by Roy Stockdill

This fact sheet accompanied lectures given by ROY STOCKDILL, of Hertfordshire, UK, at genealogical seminars in British Columbia, Canada, in 2002. See also the same author's Newbies' Guide to Genealogy & Family History at: www.genuki.org.uk/gs/Newbie.html


1085/6 The Domesday Book William the Conqueror's great land survey of England; in effect, the earliest English census (of sorts, as only tenants-in-chief and their sub-tenants, i.e. the great landowners, before and after the Conquest, were recorded by name).
1130+ Pipe Rolls Accounts of Crown revenues rendered by the King's sheriffs to the Exchequer. Tenants-in-chief can be traced in them.
1182+ Feet of Fines Judgements of title to land, written three times on a single scroll, cut in wavy lines to avoid forgery and filed at the Court of Common Pleas. Early source of surnames.
1199+ Court of Chancery: Charter Rolls, Close Rolls and Patent Rolls Records of royal grants of land and rights, to individuals and corporations, from the reign of King John.
13thC+ Manorial records The estate manor was the unit of local administration for centuries after the Norman Conquest. Records cover the affairs of the manorial courts, which dealt with rights and duties, disputes and changes of tenancy, etc.
Lay Subsidy Rolls
Revived by Henry VIII

Lists of those paying taxes on goods, levied for a specific purpose like a foreign war. Important source for those interested in the origins of surnames.
(1641 &
Poll Tax Returns
Revived under Charles I
and Charles II
A tax per head, first levied under Richard II. Important for
  1. calculating the population at that time; and
  2. providing early evidence of many surnames.

1483/4 College of Arms founded by Richard III College has registers of armorial bearings granted to English and Welsh families from the 15th century to the present day, with pedigrees of thousands of families.


c. 16th C+ Ecclesiastical Courts Dealt with disputes over attendance and behaviour in church, conduct of parsons, state of the church, immorality, wills, slander, etc. Nicknamed the Bawdy Courts due to large number of cases involving fornication and adultery.
c. 16thC+ Quarter Sessions and Assize Courts Though these were in place in the 14th C., few records survive from before the late 16th C. Assize courts tried the most serious crimes - murder, rape, robbery, larceny, arson, etc.
1524-1546 Lay Subsidy Rolls Medieval tax on moveable goods revived by Henry VIII. Lists used to calculate population.
1530-1688 Heralds'Visitations County surveys of claims to arms by Heralds of the College of Arms. Many have been published.
introduced by Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII
Single most important date in English genealogy (along with civil registration in 1837) when Cromwell ordered each parish in England and Wales to keep a register of baptisms, marriages and burials.
1558 Earliest date from which many registers exist From 1598 it was ordered that every parish should keep a bound register and older registers (usually on single sheets) should be copied into it. But many parishes only made their copies from Elizabeth I's first regnal year.
1598 Bishops' Transcripts introduced Copies of the registers that had to be sent annually to the bishop. Invaluable as a backup where the original registers have gaps, but details can vary, so worth checking both.
1597/1601 EARLIEST POOR LAW ACTS Care of the poor became the responsibility of the parish, a system that remained in place until 1834. Large numbers of records covered by the Poor Laws include relief payments, settlements, burials, bastardy bonds.
1641/2 Collection for distressed Protestants in Ireland In March 1641/2 Charles I ordered a collection from every parish for the relief of English Protestant settlers in Ireland ousted by the Catholic Irish. Lists include many women and supplement the Protestation Returns.
1642 Protestation Oath Returns In 1642 Parliament ordered all males over 18 to take an oath to defend the "true religion".
1649-1660 Commonwealth Interregnum Period from the execution of Charles I to the restoration of Charles II. Many pedigrees enter a "black hole". Civil registration from 1653 to 1660.
1662-1688 Hearth Tax Returns
(survive only to 1674)
Major source. A tax on number of hearths in a household, it was a principal source of revenue for Charles II and James II. Returns valuable in calculating population.
1622+ First English newspaper A vital source for "putting flesh on the bones" of family history.
1665/6+ London Gazette Carries many official notices of appointments, honours, promotions, business affairs, bankruptcies, etc. Extant today.
1695-1706 Marriage Duty Act A tax on marriages, births and burials and on bachelors and widowers.
1696+ Poll Books Another valuable source. Lists of electors and how they voted.


