Review: Explore The Past (a brand new guide to family history)

The front cover of the new Explore The Past guide.

Lately, Worcestershire seems to be cropping up in my “genealogical life” more than usual. Not only have I just become a member of the Malvern Family History Society (thanks to whom I think I may have cracked an old brick-wall and gone back a further generation!), but also because I was recently invited to review the new guide to family history which the Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service have created.

I was recently contacted by a member of Explore The Past, a part of Worcestershire Archive, announcing the creation of a 70-page comprehensive guide designed to provide advice to anyone researching their family history. In fact, this guide is so complete, you don’t need to have Worcestershiremen in your ancestry to find it interesting and useful. In my particular case, it just so happens that my grandmother’s grandmother Jane Allen (née Davis) was half Malvernian, with roots in Kempsey and Hanley Castle. Many members of my extended family branched off into various parts of Worcestershire, so I immediately leaped at the chance to write this review.

What is it?

Any genealogist will appreciate that, no matter how often and how well acquainted we are with the resources we use on a regular basis, there are always new discoveries out there which enrich and facilitate our research. The guide published by Explore The Past is proof of this. Its 70 pages cover a vast range of topics useful for any researcher, amateur and professional. Obviously it includes not only what I call the basics (census returns, civil registration and church records), but goes on to delve into other equally fascinating and useful resources: newspapers, trade directories, prints and engravings, school directories, archaeology and historic buildings, etc… It is truly a goldmine of information presented in a very clear and compact way.

Who is it for?

For someone such as myself, who tends to rely excessively on online records, I must confess I didn’t quite know what to expect from a guide of this kind. As I don’t live in the UK at the moment, you might say I’m a bit on an unseasoned user of British archive material. After all, most of us tend to think “Oh well, I’ve seen it all by know anyway”, don’t we? Actually, reading through the pages, I realised just how much information there is out there which I am simply not consulting (or I’m not using properly). The fact that this guide was conceived as a resource for those unable to make the long journey to The Hive, where Worcestershire Archive is located, is in itself innovative. Of course not all holdings are available online, but thanks to their top-notch digitisation and translation/transcription services, the Archive offers you the chance to access documents without moving from the comfort of your home!

OK, but what does it contain?

Although Worcestershire is a county, it is in fact an array of smaller, tightly-knit communities. The Archive contains some 20,000 books which will enable researchers to understand the finer historical details which defined the lives of our forebears, from military history to transport, manufacture, leisure and of course biographies of notable historical residents. The Archive also holds a wide range of maps -from tithe maps to building footprints- which will enable you to comprehend the geography of the land in which your ancestors lived.

If it’s ancient history you’re interested in, this will definitely whet your appetite: the guide offers information about the over 32,000 records of Worcestershire’s above- and below-ground archaeology, more than 17,000 records about historical buildings and ancient landscapes, over 8,000 records of archaeological investigations and over 23,000 records of references to archaeological reports, articles, books and even photographs.

Worcestershire Archive contains thousands of maps for Worcestershire.

The England and Wales census, which as you probably know was taken every ten years from 1841 to 1911, can also be accessed onsite at Worcestershire Archive and, as explained in the guide, enables users to research individuals, tracking down their movements from one population to another, understanding the social make-up of a specific area, and of course discovering more information about family units. The census is also complemented by the existence of over 85,000 photographs (including engravings and aerial photographs) which will give an added visual dimension to your research. To this we should add photographs of local events as well as images of soldiers who went to war between 1914 and 1918. I wonder if I can find any of my many Worcestershire relatives who sadly fought and died in the Great War?

Church records are complemented by the existence of vestry minutes (which give information about poor relief, church accounts and even bastardy cases), as are Bishops’ transcripts. Be warned, though, that the office of Bishop was abolished during the Commonwealth, so there are no transcripts for the period 1646-1660. Ecclesiastical records also include other denominations, including Roman Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, and Methodists. Wills and probate records will add extra flesh to your family history skeleton – and Worcestershire Archive holds records dating as far back as the 15th century!

How can I learn more?

The list of records one can access in Worcestershire Archive seems endless. It is little surprise they receive user queries from all over the world, from Sydney to New York (and now Brussels too!). For those just getting started with their research or are not well acquainted with Worcestershire Archive, I advise them to read the FAQ section (which I confess I have found invaluable).

So, whether you’re researching your Worcestershire ancestry, or are doing some research in the area, or just want to compare notes and see what resources you may have missed out on in your own corner of the world, I heartily encourage you to download the Explore The Past guide compiled by the Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service. To do so, or for more information, please visit their website:

I wouldn’t want to end this review without conveying my sincere thanks to Rebecca Meekings, from Explore The Past, who has very graciously invited me to write this review, and who has provided invaluable information about the guide and Worcestershire Archive.


“We’re thrilled to release what we think is an interesting and informative guide, and we hope it will be useful for anyone researching their ancestors. Whilst the guide focuses specifically on our Worcestershire collections, it would also be of use to those researching in any English county archive. The team believes that this is the only resources guide of its type.”
– – – Dr Lisa Snook, User Services Manager at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service


Contact sheet for Explore The Past.

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