Your Ancestors in Europe

Do you have family stories, myths or legends about ancestors arriving from Europe hundreds of years ago? Does your skin, hair, eye colour lead you to believe your ancestors weren’t originally British? Do you have more recent experiences of European blood and lineage in your Family History? If so this blog can help you get started with tracing your European Ancestors.

Reichstag, Berlin

British Records

Records of aliens arriving from Europe are few and far between. The main subscription websites have some record sets and are worth checking out; for example:


  • England, Alien (Foreign) Arrivals, 1810-1811, 1826-1869 (a record set detailing non-British citizens arriving in England. This record set relates to a collection at The National Archives)
  • UK, Aliens Entry Books, 1794-1921 (a record set consisting of correspondennce and documents of the Home Office and the Aliens Office)


  • Gravesend register: list of passengers who passed through port of London from March to October 1669
  • FindMyPast deals generally with Emigration and Immigration, to and from North America and Australia. Although like most websites it is worth revisiting every few months to check out their new record sets


Huguenot Society

The Huguenot was a name given to the Protestants in France, by their enemies. In 1685 King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, exiling Protestant pastors and forbidding ordinary people from leaving France. Many did leave; around 200,000 in fact left France settling in other European countries, including England where it is estimated 50,000 settled (10,000 of these moving onto Ireland).

Look out for a future blog on tracing Huguenot Ancestors…

The Huguenot Society has published records relating to these ancestors arriving in the UK in the 17th and 18th Centuries.



Most aliens from 1916 in the UK had to register at Police Stations. The naturalisation papers held at The National Archives, in Kew, London are probably the most useful and detailed for your research. These may inform you were applicants for British nationality were born.

Tower Bridge, London

European Sources

Many are now available online in the local language or in English. Try the Dutch resources at The Central Bureau of Genealogy. Google will help translate the website if you use Google Chrome as your Internet browser.

Most of the countries in Europe record vital records (BMD) differently and these maybe kept in local archives or places rather than centrally filed. Ideally you need to know the country and the town or village your ancestor hailed from. It is worth conducting some research into the context of the records you are interested in; how these were recorded, when and where they were stored.

Language will be another obstacle in your research (unless you are multi-lingual of course!). You may find records were kept in Latin, and as in your British research if you come across Latin there are many guides and resources to help you. The records themselves tend to fall into a particular format and pattern and knowing this can help you make a note of key phrases which will be repeated in each record you find.

Look out for identity card records. These were issued by European Governments across Europe (which would be intolerable to us British)! However they make a great resource for your research and often contain photographs, birth and marriage information, affidavits, address, religion, occupation etc.

The Census is another resource to check out, however these were not always taken as frequently as in the UK and will have different ‘start’ dates depending upon where you are searching. In France for example the first census was taken in 1772; then every 5 years from 1836 to 1936. Like the UK they are closed for privacy for 100 years.

The European Library is a portal to the collections of 48 different libraries (including The Bodleian Library, The National Library of France and the Project Gutenberg amongst others). Users can cross-search and reuse over 28 million digital items and 175 million bibliographic records.


Further help

As in the UK there are many Family History Societies willing and able to help you in your quest:


FamilySearch is probably the best website to start your research with; this is the one I always recommend as a starting point for research outside of the UK. The Wiki is a great place to start and the page for Europe is a great starting point.

Cyndislist should probably be your next stop. This incredible website is organised by Country and then category. There are no records here, but hundreds of thousands of links to potential record sets that will support your research.

Many books are available to support you in your research, and those by the Society of Genealogists, The National Archives or Pen and Sword publications are recommended.

If all else fails consider a professional genealogist. I concentrate my research on the UK so have a look at the Association of Professional Genealogists or the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives for reliable, professional genealogists.


Research ancestors in other countries















The Netherlands

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Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

What stories might your ancestors tell?



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