Getting Back Before 1837 In An English or Welsh Family Tree

Online-Old-Parish-RecordsThere 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 £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.

These are just some of the documents that you can use to help you get your family tree back beyond 1837 in England & Wales. I have released a useful Audio CD on the subject called Getting Back Before 1837 in England & Wales, have a look at the page on my main website http://www.NoseyGenealogist.com

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Tracing An English Family Tree Before 1837

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.

Online-Old-Parish-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 Bishops’ 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 “Commonwealth gap” 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.

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Your Family Tree Magazine is a favourite of mine

Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.
Your Family Tree is considered, by many family historians, to be one of the most respected genealogy magazines around. I love the way that they not only feature articles on the various traditional means of researching our family trees but also give advice on using personal computers or Apple Macs to do ancestor research. Their aim is “to make tracing family history accessible and rewarding for everyone” according to their website. Your Family Tree offers practical advice, written by experts, on all areas of family history research and is known as Your Family History outside of the UK. The content, however, is the same in both magazines so don’t feel you will lose out if you are based abroad. The Editor, Russell James, is quoted as saying this: “Each issue covers an array of old documents, answers readers questions, and puts family historians in touch with one another. You’ll also receive a covermounted CD-ROM for Mac and PC containing an array of genealogy resources, as well as a pull-out region research card (contacts, map, plus key local resources and historical facts) and four collectable surname index cards every issue.” I personally can’t wait each month for my copy to arrive. I used to buy it from the newsstand until I realised the convienince and the special price that is offered when taking out a subscription. Take a look at whats on offer by clicking one of the banners on this page and you will be able to try before you buy by looking inside a magazine. Recently I’ve enjoyed reading articles such as these below. Want to join me? 100 vital websites – Bumper online special How To guides including: Research Scottish clans, find old maps online, date wedding photos and organise your records Pass down your family’s story – Make sure your findings are never forgotten Migration records – Discover the best websites to help you trace your ancestors’ movement Royal Mail workers – The stories of your postal ancestors Now I know this looks like I am simply acting as a salesman for them; but I really do read this magazine and I have personally got a lot out of my subscription and so I do not apologise for recommending them! A good genealogist never stops learning. We are all somewhere between Beginner and Advanced Beginner! Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.

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Use more than one ancestor look up site!

I really need to remember my own advice to use more than one ancestor look up site!Ancestors in Thorne Family tree
On the occasions when I find myself talking to someone new to this family history pastime, about doing ancestor research, I often find myself going back to the advice that I have been given by a professional genealogists. Now I do not consider myself to be anything like a Genealogical Guru, I am simply someone who has gained a little experience over the years and now am happy to pass on two of my tips here. Both are about stepping back from the research results and introducing some careful thought into the proceedings.
  • Think logically about a person’s time-line.
  • Listen to family stories, but then step back and try to corroborate them with hard evidence to confirm what you have been told.

A person’s date of birth is obviously going to dictate an approximate time for when they could have got married and when you should reasonably expect them to have died. A little thought will tell you that rarely will a person be getting married in their hundredth year! Likewise, they are not going to be getting wed aged 6 or 7 either. Beware of entries in databases that just happen to have the same name as your ancestor, but are just plain and simply the wrong people. But even then we can go wrong if  we are not careful.

One weekend, when doing some family tree research,  I got myself stuck in a hole and wasted oh so much time digging it deeper and deeper! What was it I was doing wrong and how did I finally get out of it? Well I was trying to find the details of an ancestor’s death so that I could purchase a death certificate from the GRO site.

I am fairly wedded to www.ancestry.co.uk for most of my research. I like what they have on offer and I have become use to the way the site works. I also have a subscription to other sites such as www.thegenealogist.co.uk which I find good for many searches and then there is another favourite of mine:  www.findmypast.com.  (Disclosure re these links: Compensated Affiliate.)

The research I was doing had been initiated by reading some “thoughts” put down on paper by a relative before he died. I had been shown this family history because, as a cousin, I had an ancestor in common with them and I wanted to enter this forbear into my family tree as well. The handwritten notes indicated that our ancestor had died aged 66 and from this I was able to work out that as they were born in 1865. From this I then worked out that they probably died in 1930.

I went on to ancestry.co.uk and searched by name for the ancestor in all four quarters of 1930 but to no avail. I then broadened my research for ten years either side and spent hours looking for them without any luck. I then thought I’d try misspellings of the ancestor’s name as this, I thought, is surely why they are missing. Result: A big fat nothing!

Eventually, after much wasted time, I thought about using one of the other websites that offers Birth marriage and death details, something I should have done early on. And what did I find? There he was, on the other BMD site spelt correctly and dying in the district where I expected him too, but aged 70 not 66 and in the year 1935 not 1930!
The lessons for me to relearn and hopefully for you to benefit from are as follows:
  1. Remember that all websites are fallible and omissions happen.
  2. Family stories can sometimes be wrong as humans are not blessed with 100 percent recall and we can get things wrong, as it would seem this relative did in his writings for his children!

