Tracing back to an English or Welsh ancestor.

This post is going to be mainly of interest to beginners, or those who are just starting to investigate their ancestral line that has taken them back to England or Wales from elsewhere.

 

 

Many British people emigrated to start new lives in North America, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the world.

Perhaps you have discovered that your ancestral trail has now led you to this particular part of Britain and you are now wondering how to find your English or Welsh records?

Some of you may have had ancestors who sailed away from England and Wales to start a new life beyond the seas, or indeed, even in Scotland or Ireland.

Perhaps you have traced your family tree back in your own, or another country, until you have found an English or Welsh immigrant who left before 1837, the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign.

If this is the case then you will not be able to make a great deal of use of the English/Welsh census collections, or of the civil registration indexes to order birth marriage or death certificates for your ancestors. These records begin in Victorian times.

But that does not mean that all is lost, as before this time the Established church (Church of England) acted as an arm of local government and was charged with keeping records of the populace.

Before 1837, baptisms, marriages and burials were kept in local registers maintained by the local parish church and also by some of the nonconformist churches.

Baptismal font St. Saviours, Dartmouth, Devon, UK.
Baptismal font St. Saviours, Dartmouth, Devon, UK.

Many researchers, looking for their ancestors from the British Isles, find that there is a whole lot of information out there on the web for the years back until they reach 1837. Then it just seems to get harder for us with English and Welsh ancestors.

1837 is the year when civil registration started in England & Wales, with the state taking over from the established church the registering of vital records.

You may have been amazed at the ease with which you had found later records of your ancestors on the subscription websites. 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 not all of the genealogical records that there actually are have made it on to the internet. Now this situation is getting better all the time with new Parish Record data sets being uploaded to the various big genealogical subscription sites.

As a rule, most original Parish Records can be found in the relevant County Record office for your ancestor’s parish, or in a few cases the incumbent minister may still have retained them at the parish church (if the books are not yet full).

You need to firstly establish where in the country your ancestor came from. A family bible or some other document may point you to a particular part of England or Wales. Look for town and the county that they were born or lived in, as you will need this information in your research. If you can narrow it down to a parish then you are off and running!

 

Assuming that you have found out which county your forebears lived in, how do you decide which parish your ancestors may have been in?

Well 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!

Phillimore’s Atlas (The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers) is the go to resource. Many libraries will have a copy of this or you can find it online at amazon.

The Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers

 

Parish Registers.

These records are fantastic for family historians to use as recorded in the ancient pages of church registers are millions of people who we would simply never have been able to find where it not for the existence of these parish documents.

We all need to say thanks to the many clergy and parish clerks who had dutifully but, perhaps grudgingly, spent time writing up these entries and recording the precious information on their parishioners as they came to church to baptise their young, marry each other and bury their dead. Yes it was set down in law that they should so do, but we still should thank them for it!

Apparently, until the late 15th century only a small number of people were even remotely interested in the recording of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths.

Those that were would have been mostly from the landed classes of the gentry and the aristocracy for whom knowledge of family descent and line was important. Their interest stemming from having information to do with the inheritance of and the passing on of their land. Who should inherit property meant that the matter of legitimacy needed to be considered by the great and the good!

For the rest of society there was little need for this information, in light of church teaching that people were individually insignificant in God’s Creation. But come the end of the Middle ages, things changed.

The Church became occupied with the blood relationships between parties at a marriage. Marriage between relatives (even those related to you spiritually – such as your godparents) was forbidden by the Church. Certainly it had become most useful to know who you were related to and it was evidently most important for the Church to be able to have this information.

We can thank King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell for requiring English parishes to keep a register from 1538, though many of these early records have been lost to us.

Most of those later ones that have survived are now housed in local diocesan archives, very often at a local County Record Office. Some diocesan archives may be in a neighbouring repository when the dioceses spans more than one county – so watch out for that in your searches!

As is always the case in family history research, you are advised to check the originals, or at least try to look at the microfiche or film copies of originals if you can.

We are lucky in that some of the parish records are being released online, but there are still areas that require a trip to the local County Record Office as not everything is digitised yet – as I found out recently when looking for one of my ancestors from Berkshire!

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5 favourite map resources for family history

Disclosure: Please note this post contains affiliate links.

 

By William Westley (Source) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Plan of Birmingham By William Westley (Source) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I love looking at maps, when it comes to thinking about my ancestors and working out where they lived.

I know that I am not alone in this, but that other people just don’t seem to get it.

What is it that we, who find maps interesting, see in them?

For me it is seeing the layout of places compared to how they have developed today, for one.

I also love the ability to sometimes be able to work out why an ancestor lived where they did – perhaps it is the nearness of an industry, or some other place of work, that becomes blindingly obvious when you find that their street was a five minute walk from the factory or the dockyard where your rope-maker ancestor was employed.

I find it exciting to see how, in 1731, people who lived in Birmingham would have had a five minute walk from the centre of their town to see countryside. That there were fields on the other side of the road to St Philips’ Church (now the Cathedral) and there was no Victoria Square, Town hall or the Council House at the top of New Street and that Colmore Row was then called New Hill Lane!

detail from By William Westley (Source) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Birmingham 1731

 

Maps can be very useful for the researcher, looking into their family tree and so I have put together my personal list of the top five resources that I would recommend.

