Fooballer Ancestors


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Tracing Footballer Ancestors

The Records

For those who suspect they have ancestors who played professional footballers, records are available to help you with your research.  The most obviously place to start are the census records. 

A census was taken in Britain every ten years after 1801 (except during the Second World War).  Until 1841 the census was basically a headcount of the numbers of people (male and female), houses and families in a parish or township.  From 1841 the census lists the name of everyone in the house, the address, approximate age and occupation.  

The original census returns for the 1841-91 censuses for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are kept in the Family Records Centre in London.  However, those for your particular country should also be available in the local record office.  The 1901 census for England and Wales is available online at http://www.1901census.nationalarchives.gov.uk/

 The 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 census returns hosted by Ancestry.co.uk can be searched for free.  For a fee images of the returns can be downloaded. 

In Scotland there has been a census every ten years since 1801 (excluding 1941) but only those returns after 1841 (with a few earlier exceptions) carry details of named residents. Census returns for 1841-1901 can be consulted at the General Register Office in Edinburgh.   Copies on microfilm may be consulted in LDS Family History Centres around the world. LDS centres also carry microfiche indexes to the 1881 census returns.   Computerised indexes for 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses are available at the General Register Office in Edinburgh, and they are also available online (for a fee) at Scotland’s People (includes images of the 1861, 1871, 1891 and 1901 censuses, and full transcript of 1881).

Neither the Football Association, the Football League or the clubs themselves admit to having many early records.   The National Football Museum, on the other hand, is home to the world's greatest football archive. Located underneath two stands at Preston North End’s Deepdale Stadium, the objective of the National Football Museum is to preserve, conserve and interpret the greatest collections of football memorabilia in the world.  It is the Museum's intention to open up this archive for academic research in the near future.  For more details contact the Museum at The National Football Museum, Sir Tom Finney Way, Deepdale. Preston, PR1 6RU or email them:

The Scottish Football Museum, situated at Hampden Park, Glasgow, is one of the city’s leading attractions.  Objects on display include the world’s oldest cap and match ticket and the Scottish Football Association Challenge Cup (the world’s oldest national trophy).   You can also visit the museum's own website, www.scottishfootballmuseum.org.uk

The Association of Football Statisticians has produced a number of volumes of Who’s Who in the Football League 1888-1915 and 1919-1939, as well as The Early Years 1863-1888 which list the players, the clubs they were with and the seasons they played.   The AFS is currently building a database of every player, every club and every match played in professional football ever as part of its Genome Project.  They already have 270,000 matches, 46,000 players and 8,000 teams, with results going back to the earliest matches in the 19th century. See http://www.11v11.co.uk

Most clubs have histories and many of these list players and describe key men in some detail.   The quickest way to make contact with a club is through their official websites where queries will often be forwarded to an official club historian.    It is also worth checking unofficial sites run by fans, as they will often take a closer look at the history of the club and even some of its more obscure players.  

Newspapers are a major source of information.  As early as 1892, Charles Edwards wrote: ‘Saturday evenings are devoted to football symposia, and the newspapers issue special editions one after the other, with from three or four columns of reports and gossip about the results of the days games and the players’.  The collection of British football programmes and club magazines in the British Library Newspaper Library is likely to be amongst the finest of its kind anywhere in the world.   The holdings listed date from the 1890s onwards and they include substantial runs of titles, notably those for Charlton Athletic (1934 onwards), Clapton Orient (1907-1939), Everton (1904-1939), Kilmarnock (1929-1940), Manchester City (1924-1969), Manchester United (1910-1934), and various Lanarkshire (1929-1940) football clubs.     In addition to these, the Newspaper Library also maintains major runs of periodicals relating to football.  Long-running titles from around Britain include: Burton upon Trent's Football Mail (1946-1978), Nottingham's Football Post (1903 onwards), Ipswich's Football Star (1946-1975), Inverness's Football Times (1904-1976), and Cardiff's South Wales Football Echo (1919-1939).