Sunday, 24 April 2011

England and Britain are not the same - and why it matters

St George's Day is a good day to remind the world (including England) about this. The terms 'England' 'Britain' and 'UK' are often used interchangeably, but be warned, this can lead you into all kinds of problems. And I don't mean the risk of incurring the wrath of the Scots, Welsh, Irish, Manx and Channel Islanders.

For the genealogist, or any other researcher using British records, it is really important to know the difference, or you could be looking in the wrong place, or failing to look in the right one, which is just as bad. If you are not from the British Isles you may find this confusing; you are not alone. It's not just that some English people say England when they mean the UK, and vice-versa (and I have even heard history professors do this, and they really should know better).

I found a file among Home Office Correspondence in The National Archives (ref: HO 45/7928) which contained a petition, together with the official response. I transcribed both documents and placed them on the Your Archives wiki site, so you can read A Protest against The Name England being imposed upon the United Kingdom for yourself. See what you think.

A century and a half on, confusion still reigns. I am trying to do my bit, and in a couple of weeks I shall be delivering my talk 'What is Britain' at the NGS Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. I have previously given it in Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia and Utah, so after Charleston that will only leave 45 states to go...

I am being sponsored by FamilySearch to deliver this and another talk, and I am very grateful for their support. I have also recorded a shortened version of 'What is Britain' which can be viewed on the Research Courses page. At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, I see they have filed it under 'England Research', presumably because there is no 'UK' or 'British Isles' Research section. Oh well. I have commented on this before in my earlier posts on the way that FamilySearch now describes records from the British Isles.

I won't go into any more detail here, but for a good online account see Uniting the Kingdoms.

I enjoyed seeing the flag of St George around London today. I think it looks better on a flagpole or a building than draped around tubby shaven-headed young men with lots of tattoos and no neck, but that's just my opinion.  



  1. Thank you, Audrey for stressing this point. So many people in England on radio and TV don't even get thsi right, which makes my husband and I yell "It's Britain not England"!!!

    From Susan in the Scottish Borders.

  2. Keeping hammering away on the issue, Audrey - though I suspect many will never learn! I've linked your post to mine at - hope you don't mind.

  3. Being British - does that mean you are from the British Isles or Great Britain? We know it is more complicated than that - another great post Audrey, thanks. (reading Being Welsh -