Some of our ancestors may not have been in the regular military but nonetheless served their country as members of the militia, yeomanry, fencibles or volunteer regiments. These local part-timers should leave behind them records that we as family historians can still research.
Normally there would have been at least one regiment in each county made up of a mixture of conscripts and volunteers. The practice of establishing these local forces having come into being from 1757 onwards with the aim of replacing the regular Army in the British Isles as the latter deployed abroad to fight the country’s wars.
Family historians can find the surviving attestation papers in class WO96 in The National Archives in Kew where you can also locate musters and pay lists for these men. Note the word “surviving” as regretfully not all have managed to make it through the ravages of time.
Another place to do research within is the county record office for the area where the militia unit would have been based. If you are lucky these records may be fully indexed in some online catalogues. There is also the Militia attestations database to search on British Origins (www.britishorigins.com) that rely on TNA’s class WO96 and can be searched by name. We are told that eventually the images will become available on TNA’s Documents Online at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk but not at present.
Also ancestors, that were in the various militias, should appear in muster lists. These also are in WO96 where they survive.
One tip that I learnt, some time back, is that if you have found an ancestor in a battalion and its number is the 3rd or some other subsequent number, then this is an indication that it is a militia or similar battalion; with the 1st and 2nd being made up of the regulars.
A great many people who are researching their forebears from the British Isles, discover that there is a massive amount of family history information on the internet for the years going back as far as 1837 in England & Wales. Then, as I pointed out before in a previous article of mine about tracing an English family tree before 1837, it would seem to become more difficult for us researchers. What is the significance or the year 1837? This is the date when civil registration started in England & Wales. The state took over from the established church the registering of all the citizen’s vital records.
You may have been amazed at the ease you had finding later records of your ancestors on the subscription websites like Ancestry, or TheGenealogist.co.uk, but then as you go back before the census records and the government run data for Births, Deaths and Marriages, you will have found that only a small number of all the genealogical records, that there actually are, have made it on to the net.
Parish Records can usually be found in the County Record office, or in a few cases the incumbent minister may still have retained them at the parish church. How do you decide which parish your ancestors would have fallen into? This is the value of getting hold of Parish maps for the relevant counties that you are researching. These maps will not only show the boundaries of each parish, but also those of the adjacent parishes, which can be extremely useful for tracking those ancestors who tended to move about!
Gaps can occur in the parish registers because of changes in regime, such as the English Civil War. Yet another political reason for missing parish records is the effect a tax can have on them. An example of this was that in 1783 a stamp duty of 3 pence on every entry in the parish registers was imposed by the government of the day – although paupers were exempt. As with all taxes people seek ways to evade them and so, with the collusion of many church ministers, you will discover that there is a decline in the number of middle and working class entries of baptisms, marriages and burials. In contrast there is a corresponding increase in the number of pauper’s entries! The Act was repealed in 1794, having been found to be largely unsuccessful.
An Act of Parliament, in 1812, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be entered in separate and specially printed books. These books provided for only eight entries per page and required more information to be gathered on the individuals than had been the common practice.
Baptismal entries now included the Father’s occupation and the Mother’s maiden name. Marriages, henceforth, included the parish of origin of both parties, their names, if they were a bachelor, spinster, widow, etc., their ages, the parties signatures or marks, and also those of two witnesses.
Entries for burials now included the age, occupation and abode of the departed and between 1678 and 1814 an affidavit had to be sworn that the deceased was buried in wool to help the economy or a fine of Â£5 was payable.
Marriages could have been solemnised in the Church either by banns, or by licence. Family historians, searching for their ancestors, will find that banns are recorded in the parish register. The reading of bans was the process where the couple’s intention to marry would be read out on three occasions in the parish churches of both parties. So if you know the place where the bride-groom lived, just prior to his marriage, this record will also give you the information as to the parish of his bride. Normally the wedding is likely to take place a few weeks later and so this gives you a time period to search. Marriage Licences themselves will probably not have survived the years as they were sometimes handed to the couple intending to marry. But fear not, because a search can be made for the marriage licence’s bond, or allegation. This is a document that can give up some useful information for family historians as names of those who stood surety, along with the names of the bride and groom, place of marriage and in some cases the occupations of the sureties and groom are recorded.
