Researching your ancestors transported to Australia

The transportation of criminals was originally introduced in 1615 at a time when England sought an alternative to hanging. From 1615 to 1775 criminal were transported to colonies in North America, such as Virginia. Such transportation ceased with the start of the American civil war. However, without a sufficient central prison system the transportation system was re-introduced in 1787, this time to the new land of New South Wales (NSW), Australia which Captain James Cook had discovered only 17 years earlier.

Transportation to Australia continued until 1868 during which time in excess of 160,000 men, women and children were transported and the areas colonised included NWS, Tasmania from 1803-1853 and Western Australia from 1850-1868. In finding out whether your Australian ancestor was a convict it is important to know which states and at what times convicts were sent.

Convicts were usually transported to serve a sentence of either 7 years or 14 years. Once their term had been served the individual would be given a ‘Certificate of Freedom’ was free to return to their home country although few did.  A sentence of transportation for life in the case of the most serious offences meant that the individual would never return home, even if they were released early.

Many convicts sentenced to transportation would seek a pardon. “If a convict had been particularly helpful to the authorities (for example, helping them recapture escapees) then a Conditional Pardon could be issued. Very rarely, in exceptional circumstances transported convicts could receive a Royal Pardon, which was an absolute and unconditional pardon”[1].

Research Plan

Anyone researching their Australian roots, particularly where it is known those roots are not of native Australia (i.e. Aborigines) will first need to trace the origins their ancestors back to the earliest known in an ancestor in Australia. This should initially be carried out using Birth, Marriage and Death records and census records.

Birth, Marriage and Death records (B/M/D)

Compulsory civil registration began in Australia at different times in different states[2]:

Tasmania                                1838    1 Dec  

South Australia                       1842    1 Jul   

Western Australia                   1841    9 Sep  

Victoria                                   1853    1 July 

Queensland                             1856    1 March         

New South Wales                   1856    1 March         

Northern Territory                  1870    24 Aug

Australian Capital Territory   1930    1 Jan

However, records of B/M/D were kept prior to these dates, much as in England, in church records of baptism, marriage and burials. As in England, indexes to B/M/D have been prepared and include records before compulsory civil registration was introduced which were created from the church records by the registrars. These records are available online on both the English and Australian versions of the Ancestry website[3] and on the Find My Past website[4], spanning the years:

New South Wales       1788-1910

Northern Territory      1870-1910

Queensland                 1829-1910, 1915-1919

South Australia           1842-1922

Tasmania                    1803-1910

Victoria                       1836-1910

Western Australia       1841-1905

Birth indexes are searchable by name, year of birth, place of birth and names of parents; marriage indexes by name, year of marriage, place of marriage and name of spouse; death indexes by year of death, place of death, estimated year of birth, father’s name and mother’s surname.

Copies of certificates would need to be obtained from the appropriate registry office:

The information to be found on the certificate will depend on when and in which state the event took place but largely they followed the style of certificate the same certificates in England.

Census records

Census records in Australia began earlier in Australia than in England. By 1828 many convicts had served their sentences and had settled as free men. They could no longer be compelled to attend the annual musters and therefore the first census was conducted in New South Wales. These are available in two copies – one held in Australia, one held at The National Archives (TNA) in England.

Censuses were then held in 1833, 1836, 1841, 1846, 1851, 1856, 1861 after which they were held every ten years to 1901[5]. The returns New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia for 1851 through to 1891 appear to have been destroyed in the Garden Palace Fire of 1882. Census returns for the Northern Territory survive for 1881 through to 1921. The records which do survive are again, much like those in England, they are the Collectors books and not the actual household schedules.

The following surviving records can be searched online[6] by name, year of birth and place/territory:

  • 1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (Australian Copy)
  • 1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (TNA Copy)
  • 1841 New South Wales, Australia, Census (including what are now the states of Victoria and Queensland)
  • 1891 New South Wales, Australia Census 
  • 1901 New South Wales, Australia Census 

The census returns include details of where a person was born and therefore the earliest ancestor to arrive in Australia having being born in England (or Ireland) should be able to be located unless of course the earliest ancestor to arrive, arrived during the period 1851 to the end of transportation in 1868. If that is the case, there are census substitutes available[7]:

  • Population Musters of convicts and military (see below);
  • Electoral rolls which began in NSW in 1842;
  • Trade Directories which began in the early 1800’s;
  • Depasturing licenses of grants of land from the Crown to settlers;
  • Rate and valuation books from the later 1850’s;
  • Lists of convicts (see below).

Many of these records are available online at previously named websites and They can also be found in most major archives and libraries in Australia.

Population Musters of convicts and military

Prior to, and beyond, the 1828 census population counts or Musters took place in NSW in[8] 1800 (settlers); 1806 (first complete muster that has survived); 1811 (convicts, including those given tickets of leave, pardons etc); 1814; 1816 to 1821 (convicts); 1822; 1823 (military not included) to 1825 (military not included); and 1837.

And in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) 1811 and 1808 to 1849. 

They contained more information than would be found on an ordinary census, with some early musters list children, wives, and servants:

  • Name;
  • Address;
  • Status (convict, free, military);
  • Sex
  • Ship of arrival
  • Trial date and place
  • Sentence and any other remarks.

So, where an ancestor can be found in the population musters the information found can be used to trace that ancestor back to their origins in England. Where it is identified that the ancestor was a convict the information found in respect of the ship they arrived on, their trial date and place, will help direct the researcher to records held at The National Archives (TNA) and more locally in England.

Lists/Returns of Convicts

If an ancestor cannot be found in the Population musters, they may be found in the Lists or Returns of Convicts. The Convicts Index 1791 to 1873 (“A single searchable database containing certificates of freedom; bank accounts; deaths; exemptions from Government Labor; pardons; tickets of leave; and, tickets of leave passports. There are 140,000+ entries to search”) is available to search for free at New South Wales Government State Archives and Records website[9] provides:

  • Name
  • Alias
  • Ship
  • Year
  • Record type   
  • Date   
  • Remarks         
  • Citation

The same website also contains a Convict Indents (Digitised) Index for 1788 to 1801 which is a fully digitised index containing a list of the convicts transported to NSW. “Early indents provide name, date and place of trial and sentence; later indents usually contain more information such as a physical description, native place, age and crime”[10]

The index to convict indents and ships for New South Wales and Van Diemen’s land from 1788 to 1842 are also available on microfiche at TNA.

The New South Wales Government State Archives and Records website[11] is a good place to start researching convict records in Australia once the first ancestor to arrive in Australia is known, particularly for those researchers living in Australia.

However, there are a vast amount of records available in England for those researchers based in England.

For Queensland convicts the British Convict Transportation Register 1787-1867 can be searched at the State Library of Queensland website

If an ancestor was in the first or second fleet to be transported, there are published lists of the names of those convicts:

  • “The First Fleeters” by P G Fidlon and R J Ryan;
  • “The Second Fleet Convicts” by R J Ryan

The Convict Transportation Register 1787-1870

Series HO11 held at TNA is a list “of convicts transported in various ships, giving the dates of their convictions. Transcripts of these registers can be accessed via the State Library of Queensland website[12].

The Convict Transportation Register can downloaded for free from the TNA website  and the following can be searched online at

  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868
  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – First Fleet, 1787-1788
  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Third Fleet, 1791    
  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Second Fleet, 1789-1790

And include the convicts name, date and place of conviction, term of sentence, name of ship on which they sailed to Australia, date of departure date and the name of the colony to which they were sent.

This will help confirm the information which may already have been found in the population muster or lists/returns of convicts. However, it may also be useful where the first known ancestor to Australia cannot be found in the census, musters or list/return of convicts because such records may be incomplete. Where a person is named, for example on a birth certificate as a parent, then the Convict Transport Register can be searched for them. If not in these records, then it is probable that the ancestor was not a convict but arrived as either a free settler or military/naval personnel. 

Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania: Records 1787-1859 

Found in series HO 10held at TNA this is another list “of the male and female convicts and former convicts in the colonies giving particulars as to their sentences, employment, settlement in the country, the land and cattle acquired by them and other information; lists of pardons granted; lists of convicts embarked for and arriving in New South Wales; general musters and census of 1828 relating to settlers and convicts”[13].

These records can be downloaded for free from TNA website. These records not only help with tracing the origins of an ancestor in England but may provide further details of their lives after serving their sentence and their then settlement in the country.

Other records available at TNA which can be used to identify whether a named ancestor was a convict (not digitised)

  • TS 18/460 – 515: Contracts for the transportation of convicts, naming convicts, with date and place of trial and sentence;
  • HO31/1: Orders of the Privy Council 1782 to 1794 contain lists of convicts for transportation[14];
  • PC 1/2715: Lists of Convicts embarked on the ship Eden to New South Wales, with correspondence, 1840;
  • PC 1/2716: Lists of Convicts embarked on the ship Tortoise to Van Diemen’s Land, with correspondence, 1841;
  • PC 1/2717: Lists of Convicts embarked on the ship Elphinstone to Van Diemen’s Land, with correspondence, 1842;
  • PC 1/2718: Lists of Convicts embarked on the ship Anson to Van Diemen’s Land, with correspondence, 1843;
  • T 1 Treasury Board papers and T 53 Treasury Money Books also contain ships’ lists of convicts who were transported.

Prison Hulk Records – records held at TNA

  • HO 9/1 – 15: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers

Registers of convicts in the prison hulks, 1802 to 1849, arranged by hulk name

1811 to 1843 images and indexes can be downloaded for free the TNA website

  • ADM 6/418, 420, 422: Registers of convicts in prison hulks, with gaolers’ reports 1814 to 1835, each indexed at ADM 6/419, 421, 423 respectively.
  • PCOM 2/105: Portsmouth Prison, Hampshire: registers of prisoners, nos. 1-1477 from Sept 30, 1847 to Apr 18, 1853

Images and indexes are available at in series in their series England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935;

  • PCOM 2/131 to 137: Registers of convicts on specific prison hulks from 1837 to 1860

Images and indexes are available at in their series England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935;

  • HO 8/74: Quarterly returns of convicts in prison hulks for 1842 Dec

Available at TNA only.

These records will provide details of name, age, offence committed, when and where tried, date of transfer to a ship for transportation. This essentially forms a paper trail of the convict’s movements between conviction and transportation.  Many prisoners were initially held on prison hulks awaiting transportation. Not all were in fact transported. The records may not provide any additional information which may have been gained from other record discussed above however they could be used in alternative to those set out above or as confirmation of information already obtained.

Petitions for clemency and pardons

Series HO 17 and HO 18 held at TNA hold original petitions made by or on behalf of convicts asking for a revocation or reduction of their sentences. “Attached to some petitions are related papers and some returns, made by the governors of convict prisons, of convicts recommended for early release for good behaviour”[15].

HO 17 holds petitions made between 1819 and 1839;

HO 18 holds petitions made between 1839 and 1853.

