Unlocking the Past Resources for Home and Family History Research

Have you ever wondered about the history of your family, your home or the stories of those who lived here before you? Many of us  have similar curiosities, often seeking guidance on where to begin. Luckily there is a wealth of resources available to assist in uncovering the rich tapestry of our personal and local histories. This article tries to give you some pointers. 

The perfect place to start is HALS, Hertfordshire Archives and Library Services, formerly known as County Archives with their Headquarters in Herford. Friendly staff and a plethora of resources await you there. If you can’t visit them in person go online. The HALS family history research page is here: Family history research | Hertfordshire County Council  H offer four Family Tree Detectives sessions each year which cover popular topics for family historians who wish to find out more about research techniques and sources.  There are two coming up shortly, in September and  November respectively  (Researching women’s live and  Researching World War Two family history).  HALS also offer one to one family history surgeries with an experienced member of staff for anyone who has hit a research brick wall.  These can be done in person at our office, or by phone or online via Teams

What’s in the archives?  This page has a section for houses and buildings and provides information on the most popular collections records that HALS holds: What’s in the archives? | Hertfordshire County Council  Apart from they regularly run tracing the history of your house sessions at the offices and on line.

We can also recommend searching the Hertfordshire Names Online Index (HNO), Hertfordshire Libraries catalogue (for books in our local studies library) and the archives catalogue.   HNO and the archives catalogue can be searched by name, place and subject. Links to HNO and the archives catalogue can be found at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies | Hertfordshire County Council

With so many records and resources in our collections it is impossible to cover them all, so we have given some guidance on these pages but enquirers with a specific question they would like to ask are very welcome to either:

HALS, and in fact all Hertfordshire Libraries on their premises also offer free access to Ancestry and Findmypast two databases you would otherwise have to pay for.  Access to the British Newspaper Archive (local newspapers for the UK and Ireland) which would also be of interest to anyone researching local and family history, is also available on site.

Then, do remember that East Herts borders on to Essex and Chelmsford, not that far away is the home of the Essex Record Office which offers very similar to those available at HALS.  They too can be found online. 

Historic England

If your focus is on the architectural history of your home, Historic England provides comprehensive guidelines. Their step-by-step guide on How to Find Out Your Home’s History  can be found at There you can walk through various resources, from title deeds to maps and architectural plans. Additionally, their section on Who Lived Here  Who Lived in My House? Researching your Home’s History | Historic England offers practical advice on using census records and electoral rolls to discover former occupants of your house.

The National Archives

The National Archives at Kew also stands as a cornerstone for historical research in the UK. Their website provides detailed Research Guides These cover a wide array of topics, including how to delve into the history of houses and properties and how to navigate various types of records, from land registry documents to historical maps. The National Archives also has its own bookshop with lots of titles of historical interest.

Government Resources

For a more localized approach, the UK government’s portal offers a useful search tool for Local Archives  This feature helps users locate the nearest repositories of historical documents, such as county record offices and public libraries, which can provide further insights into personal and property histories.

There is of course a lot more to be said and done. Just use your imagination google about and see where you land. On our own website 

Sawbridgeworth Local History Society – To research, collect, record and preserve. (  

Meanwhile we will endeavour to provide and update our collection of useful links. All those resources are there for you to use. However, if you are local and are so interested why not join our society yourself. Very soon you yourself will be a local history/family history buff and advice the other folk in our society. So whilst you’re on the site fill in the form here.

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