About us

Our history

Originally a division of the world-famous Debrett’s, Debrett Ancestry Research have been tracing the ancestry of families from all walks of life since the late 1970s.

Collins's Peerage, forerunner to Debrett's Peerage

Collins Peerage, precursor to Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage (last published in 2019)

John Debrett

The history of Debrett can be traced back to 1766, since in that year, John Debrett, the 13-year-old son of a French cook, was apprenticed to a Piccadilly bookseller and publisher, Robert Davis. By 1781, John Debrett was running his own business in Piccadilly. His list was a varied one, and he became involved with the publication of a handbook to the British aristocracy known as The New Peerage. To cut a long story short, by 1802 this was being published as Debrett’s Correct Peerage.

John Debrett was an unassuming man who died alone and in debt, but two centuries later, his legacy Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage (last published in 2019) is still the definitive guide to Britain’s titled families. www.debretts.com

Debrett Ancestry Research

By the late 1970s, it was clear that it was not only peers and baronets who took pride in their family history. Therefore, responding to a growing interest which spanned right across society, the publishers Debrett’s Peerage set up a new division, entitled Debrett Ancestry Research. Its purpose was to provide a high-quality, professional research service for anyone with British ancestry who wanted to discover their family tree. The response was overwhelming. Forty years on, and now a separate company, Debrett Ancestry Research has researched more than 7500 families from all walks of life and from all over the world.

I am truly impressed by the quality of your work and also very grateful. There is so much in the report that I did not know and would never have discovered without Debrett’s professional help.

S Coffey, Ireland

Our people

Dr Susan Morris

Director of Research

Susan studied English and History at Durham University, graduating in 1980 with a 1st class honours degree in English. She remained at Durham for postgraduate study and was awarded a doctorate in 1985. After working in publishing for two years, Susan joined Debrett Ancestry Research in 1985, becoming a Director in 1987. She has published articles in various journals and was co-editor of the 2019 Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage. Special interests include the oral tradition in genealogy, social history.

Susan Moore

Consultant Genealogist

Susan graduated from the University of St Andrews in 1974 and has worked as a freelance genealogist and historical researcher all her working life. Following an apprenticeship with renowned genealogists in Scotland and England, she started her business in 1977 and was one of the first to undertake work for a fledgling Debrett Ancestry Research. She now specialises in records of the 16th and 17th century, particularly those of the Chancery court and manorial courts, and is the author of two books and numerous articles on the court of Chancery. She is a former trustee of the British Association for Local History, is a tutor for Pharos Tutors, and represents medieval and early modern researchers on the National Archives User Advisory Group. 

Sally Hilliard

Associate Genealogist

Sally studied at Exeter University, gaining a BA (Hons) in History, and went on to be awarded an MA in Archive Studies by University College London. She worked as assistant and then deputy archivist at Lloyds Bank before becoming a genealogist. Sally is a member of AGRA (Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives) and has worked as a family historian for over twenty years. Special interests: social history and family history.

Local Specialists

In addition, our nationwide network of expert researchers provides access to archives throughout the UK and Ireland.

Frequently asked questions

I would like to offer you my profound gratitude for the research that has been undertaken ….  The professional approach which you have adopted throughout has been exceptional.

D. Caldwell, Qatar

Can I get further copies of my report?

We can supply further bound copies of our reports for other members of the family, which make popular gifts. The standard charge for a copy report is £25 (plus £6 for overseas postage where applicable) and we can also supply a PDF copy for £15. If you are a client and wish to order an additional copy of a report please click here.

Is it possible to trace forwards in time as well as back?

In most cases we will be tracing back in time to look for ancestors, but the Standard and Extended Programmes can also be used to look for descendants. Usually, working forwards in time is more time-consuming, because there are more unknown factors involved.

Are you able to trace the ancestry of someone who was adopted?

This depends on the circumstances.  For example, in England and Wales, a formal Register of Adoption has been kept since 1927, but before that it is likely that no formal record of an adoption survives. For adoptions after 1927, The Children’s Act of 1975 allows an adopted person, if over 18, to apply for their original birth certificate. No one else can do this for them. If we are given a copy of that certificate, we can usually begin research on the birth family. In Scotland, adoption has been legally recognised since 1930, and information is supplied to the adopted person, if they are over 17.

Do you just follow back one surname at a time?

The most efficient method in ancestry research is to follow a single surname line back through the generations, from son to father to grandfather etc; so this is what we usually recommend. However, if you want two surname lines researched at once, and the research is likely to be straightforward, a good choice is our Extended Programme. This gives a little less research time to each line than the Standard Programme but allows for research on two lines. Another option is to commission more than one Standard Programme at the same time. If you choose this option, we may be able to offer reduced rates, so please ask for details. If you wish to research matrilineally (from mother to grandmother and so on) we recommend our Standard or Extended Programme, since this is usually more time-consuming.

How far back will you go within a single programme?

This is the most common question and the most difficult to answer, since every case is unique, and it is impossible to predict the outcome of research in detail. As a rough guide for UK research, if we are beginning at around 1900, we expect to discover at least three or four further generations within our Standard Programme. However, there are many variable factors, For instance, some families stayed in the same country parish for generations, while others moved around frequently in densely populated cities. Some left better ‘paper trails’ than others. We just don’t know what we will find until we start exploring.

How long does a research programme take?

Good research is a painstaking process. The average time taken to complete a Standard Programme is two months, but this will vary according to where the records are held.

What kind of detail will I discover?

