My Genealogy Alphabet Part 3

So we have come to the third and final part of my Genealogy Alphabet. If you haven’t read the first instalments, you can catch part 1 here, and part 2 here. Q-Z has been rather challenging, but the rich and abundant genealogical resources have delivered.

Q is for Quit Rentals.  When manorial tenants owed services to their Lord, they could be released from the duty by paying a Quit Rent.  Quit Rentals are lists of the tenants commuting their service of labour to money.  The documents may also name the Lord of the Manor and the Steward collecting payments.  Sometimes a manorial tenant may wish to pay a quit rent to prevent other tenants executing their rights if it affected his land (such as hunting rights on farming land).  These entries may offer details of the land, it’s use and maybe even some customs of the manor.

R is for Recusant Rolls.  A Recusant was someone who was absent from the local parish church.  Throughout the 16th century, various levels of fines were enforced against Roman Catholics and other dissenters.  Around the turn of the 17th century, the penalties intensified and recusants forfeited all of their goods and much of their property.  Recusant Rolls list the names of the individuals, along with the fine/forfeit imposed and descriptions of seized goods and property – although the person’s religious denomination was not recorded.  If your ancestor appears in a Recusant Roll, it may lead you to investigate other Catholic/Nonconformist records.

S is for Settlement Examinations.  As I mentioned in Part 2, the parish was responsible for the relief of it’s poor.  Parishes were often keen to offload the financial burden to another parish; hence a Settlement Examination was undertaken to verify a pauper’s legal place of settlement (which decided whose problem they would be).  The 1662 Poor Relief Act stipulated the conditions to which a person could legally claim settlement.  Generally it was the parish you were born in (your husband’s parish, or your father’s parish if you were under 7), the parish in which you had worked/been apprenticed for a certain period of time, or the parish where you held property valued over £10 per annum.  When questioned (under oath) the pauper would answer, revealing all sorts of valuable information, leading you to explore countless records.

T is for Tithe Maps and Apportionments. There’s much to be said on the subject of tithes and the 1836 Commutation Act; but in short, a nationwide survey was conducted to value parcels of land according to it’s size and cultivation, in order for an annual charge to be calculated and levied in place of tithes. Apportionments list the name and description of the land, the landowner/occupier, the state of cultivation and the money payable in lieu of a tithe. A reference number next to each entry relates to the accompanying Tithe Map. These maps show field names, land-use, boundaries, and of course – the reference number to be cross-referenced back to the relevant Apportionment. These records are fantastic for providing details of the land our ancestors owned/worked; and can be especially useful when used in conjunction with the 1841 census, as you can plot exactly where your ancestor resided within the community.

U is for University Registers. The two oldest English universities, Oxford and Cambridge, have published their student registers, which offer excellent biographies. The Alumni Oxonienses and the Alumni Cantabrigiensis detail students’ names, fathers’ names, sometimes other family information, their age, degree, and often later careers. They really provide a wealth of information about your educated ancestors.

V is for Vestry Minutes. The Vestry were an early form of parish council, who would meet and discuss matters concerning the community. Everything from repairs to the church, sanitation, maintenance of roads, schools, even policing. They’re a great source for understanding the day-to-day activities of your ancestors’ community, creating a picture of the sort of life they led. You may even find reference to your ancestor as a churchwarden, parish constable, or tradesman contracted to carry out works. 

W is for Window Tax.  Unlike some other taxes, Window Tax was levied on the occupier of a property as opposed to the owner.  It was charged on a sliding scale according to how many windows a property had, which led to many people blocking-up openings in a bid to reduce their tax.  Individuals who were exempt from paying the poor rate, were excused from Window Tax.  Whilst the documents are basically a list of people’s names, addresses, number of windows and tax paid, they are a great tool for placing your ancestor in a certain location through a period of time.