 

In reverse order…

Number 5: The Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers.   The maps in this book can help you identify contiguous parishes to your ancestors’ parish. Useful when you have a brick wall finding christenings, marriages and burials of your kin in their original parish, consider looking at the surrounding area and researching in the neighbouring parish records to see if you can find them.

The Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish RegistersThe Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers

 

Number 4: The Interactive Bomb Map of London online at bombsight.org.

The Bomb Sight Project has scanned original 1940s bomb census maps, geo-referenced the maps and digitally captured the geographical locations of all the falling bombs recorded and made it available online. You can use their interactive map to explore and search for different bomb locations all over London. I have used it to find where an ancestor’s shop was on the street. As a post war building now stands on the site I wondered if it had been destroyed in the blitz. Using this application I was able to discover that it had indeed been destroyed by a German bomb.

You can click on individual bombs on the map and find out information relating to the neighbouring area by reviewing contextual images and also read memories from the Blitz.

www.bombsight.org consulted 19th July 2015 v 1.0www.bombsight.org

 

Number 3: FamilySearch’s maps at   http://maps.familysearch.org

When I am trying to find out which other Church of England parishes exist in an area, as an online alternative to the Phillimores (mentioned above), I often use the maps.familysearch.org resource. It can be useful if you want to discover which county a parish is in, which diocese it is part of, or which civil registration region it was in. You can also use the drop down menu to find its rural deanery, poor law union, hundred, C of E province (Canterbury or York) or division.

maps.familysearch.orgmaps.familysearch.org

 

Number 2: National Library of Scotland NLS Maps

This website gives you access to over 160,000 maps from all the countries of the United Kingdom and not just Scotland! With maps dating from between 1560 and 1964 this is one of my ‘go to’ websites when I want to see a map of a place that my ancestors lived. I often turn to a map over laid on a modern map or satellite view or chose to view an old map side by side with a modern version.

http://www.nls.uk/http://maps.nls.uk/

 

Number 1: National Tithe Maps online via TheGenealogist.co.uk

My top map resource is that of the collection of surviving tithe maps that have been digitised by TheGenealogist for the ability to often find ancestors actual plots of land and houses from the time of the tithe survey (1837 to the mid 1850s and sometimes later when an altered apportionment map was drawn up). While the accompanying Tithe Apportionment books detail the land that they either owned or occupied, these records can be so revealing as to where our forbears lived and whether they had some land to grow produce or keep animals. All levels of society are included and surprisingly some streets in major cities were included. The collection covers approximately 75% of England & Wales – as a minority of land was not subject to tithes by this time.

Tithe map of Ealing MiddlesexTheGenealogist.co.uk

 


Disclosure – I do have a business relationship with TheGenealogist as I write articles on using their records and resources that can be found in family history magazines such as Discover Your Ancestors, Your Family History and Family Tree for which I receive remuneration. Not withstanding this fact I stand by my selection of the tithe maps as my personal number one map resource for the ability to use them to discover the plot where an ancestor lived and what they may have grown there.

In addition some, but not all, of the links in this post are compensated affiliate links.

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Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers

So, you have been researching your ancestors through the census and have gleaned the name of the town that they were born in. You now have to find the parish in which your ancestor was baptised in and perhaps you have been lucky in getting the parish name from the census. Now you want to find out where exactly it is and carry on your research back before 1837.

The Phillimore Atlas & Index of Parish Registers

The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, Phillimore & Co Ltd; 3rd Revised edition edition (1 Dec 2002) is the go to resource for family historians who are dealing with the “Old Parishes” of England, Scotland & Wales. The third edition of this index features the addition of a map of the whole UK that shows the county boundaries before 1830 and it has shifted to a reliance on census indexes, rather than marriage indexes, which are now summarized in a paragraph.

 

In what I’ve written above I refer to the Old Parishes. What are these, you may be asking yourself? The answer is that they are those, approximately twelve and a half thousand parishes, from before 1832 and the Victorian expansion of towns and cities. It was then that many of the ancient parishes were divided up with the building of new churches to cater for the expanding population.

 

The Phillimore Atlas and Index is an abstract made in 1831 of the records that had survived for the parishes of that time. The book gives the family historian maps of the ancient parishes, along with names and the dates of the earliest surviving registers for each of the named parishes. Now these could be back as far as 1538 or much much later, depending on their survival against fire, flood and a variety of other reasons for them going missing.

 

Taking a look at the Index section you would see that you are able to find a list of the old parishes for the county that you are interested in. You will find the dates for when the registers were deposited and a code against them that will tell you where the records are deposited in the various record offices.

 

Now, you should be aware, however, that it is possible that not all three types of records may have been deposited yet. The baptism, marriage and burial registers may have filled up at different rates. The registers are only ever deposited when they are full as they remain a working document until such time. So, take as an example, a parish where baptisms are only done once in a blue moon. Here the register that they started in 1813 may still be with the church as it tortuously slowly received children into the faith! (1813 was when the new registers came into existence.)

 

The Atlas and Index is effectively a synopsis of parish registers and if there is nothing in the column for baptisms then you could assume that it was still with the church in 2003, when the last revision came out. The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, can be found in most municipal libraries or can be bought from all good bookshops and at Amazon.co.uk

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