Brief Guide to Tracing Your Black British Ancestry

New Pentecostal Church of God,
©Bradford Museums Photo Archive

To mark Black History Month, here is a selection of online guides to tracing your family history. Bradford Libraries of course hold book stock for loan covering the basics of family history research, the sort of records you might come across and dedicated guides to aspects of Black history and Black family history, such as Madeleine E. Mitchell’s Jamaican Ancestry How to Find Out More, (Heritage Books, 2008) ISBN 978-0-7884-4282-7.

Background historical information

Black people have been in Britain from at least Roman times and increasingly more research is being done into their history and valuable contribution to the development of British society and culture. Here are a couple of sites you may find useful: 

The website was launched in 2003, and funded by the New Opportunities Fund. It is one in a series of online exhibitions produced by Pathways to the Past web resource. It was established to provide an historical context for lifelong learners using the archives in their own research. It includes resources such as digitised records and artworks from the National Archives’ collections and elsewhere. 

The Every Generation website was launched by Patrick Vernon after mentoring young black people in Brent and Hackney. He was inspired to create this online resource for young people and families for genealogical research and to explore Black British identity.

BBC articles for Black History Month on great men and women

BBC iplayer programmes:  TV series with David Olusoga  Radio 4 series with Gretchen Gerzina

More suggestions are available on the Bradford Council’s page:

Family History – making a start

If your family has a long heritage in Britain then please follow the guides’ link below to a leaflet that includes an outline of some of the records you may come across in your research. Please note that census records did not identify ethnicity until 1971 so although early censuses do identify the country of birth in some cases from 1841, your search will be by address and surname. All are accessible through Bradford Libraries’ Ancestry from home service. You can start with the 1939 Register and then work through 1911 back every 10 years to 1841.

Free online guides are also available on this site on all aspects of general and particular British family history research. Follow this link and type in your search needs:

Further areas of research

This leaflet highlights some of the background history to migration from the 1940s.

Passenger lists for African-Caribbean heritage during the period c1948-1960

The British Transport Collections include some of the migration records of British citizens from Caribbean countries to the UK from this period and these are held at the National Archives, Kew. The National Archives also has a series of guides that you can read online and/or print off to read.

These include the UK inbound passenger lists up to 1960. However, these are currently available to all Bradford Library card holders from their own home. Follow the instructions below to access Ancestry and/or the more restricted access to Findmypast.

Ancestry includes the ‘Windrush’  inbound passenger lists and other inbound lists 1878-1960. UK outbound lists from 1890-1960.

To access Ancestry Library you will need a Bradford Libraries membership card.
Go to and log in to your library account with your card number and pin.
Remember to input just the numbers. Next, click on the special link to Ancestry Library Edition.

Findmypast  includes UK outbound lists from 1890-1960. Access is limited to a certain number of searches per month.  To access please email

A guide for National Archive records that relate to aspects of the slave trade, slavery and unfree labour in the British Caribbean and American colonies:

Personal Accounts of Research for Black Ancestry

One man’s journey to uncover his routes back from his Liverpool family:

African-Caribbean heritage: two free online talks this month with Paul Crooks

If you would like to pursue this topic more informally, Manchester Library is hosting two family history talks, free online, by the author and family historian, Paul Crooks who pioneered research into African Caribbean genealogy during the 1990s. Join him as he explains how he traced his family history from London back 6 generations through to slavery in a Jamaican sugar plantation and how he researched his father’s history using the Passenger lists above mentioned. The events take place on the 19th and 20th October and are online, you register using your email and do not have to be a member of Manchester Libraries.

Paul Crook’s books are available in Bradford Libraries, please follow this link and you can use the click and collect service

Family Research War Records

You can search for war records on the Ancestry and Findmypast web sites. You may also wish to look at the following:  American soldiers

Bradford Museums’ and Libraries’ Records

Belle Vue Studio collection: a unique collection based in Bradford’s Museums and Galleries. The studio became a popular destination in the 1950s for those coming to work in Bradford from other parts of the world. Digitisation of the photos is almost complete:

See also Bradford Museums Photo Archives:

Leading fireman , Alfa Kalay of the Green Watch
©Bradford Museums Photo Archive

Bradford’s Oral History collection is housed in Bradford Local Studies Library. It consists of 800 tape recorded interviews with local people’s memories including subject areas such as textiles, health, war, immigration to Bradford.

Further links for tracing immigrant and ethnic ancestors:

The BBC continues to be involved with black history and family history research. Here is a useful link:

The British Library houses the Oriental and India Office Collections, relating to all the cultures of Asia and North Africa and European interaction with them.

UKIRA  UK Information Resources on Asia provides collection descriptions of resources held in university, special and public libraries; also access to holdings of newspapers in any language published in Asia, Middle East and North Africa, and information on the range of linguistic expertise in Asian languages available across the UK.

The National Archives holds the records of the Colonial Office, Commonwealth and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices.

SOAS Library & Information: housed at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, this is one of the world’s most important academic libraries for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Site covering the history of the Commonwealth including a photo archive   The Mundus Gateway is a guide to collections of overseas missionary materials held in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

General Archive Research links   the A2A database contains catalogues of archives held across England and dating from the 1900s to the present day.

AIM25: provides electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over fifty higher education institutions and learned societies within the Greater London area.

ARCHON: the Archon Directory includes contact details for record repositories in the UK. The Archon Portal provides information about archival resources and projects. The site is hosted and maintained by the National Archives.

A good web site with some current free tips on getting children involved in their family’s history.  This site also has free genealogy layout forms to help you organise your research as you go.

We hope that this guide proves useful to you, please follow this link to find out what else is on in Bradford and Bradford Libraries and Museums  to honour Black History Month.

Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight, Keighley Local Studies

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