Posts Tagged ‘researching process’

In recent months I have been making more extensive use of manorial records in England, and I thought I would share some basics here. The system and procedure appear to be mostly equivalent in Wales, though I haven’t personally done any research in Welsh manorial records (or more than a tiny amount of Welsh research at all to date).

There is a common perception that English & Welsh manorial records are only from the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, and that they are all in Latin. None of this is true. While there were manors in the Middle Ages, the largest percentage of surviving manorial records date from the 19th and early 20th centuries, until the manorial system was effectively abolished through the Law of Property Acts of 1922 and 1924. Second to that in survival terms are manorial records from the 17th and 18th centuries, although those are more likely to have gaps. The earlier than that you go, the fewer extant records there are, and the more gaps they tend to have.

For many earlier manors, the only thing known to survive is the name – historians know the manor existed and that’s all. However, even for manors where their own records didn’t survive, you may be able to glean a fair amount of information by locating extant records from an adjacent manor, as a number of people held/rented land in more than one manor so manors that were near each other tended to reference each other in their records. It is also important to keep in mind that while some manors were the exact equivalent to a parish, many were not – sometimes there were multiple manors in one parish, sometimes one manor occupied parts or all of two or more parishes, etc. As to the question of Latin – technically all legal documents were supposed to be written in Latin prior to the change to English that took effect in 1733, but in actuality a fair number of manors started using English for most of their records prior to this date or had a record-keeper who didn’t know too much Latin and mixed the Latin they knew with English words in place of the Latin words they didn’t know. This having been said – there were certainly manors that kept records completely in Latin until the official change to English, and the likelihood tends to vary regionally.

Because manorial records can be in any number of locations, including still in private hands, and many manors had their records scattered between two or more record-keepers, the first stop in working with manorial records will generally be the Manorial Documents Register. The Manorial Documents Register is, in the words of the National Archives [UK], “partially computerised.” You can search all of Wales and some counties of England through the National Archives’ Manorial Documents Register database. As of the time of this writing, these English counties were complete in the online version: the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, the three Ridings of Yorkshire, Shropshire, Surrey, Middlesex, Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Bedfordshire. According to the site, they are in the process of adding Cambridgeshire, Essex, Huntingdonshire, Suffolk, and Sussex.

This database is very helpful not just in locating who holds which records for a manor, but also in determining what manors with surviving records existed in the parish you are researching and in neighboring parishes, because for England you can search the database by parish, not just by the name of the manor. If you are researching in a county that isn’t in the online database yet, you have to go in person to check, get someone to visit on your behalf, or write and ask the staff to check for you. Before I start using specific examples, let me note here that the main difference for researchers using the database for Welsh research will be that since Wales is not divided by parish, you will have to search by county if you don’t know the manor name or are trying to locate nearby manors.

Let’s use Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire, as an example. Wraysbury is where two of my colonial North American ancestors who chose to return to England died. If you haven’t used the site much or at all, I encourage you to bring up the site in another tab/window and practice searching along with my post. If you go to “Advanced Search” at the online Manorial Documents Register (an option from the front page) and enter “Wraysbury” in the “Parish” search field, leaving all other fields blank, two results will appear after you hit “Search”:

RECTORY, Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire (15)

also known as – Wraysbury Rectory

WRAYSBURY, Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire (27)

also known as – Wyrardisbury

The number after each manor is the number of different entries for manorial records there are in the database. Clicking through to view the results for each manor (termed “sub-records” by the Manorial Documents Register database), you will see at the top of the results pages that both of these manors were indeed in the parish of Wraysbury, so if you were researching someone who lived in Wraysbury and didn’t know precisely where they lived, you could potentially find them at either manor. Even if you did know their primary residence was at one of the manors, you might still find them holding/renting land at the other manor. Let’s click through to the Wraysbury Rectory results to start. You may note immediately that the results for each manor are arranged by the listed start date of each record set, so that if you are researching late in a manor’s existence, you can immediately scroll towards the bottom of the results to see what (if any) manorial records survive from that period.

