Establishing who owns land or a house on it is important, and pretty well every country has a land registry. Jerseyâ€™s is small but perfectly formed because every property transaction goes before one single body, the Royal Court. Apart from a small number of mid-17th century transactions, records are complete back to 1602. The first 150 years of records are on paper, but everything subsequent to about 1800 has been scanned and indexed into a computer system called PRIDE. There are two terminals at the Archive. One is upstairs in the reading room, the other is downstairs in reception â€“ which is exceedingly useful as it can be used between 1pm and 2pm when the reading room is shut. You will need a member of staff to log you on.
PRIDE has a very simple search interface, and for most purposes you need a name to investigate, but it can be a hugely useful tool. Not only do you find sales of property, but after 1841 you will also find wills and details of partages â€“ arrangements which exist to deal with the complexities of Jerseyâ€™s Norman-based system of inheritance.
You will also find details of rentes. Rentes are a little like a mortgage â€“ you agree to long-term instalment payments in return for a capital sum â€“ but unlike modern mortgages they are theoretically perpetual, and they can be inherited or traded between individuals, although there are very few left today. Also on PRIDE you will find details of procurations â€“ in other words, appointments of attorneys to act on behalf of an individual â€“ for more recent times.
If you start in modern times â€“ after about 1980 â€“ you can search properties. Any sale contract has to include a recital of title â€“ in other words, who the seller acquired the property from and when. If you are fortunate it is then possible to work back up the chainâ€¦
Even if you donâ€™t understand all of the legal niceties, PRIDE can still be hugely informative. A search for Philippe Du Feu threw up a document dated 1826. It didnâ€™t actually concern Philippe so much as his wife Elizabeth Amy: the Amy family had created what we call a partage des heritages to ensure that the five daughters were provided with money for homes by their brother who had inherited the estate. In doing so the document gives us the names of all of Elizabeth Amyâ€™s siblings, the names of their husbands (if they were married at that point), her parents, her brotherâ€™s grandparents and several aunts and cousins. None of that detail is on the Du Feu family tree. And study of the contract itself could give a great deal more information to the family historian â€“ how generous the settlement was (or wasnâ€™t) could indicate the social standing of the family.
Next time weâ€™ll be looking at military records. Until then – Ã€ bÃ©tÃ´t!
Guest blog by James McLaren from the Channel Islands Family History Society