A very useful and informative resource are historical maps.  And some of the earliest large scale maps (c.1:500 scale) were created by companies involved in providing fire insurance.  Maps for London date from the mid-18th century, and one company, Charles E Goad Ltd, was responsible for preparing maps for all of the fire insurance companies for the period 1886-1970.  The maps cover the central business districts of over 100 towns and cities in the United Kingdom.

An example of an extract from a Goad fire insurance map is provided below.  This dates from 1888 and is a central part of Manchester, at a scale of 1 inch to 40 feet (or 1:480).

 
As with all detective work, be it police work, archaeology or genealogy, you start from the known and work back into the unknown.  Obtaining a birth certificate of a child can provide valuable confirmation of the parents of the child, in particular (if this is not known) the maiden name of the mother.  Working with this information, you can then hopefully find a marriage, and on that certicate, the fathers' names of the bride and bridegroom, plus their occupations.

The example below is a birth certificate for Thomas Steele, born 20th August 1855 in Hayton, Cumberland. The certificate shows his date of birth, his given name, sex, name of his father (Thomas Steele), name of his mother and her maiden name (Mary Steele formerly Finnian), the occupation of the father (Coal Miner), the signature,description and residence of the informant (in this case the father,Joseph Steele of Hayton), the registration date (12th September 1855) and the signature of the registrar (Daniel Pape).

 
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