These are just some of the documents that you can use to help you get your family tree back beyond 1837 in England & Wales.
You may be wondering where to go looking for your ancestor’s will.
The first thing that you need to consider is that before 1858, England and Wales were divided up into two provinces.
Canterbury was the largest and most influential and its remit covered the South of England up to the Midlands along with Wales. The other one was The Province of York, whose area covered the counties of Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and also the Isle of Man.
The structure of these ecclesiastic provinces were that at the head of each was an Archbishop. Then the province was subdivided into several smaller dioceses with each diocese having a minimum of two bishops. A further division was where these dioceses were divided again into archdeaconries.
Until 12 January 1858, all wills had to be “proven” in a church court to ensure that it was considered a legal will. There were, in effect, over 250 church courts across the country that proved wills and the records of these wills are now to be found stored mostly in local record offices.
Where a will was proved would depend upon where the lands the property was situated in. Another important consideration was whether they were contained within a single archdeaconry. If they were then the will would be proven in the Archdeacon’s court. If, however, the property of the deceased was to be found stretching across several archdeaconries, then it would have to be proven in a Bishop’s Court.
In a similar fashion, should the land be in more than one diocese then it would be to the Archbishop’s Prerogative Court that the will would need to go to be proved.
As always, there are the exceptions to the rules and one of these is if the deceased had died abroad. I such a case the will would be proven at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury regardless of where the property was.
Wills proven in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury are now held at the National Archives in Kew, while the wills proven in the Prerogative Court of York are to be found at the Bothwick Institute in the University of York.
All of the wills proven in the lower courts up to 1858 are usually held in the Diocesan Record Office and often this will be the County Record Office. In Wales, however, wills from 1521 are held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
Family historians can find locating wills to be an up hill task. It is recommended that you try to locate an index before you set off to one archive or another, to see if a will for your forebear exists. Many indexes are now available on CD and online via the subscription sites like TheGenealogist.co.uk and Ancestry.
Most people researching their family tree in the British Isles will eventually get past the census collections and the civil registrations and must now turn to the Parish records to proceed further. While, recently, there has been a great many more parish register collections being made available through the subscription sites, it is still not the case that a family historian will definitely find their ancestors parish has been uploaded online. Getting back before 1837 in England & Wales needs researchers to know where to look for the relevant details
Even if, however, we accept that we may need to make a visit to a physical archive, in order to push our research on, then we can certainly turn to the internet in order to locate where the parish records are. As well as this the web can undoubtedly save our selves time, when we do make the visit to the particular County Record Office or other archive, by being able to gain information provided by their website beforehand. In some cases they may even have their catalogue online which would allow us to do essential homework such as finding call numbers for the documents that we wish to look at and perhaps even ordering them up before we arrive.
In most cases, probably as much as ninety-nine percent of the time, we will find that the Parish Records for our ancestors have by now been deposited at the County Record Office, while a rare few will still be at the church in the care of the incumbent minister.
So where should we look first online?
A good starting point is to head over to the ARCHON page that is to be found in the website of The National Archives at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk and is a list of all sorts of archives in the country. The lists include diocesan archives, regimental and many other depositories that have a bearing on social history and genealogy.
From the National Achives home page navigate to the Records page and then to Catalogues and Online Records scroll down until you see the link for Archon. you will now be given a list of areas in Britain to search each with its own link so we see North East, North West etc. Selecting the area that you wish to look up will take you to an A-Z of repositories and if you were looking for a county record office this will be listed there.
Click on the relevant list and you will now be shown the information that ARCHON has on the archive in question giving you opening times etc and a very useful link to the actual archive’s website. I say useful because this is where you are likely to find the most up-to-date information about when they are open, if they have any late nights or Saturday opening times and how to get to them by road, rail, or air.
The actual repository’s website will give you such information as to what types of ID they accept, whether they are a member of the CARN ticket scheme where with one card you can gain access to many Record Offices across the country. Also the low down on whether you need to book a microfiche reader in advance of your arrival etc.
