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Biographic research for ringers

  Before you start

Where you look will influence what you are likely to find. There are some fairly obvious places, listed below, and it’s sensible to start with them. But you might come across other places as you progress, which are also worth exploring. For example if you find out somewhere the subject worked for a period, that could point you towards a local ringing society whose archives could be explored, and whose members might have personal memories. If you discover your subject’s employer, then he or she might be mentioned in reports about the company.

Ringing-specific resources

Systematic information about individuals:

What to look for
Where to look
Search techniques
Exploiting the results
  • Biographic records for nearly 1000 deceased ringers, including those who served on the Central Council, are available at: biographies-records. Early records contain limited information, but later ones typically have much fuller accounts.
  • Many obituaries of ringers have been published in Bell News and The Ringing World. Those published between 1881 and 2000 are indexed at: bellringers-obituaries-index/. There are plans to extend this to 2008.
  • Obituaries published in The Ringing World from November 2008 until May 2015 are available on-line at: ringingworld.co.uk/news-articles2/obituaries.html.
  • Ringers who served on the Central Council, with the dates of their service and the ringing societies that they represented, are listed at: methods.org.uk/archive/ccmemind.htm.
  • Ringers who served on Central Council committees, with the dates that they served, and whether they were chairman/convener are listed at: methods.org.uk/archive/ctteemem.htm.
  • Rolls of Honour record ringers killed in either of the two World Wars. As well as the books in St Paul’s Cathedral, the information is available online at: CCCBR Rolls of Honour.
  • Articles on ringers killed in war published in The Ringing World during 2014 – 2018 are available from: <PlaceHolder>

Sources that may be searched for possible references to individual ringers include:

  • Indexes of The Ringing World, available from: ringingworld.co.uk/news-articles2/indexes.html.
  • Back copies of The Ringing World since 2001 are online at: ringingworld. All issues, and other ringing journals and references to ringing in old newspapers, are available on DVD, see: CCCBR library publications.
  • Online copies of many of the above from: CCCBR online-publications.
  • Minutes of Central Council Council meetings, from 1881 onwards at: minutes (Archive).
  • Many ringing societies have historic records and information about former members. Some have a librarian or archivist, who as well as helping you to access records may have relevant personal knowledge. For contact details see the relevant society website. A quick way to find societies is via the list at: CCCBR - societies.
  • Societies that no longer exist may be linked with a current society that inherited their records. There is a list at: This temporary address, which shows current and former ringing societies with details of when they were formed, changed their name, were absorbed into another society or were wound up.
  • The Central Council library has the most comprehensive collection of documents about ringing (more than even the reference libraries). As well as books, it includes: national journals that featured ringing, and the newsletters and annual reports of many ringing societies. For information and access see: CCCBR library. The catalogue is at: CCCBR library catalogue.
  • Records of ringing performances show the sort of things people rang, and who they rang with.

There are several online lists, with different pros and cons:

  • Bell Board: bb.ringingworld.co.uk has full details of all performances (peals, quarters, etc) in recent years that can be searched and viewed as individual reports.
  • Peals.Co.UK: peals.co.uk has incomplete details of peals since 1985, with references to the corresponding Ringing World report (complete and with searching and on-line links for peals from 2005 onwards).
  • Peal Base: pealbase.co.uk has complete records of all peals since 1948 [at the time of writing]. To use it you need to register – by checking and confirming that its record of the peals you have rung is correct. If you haven’t rung any peals then request special access, explaining your need, by contacting: webmaster@pealbase.co.uk.
  • Felstead database: felstead.cccbr.org.uk doesn't name individual ringers – just place, method & date – but it is the most complete record of peals, and may reveal the existence of peals at significant places, whose details you should be able to track down from other sources, once you know they exist

Non ringing-specific resources

The following population records should nominally be complete. Records for anyone still alive are not public but the entry states that the details are closed. (See below for how to access them.)

  • Census returns (every 10 years: 1841 to 1911). The ages shown are at the census date so subtracting it from the census year only gives the correct birth year for those with a birthday between 1 January and the census date. The 1911 census returns (in the handwriting of the head of house) declared the number of births and number surviving for each mother.
  • The 1939 Register was compiled as at September that year and was urgently required for total identity purposes (the 1931 census records had been destroyed by fire). The 1939 Register records name, address, occupation, marriage status and actual date of birth for the civilian population of England & Wales. It excludes members of the armed forces stationed in barracks etc, or billeted in homes (including their own) but includes members of armed services on leave, and civilians on military bases at the time.
  • Birth records are available up to 2006 [at the time of writing]. For the most recent years the month of registration is shown, otherwise it’s the quarter. The actual birth might have happened in the previous quarter. Precise dates may be obtainable elsewhere. From 1912 the maiden name of the Mother is part of the record [and occasionally in earlier records]. The extent of families can be proved by searching with this maiden name.
  • Marriage records are available to 2005 [at the time of writing], with qualifications as above.
  • Death records are available to 2006 [at the time of writing]. As with births, these are shown by the month in recent records, but before that were recorded by quarter. The age at death is normally included (but might not be accurate) which gives an indication of birth year if not already known, though with some uncertainty unless the day & month of birth and death are known. From about 1969, the actual date of birth became part of the death record.

There are also partial records of variable completeness:

  • County records having searchable files for: baptisms (which show the names of parents and perhaps an exact birth date), banns (often showing the parents of the betrothed), marriages, burials.
  • National Schools admissions 1870 – 1914 (often with parent’s name, and date of birth).
  • England births and baptisms 1538 - 1975 (not too sure of the difference from county records).

Other sources of information include:

  • Federation of Family History Societies: ffhs.org.uk lists around 120 family history societies in England and many elsewhere (rest of UK and overseas), as well as some single name societies.
  • British Newspapers on line: britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk has well over 20 million pages (and growing) from British newspapers as far back as the 1700s.

Access to public resources

Many sources of information are freely available on the Web, but others have various access constraints. For example searching the British Newspaper Archive is free but viewing the newspapers is a paid-for service. National records (including census, births, marriages & deaths, and some military records) are available online.

Some records are free to access, for example births, marriages and deaths via:

Most resources are available via one of the family history services, which provide minimal information free, with access to the detail requiring either a subscription or the purchase of ‘pay as you go’ credits:

Some local public libraries allow free access to some services that would otherwise be paid for.

Some ‘academic’ resources have public lists of documents but restrict access to subscribers. Most academic institutions subscribe to these resources so their staff and students can have access. If you need one of these it would be worth thinking whether you know anyone who works or studies in academia.

You can find other genealogical resources, for example via:

There are several directories of resources, including:

Another possibly useful website is:

Hard copy

Despite seemingly limitless information available on the Web, a lot is not. Many documents and records were created before the Web became ubiquitous, and although some of them have since been digitised and put online, many only exist as hard copy and/or microfilm in libraries and record offices, most of which have an on-line catalogue of the documents that they hold so you can check what is available before planning a visit.

There are lists of record offices on several websites:


© CCCBR. Material on this website may be freely used for any purpose in connection with the promotion of bell ringing. For any other purpose please contact us.

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