If you want to find out more about your family history online, then things just got a little easier! The entire Sussex Parish Registers collection is now online, which you can access for free from The Keep or any of our libraries.

Baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial records spanning 457 years of Sussex history are now available to search online at Ancestry.

The entire Sussex Parish Registers collection has been digitised for the first time and brought online through an exclusive collaboration between the East Sussex and Brighton and Hove Record Office, the West Sussex Record Office and Ancestry.

Access to Ancestry is free at The Keep (our archive centre based in Falmer) and at all our libraries.

You can search the records by parish on the Ancestry website. Please note that you will need to pay for this service on a personal device.

The stories behind the records

Included in the collection are some rather notable characters from East Sussex’s past.

Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809)

Thomas Paine is now hailed as the “father of the American revolution”.

Paine lived in Lewes for six years in the 18th Century, where he developed his political ideas before leaving for America. It was also here that he married Elizabeth Ollive. The marriage didn’t last however, and they separated when Paine left for London. It was when he was in London that he’d meet Benjamin Franklin who suggested he move to America, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Below is the marriage certificate and separation agreement of the short-lived union.

Read more about Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine.

A portrait of Thomas Paine.

Paine marriage.

Marriage of Thomas Paine and Elizabeth Ollive at Lewes St Michael, 26 March 1771 (PAR 414/1/4).

Thomas Paine serparation document.

Separation agreement, 4 June 1774 (AMS 7000/1).

Emily Sheila Kaye-Smith (1887-1956)

Author and novelist, Emily Sheila Kaye-Smith grew up in East Sussex and her baptism record outlines she was baptised in St Leonards on 3rd April 1887. She spent her childhood exploring the countryside around Hastings and attended Hastings and St. Leonards Ladies College, where she studied 17th century poets.

In August 1921 Kaye-Smith most successful novel, ‘Joanna Godden’ was published and sold 10,000 copies.

Kaye-Smith’s marriage record from 16 October 1924 shows her marriage to Rev Theodore Penrose Fry. He was a curate at the Anglo-Catholic St Leonards Christ Church which Kaye-Smith visited secretly because the church was disapproved of by her staunchly Anglican parents.

Find out more about Emily Shelia Kaye-Smith.

Sheila Kay-Smith.

Emily Sheila Kaye-Smith by Howard Coster, 1930 (National Portrait Gallery)

Baptism of Sheila Kaye-Smith at Hastings St John

Baptism of Emily Sheila Kaye-Smith at Hastings, St John (PAR 472/1/2/1).

Francis Newbery (1743-1818)

Francis Newbery was the owner of Heathfield Park, and although a publisher, most of his money came from the sale of patent medicines.

On 29 May 1770 he married Mary, the sister of Robert Raikes, the Gloucester printer and founder of the Sunday school movement. Newbery’s fortune enabled him to purchase Heathfield Park in 1791. He commissioned Humphrey Repton to improve the grounds and built the Gibraltar Tower in the grounds to commemorate its defence by Lieut-General George Eliott, the previous owner of the estate.

The Keep holds a collection of papers about the Newbery family and a copy of Repton’s Red Book showing his ideas for landscaping the grounds.

Newbery died on 7 August 1818 and was buried at Heathfield.

Engraving of portrait of Francis Newbery.

Engraving of portrait of Francis Newbery (ACC 9781/2/8).

Repton’s Red Book: proposed effect of joining two ponds on different levels with a dam disguised as a bridge, using a flap to illustrate proposals.

Repton’s Red Book: proposed effect of joining two ponds on different levels with a dam disguised as a bridge, using a flap to illustrate proposals (AMS 6310/1 f27).

Welcome Wednesdays: your introduction to The Keep

You can join an introduction session to the archive centre on the first Wednesday of every month!

Welcome Wednesdays are a great chance to talk to our expert staff, go behind-the-scenes and see the centre’s state-of-the-art document repositories, conservation studio and digitisation suite.

The sessions include an overview of how to navigate The Keep’s website and catalogue and book documents for a visit. You’ll also be given a brief introduction to the reference and reading rooms.

Welcome Wednesday sessions cost £7.50 and include an introduction to The Keep, and a behind-the-scenes tour. Parking and tea or coffee are also included.

Numbers are limited so booking is essential. Find out more about Welcome Wednesdays and book a place.