Some archive’s even include their catalogue online, this being a very useful tool as you can find out, in advance of your visit, if they hold the documents that you are looking for and also it allows you to take a note of the “call numbers” for the documents. This will cut down on wasting valuable research time, when you first arrive at the record office and indeed you may be able to order up, in advance, the documents to be waiting for you.
ARCHON is a most useful internet tool for those of us who are thinking about heading to an archive to do some research offline and is one of the ways to go about finding parish records.
There seems to be a trait among many family historians who all seem to want information to be available to them at the drop of a hat, for free and provided instantaneously as well.
Now, I’d like to raise an argument that this would seem toÂ defeat the object of much family history research. Is it not the thrill of carrying out a piece of detective work, in order to find an ancestor after ploughing through the databases online and then visiting the County Record Offices in person to read page after page of parish registers on the microfilm machine, that makes this pastime of ours fun?
Certainly, a good few newcomers to family history seem to believe that all they will need to is log onto the web, enter a name into a search box and they will instantly find their ancestors going back to Adam and Eve. Many do not think that they should pay anything for this, as if the state has some sort of obligation to give them the information on demand.
I don’t know if you have you ever looked into the searches that are carried out on the likes of Google for keywords? Take “family tree” as an example. I’ve noticed that the number of people typing in a search on how to get their family tree for free, was quite high. It would seem that some people express the idea that as its “their family” that they have some sort of right to be given the research.
When most of the newbies, to family history, find that they need to pay for a subscription to a website, in order to progress, they either descend into rudeness, or give up before they even get properly started. This latter scenario being an absolute shame, in my view.
From my website I offer a tips and tricks email which gives the people, who have signed up to my list, valuable free content. At the bottom of the email I often have an advertisement for my paid for products and it amazes me that I get aggressive emails back saying things such as “I’m not made of money you know”. To these people I would just like to humbly suggest that they enjoy the 98% of the rest of the email, that comprises the free tip, and just try to ignore the advertisement for my products at the bottom.Â Do they have such a problem with commercial television, I wonder?
Expanding the discussion a little bit more, I’d like to bring in the arguments of the Open Genealogy Alliance – http://www.opengenalliance.org/
As I understand it, they are arguing that our public records should be made free to view online. They make the point that, in a large number of cases, many public records have now been licensed to private companies. These business need to make a return on their investment and so the public can only gain access to the data if they pay for it. The OGA are challenging this idea, saying that the digital versions of, what are, public records are effectively being privatised.
In my opinion there certainly needs to be some sort of balance, the record offices and archives are all facing up to the shortage of funds in the present economic climate and perhaps we should all make a bit of an effort to go out there, whenever possible, and visit the various archives more often. A vicious circle where they many have to cut their hours, due to less visitors coming to see them and reacting to spending cuts could see the record offices and archives closed or amalgamated.
Until absolutely every record is available online, a situation that is never likely to happen, then we family historians should stop expecting instant records to be available to us at our finger tips. And, what is more, I do think that we need to get out of depending only on our computer and just go out there into the world to find the information for ourselves. Believe me, it really is much more fun that way!
Are you having trouble finding birth records for family members who have very common names? Have you tried to figure out which ones belong to you and which don’t using the census data but just can’t be sure you have the right people?
Often, when you can’t find records for a person, it can pay to take a step
back and sort of zoom out from concentrating on the one we can’t find.
By this I am suggesting that you take a look at that person’s siblings, if they
have any of course, and identify where theses other children of the parents of your difficult forebear were born. Once you have done this, you may be able to then trace the parents back.
It is worth looking at the census records for the streets around where your ancestor lived as sometimes families occupied houses quite near to each other. Sometimes they can even be living in the same road. Maybe clues can be had from investigating these parallel lines to your direct branch in the family tree.
It could be that you will need to go and search the Parish Registers in the County Record Office, for where your ancestor came from, to see if there are any leads to be had by looking at the microfilmed copies of the parish church records.