Viewing the Wraysbury Rectory results, you will see that 14 of the 15 known extant manorial record sets are held by St. George’s Chapel Archives and Chapter Library at Windsor Castle, with a lone set of court rolls held by Westminster Abbey Library and Muniment Room at The Cloisters in Westminster Abbey. You can see at the results page that each listed repository is a live link; clicking on the link will give you details about where the repository is located, its contact information, what its hours are, and the barest basics of how you can access the repository’s documents. As an example, if you want to view the Wraysbury Rectory court rolls in person at Westminster Abbey, the database’s repository page says that you will need a letter of introduction to be allowed to do so. With extant records from 1353 to 1902, with huge gaps in availability of any records and in which types of records are available, Wraysbury Rectory is also a good example of the scattershot survival of manorial records. An additional note before moving on to the other manor in Wraysbury parish: Manors run by the Church were much more likely to keep all their records in Latin until the official change to English than other manors were.

Viewing the sub-results for Wraysbury Manor (AKA Wyrardisbury Manor), you will see that the location of the 27 surviving record sets is quite literally all over the place. There are listed record sets for Wraysbury Manor at the National Archives, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies, Essex Record Office, Berkshire Record Office, and Westminster Abbey Library and Muniment Room. Again, the availability of any extant records at all and of which types exist today is really variable, with extant records from 1272 to 1890 with huge gaps.

Since we are looking for manorial records in the Wraysbury area, let’s do a further exercise. I like using the GenUKI site’s “Nearby Places” feature to show what was in and close to a parish. If you go to GenUKI’s Wraysbury main page, you can click on the link at the top of the page that’s titled “Nearby Places” to see what they are for Wraysbury. The GenUKI site defaults to a 5-mile radius, which is a good starting point. Reviewing the results, you can see that while the very closest next parish is “Horton (near Slough), Buckinghamshire,” the two following parishes are in other counties – Old Windsor in Berkshire and Egham in Surrey. Following are another parish in Berkshire (New Windsor) and then a parish in Middlesex (Staines). All of these parishes included locations that were 3 miles or less from Wraysbury parish. This is overall good information to know for researching someone, as people who lived near the border with one or more other counties often left some records in at least one of the other counties or perhaps even moved around between the counties.

Luckily for our purposes, all of these counties are already on the Manorial Documents Register database. So let’s go back to the Manorial Documents Register. Because there are multiple counties with places named Horton, if you don’t specify Buckinghamshire when you do an Advanced Search, some irrelevant results will be returned. If you search for Horton, Buckinghamshire, you get results for two more manors:

BERKIN, Horton, Buckinghamshire (0)

HORTON, Horton, Buckinghamshire (3)

also known as – Horton with Colnbrook; Horton with Colnbrook, Eaton Guildables and Chalvey; Eaton Guildables; Chalvey

As you can see, Berkin Manor is listed though it has a “0” after its name. Clicking to view Berkin Manor’s entry, you see: “NO RECORDS KNOWN TO SURVIVE.” Horton Manor also has many fewer surviving records than either of the manors in Wraysbury parish, and when you click through to view the sub-results, you will see that the surviving record sets cover 1619 to 1737 (with big gaps). Whether there are no later records because the manor no longer existed or simply because no later records survive, I do not know at this point. According to the database, all three of Horton Manor’s surviving record sets are at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.

Next, let’s look up the next closest parish, Old Windsor in Berkshire. Because there was only one parish named Old Windsor, you don’t have to specify a county when you search the database. Like Wraysbury, Old Windsor’s results are divided into two manors with one a rectory:

WINDSOR RECTORY, OLD, Old Windsor, Berkshire (21)

also known as – Old Windsor Rectory; Rectory manor of Old and New Windsor

WINDSOR, OLD, Old Windsor, Berkshire (11)

also known as – Old Windsor

Old Windsor’s manors’ record set survival is also more similar to Wraysbury’s than to Horton’s. For Old Windsor Manor, the largest number of record sets are held at the National Archives, with record sets also at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, Berkshire Record Office, and Cambridge University’s Department of Manuscripts and University Archives. Record sets cover 1431 to 1900 with huge gaps. The most recent record set (covering 1840-1900 with gaps) is a file of evidence related to enfranchisement of copyhold land. If you are researching Old Windsor Manor, this tells you something without even having viewed the records themselves – copyhold land could be converted to freehold land by the Lord of the Manor, meaning that the copyhold tenant became freehold, and this record set implies that this was done over the course of the 19th century for some to all copyhold tenants at Old Windsor Manor. The Copyhold Act of 1852 had allowed copyhold tenants to demand that their copyhold become freehold, so this type of record became much more common as the 19th century progressed. For a basic overview of enfranchisement, see this page from the University of Nottingham.

