6 New Places to Explore US Ancestry in England

Man polishing large brass bell at Being Brunel, SS Great Britain, Bristol, England

With TV shows like 'Ancestors' and 'Who Do You Think You Are?' attracting well known celebrities to explore their family history, ancestral travel has continued to rise in popularity in recent years. Genealogy is reported to be the second most popular hobby in the US. Here are just a few of England’s new attractions, genealogy services, must visit sites, and ancestral tour guides for US travellers looking to learn more about their ancestral roots in the UK from the Mayflower voyage in 1620 through WWII:

1. The Box, Plymouth

Plymouth’s flagship building for the Mayflower 400 commemorations houses the archive of the area’s historical records. As well as exhibitions, events and performances, Plymouth’s shipping records, house and property histories, cemetery, prison, mortuary and workhouse records are all held here. The archive highlights include Plymouth’s Bomb Book, which records where and when various devices were dropped on the city during World War II air raids.

Take advantage of the group tours and talks, online catalogue, and help from a private researcher, which is available on request.

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The Box

2. International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive, Lincolnshire

The IBCC in Lincoln provides a world-class facility with the most comprehensive record of the Command in the world - acknowledging the efforts, sacrifices and commitment of the men and women, from 62 different nations, who came together in Bomber Command during WWII. There is a free-to-use digital archive of documents and oral histories from across the world, covering aviation and military heritage. The Wall of Names records almost 58,000 men and women who lost their lives while serving for Bomber Command. Visitors can dedicate an engraved paving stone to commemorate relatives, ancestors and friends.

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International Bomber Command Centre

3. Kresnon Kernow, Cornwall

A new modern archive and library in a bespoke building brings together the world’s largest collection of manuscripts, books and documents related to Cornwall. The space hosts excellent digital facilities, events and exhibitions.

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Kresnon Kernow

4. Brunel Institute at Brunel’s SS Great Britain, Bristol

Visitors to the award winning SS Great Britain in Bristol can access objects and expert help from one of the world’s finest maritime collections. The 67,000 items in the collection include books and periodicals, logs and personal diaries of crew members and passengers. The collections also include the complete run of Mariner’s Mirror and an almost complete run of Lloyd’s Register. 

Bristol hosts the biennial Cary Grant festival celebrating Bristol born Archie Leach – the 2020 festival will celebrate 100 years since Archie started on his journey to becoming Cary Grant.

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SS Great Britain

5. Essex Record Office, Chelmsford

Tracing English ancestors can begin at home, through Essex Record Office’s remote search option for US residents. The Essex Record Office holds many thousands of documents, maps, photographs, sound recordings and videos. Parish registers date back as far as 1538 and have now been digitized so can be accessed from home; many of those who migrated to America as part of the ‘Great Migration’ from 1620 onwards appear in them including Christopher Jones captain of the Mayflower ship who was born in Harwich. The records office oldest document dates from the year 962.

One to one genealogy support is available with prior booking, as are behind the scenes tours of the archive.

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Essex Records Office

6. Cambridge American Cemetery & Memorial

3,812 US personnel are laid to rest at the Cambridge American Cemetery and a further 5,127 names feature on the Wall of the Missing. Located on the west side of Cambridge, the visitor centre incorporates personal stories, photographs, films and interactive displays including Americans in Great Britain. Group tours are free and visitors are advised to book in advance. There is also an extensive amount of educational resources available online.

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Cambridge American Cemetery

Plan your trip

Unique Devon Tours

Award winning tour guide and ancestral specialist, Alex Graeme specialises in providing tailor made highly personalised genealogy tours that add colour to your ancestral research. Alex and the team specialise in Devon and Cornwall.

Select South West Tours

Bespoke family history and genealogy tours that delve into the ancestry of visitors with connections to southwest England. Specialist Mayflower 400 themed UK wide tours also available.

Learn more about ancestral travel in England and the Mayflower 400 commemorative project here.

28 Feb 2020(last updated)

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