Our usual priority is to discover as many generations as possible, since this is what most of our clients want. However, along the way we always note details of brothers and sisters, and we always record occupations wherever we can discover them. There are some details that we don’t pursue: for example, we don’t routinely look for death certificates in English research. Also, we won’t research the recent generations in your family, unless you ask us to do so. So, you have a particular priority, or an area that you would like to be explored, please make this clear at the outset and we will do our best to find out what you want to know.

Should I choose the Standard, Limited or Extended Programme?

The Standard, Limited and Extended Programmes are carried out and presented in exactly the same way; the only difference is how long we spend on the research. The Standard Programme is suitable for most cases, but if you would rather have a shorter programme, or if you only want a limited amount of information, you might prefer the Limited Programme. (However, the Limited Programme is not suitable for complex or early cases, or for research outside the UK.) If you are just beginning research and would like two surname lines explored (for example, your father’s and mother’s) we recommend our Extended Programme. The Extended Programme is also ideal for very challenging or early cases.

What happens if I want more research?

At the end of every research programme, you will receive a detailed report and family tree. In many cases, there will be scope to continue research, so at the end of each report we make specific recommendations as to what could be done next. Then, you can choose to commission a further programme if you wish.

How are the results presented?

At the end of each research programme, we provide a detailed report, describing and analysing the research in full. Copies of certificates, census returns, etc, are included in the report, which is spiral bound in our traditional red and gold Debrett covers. In most instances, you will also receive a detailed pedigree chart (family tree), usually A3 in size, on 100gsm paper. Each chart is individually designed and presented in our unique house style.

What documents will you supply?

This will vary from case to case, but we routinely include copies of civil registration certificates, census returns and wills of direct ancestors. Copies of a variety of other records will also be included where this is permitted. When we are working in the civil registration period (from 1837 onwards in England and Wales) we usually try to obtain birth and marriage certificates for your male ancestors, where possible. This is because relying on census returns alone (as some do) cuts costs but can lead to serious errors being made.

How can I be sure that you have identified my line correctly?

It is certainly the case that in genealogy the results are often not cut and dried. We strive to be accurate at all stages of research, and we tend to err on the side of caution. This sometimes means that research is slow-moving, because in cases of uncertainty we will search around for further confirmation. It is always helpful to have full known information at the outset, since sometimes a small detail can be very important. The farther back we research, the fewer sources are available and this means that sometimes it is impossible to establish a connection with absolute certainty. In such cases we make it clear that we are making educated guesses, and where necessary, links will be shown on the chart as a dotted line, indicating that firm proof is lacking.

Isn't it all online now?

Many records are now available online, the most valuable of which are those which have been digitised and indexed. However, there are still a great many records which are not. Some researchers fall into the trap of searching what is readily available, rather than what must be logically searched. We place great emphasis on checking original sources where possible. Additionally, many inaccurate genealogies have now been posted online. Any family tree posted on an Internet site needs to be fully referenced with original records and so if it is not, treat it with extreme caution!

Sources We Cover

Primary Sources for Ancestry Research

In recent years, genealogy has been revolutionised by the release of vast numbers of records online. For example, images of census returns and many parish registers are now available. Moreover, most of these newly digitised records have indexes. This has made many key sources easier to access and use. However, it is important to be aware that a lot of important sources are not online. Local archives hold a wealth of records, many of which need specific expertise and local knowledge to interpret. Through our network of experienced researchers our coverage includes:

English and Welsh Ancestry Research

  • civil registration records (birth, marriages and deaths), from 1837
  • census returns (1841-1911)
  • original parish registers and nonconformist registers
  • Bishop’s Transcripts and other diocesan records
  • wills and other probate documents
  • military records
  • professional records
  • India Office records
  • manorial records
  • apprenticeship and other guild records
  • poor law documents
  • local newspapers
  • electoral registers and poll books
  • court records such as Chancery proceedings
  • deeds
  • early tax returns
  • heraldic visitations and other early published pedigrees

Scottish Ancestry Research

  • civil registration records (births, marriages and deaths), from 1855
  • census returns (1841-1911)
  • parish registers
  • testaments (wills)
  • land records
  • memorial inscriptions
  • professional records
  • civic records
  • printed genealogical and local history works 

Irish Ancestry

Many records were destroyed by fire in 1922 and others were not preserved. For any Irish research we recommend that you send full known details for a free assessment before commissioning work.

  • civil registration records (births, marriages and deaths), from 1864 (Protestant marriages from 1845)
  • 1901 and 1911 census returns (most earlier returns were destroyed)
  • church registers
  • memorial inscriptions
  • will indexes, abstracts, surviving wills (most were destroyed)
  • government records eg 1796 Flax Growers’ Bounty List
  • land records eg Griffith’s Valuation, Tithe Applotment books, deeds 

Ancestry research outside Great Britain

To complement our research on British families we access a variety of records in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Our coverage of these will depend on the individual requirements of the case, and we recommend that you send full known details for a Free Assessment before commissioning work.


Vintage portrait of lady in glasses

“I would like to congratulate you and your team for the wonderful presentation you made … I loved it, it was clear and precise, and the old map is a nice touch. It really is something to treasure.”

N Kimber, Oxfordshire

Correspondence address:
Debrett Ancestry Research Ltd
Department WP
PO Box 379
SO23 9YQ
United Kingdom
Tel: (+44) (0)1962 841904
Email: info@debrettancestry.co.uk

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© Debrett Ancestry Research Ltd 2020
Registered office:
Luccam House, Hockley Mill, Church Lane
Twyford, Hants. SO21 1NT