The Old Windsor Rectory’s record sets are mostly held by Berkshire Record Office, with a small number held by the National Archives. Their record sets cover a tremendous period of time (with large gaps), from 1269 to after the manorial system was abolished, the final record set being papers related to “the extinguishment of manorial incidents” (1925-1933).

Let’s do one more parish in the Manorial Documents Register, the next nearest parish per the GenUKI site, Egham in Surrey. Searching for Egham via the Advanced Search, you get the highest number of results of any of the parishes we have searched:

ANKERWICK PURNISH, Egham, Surrey (2)

BROOMHALL, Egham, Surrey (41)

EGHAM, Egham, Surrey (43)

FOSTERS, Egham, Surrey (0)

also known as – Great Fosters

IMWORTH, Egham, Surrey (0)

also known as – Fosters

MILTON, Egham, Surrey (75)

also known as – Middleton

RUSHAM, Egham, Surrey (0)

also known as – Ruysshames

TROTTESWORTH, Egham, Surrey (1)

also known as – Trotsworth

As you can see, Egham had three manors where no records are known to exist, two with a very small number of surviving record sets (1 for Trottesworth Manor and 2 for Ankerwick Purnish Manor), and three that have a lot of extant record sets. Like Old Windsor Rectory, Broomhall Manor’s final extant record set is about the enfranchisement of copyhold land. And like Old Windsor Rectory’s final record set, Milton Manor’s final record set dates from after the abolishment of the manorial system – a “book of steward’s fees, with Ashford (Middlesex) 1926-1932” that is held by London Metropolitan Archives. It is also interesting and important to note that there appear to have been two different manors in Egham that were known by the name Fosters Manor; for one of them it appears to have been the primary name, whereas for the other it is listed in the alternate names field.

It is possible that someone who lived in Wraysbury held a tenancy at any of these nearby parishes’ manors. It is also possible that someone who lived at one of these nearby manors that has no known surviving records also had a tenancy at one or more of the manors where there are some, or even a good number of, surviving record sets.

Hopefully this post has given you an idea of a starting point for how to find English and Welsh manorial records and the wide variance in availability and current locations of extant records. Stay tuned for Part 2, wherein I will discuss how you can use manorial records in your research.

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Many long-time genealogy researchers tend to find just about everything interesting. A common comment for being more efficient with research time is the need to limit what I call “Shiny Object Syndrome” – the fascination with anything interesting that is wandering into the research view – and what many other researchers call something such as “following rabbit trails.”  While this is certainly important when one is researching for someone else or researching at a repository for a very limited amount of time, sometimes following the path wherever it leads can be beneficial.

Chipmunks, a Northeastern North American mammal that burrows in the ground, are fascinating creatures.  They usually have at least three entrances/exits to their tunnels so that they can come in or out at will, escaping predators and other chipmunks.  They also typically have multiple food stores in their tunnels, because chipmunks have a propensity to raid each others’ food stores, and this way, their entire cache of food won’t be wiped out in a single raid.

What on earth, you are likely thinking, does any of this have to do with genealogy?  I posit a somewhat offbeat idea – that sometimes going down the chipmunk tunnel will lead you to a cache.

For some days, I had a piece of mail almost ready to go, waiting to be sent to a vital records department.  Like some other vital records repositories, this one requires a money order to process, so I hadn’t taken the final step of getting one.  When I have to take an extra step like that, I like to pool my order if I can.  Since this couple had gotten married in a particular town, and I believe they likely did so because a sibling lived there at the time, I wanted to try one more time to find some indication of where the sibling’s marriage took place before sending the letter in, so that I could request both records at once if it turned out to be in the same locale.

I started by searching for an obituary of the husband.  I knew his death date from family papers that had been passed down to me, and had previously confirmed the place and date with an online index, but had not looked for an obituary nor ordered the original record yet.  (I had previously searched multiple times for an obituary of the wife, who outlived him by 34 years, but had never found one.)  I found a death notice in a newspaper, and then found a full-page article about his life and death in a trade magazine on Google Books.  The article went into great detail about his life, but only gave a year for the marriage, and no place.

