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Advice for tracing your family history

If you're looking to start your family tree or are struggling to trace your ancestors, the following resources and advice may help you.

Apply for copy birth, marriage and death certificates

All register offices hold records of births, deaths and marriages from 1837 for their own area.

However, registering a birth wasn't compulsory until the 1870s, so if you're looking for births before 1870, you might have to use one of the other resources listed on this page.

How to apply for copy certificates for Rochdale borough

Visit the Local Studies Centre at Touchstones Rochdale

The Local Studies Centre at Touchstones Rochdale holds extensive records and historical documents for Rochdale and the Pennine area, such as:

  • Parish records - these include the births, deaths and marriage records for as far back as 1538.
  • Census records - the government carries out a survey of all the people living in the UK every 10 years which is called a census. The census includes the address of each person and what their job is.
  • Trade directories - these were published annually and list the names and addresses of local traders and businesses. The first trade directories were published in the 1600s.
  • Newspapers - local newspapers are a great place to search for information about your ancestors, for example in obituaries and inquest reports.
How to access records at the Local Studies Centre

Use to trace your family history is a great tool for building your family tree and recording the information you find. You can also access records and historical documents on the website, including military records, criminal records, immigration records and voter lists.

If you're a library member you can access the ancestry website for FREE.

Search burial records to find an ancestor's grave

You can find your ancestor's grave by searching the burial records held at cemeteries. Graves will usually tell you the year of birth or death of the person as well as names of spouses or children.

In Rochdale borough, you can locate a grave at Dearnley cemetery, Heywood cemetery, Middleton old cemetery, Middleton cemetery and Rochdale cemetery.

Locate a grave in the borough - includes what information you need and how much it costs

Find war graves for people who lost their lives in the world wars

If you've ancestors who you think may have died while serving in the armed forces during World War I or World War II, you may be able to find details about them. Details could include what regiment they were in, what years they served, which countries they served in and the names of their parents or spouse.

Soldiers who died during World War I and World War II who lived in the borough are buried in war graves in the borough.

Inspect the electoral register

The electoral register is updated every year and lists the people on each street who can vote. It can help you find out how long your ancestor stayed at an address and early electoral registers tell you what your ancestor's job was.

Remember: electoral registers won't list all the adults who lived in a property until 1928. This is because the electoral register only lists people who could vote. Before 1918, only men who were homeowners could vote. In 1918 the law changed so all men over 21 could vote but all women over the age of 21 weren't able to vote until 1928.

How to inspect the electoral register for Rochdale borough

View wills and probate records

Wills and probate records can be a great source of information about your ancestors and their lives. They often give details about family members, servants, occupations and addresses.

You can also work out how much money or property your ancestor had, what their most prized possessions were, who was in or out of favour in the will and who was trusted enough to be an executor.

Search for wills and probate records on GOV.UK

Find out what your family members know

Other members of your family may be able to build on the information you know.

You may find it especially helpful to speak to older members of your family. They're more likely to know the names or years of births and deaths of people who are no longer alive. Be sure to record the information you find out to help you keep track of what you know.

See if you've any important documents

Search for any documents you might have stored away to help trace your family tree. Ask relatives if they've any documents as well.

Useful documents are anything confirming key details in family members lives such as names, dates and relationships. They could be birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, adoption papers, family photographs, newspaper cuttings, wills or funeral cards.

Related pages


01706 924784 (note: phone lines can be very busy)

Phone: Monday–Friday 9am–4.45pm.
Fax: 0844 963 231

Rochdale Register Office
Number One Riverside
Smith Street 
Rochdale OL16 1XU

Opening hours

Monday–Friday: 9am–4.15pm
(On the last Tuesday of each month, the office opens at 10.30am)
Saturday and Sunday: ceremonies only

Birth registration, death registration and giving notice of marriage – by prior appointment only