There is an index to the petitions which can be found in HO 19 arranged alphabetically giving the reference of the original petition, the place of imprisonment and the outcome of the petition. 

Many have been indexed and digitised and made available at in their series England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935. HO 17, 18 and 19 can be found as subseries and can be searched by name, year and place.

Petitions are most likely to include personal information regarding the convict, such as their age, family circumstances, where he lived prior to his conviction, previous good character, his occupation and any extenuating circumstances.

Newspapers reports

Once the court and/or area is known, before searching the court records it may be worth searching newspaper reports to see what further information may be gleaned about the case and the convict. Newspaper reports often include personal information about those they are reporting on, including age, occupation, where they were from, where the offence was committed and sometimes details of their family. The largest collection can be found at the British Library but there are several websites where newspapers can be searched:

The British Newspaper Archive[16];

Find My Past[17]

London, Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes[18]

Local newspapers will also be available in the local archives for the area where the trial took place.

Court Records

Once you know the court your ancestor convicts’ trial was heard then the court records can be searched for more information. To be sentenced to transportation, a convict had committed a serious offence which would have been heard in either their local Assize Court or the Old Bailey/Central Criminal Court. 

Assize courts

Assize court records, where they exist, are largely held at TNA although some may be found at local archives (for example searching the Surrey History Centre online catalogue there are various papers from the assize courts which appear to have been provided to the archives from personal collections or as part of the Quarter Session records), however many records were destroyed. Records may be found in various series held at TNA, none of which are digitised and can only be viewed at TNA:

  • ASSI 1 – 54: Records of the Justices of Assize from 1554 to 1971 arranged by circuits;
  • KB 6/1 – 6: Depositions 1836-1886;
  • KB 10/1 – 92: Indictments (London and Middlesex) 1675-1845[19];
  • KB 11/1 – 107: Indictment (Rest of England) 1676-1845[20];
  • KB 12/1 – 228: Indictments files for all counties 1846-1926[21];
  • KB 19/1 – 3: Pleadings

It should be noted that the Palatine courts of Chester, Durham and Lancaster (Lancashire) merged into the assizes system in 1876. Prior to this their respective court records will need to be searched at TNA is series CHES, DURH and PL

Old Bailey and Central Criminal Court

The Old Bailey was essentially the Assize court for the City of London until 1834 when the Central Criminal Court was established. The Central Criminal Court had jurisdiction over the City of London, Middlesex, parts of Essex, Kent, Surrey, crimes committed at sea and abroad.

Old Bailey/Central Criminal Court session papers are held Guildhall Library and at TNA in series PCOM 1 for 1801 to 1904 and CRIM 10 for 1834-1912.

Old Bailey trials for the period 1674 to 1935, can also be searched at They may also be searched online at under their series Middlesex, London, Old Bailey Court Records 1674-1913.

Civil registration, census returns, parish records and parish registers.

Once you have found, from any of the resources above, where the convict ancestor lived at the time they were convicted, then further research can be continued in the well-known genealogical record, to find their origins (parentage etc) depending on the period of time:

  • post 1837 – civil registration records
  • 1841 and beyond – decennial census returns
  • pre-1837 – parish registers and records.

The records discussed above represent a sample of records available to help trace the origins of a convict transported to Australia. There are numerous other records available both in Australia and England, online and off. The National Library of Australia has a very helpful research guide[22] as does TNA[23] and both should be consulted where such a research task is to be undertaken.

[1] “A guide to tracing your transported convict ancestors by Dr David J Cox


[3] and



[6] Online at the websites previously stated


Many of these records are available online at previously named websites and




[11] Ibid



[14] “Criminal Ancestors” by David Hawkings, page 235





[19] Can be searched using index IND 1/6669-6677 for 1673-1843

[20] Can be searched using index IND 1/6680-6684 for 1638-1704 and 1765-1843

[21] Can be searched using registers IND 1/6685, IND 1/6686, IND 1/6687/1 and IND 1/6687/2



Persecution and toleration of Catholics (recusants)