X is for X marks the spot – on a map (oh come on, you have to let me have that surely?)  Maps are often an underutilised tool in genealogy, yet they can be such a rich addition.  Whether they are enclosure maps, manorial maps, tithe maps, or even maps of fire insurance plans, they can reveal exactly where our ancestors resided within a community, what their local environment was like, who their neighbours were, and how much land they owned/worked.

Y is for York, The Prerogative Court of.  The court of the Archbishop of York proved wills for testators who held property in more than one diocese within the province of York (covering: Cheshire, Cumberland, Durham, the Isle of Man, Lancashire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Westmorland and Yorkshire).  However, individuals may have chosen to escalate a will to a higher probate court just for the prestige, so evidence of PCY probate does not necessarily mean the deceased owned land across the county/counties.  If you cannot locate a pre-1858 will for an ancestor, it might be worth checking to see if it was proved at the prerogative court of York.  PCY wills are held at Borthwick Institute For Archives, but can be searched online in digitised indexes at and (Probate records at this level for the rest of the country were proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury)

Z is for Zingari (Latin for Gypsies).  Ok, so I know we are concentrating on English records in this blog, but we come across Latin in English documents don’t we?  Following a family rumour, I have long been searching for a connection to Romany Gypsies in my family tree, but am still to find evidence.  For those of you who do have Gypsy heritage, there are plenty of records for your travelling ancestors.  The best place to start is the Romany and Traveller Family History Society, who have some fantastic research guides, publications, and transcription projects.

And there we have it, my Genealogy A-Z. I hope you have enjoyed the blogs, and that they have encouraged you to check out some records you haven’t used before, or have reminded you of some you haven’t explored in a while. As I said in parts 1 and 2, I haven’t delved too deeply into how, why or when the documents discussed were created, this is simply a reminder of their existence.  The collections mentioned are scattered across the country, and can be found in national or local archives, museums, history centres, even private hands.  Of course, as with most records, there are exceptions to who or what the collections concerned, whether it be the dates covered, or exemptions for particular individuals/groups, so there is no guarantee you will discover your ancestors in every record set. However, I do wish you every success in your quest. Happy researching!

My Genealogy Alphabet Part 2

Here is the second instalment of my Genealogy Alphabet. Part 1 discussed genealogically valuable records from A-H. In part 2 of this blog, I look at collections from I-P. If you haven’t read Part 1, you can find it here. Now, let’s continue:

I is for Inventories.  As mentioned in Administration Act Books, Inventories are lists of a deceased’s movable goods.  They were created to help value an estate, and give us an excellent insight into the everyday life of our ancestors.  The inventory might include work tools, clothing, furniture, even animals.  They really do paint a picture of how prosperous (or poor) our family was at a certain time in history.  Inventories may also lead us to Accounts, which were submitted to the court by the administrators, detailing the deceased’s expenditure (including debts), revealing business activities and the social status of our ancestors.

J is for Jury Lists.  Sometimes called Freeholders Lists, because a man was only eligible to sit on a jury if he held property (of a certain value).  Being a Freeholder had its privileges, but also came with duties – such as the poor rate, and jury service.  Jury Lists will pinpoint our ancestors in a certain place at a certain time; and are particularly useful when researching before the 1841 census, as they record an individual’s place of residence.  If an ancestor is named on a Jury List, you are very likely to find evidence of them in Tax Records, Poll Books, Land Records, and Freemen Registers to name but a few.

K is for Kelly’s Directories.  Kelly’s series of volumes were a kind of Yellow Pages of their time, but even better.  There’s so much to discover in them, from topographical information of a town/village to postage times and prices; tidal times to population statistics.  They include lists of individuals, business owners and local establishments such as schools and places of worship; so you can really build an idea of the community in which your ancestor lived.  However, the data was often gathered up to a year before each edition was published, so we can’t assume that an entry was always accurate at the time of publication.  It’s also important to remember that directories are not a complete survey of a locality – you would have to pay to be included, so if an individual/business could not afford to advertise, or did not wish to, they simply wouldn’t appear in the directory.