I have found that many of my ancestors were simply called John Thorn, which is pretty common in Devon!
I was in luck getting back one generation because my 3 x great-grandfather at least had a middle name of Branton. On doing some delving I found out that this was in fact his mother’s maiden name so I could find his parent’s marriage.
But John Branton Thorn’s father was simply called John Thorn (with no middle name) and he married Sarah Branton in a city centre church in Plymouth. The records that I have seen of the Parish register do not say that he was “of that parish” and indeed omit to say from which parish he was from at all!
I have had to put him on the back burner and concentrate on other lines in my tree, until I can find the time to go to Plymouth and check the primary source of-line records in the Record Office, such as the Bishop’s Transcripts etc.
Good luck in your research into ancestors with common names.
There is a large amount of information for family history researchers, tracing their English or Welsh family tree, for the years as far back as 1837 on the web and then nothing! I know that many people, that are researching their Family tree for ancestors from the British Isles, find that they have this problem. As I wrote about, in a previous article on tracing and English family tree before 1837, it seems to become harder for us. 1837 is when civil registration started in England & Wales and the state took over from the established church the registering the citizen’s vital records.
You possibly have been amazed at the ease you had finding those later records of your forebears by using the usual subscription websites. For example the likes of ancestry, or TheGenealogist.co.uk for these dates. Then, however, when you come to trying to get back well before the census records and the government run Births, Deaths and Marriages data, you’ll no doubt have found that it is only a very small number of the total genealogical records, that there are, will have actually make it on to the internet.
So you need to go looking for the old Parish Records and they are usually to be found securely in the relevant County Record office. In a very few cases, however, the incumbent minister of the parish may still have kept hold of them at the parish church. A problem that you need to address from the outset is how do you decide which parish your ancestors would have fallen into? This leads me on to the value of getting hold of Parish maps for the counties that your ancestors lived in. The maps will be of use in not only showing the boundaries of each parish, but also in giving you those of the adjacent parishes as well. Think how useful this may be for tracking those ancestors who tended to move about somewhat!
Gaps can occur in the parish registers because of changes in political regime. One such important example is the English Civil War. Think also about how the politics of raising a tax can be a reason for missing parish records. An example of this was that in 1783 a stamp duty of 3 pence on every entry in the parish registers was imposed by the government of the day on its citizens – although an exemption was if a person was a pauper. As with all taxes people seek ways to evade them and so you won’t be surprised that your ancestors did this as well. What is more they did it with the collusion of many church ministers! You will discover that there is a decline in the number of middle and working class entries of baptisms, marriages and burials at this time. On the other hand there is a corresponding increase in the number of pauper’s entries! The Act, itself, was repealed in 1794 as it had been found to be largely unsuccessful in its aim.
Another Act of Parliament (Rose’s Act) in 1812, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be entered in separate and specially printed books. These books provided for only eight entries per page and required more information to be gathered on the individuals than had been the common practice.
Baptismal entries now had to include the occupation of the child’s Father and the Mother’s maiden name. Marriages, from now on, included the parish of origin of both parties to the wedding, also recorded were their names, if they were a bachelor, spinster, widow, etc., their ages, the parties signatures or marks, and also the marks or signatures of two witnesses.
Entries for burials now included the age, occupation and abode of the departed and between 1678 and 1814 an affidavit had to be sworn that the deceased was buried in wool to help the economy or a fine of Â£5 was payable.
When looking for marriages you should be aware that they can be solemnised in the Church either by banns, or by licence. Family historians, searching for ancestors will find that banns are recorded in the parish register. The reading of banns is the process where the couple’s intention to marry would be read out on three occasions in the parish churches of both parties and it is this which is recorded for us to find. So if you know the place where the bride-groom lived just prior to his marriage, this record will also give you the information as to the parish of his bride. Normally the wedding is likely to take place a few weeks later and so this gives you a time period to search. Marriage Licences themselves will probably not have survived the years as they were sometimes handed to the couple intending to marry. But fear not, because a search can be made for the marriage licence’s bond, or allegation. This is a document that can give up some useful information for family historians as names of those who stood surety, along with the names of the bride and groom, place of marriage and in some cases the occupations of the sureties and groom are recorded.
