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!