L is for Lease and Release.  There are many types of land record, and this form of conveyance was very popular between the mid-17th century and the mid-19th century.  Lease and Release were two separate documents: the first involved the vendor leasing a piece of land to the purchaser, the second (dated the very next day) recorded the vendor relinquishing his right of reversion and releasing it to the purchaser (for a fee).  It was a legal loophole that negated the need to enrol the transfer of land, which saved time and money.  Lease and Release documents will detail the land and parties involved, and may lead you to investigate other records associated with owning property (as mentioned in Jury Lists).

M is for Missing Pieces (of censuses).  Ok, so not technically a record set, but ‘Missing Pieces’ lists can be extremely useful to a family historian.  Find My Past have a great article which you can view here, listing parishes that are missing from the England, Wales and Scotland censuses.  If you are expecting a family to be living in a certain place, but can’t find them in the census, a quick check of a Missing Pieces list will reveal whether the census of that parish has any gaps.  If it doesn’t, then you might investigate whether the names have been mistranscribed, or perhaps the family were away visiting on the night the census was taken.  If you discover there are missing pieces for that parish in that census, it might save you going out of your mind and wasting time searching for something that doesn’t exist.  You can explore further at TNA’s Discovery site to establish whether the parish is missing in full, or only part. In the Advanced Search, simply enter the relevant series (for example RG11 for the 1881 census) and the word “Missing” to see results.

N is for Newspapers.  Most family historians are accustomed to using newspapers to assist them in their research, but do you only search for the names of individuals you are interested in?  Have you tried searching for street names?  I am certainly guilty of focusing too much on a specific ancestor, but since discovering this tip recently (I believe it was from the brilliant Melanie Backe-Hansen), I learned about lots of local events I’d been previously unaware of, that would have impacted my ancestors’ lives.  So give it a try!

O is for Overseers’ Accounts.  Poor Law records are some of my favourite collections, mostly because the majority of my ancestors were poor!  From the mid-16th century, the care of the poor was the responsibility of the parish.  New legislation created new records, and when the office of Overseer of the Poor was introduced in 1572, along came Overseers’ Accounts.  The documents detail money coming in (from Poor Rates, bequests etc) and money going out.  The expenses could include all sorts from clothing poor children, to coroners’ inquests.  Your ancestors’ death may be mentioned, leading you to investigate burial registers; or families might be listed which can help identify parents/children.  Sometimes cases of illegitimacy are referred to, which can indicate the possible existence of court records/bastardy bonds.

P is for Petitions for Clemency.  Before Robert Peel reformed criminal law in the 1820s, there were well over 200 capital offences.  Prisoners, family and friends applied to the Home Office for mercy, pleading for a pardon or at least commutation of the sentence.  Some convicted of lesser crimes also appealed, and pardons were frequently granted.  These records can give an insight into the anguish families were suffering, and offer another view to the case we may have read in court records and newspapers.

That concludes Part 2 of this blog. As I mentioned before, I haven’t delved too deeply into how, why or when the documents were created, this is simply a reminder of their existence.  The collections mentioned above are scattered across the country, and can be found in national or local archives, museums, history centres, even private hands.  Of course, as with most records, there are exceptions to who or what the collections concerned, whether it be the dates covered, or exemptions for particular individuals/groups, so there is no guarantee you will discover your ancestors in every record set. However, I do wish you every success in your quest. Happy researching!

My Genealogy Alphabet Part 1

Happy New Year! A time for new beginnings, and as the great Julie Andrews once said “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.  When you read you begin with A-B-C…….”  So, I would like to kick-off 2022 with the first of a three-part blog : my Genealogy Alphabet.

Here is a selection of record collections that always prove valuable in the world of family history.  As you know, I like to keep my blogs short and sweet (something to read whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil), so I haven’t gone into too much detail, just given you a tantalising taste to tempt you to investigate further.