1693-20thC. Land Tax Ran for 270 years and was only abolished in 1963. Few early returns, but from 1780-1832 fairly uniform survival for many counties.
1696-1851 Window Tax Replaced the Hearth Tax, but was equally unpopular and led to people bricking up unwanted windows.
Late 17th C+ Social, trade and commercial directories First London directory in 1677. Increasingly published in the 18th and 19th centuries. A major source in later Victorian times.
1733 Public records anglicised Until this date, legal documents were in Latin.
1752 CALENDAR CHANGES Britain switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, used in Catholic countries since 1582. Eleven days lost in September to bring the country into line with Europe. Start of the year changed from March 25th to January 1st.
1754 Hardwicke's Marriage Act Most significant event since parish registers were introduced in 1538. A law to prevent clandestine marriages, it required all marriages to be performed in the Church of England, the only exceptions allowed being those of Jews and Quakers.
1757+ Militia lists and musters An extensive variety of military records list from this date.
1784+ Assessed taxes A curious assortment of taxes were levied on such things as shops, servants, horses, carts and wagons - and even hair powder. Some records survive in county record offices.
1801 First census taken For statistical reasons only, but a few returns that give names have survived from 1801-1831.
1832 Reform Act Gave the franchise to many more people and introduced electoral registers.
1834 POOR LAW AMENDMENT ACT Heralded the second period of poor relief in England and Wales. Scrapped the old parish system and introduced Boards of Guardians.


1837 CIVIL REGISTRATION Introduced into England and Wales on July 1st 1837, under which the state took over responsibility for registration of all births, marriages and deaths.
1841 + Census Returns Census returns from 1841-1901 are the principal sources, along with BMDs, of the Victorian era.
1858 Wills The state took over responsibility from the church for proving wills. Records at the Principal Registry of the Family Division. Pre-1858 wills dating from the 14th century are widespread.
1872 Parliamentary elections became secret Until this date, poll books could reveal how a person had voted.
1875 Births registration compulsory Though people were supposed to register births from the inception of the system, fines weren't imposed for failure until this date.
1910 Lloyd George's "Domesday" An Act that imposed a duty on increase in value of land when sold and created millions of records.
1914-18 WORLD WARS I & II CD of Soldiers Died in the Great War and records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


  • The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers, 3rd Edition pub. by Phillimore & Co. Ltd.
  • National Index of Parish Registers: county series, published by the Society of Genealogists.
  • The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History, pub. by Oxford University Press.
  • The Dictionary of Genealogy: A guide to British ancestry research, by Terrick V. H. Fitzhugh.
  • A Dictionary of English Surnames, by P. H. Reaney & R. M. Wilson.
  • English Genealogy, by Anthony Richard Wagner.

The above should all be available to order online or through good genealogy bookshops.

Gibson Guides, published by the Federation of Family History Societies

  • Bishops' Transcripts and Marriage Licences, Bonds and Allegations
  • Probate Jurisdictions: Where to Look for Wills
  • The Hearth Tax, Other Later Stuart Tax Lists and the Association Oath Rolls
  • Tudor and Stuart Muster Rolls
  • The Protestation Returns 1641-42 and other contemporary listings
  • Poor Law Union Records
  • Poll Books, c. 1696-1872: A directory to holdings in Great Britain
  • Local Census Listings 1522-1930: Holdings in the British Isles
  • Census Returns 1841-1891 in Microform
  • Record Offices: How to Find Them
  • Specialist Indexes for Family Historians
  • Land and Window Tax Assessments
  • Marriage and Census Indexes for Family Historians
  • Militia Lists and Musters 1757-1876
  • Quarter Sessions Records for Family Historians
  • Lists of Londoners
  • Victuallers' Licences

The above are available online through the FFHS sales website: www.familyhistorybooks.co.uk



Copyright ©2002 Roy Stockdill All Rights Reserved

Web page presented by, and copyright ©2004 Rod Neep