I had not researched his family of origin at all, though, and the lengthy article mentioned his father’s name and that his father died in the Civil War the same year he was born.  So out of curiosity I checked to confirm (or refute) his father’s service and death, and when I discovered it appeared to be true, I thought I’d check to see if the widow (the husband’s mother) filed for a pension.  I confirmed this easily on Ancestry’s pension index cards, and then went to check the other record set of pension index cards, since the two sets often contain different information.  Much to my shock, Fold3 turned out to contain the entire pension file – the first time I have found a Civil War pension file on there (they are very slowly indexing them, and were up to 3% complete the last time I checked), though I know a few other researchers who have found several.  I ended up very glad that it was on there, as it was by far the smallest Civil War pension file I’ve ever seen, and if I had ordered it from NARA at their flat rate of $75 per pension file for up to 100 pages, it would have cost about $3 per page.

After spending a bit of time skimming through the file, I went back to working on my original goal – when and where the couple married.  I found that the husband had published some articles in the trade magazine prior to his sudden death, and that those are online too.  I also found in googling that the wife had applied to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and did a descendant search for her on DAR’s database, hoping the application would include marriage information, as many of them do.  I discovered that she applied under a different ancestor than the one I knew served in the Revolutionary War.  I paid for and downloaded the PDF of her application, as well as a later application for the same ancestor that would likely be more detailed.  This is for a line that I haven’t really done much work on – I’m not stuck on it, I just haven’t done much to date.  Her application was bare-bones like many of the early DAR ones, and did not include any marriage information.  But the other application was very detailed, and will be useful for clues as I work on this line.

And then I turned back to searching and found a scanned “social register” which listed his marriage to his wife – in 1896, in the city she was from.  The article about his life and death had stated that they had married in 1898, and the estimate based on the 1900 census data was for a marriage in 1897.  Most interesting of all – at least to me – is that the social register had two different marriage dates listed, one under each of their cross-referenced names!  The dates were only two days apart, so at least it gave me a narrow window to focus my initial search.

So I went to FamilySearch, as I knew from other research that they had updated their “Ohio, County Marriages, 1790-1950” database with more records this year, and I figured it was worth a try to see if they had been added.  I searched for them, and there they were!  One of the two dates in the social register was correct.  I was sure I had the right couple, because the husband had a fairly unusual last name and a very unusual middle name.

I had the answer to my question, and new records to add to my files.  And I went ahead and stopped by the bank that day to get a money order, and sent the lone marriage record request on its way.

This may seem like a convoluted way to reach my destination.  But even if I hadn’t gotten the answer to my question, I still think it would have been a valuable pursuit.  Here are some of the things I learned in my two hours of research:

  • The death notice states that he died “suddenly.”
  • The article on his death provided a very large amount of information I had not already had. While it will need to be confirmed with other records (as shown by the marriage year being incorrect), what has been checked so far has mostly turned out to be accurate.
  • Finding the article on his death and the articles he had published in the trade magazine both show that Google Books has added more trade magazines. This is worth pursuing for other folks in my tree as well.
  • The trade magazine’s extremely detailed article on his life and death also showed just what a rich source of information they can be, and emphasized that it would be wise to give them more priority in relevant searches.
  • Fold3 is continuously adding to their Civil War pension files, and it is worth checking any time a new pensioner is discovered in my research.
  • At least for this one widow, the fact that her husband died during the war and she applied nearly immediately appears to have gotten her a pension quite quickly – much different than what I am used to seeing in my Civil War pension research. But she was also dropped from the rolls after some time of failing to collect her pension, according to the last page of the file; this is not something I have encountered before, and plan to explore what it means more.
  • The pension file also indicates that he was the only child of this couple.
  • The DAR applications suggest a possible path for a line I haven’t done much work on, as well as some sources to try for it. Her application and acceptance also tell me that she was a DAR member, and that she knew enough about her lineage to apply through one of her ancestors.
  • It’s always worth trying googling for a research question. (Just a self-reminder of something I already knew, but it’s always nice to have confirmation.)
  • It seems worthwhile to try the rest of my names of people who may have married in Ohio, since FamilySearch’s “Ohio, County Marriages, 1790-1950” seems to have expanded so much this year.
  • The date and place of the marriage, with a scan of the original record now added to my files.

And in my wanderings through the chipmunk tunnel, I found a cache.

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