A is for Administration Act Books.  If somebody died without leaving a valid will, they were considered ‘Intestate’ and an Administrator/s would be appointed to settle the estate.  The granting of administration may be entered into the probate court act book, or sometimes a separate Administration Act Book.  These usually hold all sorts of information, including the Administrator/s name, parish of residence, relationship to the intestate and of course the name and residence of the deceased.  Existence of an Administration being granted, can lead you to other fantastic records such as Inventories.

B is for Bastardy Bonds.  When a child was born illegitimately, the mother was subjected to a Bastardy Examination where she was expected to name the father of the child.  The putative father would then enter into a Bastardy Bond, where he was contracted to pay maintenance for the child, with a hefty financial forfeit should he fail to keep up payments.  The Bonds usually include names of the parties involved, their residence and occupations.

C is for Chancery Records (I bet you thought I was going to say Censuses!).  The Court of Chancery heard civil cases (equity suits), and the records it produced are a veritable treasure trove for genealogists.  They cover all sorts of disputes, from wills to apprenticeships, debts to land ownership.  The information contained in the various records are endless – It’s even been known (in cases regarding inheritance) for family trees to be included in Chancery Records!

D is for Death Duty Registers.  Throughout time, there have been various acts imposing taxes on inheritance (death duty).  In absence of a will, these registers are a fantastic source.  The information contained can vary, but should include tax due/paid, value of estate, date of death, name and address of both the testator and executors/administrators, and sometimes their occupations.  If there is a will, these registers can be used as an index to help locate it.

E is for Enclosure Maps and Awards.  When land was consolidated and redistributed, Enclosure Awards were created to legally prove ownership, and accompanying maps detailed exactly where that land stretched.  These maps can range from basic sketches to beautiful pieces of art.  The Awards will name parties involved and a description of the land, and the Maps will show boundaries, sometimes key features of the landscape, and often the names of neighbouring plots/landowners.  They can be very useful for plotting exactly where homes and allotted land was positioned within a community, and can be a gateway into Manorial Records.

F is for Friendly Societies.  These groups were created to provide assurance for the working class, who feared the prospect of poverty should they fall ill or die.  The loss of just one income in a home could mean the workhouse for a lot of families, and these Friendly Societies were a huge support.  Paying subs insured a member and allowed for benefits such as burial expenses and often support in their employment (much like a trade union).  Any extant records might hold all sorts of information, not least placing your ancestor in a certain place at a certain time.

G is for Gentleman’s Magazine.  A monthly publication, running from the mid-18th century to the early 20th century, offering untold details of our ancestors’ lives.  The periodical included news of various topics, from art to medicine, history to theatre.  Biographies of prominent people often appeared, along with births, deaths and marriages.  Each county has reports of topographical information, in addition to local folk lore, manners and customs.  The magazine series holds a wealth of material about individuals and the societies in which they lived.

H is for Habitual Criminals Register.  When Transportation ended in 1868, criminals were imprisoned and subsequently released after their term had been spent.  To keep track of re-offending, these registers were created to record ‘Habitual Criminals’.  They include a plethora of information about an individual, including aliases they used, a physical description, occupation, residence, previous offences/prisons they’d been detained in, and some entries even had photographs!  The records were held locally to help identify repeat offenders; although a national register was also compiled (without photos) to be used in police stations across the country.  If you find your ancestor in one of these registers, you may then use the information to discover relevant prison/court records.

That concludes Part 1 of this blog. I haven’t delved too deeply into how, why or when the documents were created, I just wanted to introduce you to/remind you of their existence.  The collections mentioned above are scattered across the country, and can be found in national or local archives, museums, history centres, even private hands. Of course, as with most records, there are exceptions to who or what the collections concerned, whether it be the dates covered, or exemptions for particular individuals/groups, so there is no guarantee you will discover your ancestors in every record set. However, I do wish you every success in your quest. Happy researching!