers. You are asked not to write to a family history centre. All are staffed by volunteers. There are 75 in England, 3 in Ireland, 3 in Northern Ireland, 16 in Scotland, and 8 in Wales.

If you live in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or any other country, this same search tool can be used to find Family History Centre locations.

Find Full Text Books for Family History Online

Part of the richness of family history research is the variety. It can take you into any part of a library looking up information on almost anything. Similarly you may want to search full-text books online on a wide range of subjects in addition to history and genealogy.

There are some websites for historians and family historians that either include full-text books or lead you to them. These are a few suggestions.

England – Institute for Historical Research, British History Online

Medieval Genealogy -

Ancestry has lots of books in its family and local histories sections for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (part of the Stories and Publications list); access these via the Search page, here - and click on the appropriate part of the interactive map

National Library of Scotland Digital Library -

Library Ireland -

Wales on the Web –

For those who want to wander off into other topics and search more widely for online books, try these resources:

Project Gutenberg –

University of Pennsylvania Online Books Page –

Internet Public Library – is the main site, and then look at

Google Books –

Interlibrary Loans

Make use of Interlibrary Loans

Interlibrary loans, sometimes called library interloans, are available at most public and university libraries throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand and countless other countries. This is an inexpensive way to access books needed for research that are not available locally.

You can borrow from other libraries outside your library system if the item you want cannot be found its catalogue. All libraries ask that you check the catalogue of your own system before placing an interlibrary loan request.

Interlibrary loan should not be confused with obtaining a book from another branch library in your local system. Many systems contain several libraries located around the community; in rural areas some branches can be far apart. If you need a book located at another branch of your system then you must reserve it, and there may be a charge for this service.

Certain items may be restricted and unavailable via interlibrary loan:

Old books in poor condition
Books less than 12 months old
Books that cost less than a stated amount
Audio or video tapes, CDs
Any other book that a library considers must not be loaned

Your library may have limits on how many interloan books can be in process at one time.

The lending library determines the period of the loan. There may be a fee charged by your home library and by the lending library, and charges for a late return are likely to be higher than the usual rate. Expect to wait for a while, particularly if the book must come a considerable distance.

Requested books sometimes come from another country. This takes longer and charges may be higher.

Your library may discount the charges levied for children’s books, to students, seniors, and those receiving income assistance.

Check the website of your own library system for local information or ask at your library.

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Download Free Charts to help your Research

On this page you will find some free genealogy charts to download, print out and fill in. Charts summarize your research in a visual way. They help you identify problems and plan future steps. And they are fun to fill out - use charts to get your kids or grandchildren involved in family history.

Pedigree Chart
This is our hand drawn variation of the common Pedigree Chart. Start by filling it in with yourself or your chosen ancestor on the left and then add the details of the parents, grandparents, etc., in the spaces to the right. This is your research road map, or skeleton. As you learn about your family, make sure you fill in lots of charts, every step of the way.
Download here

Family History Retrograph 
This chart is more unusual. Use it to "see" the lifespans of your ancestors in the context of historical events, both local and national. The chart has ten sections across the page to cover any 100 year period you choose and boxes for local and national events in each ten year period.
In the left column put the names of the ancestors or probable ancestors; any group of individuals that you think are connected in some way. For each name draw a horizontal line for the lifespan and if you are uncertain of a date or birth or death, use dots for that end of the line. If you know the year of marriage, mark that spot on the line with a large "M". You can mark any life events you choose as long as you define your symbols at the bottom.
Now, sit back and study your visual shorthand. The new perspective will give you new ideas.
Download here



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