Year Legislation Associated record sources
1534 Act of Supremacy Refusing to take Henry VIII’s Oath of supremacy and supporting the Pope became an act of treason. Parish registers and Parish chest records If there is a marriage and burial record but no baptism it may indicate a Catholic[1]; some clergy would make a note in the register is a person was a recusant.   Churchwarden accounts Churchwardens were responsible for bringing offenders before the courts and their accounts may provide details of recusants.   Execution records Recusants executed for treason can be found at the British Executions website[2]  (years 1100 to 1964) and at the Capital Punishment UK website:[3]
1549 1552 Act of Uniformity Act of Uniformity Clergy were given one year to adopt the Prayer book or face stiff penalties as would anyone speaking out against the Prayer book[4]: First offence – confiscation of income for a year and 6 months imprisonment;Second offence – 1 year imprisonment with no bail and then stripped of his church position;Third offence – life imprisonment. The 1552 Act introduced a revised Prayer book and extended the penalties to imprisonment for anyone attending other forms of service Quarter Session records­ (discussed below) Churchwarden accounts (as above)  
1554 Revival of the Heresy Acts Which had been repealed under Henry VIII and Edward VI: Richard II’s Letters Patent 1382Henry IV’s Heresy Act 1401Henry V’s Heresy Act 1414 Quarter Session records (see below) A lack of Catholics appearing in these records during this period demonstrates this period of toleration of Catholics.[5]
1559                 Act of Supremacy Reinstated the supremacy of the Church of England repealing the heresy laws Mary I had revived. Act of Uniformity The Book of Common Prayer was introduced, similar to the prayer book of 1552 but retaining some Catholic elements.  Clergy faced stiff penalties for failing to comply: First offence – forfeit their benefice for a year and 6 months imprisonment; Second offence – 1 year imprisonment with no bail and then stripped of his church position; Third offence – life imprisonment. Anyone speaking out against the Book of Common Prayer or attempted to disrupt parish services also faced penalties: First two offences – a fine; Third offence – life imprisonment Anyone failing to attend their parish church for Sunday service or on a holy day would be fined 1s[6] every time they failed to attend[7]. In 1563 the death penalty was introduced for priests who continued to hold mass. Those who continued to defend the supremacy of the pope had their property seized. Churchwarden accounts (as above) Quarter Session records  (see below) Execution records (as above)  
1570 Papal Bull [8]‘Regnans in Excelsis[9] Encouraged Catholics to be a heretic, releasing even those who had sworn the oath of supremacy from allegiance to the monarchy. The bull also excommunicate any Catholic obeyed the monarchy’s orders!  
1571 Treason Act It became high treason to bring any further papal bulls into England and to call the monarch a heretic or schismatic. Quarter Session records (see below)  
1581 Recusancy Act The penalties for recusancy increased: Fine of £20 per month Fine of 100 marks and a years imprisonment for hearing Mass From 1581 if anyone converted to Catholicism or attempted to convert anyone else to Catholicism, the penalty was death. A further Act was passed forbidding Catholic education of children. From 1586 failure to pay a fine would result in a recusant losing land they owned, a penalty which, from 1604 could be imposed in place of the £20 per month fine. Quarter Session records (see below) Pipe Rolls 1581 – 1601 Include the names and fines imposed on Catholics yearly; largely written in Latin and arranged by county; held by the Exchequer – copies provided to the Chancery. Available at: National Archives series E372[10] and E352[11] (not digitised)Catholic Record Society publication: “Recusants in the Exchequer Pipe Rolls, 1581-1592” by T. J. McCann[12] (not digitised) An index of Pipe Rolls is also available at the Pipe Roll Society[13]
1585 Act against Jesuits, Seminary Priests and such other like Disobedient Persons A further act to ‘force’ Jesuits[14] and Seminary priests[15] to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen. Failure to do so within 40 days was an act of high treason unless they left the country. Any person who harboured or knew of the whereabouts of a Jesuit or Seminary priest and failed to inform the authorities, would be penalised: A fine of 200 marks Imprisonment Execution if the authorities wished to make an example of the priest. Any Jesuit or Seminary priest who were or travelled overseas, had to return to England within six months to swear the oath of allegiance (within two days of their arrival) and swear to submit to the Queen, or face the penalties for treason. Once taken the oath, they were forbidden for a period of 10 years to come within 10 miles of the Queen without her personal written permission or face the penalties for treason. If they left England for more than six months their land would be forfeited. Quarter Session records (see below)  
1587 Act against noncompliance Anyone who refused to accept the authority of the monarchy and thus the Church of England and Book of Common Prayer, were not permitted to buy or sell land. Quarter Session records (see below) Pipe Rolls 1581 – 1591 (as above)  
1593 Act for Retaining the Queen’s Subjects in their due Obedience[16] Required all over the age of 16 years to attend an Anglican Church service. Failure to attend for a period of one month would result in imprisonment without bail, for such period as they refused to attend, as would their encouragement to any other person not to attend. If they continued to refuse to attend for a period of three months they would be removed and exiled from England and any other countries within the queen’s realm until and unless they were licenced by the queen to return. Act against Popish Recusants Catholics were no longer permitted to travel more than a five mile radius from their home. The penalty for doing so without permission was a loss of all goods, chattels, lands, tenements, hereditaments rents and annuities due to them during their life. This was however never enforced during the reign of Elizabeth I which ended with her death 1603 when she was succeeded by James I (James VI of Scotland). Quarter session records (see below) Recusant rolls 1591 – 1691 Specific Rolls recording names and fines of recusants in place of Pipe Rolls. Arranged by county, containing: 1. Land seized from recusants, detailing: Name of recusant;Rent due to the Crown;Description of land;Date of seizure;Name of commissioner affecting seizure of land;Memoranda Roll record authorising seizure of land;Name of Crown’s lessee (if any);Arrears;Total debt;Payments made; 2. Goods and chattels seized, detailing: Name of recusant;Amount of forfeiture;Articles seized; 3. Sheriffs charge and final audit 4. Enrolment of new convictions, detailing: Name and address of recusant;duration of recusancy;date of conviction;amount of debt Available at: National Archives series E376 and E377 (not digitised)Catholic Record Society publications: “Recusant Roll No. 1, 1592-3, Exchequer, Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer by M.M.C Calthrop [17]; “ Recusant Rolls no 2, 1593-1594. An abstract in English by Hugh Bowler”[18]; “Recusant Rolls no 3, 1594-1595 and recusant roll no. 4, 1595-1596. An abstract in English by Hugh Bowler”[19]
1604 Book of Common Prayer James I promised to “neither persecute any that will be quiet and give but an outward obedience to the law [nor to] spare to advance any of them that will by good service worthily deserve it”[20] he did made it clear that unity and uniformity of the church was his aim, proclaiming in July 1604 that all clergy were to fully conform to the Book of Common Prayer by 30November 1604.  
1605 And 1606 Popish Recusants Act (Following the Gunpowder Plot) Oath of Allegiance Forbidding Catholics practicing in the legal or medical professions, the military and from acting as guardians or trustees; Calling for them to swear a new Oath of Allegiance to the monarchy denying the authority of the Pope; Making it high treason to obey the pope over the monarchy, imprisoning those who refused to swear the oath. There was an incentive of £50[21] for those who identified priests and members of their congregations The rules also applied to any protestant who took a Catholic wife! Quarter session records (see below) Oath of Allegiance rolls 1606 – 1828 (see below)  
1610 Act extended the Oath of Allegiance To be taken by all Catholics over the age of 18 with penalties including: Imprisonment Loss of rent and personal property Persecution was also financial: £100 fine for failing to baptise a child within one month of birth by Anglican clergy; On marriage any property of the recusant bride would be forfeited; if she had none £100 fine was payable; Married women recusants could be imprisoned until the conformed or their husband paid to redeem them for £10 per month Quarter Session records (see below) Oath of Allegiance Rolls see below)  
` Taxation Charles I introduced a double rate on taxes for Catholics. Lay Subsidy Rolls (cover period 1275 to 1665) Record taxes imposed on moveable property (not land) from time to time. The name, village and parish of a Catholic can be identified as they had to pay double the rate. Available at: National Archives series E179[22] and E359[23];County record officesLocal Family History societies – e.g. West Surrey Family History Society have an ongoing project to transcribe the Surrey Lay Subsidy Rolls.
1626/7 Commission for Compounding with Recusants A commission set up to investigate concealed sources of revenue recusants may have had and any amounts available which could be recovered from poorer recusants. Convicted recusants were targeted by obtaining information from the quarter session records who had to bargain with the commissioners and usually agree an increased rent to lease their land which had been seized from them and in order to pay fines and arrears of fines.    
1643 Oath of Allegiance Charles I introduced a further Oath of Allegiance requiring all men over the age of 18 years to deny catholic beliefs. Those who refused lost most of their estates, both real and personal. Vow and Covenant 1643 Taken by members of the House of Commons and House of Lords – demonstrates lack of Catholics in official positions Solemn League of Covenant 1644 This was an agreement in which Scotland agreed to support the English Parliamentarians in their disputes with the royalists and was signed throughout England and Scotland – demonstrates support against Catholics Protestation Oath Returns 1641 – 1642 Provides names, village, parish and occupation of all those who took the oath and Catholics[24] who refused to sign. Remaining records cover about one third of the country. Available at: National Archives series SP28[25] or E179Parliamentary ArchivesSociety of Genealogy – for some parts of the countryLondon Metropolitan Archives – City of London and various London districtsCounty record offices  
1643 Committee for the Sequestration of Delinquents Estates/ Committee for Compounding for the Estates of Royalists and Delinquents A committee set up at the beginning of the civil war much like the earlier Commission for Compounding with Recusants. Their role was to seize and confiscate land from and/or impose fines on royalists, papists and recusants.  
1648       1650            Blasphemy Act[26] Anyone found guilty of blasphemy and/or heresy would suffer the death penalty unless they renounced. Blasphemy Act This act provided for less severe penalties: first offence – six month imprisonment;second offence – Banished from the country not to return without a licence Act repealing penalties for nonattendance at church It was no longer a legal requirement to attend the parish church. Penalties for blasphemy and heresy still continued. Quarter Session records (see below)  
1660 Declaration of Breda Issued by Charles II promising to bring religious freedom at the start of the Restoration. Although it appears this was not to include Catholics!  
        1661           1662                           1664                     1665 Clarendon Code – a collection of four Acts of Parliament designed to weaken the nonconformist movement including Catholics and Protestant nonconformist sects: Corporation Act Catholics[27] were excluded from official positions unless they swore the oath of allegiance, renounced the Solemn League and Covenant[28] of 1643 and accepted the supremacy of the monarchy. Act of Uniformity Required all clergy to be: ordained episcopally;renounce the Solemn League and Covenant;accept and preach the new Book of Common Prayer Catholics[29] were liable to three months imprisonment if they continued to preach in public or worked as a private tutor or schoolmaster without first obtaining a licence to do so from an archbishop, bishop or ordinary of the diocese. If clergy remained in office or attained office in the Church of England without episcopal ordination the penalty was a fine of £100. Conventicles Act Congregations of more than 5 persons (including the priest!) became illegal, even in private houses. The penalties for breach were: First offence – fine of £5 or 3 months imprisonment;Second offence – fine of £10 or 6 months imprisonment;Third offence – transportation for seven years to a foreign plantation (other than New England) The Five Mile Act Catholic[30] priests were no longer allowed to approach within 5 miles of any former parish or town save to pass through on the road. The penalties for doing so were: Fine of £40 Many were imprisoned for persistent offending resulting from the simple need to make a living! Quarter session records (see below) Oath of Allegiance Rolls (see below) Sacramental certificates (see below)  
1670 Conventicles Act [31] Increased the penalties: First offence – fine of £20Subsequent offences – fine of £40 Quarter session records (see below)  
1672            Declaration of Indulgence Charles II forced this Declaration through Parliament, legally enabling Catholics[32] to practice their religion by allowing them hold mass in private (nonconformists could apply for licences to establish meeting houses). However due to the strength of the continued anti-Catholic he was forced to quickly repeal it with the Test Act.  
1673 Test Act This reinforced the need for civil and military offices (including priests/clergy) to swear the oath of allegiance and supremacy of the monarchy and provide a sacramental certificate confirming they had taken Anglican Communion, which would be signed by the Anglican minister and churchwarden of the parish and further witnessed by two credible witnesses. This act did not apply to MP’s and peers. Thus a second Test Act was introduced. Oath of Allegiance rolls (see below) Sacramental certificates (see below)  
1676 Compton Census Churchwardens and Constables were ordered to provide a list of those attending Anglican services, including nonconformists and recusants over the age of 16 years to the local Justice of the Peace (JP) who then called on each person listed to take the oath of allegiance. If they refused the penalty was imprisonment. The lists became known as the Compton Census. Compton Census Largely numerical providing details of the places of worship and the size of their congregations demonstrating the distribution of religious sects, in particular parishes where Catholicism thrived or died. A small number may contain names of individuals.   Quarter session rolls (see below)  
1678            Test Act This required all members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to make declarations against transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrament of Mass, with the effect of excluding Catholics from both houses, in particular evicting the five Catholic Lords from the House of Lords.   Estreat Rolls 1537 – 1837 Record fines and bonds due to the Exchequer following legal proceedings.   Nichil Rolls 1537 – 1837 Record debts due to the Exchequer where the sheriff attempted to collect but there were insufficient funds to pay.   Available at: National Archives series E362[33] (not digitised)  arranged by County
1687 & 1688 Declaration of Indulgence and reissued in 1688 James II was an openly Catholic King and made his own declaration of indulgence, suspending both the Test Act and other earlier Acts restricting religious freedom. James II began a policy of appointing Catholics to positions of power e.g. JP’s, MP’s and Lords-Lieutenants. Records include for example, at The National archives: Series C 216 “Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Admission Rolls of Officers[34] and Solicitors”  
1689 Toleration Act Allowed freedom of worship provided Protestant nonconformists swore an oath of allegiance[35]. Catholics were specifically excluded! The Clarendon Code Acts and Test Act were still in force. Oath of Allegiance rolls (see below)  
1692 Land Tax A double land tax rate was introduced for Catholic land owners. Land tax assessment and records Yearly records of tax imposed on owners whose land was valued in excess of 20s. Catholic land owners can be identified by the rate of tax they paid – double rate. Arranged by county, the records provide the names of the land owner, tenants and occupiers[36]; the name and parish address of the property; rental value; amount of tax due. Available at: National Archives series IR 23[37], IR 22[38] and IR 24[39]County Record Offices – duplicates: often quite difficult to find due to lack of transcription and indexing at local levelGuild Library – City of London records   Quarter Session records / estate papers / parish records Assessments prior to 1780
1696 An Act for the Better Security of His Majesties’ Royal Person and Government Following the attempted assassination of William III, the Solemn Association Oath had to be sworn by military personnel and civil officers of the Crown.   Association Oath Rolls Include those who refused to swear the oath such as Catholics. Many of the records contain original signatures, but they also include marks and listings made by clerks. Available at: National Archives series C 213[40], C 214/8-12[41], KB 24/1[42], KB 24/2[43]County Record OfficesLondon Metropolitan Archives (City of London and various London districts)
1698            Popery Act Enacted in 1700 the Act reinforced the laws against practising Catholics, the penalty for which could be “perpetuall Imprisonment”[44]. Further Catholics were forbidden from inheriting or purchasing land and could face fines for sending their children abroad to be educated. Quarter session records (see below)  
1702 1714            Security of Succession Act Security of the Sovereign Act Officials were required to take an oath denying the right of James II’s son the right to succeed the throne. Oaths of allegiance, test and abjuration roll (see below)  
1715            Papist Act In the wake of the Jacobite rebellion, everyone over the age of 18 was required to swear an oath of allegiance. Catholics were also required to register details of their estates, including documents such as Wills, conveyances of land and/or property with the county Clerk of the Peace. This was further reinforced in 1723 when Catholics refusing to swear the oath of allegiance were now required to register their names and details of their estates at quarter sessions or have their property seized. Seizure of property was overseen by the Forfeiture Estates Commission. Oaths of allegiance, test and abjuration roll (see below) Quarter session records (see below)   Close Rolls Sealed documents: By the Court of Chancery giving order and instructions to royal officials and subject;By private individuals to enrol documents such as deeds of land, wills, leases and quit claims amongst many other documents. Catholic wills should have been enrolled after 1715 and can provide names, addresses, occupations, details of family, land/property etc as set out in their enrolled wills. Available at: National Archives series C 54[45] and also PRO 31[46] (various subseries, for example, PRO 31/7/173  Extracts from Close Rolls) (not digitised)
1753            Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act Catholics were required to marry in an Anglican Church Parish registers – as discussed above  
1778            Catholic Relief Act The first Act towards toleration of Catholics enabling them to own land and freeing them from persecution, repealing the 1698 Act. Land and Property Records including Title Deeds Ownership of land/property and how they were conveyed. Documents will not themselves identify Catholics however where a person has not previously been registered as an owner of land, it may indicate they were Catholic. Records provide name, address, occupation, marital status of vendor and purchaser, description of land or property, family relationships (especially if land has been passed through generations), dates of death, wills and maps are sometimes attached. Available at: The National Archives – various records within division CP including:concords of fines in CP 24/1-CP 24/13feet of fines in CP 25/1 and CP 25/2notes of fines in CP 26/1-CP 26/14entry books recording the public announcement of fines in CP 27enrolments of writs for fines and recoveries in CP 28rules to amend fines and recoveries in CP 30books recording the king’s silver in CP 34 and CP 35recovery rolls in CP 43portions of broken writs of covenant files in CP 50, with the complete files in CP 55files of writs of entry in CP 56concords files in CP 61and enrolments of writs of entry in CP 65County Record Offices – Surrey History Centre has various conveyancing documents relating to individual estates/families.British LibraryLand RegistrySolicitors, (building societies and banks in later years)  Quarter session records Lack of further offences recorded of the nature set out in the 1698 Act reflects this new toleration
1791            Catholic Relief Act The second Act towards toleration of Catholics enabling Catholics to register and open their own chapels. Despite this, marriage and burials could still only take place legally in Anglican churches. Parish registers– as discussed above Catholic Church registers and records Newly opened catholic chapels began registers of baptism, confirmation, marriage and death. Baptisms registers include: Name of child and parents (inc mother’s maiden name)Date of baptism (and possibly birth)Names of godparents or ‘sponsers’ “Double” marriage records may be found: Catholics would have an Anglican service to “legalise” their marriage and have a Catholic marriage service which may be recorded in the Catholic registers. Marriage registers include: Names of bride and groom (inc brides maiden name)Names of witnessesOccasionally – ages of both parties, place of birth for bride and names of parents of both parties. The same principal applies to death/burials of Catholics who had to be buried at an Anglican church yard until 1852 (see below)[47]. Burial registers include: Name of deceasedOccasionally – age, name(s) of deceased wife and children It should be noted that these registers were usually in Latin until 1965. Available at: National Archives(see The Non-Parochial Registers Act below);County Record Offices (Catholic registers at Surrey History Centre appear to begin in the 20th Century (see The Non-Parochial Registers Act below);Diocesan Archives – For my local Diocese of Guildford they are held at the Surrey History Centre (County Record Office);Catholic Record Society – Catholic church registers published for various locations in various series;Catholic National Library – Mission Registers (listing baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths) amongst a large collection of Catholic history books and periodicals Quarter Session Records (see below)
1829            Catholic Emancipation Act Removed the majority of the remaining restrictions on Catholics allowing them to take up most public offices including parliamentary seats. Quarter session records (see below)
1836            General Registration Act Finally allowed Catholics to marry in their own churches and chapels although burials were still required to take place at Anglican churches. Civil registration certificates – birth, marriage, death in particular marriage certificate which will provide details of the place of marriage i.e. Catholic church/chapel
1840            The Non-Parochial Registers Act Following civil registration it was requested that the registers of nonconformist sects, including Catholics, be deposited with the Registrar General, however few if any were deposited by Catholics. These registers are therefore likely still be in the hands of the individual Catholic church. Catholic[48] registers deposited both in 1840 and 1857 at the National Archives can be found in: Series RG4: General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857 arranged by County and then alphabetically by placeSeries RG8: General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non Parochial Registers Commission of 1857, and other registers and church records. These registers are also available from
1852             Burial Act Catholics were legally able to establish their own burial grounds. Municipal cemeteries developed during this century and may have also been used for Catholic burials Burial registers of Catholic burial sites As pre catholic registers discussed above

Assizes/Quarter Session Records

Catholics were essentially criminalised. Quarter session records contain perhaps the largest collections of records providing details of Catholics (and other nonconformists) including (but not limited to):

  • Indictments and Presentments – Details of Catholics fined, imprisoned, banished from the country and sentenced to execution;
  • Sacrament certificates (see below);
  • Oaths of Allegiance including lists of those refusing to take the various Oaths (see below) (Chancery Court/Exchequer Court or King’s Bench division records if the person lived within 30 miles of London);
  • Declarations against transubstantiation;
  • Registers of names and estates of Catholics who refused to take the Oath of Allegiance following the Papist Act 1715, arranged alphabetically by county and town;
  • Records of land and property seized for failing to take the Oath of Allegiance and/or registering their names and estates;
  • Certificates of Roman Catholic Chapels and priests following the 1791 Catholic Relief Act

These numerous records can provide names, addresses and occupations of those Catholics prosecuted or who had land seized, or who registered themselves as required. They may include details of family members.

These numerous records are available at:

  • County Record Offices – Surrey Quarter Session records held at the Surrey History Centre include:
  • Session Rolls, 1661-1799, 1889-1915
  • Session Bundles, 1630, 1637, 1701 – 1888
  • Indictments
  • Estreat Books
  • Calendars of Prisoners: Surrey Sessions and Assizes
  • Land Tax Assessment Books
  • Registration of the Estates of Roman Catholics
  • Certificates of Protestant dissenting and Roman Catholic places of Worship and related documents
  • London Metropolitan Archives – Proceedings at the Old Bailey
  • Society of Genealogists e.g. calendars of prisoners, microfiche copies of summary convictions and other court records
  • British Library – including legislation, cases and traditional legal commentary
  • Local newspapers often reported on criminal proceedings

Oath Rolls and Sacramental Certificates

As can be seen from the table above, oaths of allegiance and supremacy were required to be sworn at various times. The oath rolls provide a list of names, addresses and occupation of those taking the oaths and frequently a list of those refusing to take the oaths. Both lists may include Catholics as some Catholics may have chosen to take the oath to avoid criminal proceedings. In particular if a Catholic wished to serve in an official office (military, parliament, courts etc) under following the Clarendon Code.

Those swearing the oath obtained a Sacramental Certificate as proof they had received communion in the Church of England.

Oath rolls began in 1606 and essentially ended with the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration under the reinforced Papist Act of 1723. The location and availability of Oath Rolls for 1723 can be found in the publication “The 1723 oath rolls in England: an electronic finding list” by Edward Vallance[49].

TNA series C 203/6 includes certificates naming those who failed to swear the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration as required by the Security of the Sovereign Act 1714.

After the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 Catholics were able to sign a new oath of allegiance which can be located at the National Archives series E169/79 – 83[50] and “The rolls contain the actual signatures of persons taking an oath and most of them state the form of the oath to be taken, together with the authorising statute…While a few of the rolls give places of residence, only one roll (E 169/80) includes full addresses”[51]. These have not been digitised and are only available at TNA.

There is also a wealth of records available at TNA series PC 1 (not digitised) such as:

  • Returns of Catholics for several counties PC 1/20/31
  • Roman Catholics: Lists of Roman Catholics who have taken the oath during 1796 PC 1/37/107
  • Roman Catholic Oaths: List for Westminster, London PC 1/40/130
  • Certificates under 31 Geo III, c 32 (1791) relating to Roman Catholics PC 1/2937
  • Returns of papists who have taken oath in accordance with Act of 31 Geo III PC 1/19/26/2

Sacramental certificates provide the name, address and occupation of the individual, the date sacrament was received, name of the church, name of the minister, churchwarden and the witnesses, and can be found at TNA series:

  • C 224 Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Sacrament Certificates 1673 – 1778
  • KB 22 Court of King’s Bench: Crown side: Sacrament Certificates Files 1676 – 1828
  • E 196 Exchequer: King’s Remembrance: Sacramental Certificates 1702 – 1827

There are also many other records relating to oath rolls at TNA, too many to discuss further and many of which may not be relevant to Catholics as they refused to swear the oaths, save, as stated above, some rolls do also contain lists of those refusing to swear the oath and thus those records should not be overlooked in any search undertaken.

Other records

Returns of Papists (Catholics)

These were censuses taken nationwide in 1680, 1705, 1744, 1767 and 1780 to record the number of Catholics in the country, arranged in dioceses by town/village. These were essentially used to identify Catholics and ensure the penalties in force at the time were imposed, hence lists of names can be found amongst quarter session records. Some of the returns record numbers but others record names, ages, addresses, occupations, family members and how long they have lived in the parish.

The 1767 return has been published by the Catholic Record Society and the 1767 return for London has been published by the Society of Genealogy.

[1] Or other nonconformist

[2] Accessed 6 April 2019

[3] Accessed 6 April 2019

[4] faced not just by Catholics but also nonconformist protestants

[5] John Rogers and around 300 other Protestants were burned alive during her short reign from 1553 to 1558 earning Mary I her infamous nickname “Bloody Mary”.

[6] Approx. £18 today using calculator on 30th March 2019

[7] that would have been one full day’s pay for a skilled tradesman (value at 2017) 30th March 2019

[8] Public decree, letters patent, or charter issued by the Pope

[9] Reigning on High

[10] Exchequer Pipe Office, Pipe Rolls

[11] Chancery, Chancellors Rolls

[12] Catholic Record Society Record Series 71 (1986)


[14] “The Society of Jesus is a religious order of men in the Catholic Church” –  (2 April 2019)

[15] Catholic priests trained either in England or abroad in seminaries after 1534

[16] Aimed at all nonconformist sects including Catholics

[17] Pipe Office Series, Catholic Record Society Record Series, 18 (1916)

[18] Catholic Record Society Record Series, 57 (1965)

[19] Catholic Record Society Record Series, 61 (1970)

[20] A. Dures “English Catholicism, 1558 – 1642” page 40

[21] Approx. £6,704.78 in 2017 National Archives currency converter

[22] Particulars of Account and other records relating to Lay and Clerical Taxation

[23] Exchequer Pipe Office: Account Rolls of Subsidies and Aids

[24] And anyone else but largely Catholics as the aim was to establish the number of Catholics in the country in order that they knew who to tax more heavily!

[25] Commonwealth Exchequer Papers

[26] This offence was not limited to Catholics.

[27] and other nonconformists

[28] An agreement made at the beginning of the Civil War by which the Scottish Parliament agreed to support the English Parliamentarians in their disputes with the royalists; both countries pledging to work for a civil and religious union of EnglandScotland, and Ireland under a Presbyterian–parliamentary system

[29] and other nonconformists

[30] and nonconformist

[31] The 1661 Act expired in 1669

[32] and other nonconformist sects

[33] Exchequer: Pipe Office: Estreats: Rolls and Nichil Rolls

[34] Including but not limited to lord chancellor, the solicitor general, the lord high treasurer of England, and the master of the rolls

[35] Quakers were to make a similar declaration

[36] Tenants and occupiers between 1772 and 1832

[37] Land Tax Redemption Office: Quotas and Assessments 1798 – 1914

[38] Land Tax Redemption Office: Parish Books of Redemptions 1799 – 1953

[39] Land Tax Redemption Office: Registers of Redemption Certificates 1799 – 1963

[40] Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Association Oath Rolls 1696-1697

[41] Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Rolls of Oaths of Allegiance and Test Oaths 1673-1889

[42] Association oath roll 1696 May

[43] Association oath roll 1696 June-July

[44] William III, 1698-9: An Act for the further preventing the Growth of Popery. [Chapter IV. Rot. Parl. 11 Gul. III. p. 2. n. 2.] section III, accessed 4 April 2019

[45] Chancery and Supreme Court of Judicature: Close Rolls

[46] Public Record Office records

[47] After 1871 many were buried in Catholic section of the community Cemeteries which began to develop

[48] And other nonconformist sect registers

[49] History Working Papers Project

[50] Exchequer: King’s Remembrancer: Oath Rolls: Papist Oaths

[51] (13 April 2019)


Websites accessed 30th March 2019

Websites accessed 1st April 2019

Websites accessed 8th April 2019

Websites accessed 13th April 2019

Websites accessed various dates between 30 March 2019 and 13th April 2019


W B Patterson            King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (Cambridge University Press 2000) (Google books)

E. Rose                        ”Cases of Conscience: Alternatives open to Recusants and Puritans under Elizabeth I and James I” (Cambridge 1975)

A. Dures                      “English Catholicism, 1558 – 1642” (Harlow 1983)

Coffey, John               Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England, 1558 – 1689 (Pearson Education 2000)

Herber, Mark               Ancestral Trails, Second Edition (SOG 2005)

Hey, David                 The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History (Oxford 1996)

Scott, Jonathan            A Dictionary of Family History (Pen & Sword 2017)

Tracing your Trafalgar ancestors

The Battle of Trafalgar which took place on 21st October 1805 was only one of the battle which took place during the Napoleonic war, however it is the most famous and most written about, not in the least because it was of course the battle in which Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was killed on his flagship HMS Victory, now one of the main attractions at the Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth, where there is also a dedicated permanent exhibition to him: a good place to start to research his life and career, including a time line of Nelson the man and Nelson the “Hero”. There is also the Nelson Museum in Monmouth.

There are “over a 1000 books”[1] detailing the life of Nelson, “more than 20 films and television programmes”[2] and countless online resources, including various letters written by him regarding his fleets’ movements, his concerns and thoughts and the day to day management of his fleet from 1804 to 1805[3] and a collection of 251 letters (representing a sample) he wrote to his wife over a fifteen all held by the Navy Records Society. These can provide an overall picture of the life of an officer or seaman sailing in Nelson’s fleet at the period, including the Battle of Trafalgar and the personal life of Nelson himself. There are similar letters written by Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood between 1794 and 1809[4].

But what about the countless other officers who served in the Battle of Trafalgar: both commissioned officers[5] and warrant officers[6].


A list of some 1640 officers and men who served at the Battle of Trafalgar[8] comprising of 7 files compiled alphabetically by surname. There is also a list of those officers killed and wounded. This is also therefore a good place to start to check if your ancestor took part in the battle. The list provides the name, rank, ship and “other clasps” (other medals) which they were entitled to, for example:

“GRAHAM Thos          LM         Victory

GRANTHAM Abrahm       Sailmaker Swiftsure

GRAY Francis          Mid        Orian         entitled to Venerable 16 Jan ?

GRAY Henry            Ord        Colossus “[9]

Steel’s Navy List

Produced monthly from 1782 to 1816 and provided various lists, such as:

  • A full alphabetical list of the Royal Naval vessels, their commanders/captains and their stations;
  • A list of British was ships lost, taken or destroyed;
  • A list of enemy ships lost, taken or destroyed;
  • A list of Admirals, Commodores, Captains/Post-Captains, Masters and Commanders who lost their lives.

Whilst this list provides little detail it may help answer questions such as what happened to an ancestors’ ship where little or no other information can be found, or if records for an ancestor appear to end abruptly with no explanation.

List of Royal Navy Post Captains 1714-1830, version 4[10]

Published by the Navy Records Society this is a list of 2830 men arranged by date of posting to the rank of post captain. It provides the following details:

  • Name;
  • Date of posting to rank of post captain;
  • In some cases date or year of birth;
  • The dates they were then later promoted through the ranks of Lieutenant, Commander, Rear-Admiral, Vice-Admiral and Admiral;
  • Month and year of death
  • Details of their fate e.g. retired, lost, died, superannuated.

This list can therefore again provide brief details of the career of those reaching the rank of post-captain and provide a starting point for further research. Paul Martinovich[11] states:

“Dates of birth and death can reveal interesting information about the circumstances of an individual, and of post captains in general. Generally speaking, anyone who was posted before the age of 25 was either particularly lucky or well-connected, and often both. The youngest post captains were usually the beneficiaries of flagrant acts of nepotism by their admiral relatives”

Details of being decorated for their service may be found[12]:  

Name Posted Born Lieut Cdr RAdm VAdm Adm Died Fate and comments
William Hargood 22/11/90 5/1762 1/80 6/89 7/10 6/14 7/30 12/1839 KCB 1/15, GCB 9/31, GCH 31[13]

There are other navy lists but I will not mention them further as they do not cover the period of the Battle of Trafalgar and generally cover much later periods.

Trafalgar Ancestors database[14]

Published biographical sources have been used alongside muster rolls, service certificates, Greenwich hospital in-pensioner records, passing certificates and survey returns to create this database. It contains more than 18,000 individuals “all those who fought in Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. This includes Royal Navy commissioned and warrant officers, ratings, supernumeraries and Royal Marines……..[which] over time aims to provide genealogical and service details about these individuals”[15], so again could be a good starting point for research providing basic information as can be seen in the example below:

Francis Gray[16].

Ship: HMS Orion

Rank/Rating: Midshipman[17]

Service details

Comments: From: Portsmouth

HMS Orion

12 June 1805 to 3 August 1805

Comments: Volunteer

Ship’s pay book number: (SB 447)

4 August 1805 to 17 October 1805

Rank/rating: Landsman

18 October 1805

Sources used

Catalogue reference: ADM 37/18

The database can be searched by surname only or by an advanced search including:

  • Last name
  • First name
  • Approximate age on 21 October 1805
  • Birth place
  • Ships name
  • Rating / rank

Patrick Marione’s The Complete Navy List of the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815

This is available on CD and is described as “The Complete Navy List contains the names of more than 11,000 commissioned officers who served in the Royal Navy from 1787 onwards, up to those who entered the service before 1817. The information, which has been collected comprises individual’s careers, their personal lives, their parents and families, the honours and pensions they earned, and much more, and extends into what they did after the Great War”[18].

The Ayshford Trafalgar Roll[19] by Pam and Derek Ayshford

This Roll contains the names and details of over 21,000 men who were on the musters of the British ships on 21st October 1805 (although still on the musters, some men had been discharged before the Battle), including:

  • The ship on which he served
  • Rank or rating
  • In most cases his age and place of birth.
  • Other details such as families, former trades, pensions, awards, medals, physical descriptions, pictures, injuries sustained, illnesses and date of death where records/documents survived.

CD includes a program which allows you to search and analyse the data in many different ways.


Nelsons’ Band of Brothers: Lives and Memorials by Peter Hore

In terms of biographical information, this book is a good starting point for those officer in command of the ships. It contains a short biography on each of those commanding officers, not only who took part in the Battle of Trafalgar, but also took part the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Copenhagen and the Baltic. It is important to note that Captain Thomas Hardy and Captain Thomas Fremantle are biographed in the sections “The Battle of the Nile” and “The Battle of Copenhagen and the Baltics” respectively, the remaining officers are biographed in the section “The Campaign of Trafalgar” suggesting that Hardy and Fremantle appear to be the only two officers who fought alongside Nelson for a number of years prior to and during his command in the Napoleonic Wars[20].

These biographies provide information as to where they were born/spent their childhood years, although they concentrate on providing a brief factual account of their routes into the Royal Navy, the ships they sailed on, under whose command they sailed, the ranks they held on each ship and thus their progression through the ranks. They provide details of their role in the Battle of Trafalgar and in some cases their relationship with Nelson himself. They also provide brief details of their careers after the Battle of Trafalgar, when they died and where they are buried. This is the “bare bones” of their career from which a timeline can be drawn for easy reference.

The Naval Biographical dictionary by W O’Bryne, 1849

This, as its title suggests, is an A–Z (by surname) dictionary of nearly five thousand naval officers, “whose names are contained in the ‘Navy List’ for January, 1845”[21]. Its usefulness in terms of those who served at the Battle of Trafalgar is therefore limited to those still living and listed on that Navy List for January 1845 but if it is known an ancestor was still living at that time then it is certainly worth referring to.

Being an A – Z dictionary it is easy to search for an ancestor by their surname. Each man listed has a biography of their career (some longer than others!).

Going back to our Midshipman, Francis Gray, O’Bryne’s book provides brief details of his three brothers who he lost in the Navy and tells us he was married with two sons and three daughters. It details his career in the Navy from entering in 1803 as a First Class Boy[22] on board the Pegase under Lieutenant Commander Edward Crouch.  He became Midshipman in 1805 serving on the Orion in the Battle of Trafalgar. It goes on to detail his continued service on the Orion until December 1813 and thereafter his service on board the ships Fortune and Venerable. It describes how “He had previously distinguished himself in the month of Oct. 1809, in jumping overboard when the ORION was refitting in Portsmouth Harbour, and rescuing the life of a boy named Edw. Simmons, who had fallen overboard, and could not swim” and how “On 7 of the following June, having passed his examination nearly five years, he was appointed Acting Lieutenant of the PIQUE…. to which frigate the Admiralty confirmed him on 26 of the next Aug”. It describes his further service assisting “Capt. John Marshall in the conduct of the Quarantine Establishment at Standgate Creek” and how he later “had the direction of the Police department of Chatham Dockyard” after which he “went, on half-pay for the purpose of joining the merchant-service, and has not been since officially employed”.

Royal Navy Biography by John Marshall 1760-1823

This comprises 12 volumes[23] providing biographies of all Flag Officers, Superannuated Rear-Admirals, Retired Post Captains, Post Captains 1798 – 1806, Naval Operations of the Burmese War of 1824-26, Post Captains 1822 –1831, Commanders, Post Captains 1806 – 1811, and Post Captains 1812 – 1822, as extracted from the Admiralty list of sea officers. These records are somewhat difficult to navigate. Anthony Gary Brown[24] in providing a much easier reference index[25] to Marshall’s work, states “the rather eccentric organisation of Marshall’s work that usually necessitates the researcher knowing something of the service seniority of a given officer in order to hazard which volume will contain his entry; and, even armed with this knowledge, a tedious amount of double-checking of Marshall’s own indices in the various volumes is usually necessary”. The biographies are similar in content to O’Bryne’s Dictionary although perhaps more detailed at the works do concentrate of the higher ranking commissioned offices on which they is perhaps more available official information than the lower ranking officers which can be found in O’Bryne’s Dictionary.

Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy by David Syrett and Robert L. DiNardo 1660-1815 (1994)

This is another A-Z list by surname of Commissioned officers who served in the Navy from 1660 to 1815, thus including the period of the Napoleonic wars and the Battle of Trafalgar.  It is based on the original work commenced by David Bonner Smith who was the Admiralty Librarian from March 1932 to May 1950. He died in December 1950 before completing the work which was then completed by the Royal Navy College, Greenwich, in collaboration with the National Maritime Museum[26]. A number of versions of this original list have then been published over the years including a version by C G Pitcairn Jones published by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich in 1979.

The list is compiled from numerous sources including the Navy Lists and provides each officers rank(s), the year(s) in which he served in that/those rank(s), the date of retirement and the date of death.

The list is also available to search at [27]. The list is limited to Commissioned officer and therefore any Warrant Officers and lower ranking officers such as Midshipmen will not be included.

The Trafalgar Roll: The Ships and the Officers by Robert Holden Mackenzie (2004).

Originally published in 1913 and re-printed for the bicentenary celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005 this book is arranged by ship and lists over 1,250 officers who served at the Battle of Trafalgar, including midshipmen, surgeons, clerks, boatswains and carpenters as well as commissioned officers, for 850 of which there are details of their careers. It also includes brief service history of every ship including the little schooner Pickle.

One of the aims of the TNA’s Trafalgar Ancestors project is to eventually revise, extend and bring up to date Mackenzie’s Trafalgar Roll”[28].

Who’s Who in Nelson’s Navy by Dr Nicholas Tracy (2008)

This purports to be the very latest book containing biographies for two hundred Officers who served alongside Nelson in the Napoleonic wars. It is not limited to those who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. The A-Z chapters make for easy reference to find an Officer.

“Each biography, of around one thousand words, describes the events in these men’s careers and sets their achievements within the context of the wars. Their early lives and promotions are detailed as well as their marriages and family lives. Indeed, the extraordinary web of personal and service relationships that emerges is one of the fascinating themes of the book”[29]

The Mammoth Book of How It Happened Trafalgar by Jon E. Lewis (2005)

This book contains around 70 first-hand accounts not just of the Battle of Trafalgar but of the period 1793 to the Battle of Trafalgar and the aftermath set out in four parts. The accounts are by officers of varying ranks and include some of those from the French and Spanish fleets as well as the British fleet.

It is of limited use to family historians given the small number of officers whose account contribute to this book but may provide a first-hand account by an ancestor. There are of course many by Nelson himself others are by Captains, Colonels, Midshipmen, Second-Lieutenants, along with extracts for ships logs.

Midshipman William Dillan, HMS Defence, writes on the 29th May 1974 when engaged with the French, writes[30]

“I had never seen a man killed before. It was a most trying scene…[gory account of how the man was injured]…The captain went over, and, taking the poor fellow by the hand, pronounced him dead”

As darkness fell and the fighting ceased until dawn he goes on,

“I selected one of the topsail halyard tubs on the forecastle, and coiled myself as well as I could inside of it, where I took a snooze which I enjoyed. And felt more refreshed when I woke by the tars than I should have done had I gone to bed: at least I thought so.”

And he goes on at the end of the battle,

“The number of men thrown overboard that were killed without ceremony, and the sad wrecks around us taught those who, like myself, had not before witnessed similar scenes that war was the greatest scourge of mankind”.

The battle itself is described in great detail and perhaps not to be read by the faint hearted but this and many of the other accounts set out in this book really put you in the sailors’ shoes and bring their experiences to life!

There are also a number of Appendix, one of which is entitled “Life and death in the Royal Navy, 1973 – 1811”, which includes accounts of life on board ship in the navy during this period, written by Ordinary Seaman, but which provide a good picture of general life on board.

Naval Chronicles and Naval Chronicle, 1799-1818: Index to Births, Marriages and Deaths by Norman Hurst 1989

A monthly publication from 1799 to 1819 which provided news of campaigns, promotions and some announcements of naval births, marriages and deaths with a list of those named in those publications in a chronological and alphabetical order under the sections Births, Marriages and Obituaries having being collated by Norman Hurst.

Other Publications

Publications such as the Gentleman’s Magazine and the Illustrated London News sometimes included stories and news of officers, as sometimes did local and national newspapers and journals. At an officer’s death it is almost certain that at least the local newspaper would have included an obituary, giving a summary of their career.

The above in no way provides a complete list of sources available, however they are perhaps the most useful in determining whether an ancestor took part in the Battle of Trafalgar, their ship, their rank, details of their career both before and after the Battle. There are also numerous books which provide a more general insight into the Battle of Trafalgar and serving in the Royal Navy in the late 18th and early 19th century which may also help provide an overall picture of the life a navy officer ancestor may have had such as The Trafalgar Companion by Alexander Stilwell and Trafalgar, The Men, The Battle, The Storm by Tim Clayton and Phil Craig.

[1] “The Immortal Memory” information board in the Nelson Exhibition at The Royal Navy Museum, Historic Dockyards, Portsmouth

[2] “The Immortal Memory” information board in the Nelson Exhibition at The Royal Navy Museum, Historic Dockyards, Portsmouth


[4] and

[5] included the ranks of Admiral, Vice-Admiral, Rear-Admiral, Commodore, Captain, Commander and Lieutenant

[6] included the ranks of the Acting Lieutenant, Master, Purser, Surgeon, Chaplain, Boatswain, Gunner, Carpenter, Armourer, Cook, Master at Arms, Sailmaker and Schoolmaster.

[7] Whilst the muster rolls ADM36 and ADM37 at TNA include those from all 33 ships making up Nelsons’ fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, there are many other published sources to consult.


[9]; LM = Landsman; Mid = Midshipman; Ord = Ordinary seaman; AB = Able seaman; Lieut = Lieutenant



[12] an extract from the list for William Hargood, Captain of Belleisle at the Battle of Trafalgar:

[13] Honours or Orders granted: KCB = Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath; GCB = Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath; GCH = Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Hanoverian Order



[16] As found in the example list from above

[17] A Midshipman was a junior ranking officer



[20] 1803 to 1815 – Nelson died a Trafalgar on 21st October 1805

[21] At page (v) the Preface

[22] “a boy aged 16 to 18 under training, who had previously served for between 9 months and 18 months rated as “boy 2nd class”, shown sufficient proficiency in seamanship and accumulated at least one good conduct badge (the requirements varied between training ships). His rate of pay was increased on being promoted”.

[23] including addendums and historical and explanatory notes


[25] both by way of a list of the contents of each volume but also an A – Z index, by surname, of those officers biographed with the volume(s) and page number(s) of where to find them.

[26] This original work was in three volumes




[30] In his account entitled “The Glorious First of June, 30 May – 1 June 1794 (at page 16 of pages 13 to 31 of his account)





Peter Hore                  “Nelsons’ Band of Brothers: Lives and Memorials”

            (Seaforth Publishing In association with the 1805 Club, 2015)

W O’Bryne                 The Naval Biographical dictionary (John Murray 1849)

John Marshall             Royal Navy Biography (Longman 1824)

David Syrett and Robert L. DiNardo Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy,

1660-1815 (Navy Records Society 1994)

Robert Holden Mackenzie      The Trafalgar Roll: The Ships and the Officers (Chatham 2004)

Dr Nicholas Tracy                   Who’s Who in Nelson’s Navy (Chatham 2008)

Jon E. Lewis                           The Mammoth Book of How it Happened Trafalgar (Carrol & Graf 2005)

Alexander Stilwell                  The Trafalgar Companion (Osprey 2005)

Tim Clayton and Phil Craig    Trafalgar, The Men, The Battle, The Storm (Hodder 2005)

Huntington Library Catalog   Naval Chronicles

Norman Hurst                         Naval Chronicle, 1799-1818: Index to Births, Marriages and Deaths                                   (Hurst) 1989

The origins and evolution of surnames in England

It is agreed by the authorities on the etymology of surnames that few if any surnames of a hereditary nature were evident in England before the Norman Conquest in 1066. Second names can be found but they are in the form of bynames and nicknames which were not passed between generations. Such bynames and nicknames developed, it is believed, to differentiate those with the same common personal[1] name living in the same place.

Such bynames and nicknames may have identified the person in many ways including by their occupation, location, topography, personal names (patronymic/matronymic), other family relationships[2], physical appearance, physical characteristics and mental and moral characteristics. I will discuss these in more detail later.

There were three main foreign influences on the English language over the centuries prior to the Norman Conquest:

  • Danish, particularly in the east and north east of England between 793AD and the Norman Conquest, with the influence of the Vikings who brought Danish to the English shores;
  • German, particularly in southern England with the influence of the Anglo-Saxons from the 5th century until the Norman Conquest, who had a Germanic vocabulary and is often referred to an “Old English” being the earliest form of the English language;
  • Latin which of course was the official written language until into the 17th century, and in legal documents until 1733.

By the time of the Norman Conquest, surnames were already in use in some European countries although were certainly not universal. When the Norman Barons became landowners following the Norman Conquest, there were in fact only a few who possessed surnames which had been inherited (often however from only one or two generations back) e.g. de Tosny, Warenes, Mortimer and Vernons[3].

Norman Barons who did not have hereditary surnames soon began to adopt them. More commonly they adopted locative type surnames by reference to their family’s chief residence, which was often still in Normandy, rather than the name of their English manor. Some Norman Barons were content with adopting patronymics (e.g. this may have been the case if their father still lived at their family’s chief resident in France), nicknames such as Walter Giffard[4] and even occupational names such as Haimo the Steward[5].

Having said the above, it is still with some uncertainty as to which, why and how these Norman “newcomers” adopted their surnames. There are no records from the time of the actual invasion to confirm which Barons came over at the time of the conquest and which came over in the immediate aftermath. The first record available is the Doomsday book of 1086, some twenty years after the invasion. It should also be noted that by the 12th and 13th centuries many junior members of the Baronial families began to adopt new surnames!

From the Doomsday book it can be seen that many of the minor Lords and Knights  who came over with the Barons and were rewarded with landholding by way of “tenant-in-chief”, had not yet adopted surnames, at least not hereditary surnames. It is worth noting that the Doomsday book only provides details of those landowners and tenants of land who the King was able to tax, thus the “ordinary” person does not feature and records for those of the lower classes of society do not really begin until the 13th century, such as the Assize Rolls which do include all classes although most are landowners.

The adoption of hereditary surnames was slow; given our fast pace of life today, it could almost be described as “snail pace!” Research conducted indicates that some wealthy English London families had adopted hereditary surnames by the late 12th century, with the majority of the Norman tenants-in-chief in southern England, the Midlands and East Anglia and wealthy English families living in the leading provincial towns, such as Winchester, York, Norwich, Lincoln[6], having adopted hereditary surnames by the early to mid-13th century. It should be noted however this distinction between the Normans and English families becomes clouded in this period when the English began to adopt first names of Norman origin.

Norman tenants-in-chief elsewhere in the country had adopted hereditary surnames by the late 13th to early 14th century as had Burgesses, families from urban areas and the foot soldiers of the Norman Conquest (and later immigrants) whose ancestors became farmers, craftsmen, servants etc.

In the south ordinary Englishmen in rural areas (farmers, craftsmen, servants, merchants etc) had largely adopted hereditary surnames by the mid-14th century, although there were some families still without. In the north it took a whole century longer and by the early to mid-15th century it was rare to find a family to not have a hereditary surname. One reason for this may be due to socio-economic consequences of the “Black Death” which spread throughout England in 1348 and which within 3 years had killed a third to a half of the population, “killing” with it many newly formed surnames, particularly where the whole family died (which was often the case).

The Black Death hit the lower classes of society in much greater numbers than the higher classes perhaps because they were more able to avoid or escape infected areas or because they have better access to what health care there was at the time. This resulted in a shortage of farmers and farmer labourers with many farms being left vacant. These were often taken over by families moving in from other parts of the country, spreading both their own surname and possibly the “trend” of adopting surnames into the northern areas.

Having stated all the above, with the development of surnames being so slow and varying in different areas of the country, where surnames are first recorded in lay subsidy rolls and poll taxes[7] in the 14th century it is without any certainly that they can all in fact be described as hereditary surnames without the supporting genealogical evidence; some may have simply been bynames which were not passed to their children. One reason for this could be that the “surname” was given to them by an official who drew up the rolls of tax payers.

As already stated, it is not until the 15th century that it is thought most people of English origin had a fixed hereditary surname, even then, perhaps because of the recovering population after devastation of the Black Death, there are new surnames appearing in the Tudor subsidy rolls. It can however be said that the number of new surnames did not grow at the same rate are the growth in population because of the practice of hereditary surnames. Again having said this, there were always exceptions and families could still be found in the 16th and 17th centuries without a surname, particularly in the northern city of York[8] and isolated areas of South Lancashire[9]. Essentially new surnames were being created throughout the centuries following their introduction until the 16th and 17th century when the written records of people became much more prevalent (parish registers, parish records, the array of non-conformist records, legal records, government and official records etc.).

But how were surnames adopted? In a variety of ways.

Many names brought over by the Normans (both at the time of the Conquest and by later immigrants) were anglicised through the centuries. For example “-ville” would be replaced with “-field” so Grenville became Greenfield, Semerville became Somerfield. Some names such as Beauchamp and Guillaume (amongst many) were altered for ease of spelling and pronunciation by the English, again being spelt phonetically. So Beauchamp became Beecham and Guillaume became various forms of William[10].

Further, French-Norman personal names began to be adopted by English families and this was to the decline of earlier Anglo-Saxon personal names. It is interesting therefore to note that many surnames in the 14th century were “formed from [Anglo-Saxon] personal names no longer then in use”[11] thus suggesting these were in the period between c.1150 and c.1470[12] adopted initially as bynames and eventually hereditary names as their use as personal names declined. Reaney[13] states “A number of personal names which are not recorded in Old English[14] after the eighth or ninth centuries reappear in Middle English. Some of these names are evidence only by their occurrence as surnames, others by their first record in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth century”. He goes on to set out three pages of Anglo-Saxon personal names which survive in modern surnames, e.g. Grente (Grant), Eadweard (Edward), Ealdrœd (Aldred, Allred), Herewearld (Harold). This demonstrates one way in which names have come and gone and been adapted/anglicised through the centuries.

Bynames and resulting hereditary surnames adopted from personal names are usually patronymic, that is, they are from the personal names usually of the father. A much smaller number were matronymic, that is, they are from the personal names of the mother.

There are a variety of patronymic surnames:

  • Those which are taken exactly from the personal name such as Thomas, Owen, Duncan, and usually formed prior to the 13th century;
  • Those where a personal name has been suffixed, most commonly with “-son” as in my maiden name of Richardson. These type of surnames were mostly commonly found in northern regions of England (such as Yorkshire (my native county)) and could also be formed from hypocoristic personal names, that is short forms of names such as Dick (for Richard) becoming Dickson or Dixon. It is said they were formed between the late 13th and mid-14th century largely amongst small free tenants or unfree tenants who were in the greater numbers in the norther regions;
  • Those where a possessive “-s” was added to a personal name such as Richards. These type of surnames were most commonly found in southern regions of England (such as the South East Midlands, East Anglia, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Herefordshire) and their history and growth parallels that of “-son” in the northern regions. Kinley goes so far as to suggest “There was in fact something in the nature of a boundary running across the north Midlands, to the north of which surnames ending in ‘-son’ became numerous, and to the south of which surnames in ‘-s’ became common”[15];
  • From those with a possessive “-s” we also get names ending in “-x” when such names have become written, e.g. Dix, Rix;
  • Those where personal names such as Ellis and Henry, Will and Adam with the suffixes “-cock” and “-kin” added to hypocoristic version of them i.e. Elcock and Hancock, Wilcock, Wilkin, and Adcock, Atkin. Such suffixes were found in all regions from the mid-13th century usually in those of the lower classes as with the cases of “-son” and “-s” above;
  • Those where a personal name has been prefixed with “Fitz-” (from the French fils de) “Mac-”/”Mc-” (Ireland (prefixed to father’s name), Gaelic parts of Scotland, Isle of Man) , “O-” (Ireland prefixed to grandfather’s name);
  • Those personal names originating in Wales, although having now spread throughout Britain, which were originally prefixed with “Ap-” (where the name began with a consonant) or “Ab-” (were the name began with a vowel) meaning “son of” e.g. Ap Roger (son of Roger), Ab Adam (son of Adam). Such names were common in Wales until the 16th century after which many ‘dropped’ the “A” leaving surnames beginning with “P” or “B” such as Price/Pryce/Pryse from Ap Rhys and Bowen from Ab Owen;

Patronymic surnames, in the early years as I have stated above were more likely to be bynames not inherited thus John may have been known as Richardson because he was the son of Richard, but his own sons were more likely to have been known as Johnson, son of John. Clearly this poses some difficulty for the genealogist in trying to trace this family back beyond the first ancestor with the known hereditary surname. Unfortunately, as yet I have not traced my Richardson ancestors beyond the mid-19th century, although not through the lack of records, through the lack of time to conduct my own family research! Interestingly though the Richardson ancestors I have traced to date are in the northern counties of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire where it appears the surnames is most likely to have originated.

The way in which patronymic surnames evolved does mean that when studying the origins of such names, there is highly unlikely to be one origin and it is almost certain that not all families with the same patronymic surname will be related no matter how far the surname can be traced back even where the families were from the same area. This is largely the result of the decreasing number of personal names in the early years of the development of bynames into hereditary names as discussed above.

Matronymic names should also be mentioned, albeit they were adopted as bynames and surnames in much fewer numbers and most likely where the mother was an heiress; or possibly where the child was illegitimate (although until the 18th century it was more likely that fathers would acknowledge such children with the child taking the father’s name). Matronymics were also ‘adapted’ by the addition of suffixes and prefixes in the same was as patronymics, e.g. “Emmot” from Emma, “Fitzmeriet” from Meriet[16] and “Margisson” from Margery.

Bynames and Surnames also developed from place-names (locative surnames), most of which have developed since the Norman Conquest. Perhaps the most obvious names in this category are those ending in “-ham”, “-ton”, “-by”, “-thorpe”, “-ford”, “-holme”, “-mouth” etc which are frequently endings of place-names. However not all are so obvious:

  • Spelling of place-names themselves have changed, in much the same way as language and surnames have changed through pronunciation and spelling as discussed elsewhere in this assignment, particularly given many of these types of surnames were adopted from pace-names in the 12th to the 14th centuries;
  • Place-names have come and gone – many locative name originate from villages, hamlets and small homesteads which no longer exists, particularly following “the conversion of arable to pasture and the enclosure of open fields, mostly in the period from about 1450 to 1550”[17].
  • There maybe/may have been more than one place with the same name.

Care therefore needs to be taken when researching locative surnames, in particular consulting old maps from as close to the period in which the earliest form of the surname is known. Locative surnames do not appear to have been more popular in one area or another, although different areas may have had their own characteristics. For example, the ending “-thwaite”  is most often found in West Yorkshire, Lancashire and the Lake District (of Norwegian influence) whilst “-thorpe” is most often found in areas to the East of the Pennines[18] (of Danish influence).

Further, some names which appear to be locative may come from a different origin altogether i.e. origins from a personal name or an occupational name (see later). Kinley[19] refers to the surname Arnold which could be from Arnold in Nottinghamshire, Arnold in North Yorkshire or indeed from a personal name; also the surname Stirrop which could be from Styrrup in Nottinghamshire or could be an occupational name.

It must also be remembered that locative names may derive from French place-names, particularly where their origins are in the first century or so following the Norman Conquest as discussed earlier.

Related to locative names are those which originate from topography, that is, from a feature of the land where a person lives, both natural and man-made e.g. hill, bridge, wood etc. Many of these type of names were formed in a similar way to patronymic names, by the use of suffixes. The most common suffixes included“-er” as in “Bridger” and “-man” as in “Bridgeman” both of which could be also be of occupational origin i.e. someone who worked on bridges. Other examples include Brooker/Brookman, Churcher/Churchman, Forder and Hilman[20] etc.

Topographical bynames and surnames may also have the possessive “-s” or the suffix “-son” added again similar to patronymic names. Such variations are more commonly found from the beginning of the 16th century although a small number can be found in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is often the case that earlier versions of the surname for the same family are without the “-s” adding to the complication for genealogists of tracing the earlier ancestors. Such plural endings on names often arose where there were a number of the topographical feature in one area, i.e. more than one bridge close to where a person lived, possibly they lived between two bridges etc.

Prepositions were also often used with topographical names, more so than with any otjher type of surname, although they could be found with locative names too. The most common prepositions is thought to be “atte” as in “atte Bridge” and “atte” Wood. But other examples include “under”, “over”, “by”, “beneath” and “above”. They were often, in the early days, particularly before the 15th century, in the French equivalent, such as “de”, “de la”, “de le” and “del”. Most of these propositions began to be ‘dropped’ or ‘merged’ in the 14th and 15th centuries, thus producing modern versions such as Atbridge/Attbridge and Attwood/Atwood.

Occupations also gave rise to an array of bynames and surnames, including those holding certain state or church office such as Abbot, Constable, Bishop, Sheriff etc. and ranks or status in society such as Freeman, Burgess, Knight, Mayor, Lord etc. Occupational bynames and surnames are perhaps amongst the earliest to become established, an obvious way to distinguish people with the same name if they had different occupations, this is particularly so for the most popular occupations such as smiths (locksmith, blacksmith etc), bakers, taylors, cooks, turners, millers etc. As Kinley states[21] “In most villages there would be only one or two smiths, one or two tailors, and so forth, so that the occupations in question were sufficiently distinctive to mark out a man from his fellow villagers, hence were suitable for use as surnames”.

Occupation names however are often not that obvious:

  • Regional variations – different names were often used for the same occupation in different parts of the country. For example, “Brewer and Brewster, Deemer and Dempster (‘judge’), Dyer and Dyster or Dexter, Fuller and Folster, Kember, Kemster or Kempster (a ‘comber’ of wool or flax), Hollier and Hollister, Lister and Litster, Palliser and Pallister (maker of palings), Sanger and Sangster (‘singer’), Shaper and Shapster (‘tailor’ or ‘seamstress’), or Webber and Webster”[22];
  • Arising from different languages – Latin, Welsh, Gaelic, French;
  • They can be confused with topographical names as in Bridger discussed above, oher examples given by Kinley include “Bedster” more likely to be from a Sussex village now lost, and “Docker” more likely to be from Docker in Cumbria;
  • One could be forgiven for thinking my married name of “Pettyfer” is from the French  “Petit Four”, I must admit this was my first thought, deriving from someone who made them, how wrong I was! It is in fact from the French pied de fer (iron foot) so from a nickname (see below) or occupation (a foot soldier);
  • They could be names of “tools” of a trade rather than the occupation itself. Reaney[23] uses the examples of a metal worker who “could be called both Seintier or Bellyeter” from the type of bells he made and “William le Pinour ‘maker of combs’ was also called le Horner from the horn he used”. Also included are names such as “Kitchen”, “Kitchener”, “Buttery” and “Hallman”.