I have made myself a note to remember my own advice in future: Use more than one ancestor look up site and remember that stories can be wrong!

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The On-line Family History Researcher

Researching into our ancestry on the Internet is becoming one of the most popular pastimes in the 21st century with more people every day beginning family history research on-line. It wasn’t that very long ago that a person who wanted to trace their family tree, would need to make various visits to many libraries, record offices and the family history centres for the areas their forebears came from. Nowadays, except for the serious genealogist for whom this will still be an important part of family research, the amazing increase in genealogical websites with databases that we can search easily, has made it simple to carry out most of the slog researching our forbears from our computers. ranging from the average family historian, aiming to locate some difficult to find ancestor, to the professional genealogist carrying out a commission for a client, the data sets such as those provided at www ancestry.com or ancestry. co.uk and a whole lot of other websites have made things  easier and better for us. The sheer amount of data and other information that is already made available is being supplemented even as I write this with all sorts of new releases of old records and indexes. There are sites offering us access to the census collections, parish registers  and other church records, transcripts of tomb stones and other monumental plaques, BMD sites providing data on births, marriages and deaths, various family history societies, websites selling old maps, genealogical resources such as parish registers, old town or trade directories and so on.

In the United Kingdom the1841 census records data will be the earliest that will be encountered on-line. Today sets of census data are available to search on the web right up to the census of 1911. Census information can be found on a number of commercial sites, the majority of which necessitate an individual to pay-as-you-go, or simply to obtain a subscription of some kind. You will commonly have the ability to lookup transcripts and after that pay to view actual images, of enumerator’s books, for the different censuses undertaken every decade between 1841 and the 1901 census. Recently, the 1911 census for England and Wales went on line sooner than the normal one hundred years before release. This is under a Freedom of Information judgement, but the delicate data as to the mental state of  individuals have been blacked out. The different feature of this collection is that, for the very first time that, we can view an image from the household’s return, not merely the enumerator’s book and thus can see our ancestor’s handwriting.

The provision of the various kinds of family history information, on the Internet, has encouraged an ever-growing number of individuals to make a foray into the arena of genealogy on-line resources. Most want to discover who their own forefathers had been and the things they did. A good number of folks have been prompted to start looking for themselves after the popularity of the BBC’s tv series called: Who do you think your are?

They might be motivated because of the many books about the topic, the different magazines on the newsagent’s racks as well as the genealogy and family history events, such as the annual show in Olympia and a host of others organised up and down the land all year round. But although some research will be effortless, a good few of our forebears are frustratingly tough to find and so frequently a beginner doesn’t know exactly where to turn.

You may still find some people, out there, whom merely do not know how to even take the first steps to undertaking their family research on a computer. You can also find others who, having made a beginning, do not know how to get past the inescapable brick wall that they have stumbled upon.

Brick walls can be aggravating, however when you discover a way to smash through the logjam it usually is immensely satisfying. I’ve discovered exactly how to do this, for a few of my forefathers, by taking e-courses in this fascinating area of interest. Just what I have observed is that the family historian must be made aware of the various tips and tricks to utilizing the internet resources to greatest effect. While the simple information can be acquired by using the straight forward search field on a website, to locate evasive ancestors may require a certain application. The good news is that somebody has most likely come up against the very same sort of problem as you are having and so a means of working around the difficulty may already have been devised. For example, I had been taught exactly how to make use of the freeBMD website to locate missing brothers and sisters of one of my grandmothers.

Many researchers may have used the LDS or Latter-day Saint’s familysearch.org site. Finding your ancestors, when using the search tools furnished by the website, can be challenging; even if they are included in the International Genealogical Index, and that is not always the case! The problem is that a search simply by last name only isn’t allowed, unless you search within a single batch of records at a time or over the entire country. A search of the whole of Britain is overwhelming, unless of course you have a rare name. What if, however, you are looking for a Smith or a Jones? I have discovered how to use a tool provided on a website to search the IGI batches and it is really easy to try and do, once you know how.

The world wide web has made researching ancestors a great deal easier to do. As more and more data finds its way onto the internet many more lines of research are opened to us. But, on the other hand, there is the danger of information overload. The new family historian could become frozen in the headlights as the data juggernaut races on towards them. My advice is to carefully record your research at each and every phase, so you are aware the blind alleys which you have gone down and the various people that you have researched erroneously, as well as the ones you have had success with. In the long run you will save yourself time and very possibly money on certificates purchased, or pay-as-you-go searches on the Internet. Next word of advice, is that it’s well worth continuing to learn as much as you are able to about this fascinating subject by taking classes or reading around the subject matter. The best family historian is one that thinks of themselves being an advanced beginner. That is, they are constantly wide open to learning more skills. The more skilled you become, the better you’ll be able to uncover those elusive ancestors!

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