When you are tracing your ancestors in the British Isles there is a rich seam of information on the internet until we get back to 1837. This is the year when civil registration began and the state took over the registration of its citizens vital records.
Many newcomers to English and Welsh family history are amazed at how easy it is to go to one of several websites, pay a subscription (or buy some credits) and begin finding records of ancestors with relative ease. Lulled into a false sense of security, we begin to think that all the information that we will ever need to find, for our family tree research, is going to be accessible online. But soon you find that quite a small percentage of all the genealogical records, that there are, actually make it on to the net.
So what are the other records that family historian with English or Welsh ancestry need to go hunting for? How about wills; manorial records; the many types of occupational records; various military service records; or, if like me you had a merchant seaman in the family, then the merchant navy’s records? This is just a short list, there are more!
What About Research Before 1837.
Once you have been able to get back as far as you are able to do, using the census entries and Birth Marriages and Death records, you will now need to turn your attention to Parish records – these date back to 1538 and a time when Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minster to Henry VIII, ordered that every wedding, baptism and burial should be recorded. Historically, England and Wales was divided into about 11,000 parishes. Your research will need to be in the Parish Registers relating to the place where your ancestor lived, in order to find out as much information on your forebears line in that parish.
Where should you look for parish registers? The answer is that the original will normally have been microfilmed and stored in the local County Record office. True that there are a few parishes where the registers are still with the incumbent minster; but the majority are now in the safe keeping of the relevant record office. An alternative, to looking at images of the original record is, if you have access to the web to go and look at the websites that offer transcripts of Parish Register for you to search. Remember, however, that a good genealogist will always understand that a transcription is secondary data only. It is an indication of information for you to follow up and so you do need to then go and confirm the details by looking for the original source. The reason is that errors may possibly have been made by the person making the transcription and you don’t want to allow those errors to get into your own family tree, now do you?
While English and Welsh parish records stretch back as far as 1538, not all will have survived the ravages of fire and flood, so don’t expect to be able to sail back as far as this date! The earlier records were recorded on paper, but from 1558 onwards the more durable parchment (made from sheepskin) was used in preference. Even so, very few parish record survive before the 1600s.
From 1598, annual copies were made and sent to the local bishop. Called Bishopsâ€™ Transcripts (or Register Bills in East Anglia), these make a good substitute for lost original records, and occasionally contain information omitted from the registers themselves. These Bishop’s Transcripts will often be in a better condition and also more legible than the original parish register and they can be found in the county record offices. While the older records were, in theory, supposed to have had copies made, it is believed that some never managed to be copied and others have been lost over time.
Family tree researchers need to be aware that there can be gaps in Parish Registers between 1553 and 1558 when Henry VII’s daughter Mary Tudor, a Catholic, was on the throne. Also there is the so called â€œCommonwealth gapâ€ between 1642 and 1660 in the English Civil War and under Oliver Cromwell’s protectorate.
There is so much to learn in this area that I’ll be posting a second article on tracing your English and Welsh family tree before 1837 shortly.
Sometimes we just need to accept that not every answer to your family history questions will be on-line. I’ve discovered this with my research into my British Family Tree, but it can be the same where ever it is in the world that you are looking for ancestors. You’ve searched for an ancestor using the various on-line tools and failed to find any trace of them?
The temptation is to believe that, because they don’t appear where we think that they should, that we are simply not going to find them. Well, what I need to remind myselfÂ when I am on the trail of my UK forebears, is that not every record for Britain is on the web and even for those that are mistakes have been made and omissions may have occurred.
Anyone with a British Family tree is well catered for by the availability of paid and free look up websites.
Taking, for example, my family tree in England. My 4 times great grandparents, John and Sarah Thorn for whom I had obtained their names from the baptism information that I had got from a search of the International Genealogical Index at familysearch.org for their son, also called John, my 3x great-grandfather.
Remembering what the family history professionals teach, that you should always use information that has been transcribed as a finding aid only – using it to seek out the original record, I visited the Devon County Record Office in person and looked up the microfiche copy of the baptism of John Brampton Thorn in St.Saviours church, Dartmouth on the 28th September 1794.
Having verified that their names were correct, on the IGI, I had then searched for the marriage of John and Sarah. I knew that a number of their children were baptised in the same church and that there was only one other possible child christened earlier than my great-great-great-grandfather in St Saviours in 1790, however it was not certain if this individual was of the same family of Thorns. I was hunting for a marriage around 1794. Frustratingly, there were no likely candidates in that particular church.
Searching the IGI around the area came up with nothing and so I expanded it outwards. With my “possible parish” list IÂ searched on-line for the marriage and came up with some in Exeter for 1793. Were the Thorns from Exeter? Well the answer turns out to be no!
Visiting, in person, the Devon Family History Society in Exeter I explained about my brick wall and the staff looked at their data for marriages 1754 to 1812 for a John Thorn marrying a bride called Sarah. At this point I had no maiden name for Sarah. After a few minutes, for the bargain price of only 15 pence I was handed a list of seven marriages. The very first of which was a John Thorn and Sarah Branton married on the 12 January 1794. The bride’s surname was to become the second name of their child and my 3x great-grandfather. The parish was not Exeter, nor anywhere from around Dartmouth, but Plymouth Charles!
Having obtained this information off-line I then went back to the internet just to check if I could have found it there. On the IGI there was no record and various other websites I went to all returned no matches either.
The lessons I learnt here, is that not every record is accessible on-line. Remember this in your family history research.
I put up an online survey to find out what major brick walls people had in British Isles ancestor research and the largest cry that came back was the following:
Help me with my family tree research, especially back before 1837.
Perhaps this resonates with you? Youâ€™ve traced your forebears back in the census collections as far back as the 1841 census? Then you have used the Births Marriages and Deaths on the web and found that the nice and easy indexes only go back as far as 1837?
It was, you see, that in 1837 the General Register Office was set up for England and Wales and took over the registration of vital records from the Church of England.
In Scotland it was in 1855 that the General Register Office for Scotland took the same powers from the Church of Scotland. So from those years backwards we all have to use the records kept by the state church and these are known as Parish records in both jurisdictions.
Baptismal registers will normally give you the name of the child and that of its father, plus the date of the christening. Occasionally you may also see the mother’s name, most particularly if the child was illegitimate. In this case you could see the terms â€œbase bornâ€ â€œbastardâ€ or â€œnatural bornâ€ on the record. Sometimes the godparents or witnesses also appear. This all goes to show how there was no standard format to baptismal registers until in 1812 Rose’s Act became law in England and Wales and standardised the information to be recorded on specially printed registers. It should be noted, however, that Rose’s Act did not apply to Scotland or Ireland. These new standardised registers asked for more details than before and so now the clergy had to obtain the mother’s Christian name, the father’s occupation and his abode.
Churches kept parish registers locally. They were not collated or sent to any central depository but were retained by the churches themselves. From the 16th century up until 1837 the parish church carried the responsibility of collecting records of its parishioners. While baptism was more important to the church than actual birth dates and burials were noted as opposed to deaths, the church was essentially an arm of local government.
A strong lockable box, known as the parish chest and into which were deposited records were kept. We refer to all those records, that may now be found deposited in the county record office but were once in the keeping of the parish church, as Parish Chest documents. They don’t just include the well known parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials of our forebears. You will find there are all sorts of other records that together are sometimes referred to as the parish chest.
In England and Wales you have the vestry meeting minutes while in Scotland you have the Kirk Sessions. There are also odd records such as the report of the parish surveyor! Many of you may not have even heard of such records that may just contain your ancestor’s name and if you are restricting your searching to the online environment then you are more than likely frustrated by the inability to locate them.
In most cases you are going to have to visit the county record office to get to see microfiche copies of these English and Welsh records, as they are not online. For the baptisms, marriages and burials you could go to your local LDS centre and order the films there. Scotland’s old parish registers, however, can be accessed at the ScotlandsPeople website for a fee. Oh that we could do the same south of the border!