Glossary Occupations Locations








The Domesday Book

William the Conqueror's land survey of England. Only tenants-in-chief and their sub-tenants, i.e. the great landowners, before and after the Conquest, were recorded by name.


Pipe Rolls

Accounts of Crown revenues rendered by the King's sheriffs to the Exchequer. Tenants-in-chief can be traced in them.

1182 Onward

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.


Book of Fees (Liber Feodorum)

Regular surveys of feudal tenure covering a wide range of material from the 13th century.


Charter Rolls

Royal charters issued under the Great Seal, including confirmations (with recitals) of earlier charters.


Fine Rolls

Earlier were known as the Oblata Rolls. They record payments or 'offerings' to the crown which were required for the transaction of almost any administrative or judicial business.

1199 Onward

Court of Chancery

Records of royal grants of land and rights, to individuals and corporations.

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1200 Onward

Manorial records

Ordinary tenants are focused on. They often also identify the lord of the manor. Dated references can provide a chronological clue eg, the date of the death or remarriage of a widow holding the manor for her life.


Close Rolls

Typically conveyed orders to the officers of the crown; including writs summoning peers to Parliament. Also used for the enrolment of private deeds.


Liberate Rolls

Records of writs authorising payments by the Exchequer and writs connected with the accounting procedure.


Norman Rolls

Cover a variety of Chancery and Exchequer business in Normandy, before 1204; also a list of the English lands of Normans, which were seized by the king. They resumed, as 'Norman Patent Rolls', after the reconquest of Normandy by Henry V.


Scutage Rolls

Records of exemption from scutage, payment made instead of performing military service, also summonses for domestic military campaigns.


Inquisitions Post Mortem (IPMs)

Are among the most 'genealogist friendly' of records, and were a mainstay of traditional medieval genealogy. These were inquiries, undertaken after the death of a feudal tenant in chief. Many other people are mentioned.


Patent Rolls

Records of royal grants of land and rights, to individuals and corporations.


Memoranda Rolls

Memoranda made in the Exchequer covering a wide range of financial matters.


Miscellaneous Inquisitions

Inquiries on a wide range of subjects, including estates, which were forfeited for treason.


Hundred Rolls

The largest collection of material from 13th century inquests. They do not include the majority of the returns from Kirby's Quest.


Feudal Aids

Regular surveys of feudal tenure covering a wide range of material that extends to the early 15th century. Including "Kirby's Quest"

1290-1344 1524-1546

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 the origins of surnames.

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Register of Edward, The Black Prince 

1377-1381, 1641 & 1660-1697

Poll Tax Returns Revived under Charles 1st and 2nd

A tax per head, first levied under Richard II. Important for calculating the population at the time. Provides early evidence of many surnames.


Catalogue of Ancient Deeds

1483/4 Onwards

College of Arms founded by Richard III

College has registers of armorial bearings granted to English and Welsh families from the 15th century, with pedigrees of thousands of families.

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1500's Onward

Ecclesiastical Courts

Dealt with disputes over attendance and behaviour in church, conduct of parsons, state of the church, wills, slander, etc. Nicknamed the Bawdy Courts due to large number of cases involving fornication and adultery.

1500's Onward

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.


Lay Subsidy Rolls

Medieval tax on moveable goods revived by Henry VIII. Lists used to calculate population.


Heralds' Visitations

County surveys of claims to arms by Heralds of the College of Arms.


Parish Registers Introduced by Thomas Cromwell, Chief Minister to Henry VIII

Each parish in England and Wales ordered to keep a register of baptisms, marriages and burials.


Earliest date from which many registers exist

From 1598 it was ordered that every parish should keep a bound register and older registers should be copied into it. Many parishes only made their copies from Elizabeth 1'st first regnal year.


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.


Earliest Poor Law Acts

Care of the poor became the responsibility of the parish. This remained in place until 1834. Large numbers of records covered by the Poor Laws include relief payments, settlements, burials, bastardy bonds.

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Collection for distressed Protestants in Ireland

In March 1641/42 Charles 1st ordered a collection from every parish for the relief of English Protestants in Ireland ousted by the Catholic Irish. Lists include many women and supplement the Protestation Returns.


Protestation Oath Returns

In 1642 Parliament ordered all males over 18 to take an oath to defend the "true religion".


Commonwealth Interregnum

Period from the execution of Charles 1st the restoration of Charles 2nd.  Many pedigrees enter a "black hole". Civil registration from 1653 to 1660.


Hearth Tax Returns (survive only to 1674)

A tax on number of hearths in a household, it was a principal source of revenue for Charles II and James II.

1622 Onward

First English Newspaper 

1665/6 Onward

London Gazette

Carries many official notices of appointments, honours, promotions, business affairs, bankruptcies, etc.


Marriage Duty Act

A tax on marriages, births and burials and on bachelors and widowers.

1696 Onward

Poll Books

Lists of electors and how they voted.


Land Tax

Ran for 270 years was abolished in 1963. Few early returns, but from 1780-1832 fairly uniform survival for many counties.


Window Tax

Replaced the Hearth Tax.

Late 1600's Onward

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.

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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.


Hardwicke's Marriage Act

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 Onward

Militia lists and musters

An extensive variety of military records list from this date.

1784 Onward

Assessed taxes

An assortment of taxes was levied on such things as shops, servants, horses, carts and wagons, hair powder etc. Some records survive in county record offices.

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First Census Taken

A few returns that give names have survived from 1801-1831.


Reform Act

Introduced electoral registers.


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.


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 Onward

Census Returns

Census returns from 1841-1901.



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.


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.

* Based on "DATES IN ENGLISH GENEALOGY" by Roy Stockdill

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