Oklahoma Genealogical Society
Hunting Your Ancestors in England
Taken from the Oklahoma Genealogical Society Quarterly Vol. 9, No. 4, December 1964
Transcribed to Electronic form by Jo White
[Partial transcription. All addresses are from 1964]
Dr. Conrad Swan, Rouge Dragon Pursuant of Arms, College of Arms, London, with able assistance from Dr. Donnell MacClure Owings cleared the way for further searching for our immigrant ancestors and removed our fears of language difficulties and correspondence formalities so that – the only barrier now – is our own delay and lack of sufficient research on this side of the ocean to enable us to be specific in our inquiries.
Mr. and Mrs. Earl G. Darby of Manhattan, Kansas were among the several out of state genealogists including a large Kansas delegation who attended the Conference. The following is a report of Mr. Darby, Editor, as published for their members in Kansas Kin, Vol. II, No. 4, November 1964, pp 38-39, the publication of the Riley County Kansas Genealogical Society, on part of Dr. Swan’s lecture:
“HUNTING YOUR ANCESTORS IN ENGLAND”
“It was the privilege of your editor, Earl G. Darby and Mrs. Darby, to attend the Third Annual Conference on Genealogy, October 16th and 17th at the College of Continuing Education, Oklahoma University, Norman, Oklahoma. It was a pleasant, worthwhile two-day meeting, exchanging ideas with others and learning from the well-informed faculty. Following is a short digest of a talk by the guest speaker, Dr. Conrad Swan, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant (sic) of Arms, College of Arms, London on ‘Genealogical and Heraldic Records in the British Isles’. (England and Wales)
“Dr, Swan said, ‘If I were tracing my ancestry in England or Wales I would first contact the College of Arms, because that is the official State Department which has kept the family records. The greatest source of information as been the Heraldic Visitations for the years 1530 to 1687. All persons who bore arms were summoned to come and prove their privilege to bear them. The pedigrees resulting from this proof were placed on record. Also since 1658 there have been a series of voluntary registrations, some of which contain many colonial entries as well as Irish, Scottish and Non-British. The address of the College of Arms: Queen Victoria Street. London, E C 4, England. Ask any officer a specific question and get the cost. The also do original research. If you must do your research by mail, write the above address [as of December 1964, Transcriber], state your question, and ask the cost.
“Should there be nothing for you at the College of Arms, write to the English Department of Registration for records of births, marriages and deaths. Their records go back to 1 July 1837. Here you should learn the residence of your ancestor. The address is: Somerset House, The Strand, London, W C 2, England [as of December 1964, Transcriber].
With that information you should learn earlier facts form the census returns available at the Public Records Office, Chancery Lane, London. Here are the census returns from 1801 to the present. Early returns are of little value to the genealogist but beginning in 1841 they give the name of the head of the house, the name and relationship of each person to the head, age, occupation, and exact place of birth. These are not indexed by name so it is necessary to have the name and location as obtained from Somerset House. Late 1800’s and early 1900’s are hazardous dates for genealogists due to the Industrial Revolution. Many returns from the early 1900’s lack information because those in Devon and elsewhere resented the counting of people. Before search can be made in any census less than 100 years old, it is necessary to tell your relationship and what will be made of the information; to be sure it will not be used for litigation purposes.
“Ecclesiastical Records are of great value to the genealogist. They are of two kinds: first, Parish Registers of the Church of England (Protestant Episcopal); second, Non-Conformist, which is all other churches. It usually refers to Protestant, not Jews and Roman Catholics. All except Parish Records have been collected and are now housed at the Public Records Office. Parish Records are kept by the vicar of the local parishes. Information on them varies greatly, depending on the date and the local vicar. Here are a few records dating back even earlier than 1538 when Parliament ordered that records be made. However, only about one in 15 started keeping records at that time. The genealogist should remember that the vicar is obliged to let the records be searched but is not obliged to do the search. Enclose a self-addressed envelope, an international stamp coupon, and ask for the name of a qualified researcher. Then write the researcher for fees.
“Besides the records of births, marriages and deaths there are other records in each parish. In 1667 Parliament attempted to encourage the wool industry by requiring that everyone be buried in wool. Some relative of the deceased was required to report within eight days after each burial. In his report he told his relationship to t he deceased.
“Records of the poor are in the Parish Chest, telling who moved from one parish to another, information concerning work houses, and records of the pest houses (village hospitals). Accurate records of illegitimate children were kept by church wardens who were careful to discover the father so he could contribute to the keep of the child. With these sources many records are available for the poor. Careful records have been kept concerning the nobility. It is the middle class whose ancestry is more difficult to trace.
“The Public Records Office is also the repository of Military Records, dating from 1754 to the present. If your ancestor was not an officer, you must know his name and regiment. Navy pay books date back to 1669 but you must know t he name of t he ship. These records contain names of many British soldiers in the American Revolution and Tories (United Empire Loyalists) of the colonies.
“Other sources of information at the Public Records Office are: in quisitions Post Mortem which give land owners under the King and records of the children; Feet of Fines from 1190 to 1833 are land records; Close Rolls, means closed or private, are orders from the Crown to an official; Patent Rolls are royal grants of land and appointments; Subsidy Rolls, really tax rolls, give the name and the amount of the tax.
“Wills and Their Whereabouts, by A.J. Camp, 1963, is a good book to read before searching for wills of your ancestor. There are two courts: the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Somerset House and the Court of York, St. Anthony’s Hall, York. The Court of Canterbury is most important for colonist ancestors.”
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