Researching the Records of England

If you were fortunate enough to attend the Scott County Iowa Genealogical Society meeting on the first of June, you learned all sorts of interesting things about early English records from Pam Langston.  One thing that really surprised me is that the vast majority of Americans will eventually find themselves searching for English ancestors, no matter what their primary ethnic background. 

That being the case you will be pleased to learn that English Parish Registers can date back as far as the mid-1500’s!  The source that Pam recommended for learning whether the specific Register you need has survived is the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers  (SC 942 Phi).  This resource includes colored maps of each county that shows the situation of churches and chapels and the beginning dates of the original register of the parish that have survived.

Another interesting tidbit that I learned is that the land records we rely on for doing American research don’t really exist in England.  Nearly all property was owned by the crown and feudal lords, rather than the common folks that the land transfer books we are accustomed to were never needed.  It wasn’t until 1925 that land transactions were required to be registered.

While land records aren’t available, census records are available and are very similar to the U.S. Census schedules that any researcher is familiar with.  The first census was conducted in England in 1801 with another done every ten years after that.  Unfortunately, the earliest censuses were simply counts, with no names of individuals provided.  In 1841 names of every  individual were recorded, but without information as to the relationships between individuals.  1851 is the first census that provides the name, age and relationship information that we are accustomed to finding in the U.S. Census.  In the U.S. the federal census schedules are released 72 years after they were taken.  In England the schedules are typically held for 100 years.  That being said, the 1911 Census was recently released.  Many of these censuses are available at the library through the Ancestry Library Edition database.

Another source for English research that we just received as a donation is the Topographical Dictionary of England by Samuel Lewis (SC 942 LEW).  This set is an alphabetical listing of just about every place in England that includes a detailed description of the place.  The larger the place, the more description provided.  For example, the entry for Barugh, indicates it is “a township in the parish of Darton, wapentake* of Straincross, West riding of the county  of York, 2 ½ miles (W>N>W>) from Barnesley, containing 396 inhabitants.  Here is a small endowed school, also an almshouse for two poor widows.”  That for Barton-Stacey, a larger community also provides the information that a fair is held on July 31st and that a Roman road passed through the parish.  If you find your ancestors in the parish registers you will want to be sure to look for their parish or township in this dictionary!


*If you’re like me, you have no idea what a “wapentake” is!  The encyclopedia Britannica indicates it is an administrative division of the English counties of York, Lincoln, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, and Rutland, first clearly referred to in 962/963 and corresponding to the “hundred” in other parts of England. The term wapentake is of Scandinavian origin and meant the taking of weapons; it later signified the clash of arms by which the people assembled in a local court expressed assent. Danish influence was strong in those English counties where wapentakes existed.

(Posted by Amy G.)

This entry was posted in Genealogy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *