Finding ancestors’ siblings

You’ve found a new ancestor and now you now want to find his or her siblings.  How do you do that?  An obvious answer that might come to mind (depending on the era of course) is that they will be listed along with your direct ancestors on the census.  But that isn’t necessarily so.  The census will list all children of the family who are still alive and at home on the night of the census.  Some might have died before they even got a chance to be included on a census; some might be working away in service or apprenticeship; some might be spending the night with grandparents.  In other words, the census is a good start, but it might not be complete.

So to be sure of finding all the siblings, we need to use other sources.  We need to check baptisms and, after 1837, civil birth registrations.  And before we can do this, we need to get as much information as possible about the parents.

I’m going to use four different online resources to get information about the siblings of one of my ancestors: Ann Wade who, according to the 1851 census, was born in Huntington (just outside York) around September 1850.  Her father was William Wade from York, and her mother was Jane, also from Huntington.

These are the resources we’ll be using:

To get started, we need to find Ann’s birth. We will use the GRO birth index and the following search criteria: surname Wade; forename Ann; female, born 1850 (exact); Registration District: York.

I find two Ann Wades born in York that year, but one would have been older than six months at the time of the 1851 census, so I’m leaning towards the other, registered Oct-Dec of 1850, and her mother’s maiden name is Cass.

If I can find a marriage within a reasonable time before 1850 between a William Wade and a Jane Cass, then I know I have the correct family.  The Marriage Index on FreeBMD has such a marriage in Oct-Dec 1948, and a further FindMyPast record shows that the marriage took place in Huntington.

We now have all we need to search for all children born to William Wade and Jane née Cass in York, after their marriage (1848).  I like to allow 20 childbirthing years, but this can be extended.  As we work with the different resources, note how the search criteria differs slightly for each one.  See how, as the information we input varies, this can impact on the usefulness of the results.  But note too how we can use the various resources together to build up a richer picture of the family.

Census returns
Before we start searching using the four websites listed above, let’s see what the census returns have to say.  According to them, how many children did William and Jane have?  These are the children recorded:

1851 – Ann, 6 months
1861 – Ann, 10yrs; William, 6 yrs
1871 – William, 15 yrs; Sarah, 9 yrs

Let’s see if there are more, who slipped through the net.


The General Register Office Birth Index – free to use, but you need a (free) account.

The search criteria now varies from our first ‘fact-finding’ search for Ann.  We input the following: surname; forenames left blank;  mother’s maiden name (If these are names likely to be mis-spelled, we can change the ‘exact matches only’ to something more approximate); Registration District: York.  For this search we need to start at 1848, so I’m starting with 1850 plus/minus 2 years, then 1854 plus/minus 2 years, 1858, 1862, etc.  I will need to do this twice: once for females and once for males.

These are the birth registrations (Wade; MMN Cass) the GRO Index returns:

  • Ann, Dec 1849 (MMN mis-transcribed as Coss so I didn’t pick her up at first)
  • Ann, Dec 1850
  • Thomas, Mar 1852
  • John Thomas, Jun 1853
  • William, Dec 1854
  • Edwin, Dec 1855
  • Thomas, Jun 1857
  • Edwin, Jun 1858
  • Sarah, Sep 1861

A bit of an advance on the census returns!


FamilySearch – free to use, but you need a (free) account.

Let’s switch now to FamilySearch.  What we hope to find here are the baptism records for each of the children.  These should fit together nicely with the births.  From the top menu bar, Click Search then Records.

On this search form the search criteria is: surname (Wade, in my case); parents’ names (I don’t include the mother’s maiden name in case it confuses the search, just her forename); birthplace; country (England); and the start and end years of my search.  The search will stick to these dates exactly.

Here’s what we get, all on the first page of results, all identifiable by the parents’ names, and all but one identifiable by the York parish of St Maurice:

  • Ann, baptised 24 Sep 1849, York St Maurice
  • Ann, baptised 28 Sep 1850, York St Maurice
  • Thomas, baptised 11 Jan 1852, York St Maurice
  • John Thomas, baptised 30 Apr 1853, York St Maurice
  • William, baptised 16 Oct 1854, York St Maurice
  • Edwin, baptised 27 Dec 1855, York St Maurice
  • Thomas, baptised 16 Apr 1857, York St Maurice
  • Edwin, baptised 5 Apr 1858, York St Maurice
  • Sarah, baptised 4 Jul 1861, York St Olave

(So this also tells me the family moved house between April 1858 and July 1861.)


Ancestry – Subscription site. You may be able to access at the local library, or free access during one of their ‘free’ weekends.
Our search in Ancestry starts with Search on the top menu bar, then selecting Birth, Marriage & Death.  Search criteria here is: surname (forename left blank); year, plus/minus 10 years; birthplace; parents’ names.

This returns 159,267 birth records, but I can see which ones are in York, and if I hover the cursor over the record I can see the parents’ names without having to open each record.

So it’s quite quick to see that the following civil birth registrations and baptisms are all on the first page.  The advantage here is that if your tree is on Ancestry, saving these records will automatically input the source information.

  • Ann, Dec 1849; baptised 24 Sep 1849, York St Maurice
  • Ann, Dec 1850; baptised 28 Sep 1850, York St Maurice
  • Thomas, Mar 1852; baptised 11 Jan 1852, York St Maurice
  • John Thomas, Jun 1853; baptised 30 Apr 1853, York St Maurice
  • William, Dec 1854; baptised 16 Oct 1854, York St Maurice
  • Edwin, Dec 1855; baptised 27 Dec 1855, York St Maurice
  • Thomas, Jun 1857; baptised 16 Apr 1857, York St Maurice
  • Edwin, Jun 1858; baptised 5 Apr 1858, York St Maurice
  • Sarah, Sep 1861; baptised 4 Jul 1861, York St Olave


FindMyPast – Subscription site. You may be able to access at the local library, or free access during one of their ‘free’ weekends.
Search criteria: surname; forename left blank; year (plus/minus 10 years); location.  It is not possible to input parents’ names, therefore results are not filtered by this information – a disadvantage since this search returns 47 civil birth records and 145 baptisms.  All the siblings are there, but I have to open and check each one to see if they are children of William Wade and Jane née Cass.

However, FindMyPast has a big advantage in this particular case: their records include images of the original parish registers and original Bishop’s Transcripts – always preferable to using a modern transcript.  One way of overcoming the disadvantage of the limited search criteria would be to find the children from the GRO and FamilySearch, and then to key in specific names and dates for each on on FindMyPast in order to obtain the specific records with images.


As you can see, in this situation, the free sites served us very nicely, and together gave us transcripts of all the evidence we need.  In this particular case, although FindMyPast was the most cumbersome to use, the records available were the best.  By familiarising ourselves with the search mechanisms of a number of sites – your subscription site along with whatever free-to-use sites there are – you’ll soon learn which site would likely give you the best results in any search, and you’ll get to know how to use them in combination for best results.

And as for the Wade family, for whom only three children ever showed up on the censuses, the sad truth is that there were nine live births, and six of them died shortly afterwards.  This adds considerably to the ‘story’ of parents William and Jane.

Genealogy on a budget

If you’d like to get started on your family tree but cash is limited, this one’s for you.
Even if the costs of family research aren’t a problem for you, it’s still nice to save a little money when we can.

And remember that these ideas can be used in combination – subscribe for a month, take advantage of a free weekend, use the library facilities, google online records….  Challenge yourself to see how far you can go on a fixed budget.

Access genealogy websites without a subscription
These are places that might have subscriptions to one of the genealogy websites (most likely Ancestry or FindMyPast if you’re in the UK).  They will be free for you to use, although you may have to become a member (also free):

  • Your local library
  • The central library for your area/ city
  • The local archives/ county record office
  • Your nearest FamilyHistory Centre.

Look up records online for free

  • Familysearch All records are free but you have to have an account and be signed in.
  • Search the births and deaths indexes for free at the General Register Office website.
  • FreeBMD Search for births, marriages and deaths here.
  • Even if you’re not subscribed, these record sets at Ancestry and these at FindMyPast are freely available.
  • At certain times of the year (e.g. Bank Holidays, St Patrick’s Day) the main sites offer free access to their main collections. You can get an awful lot done in a long weekend if you set your mind to it. 😊

Special offers to subscription sites
Look at the Genealogy Discount site to see if there are any special offers currently available.

Or try googling the sites and adding ‘free trial’ or ‘month trial’.  They often have special offers at times of the year when they think people will have free time and minded to find out more about their families, e.g. Christmas.

Limit your subscriptions to when you know you’ll have more time
In my early years as a genealogist I limited my subscriptions to the winter months.  Other commitments meant I didn’t have much time throughout the rest of the year.  Per month, a monthly subscription is more expensive than an annual subscription, but if you subscribed for one month out of every three, it will save you money.  Remember to deactivate automatic renewal each time you subscribe.

Alternate subscriptions and reading
If you limit your subscriptions you can use the time between subscribed months to read around your family / your localities by visiting your local library, heritage centre or archives.  It’s all valuable research and will help you get a better understanding of your family.

You can also take advantage of ‘free weekends’ during your unsubscribed periods.

Even if you do keep a regular subscription, you can still save money
Keep an eye on public online trees.  Sometimes people share digital copies of BMD certificates or other records they have found on a different subscription site.  Sometimes you may even get photos of your ancestors.  If you’re sure this is the same family, that could be several documents you don’t have to pay for.

Try to find out if someone has transcribed the registers for your parish of interest
GENUKI is a good place to start.  Click on your county, then your parish.  If transcriptions are known to exist they will be listed.

Also try Googling ‘online parish clerks’ and adding your county of interest.  e.g. Cornwall online parish clerks has a page for each parish.  As an example, Altarnun parish page includes transcripts of census returns, registers, and even some apprenticehip indentures, wills, bastardy and resettlement hearings.  This is a volunteer service so what’s available will of course vary from place to place.

Occasionally you’ll come across a real nugget, like the Wharfegen & Craven Genealogical Study.  This is an ongoing project to construct the family lines and histories of individuals and families who have lived the Wharfedale and Craven areas of Yorkshire.  You only come across things like this by googling or recommendation, so see what you can find.

Don’t buy a civil BMD for every event
Refer back to my previous posts for ideas on how to find the same or similar information from alternative records:

These are some ideas to get you started.  I’m sure others will be able to add to this list, so please leave a comment if there’s a money-saving idea you’d like to share.