Bynames and surnames were also ‘created’ from “nicknames” or “pet names”. These are generally said to be amongst the fewest in surnames today as many of the medieval nicknames ‘died out’. Amongst them today are:

  • Those deriving from physical appearance include surnames today such as Little, Short, Small, Little and colours such as Brown, Black, White, Grey, Gray and Reed, Reid and Read (from red) (colours of hair or complexion)[24] but not Green which is more likely of a locative or topographical origin;
  • Those deriving from personal habits, mental and moral characteristics, e.g. “Blessed”, “Curtis” (from Courteous), “Good”, “Goodchild”, “Treadwell” and “Proud”. Many such names are originally derived from their French counterpart such as “Bonifant” (bon enfant – good infant).

Amongst nicknames are also those deriving from:

  • nature i.e. from mammals, birds and fish such as “Lamb”, “Finch” and “Gurnard”;
  • Seasons and festivals i.e. “Summer”, “Christmas”
  • “oaths, greetings, or similar expressions”[25]

With an increasingly widespread use of hereditary surnames, one would be forgiven to think that tracing a family would be made easier. But this may not the case. Why? Because surnames were adopted and changed in a variety of ways over time, many of which have already been discussed above. However the tracing of surnames becomes even more complicated if we consider the impact of pronunciation and the spelling of surnames before spelling became standardised.  I will discuss this further in assignment 4.

Two other reasons why names changed or varied also need to be considered by the genealogist:

  1. Families themselves may have changed the spelling and pronunciation to either distinguish them amongst others with a popular name (Smith/Smythe, Taylor/Tayleure) or in the lower classes to make them sound a more distinguished family. It may also be the case that families chose to change their own surname completely choosing a pleasanter name, this is particularly so if the origins of the surname was as a nickname. For example, Charles Bardsley provides an array of examples under the heading “Nicknames from Peculiarities of Disposition— Objectionable”[26], including:
  2. “‘ribaldry’ …. that which is foul- mouthed in expression….. A ‘ribaud’ or ‘ribaut’ belonged to the very scum of society. He was a man who hung on to the skirts of the nobility by doing all their more infamous work for them”;
  3. “‘Robert le Lewed,’ or ‘William le Lewed,’ is also lost to our directories, and certainly would be an unpleasant appellation in the nineteenth century”;
  4. “‘Robert le Sot,’ or ‘Maurice Drun-card,’ or ‘Jakes Drynk-ale,’ or ‘Geoffrey Dringke- dregges,’ or ‘Thomas Sourale’.
  • A more unorthodox reason but not unknown was for an individual in a Will to make it a condition of inheritance that the legatee take on the testator’s surname. This may often be the case if the testator has no direct descendants to carry on the family name and a more distant relative is to inherit. John Titford refers to two well-known families:

“Florence Nightingale’s father, William Edward Shore, who abandoned his own surname and became Nightingale in 1815 on inheriting the Derbyshire estates of his mother’s uncle, Peter Nightingale, and that of Jane Austen’s brother Edward, who took the surname of Knight by Royal Licence in 1812 when he inherited and estate from his father’s cousin, Thomas Knight.”[27]

Lastly surname aliases can cause much confusion and could result in the individual being recorded under different surnames. For example, Smith alias Jones could be recorded as Smith or Jones or Smith-Jones with any one of the three names being used in different documents/records to identify the same person. This was often the case where a landowner held land in more than one location, he may be named after one of the locations alias the other and vice versa in the second location e.g. James York alias Pickering/John Pickering alias York.

An alias may also result from different spellings of the surname, e.g. “James Roides alias Rodes; Simon Woodhouse alias Wydis, and John Clegge otherwise Clagge”[28].

It is clear from the above discussion that the origins and evolution of surnames is far from straight forward and the genealogist should always bear in mind how a surname may have changed through the centuries. The further back in time the research the more variants the Genealogists needs to be aware there may be and be prepared to search all known/possible variables in an attempt to continue the ancestral line, including potential alternative surnames bearing in mind any other history of the family. It is also important to remember that where a surname has varied particular care will need to be taken to ensure it is the correct family line and not another family with a similar/same name. The more and varied records which are researched, checked and compared, the more accurate the research will be.

Sometimes it can be difficult to work out what variants there may be and useful resources to help are Dialect dictionaries[29] and Surname dictionaries[30].

[1] First name/Baptismal name/Christian name/given name

[2] e.g. Bastard, Cousin, Husband, Kinsman, Widowson D. Kennett “The History of Surnames” page 42

[3] D. Hey “Family Names and Family History” pages 31 to 32

[4] (meaning chubby cheeks in French) which he in fact inherited from his father’s nickname: D. Hey “Family Names and Family History” page 41

[5] Sheriff of Kent 1077 to c.1100: D. Hey “Family Names and Family History” page 41

[6]  (14May 2019)

[7] Which in theory covered all households except the itinerant and paupers

[8] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” page 36

[9] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” page 8

[10] E.g. William, Williams, Williamson

[11] P. H. Reaney and R. M. Wilson “A Dictionary of English Surnames” page xxiii

[12] The period of Middle English

[13] P. H. Reaney and R. M. Wilson “A Dictionary of English Surnames” page xxiii

[14] Anglo-Saxon

[15] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” page 113

[16] An heiress who married a minor landowner, Peter Picot,

[17] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” page 56

[18] D. Kennett “The History of Surnames” page 35

[19] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” page 53

[20] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” pages 80 – 81

[21] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” page 133

[22] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” page 140

[23] P. H. Reaney and R. M. Wilson “A Dictionary of English Surnames” page xlii

[24] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” page 156

[25] R. A. McKinley “A History of British Surnames” page 161

[26] C. W. Bardsley “English Surnames: Their Sources and Significance” page 478 – 481

[27] J. Titford “Searching for Surnames” page 20

[28] D. Kennett “The History of Surnames” page 51

[29] E.g. J. Wright “The English Dialect Dictionary” Volumes 1 – 6 and R. C. Hope “A Glossary of Dialectical Place Nomenclature”

[30] E.g P. H. Reaney and R. M. Wilson “A Dictionary of English Surnames” and C. W. Bardsley “A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames”


Hey, D                        Family Names and Family History (Hambledon and London 2000)

Roger, C. D.                The Surname Detective (Manchester University Press 1995)

Titford, J                     Searching for Surnames (Countryside Books 2002)

Kennett, D                  The Surnames Handbook (The History Press 2012)

McKinley, R. A          A History of British Surnames (Longman 1995)

Bardsley, C. W.          English Surnames: Their Sources and Significance (Chatto & Windus 1906)

Anderson, W              Genealogy and Surnames: with some Heraldic and Biographical Notes (William Ritchie Edinburgh 1865)

Weekly, E                   Surnames (John Murray 1917)

Bardsley, C. W           A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames (Oxford University Press 1901)

Reaney, P. H and Wilson, R. M         A Dictionary of English Surnames (Oxford University Press 2005)

Hope, R. C                  A Glossary of Dialectical Place Nomenclature (Simpkin, Marshall & Co 1883)

Wright, J                     English Dialect Dictionary Volumes 1 – 6 (Oxford University Press 1898 – 1905)

Never too young for family history

Well, that may be an overstatement, I’m not sure my 2 and 1/2 year old would understand if I asked her. for example, “who are your aunts and uncles?” but she would know them if a named them. She simply does not understand the terms “Aunt” or “uncle” yet but the more we talk about them in those terms and explain their relationship to us, her parents, then she will learn those relationships much earlier.

I am certainly of the view that pre-school children can and should be introduced to family history. Yesterday I spent half an hour or so with my 4 and 1/2 year old (being born in November he is one of the oldest in his pre-school class) looking at his living ancestors and showing him how they are connected. He was able to tell me who his aunts and uncles were and his cousins but he didn’t really understand how we were all connected.

You may think that this is something he should know at his age but I am sure not all children his age will do! Think about those children who are not so fortunate as to have aunts/uncles/cousins or living grandparents.

Does you young son/daughter really understand why their Aunt is their Aunt? Why their Uncle is their uncle? How they are related to their cousins? Or even how they are related to their grandparents?

Again this may seem obvious to adults but to pre-school children and those in the early school years it may in fact be not! And this is where family history begins!

Family History at a young age is all about getting to know and understand how you “fit into” your family and who are living ancestors are. Something as simple as telling your children about your own childhood and how it differs to today may grab their attention and engages them in family history.

This can be a long term project for your children and you, growing your tree by each generation as your child grows older and has more understanding. It can also be helpful in their education of history. I remember studying history at school and thinking why is this important? Why do we need to know this? Being able to put various periods and events in history into context through your own ancestors living during that period or event can really bringing history alive and help to understand how those periods and events have shaped our lives and families today.

Of course all children are different and some may have no interest at all, by why not try and wet their appetite, you never know until you try! And of course, those of you who are grandparents…..well the same applies!

Take a look at my Family pedigree tree for young children

Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA)

” When you are researching your ancestors there may be times when you need to use the services of a professional genealogist or a family history researcher. So how do you know where to find a good quality researcher? The best way is by using a Member of AGRA (Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives) for research in England and Wales”

Having started my business in October 2018, I decided in November 2018 that I was ready to submit my application for AGRA Associate. As is the usual process, I was invited to attend an interview with the Board of Assessors on 22nd March 2019. It seemed such a long time to wait but it came round so quickly!

As part of the interview process I was required to prepare a drop-down pedigree tree from a number of documents AGRA provided one week prior to the interview which would then be discussed at the interview. As ever I was drawn into the family from the documents provided and really enjoyed “teasing” out the necessary information to complete the required pedigree tree. Whilst no other research was required, as any genealogist will appreciate, I could not resist a little research deeper into the family. A very interesting family, on the one hand seemingly affluent but those fortunes did not favour all members of the family – perhaps it was his marriage to a servant which was his financial “downfall”?!

Anyway, pedigree tree drawn, documents thoroughly “got to grips with” I nervously attended the interview. A panel of three lovely ladies awaited me. Pedigree tree approved and onto the documents themselves. They could clearly tell I was nervous the brain just wouldn’t find the words I wanted and I was somewhat thrown by the wording of some of the questions but through discussion we got the answer they were seeking! It certainly turned out not the be the “interrogation” I had dreamed in my head it would be, non of the particularly technical questions I had imagined there would be about parish registers, census records and civil registration.

In the end I thankfully came out feeling it had gone well and was hopeful my application would be successful. I would find out by the end of the next week…….thankfully I only had 4 days to wait. Into my inbox pops an email from the Chair of the Board of Assessors. I nervously open it…. Yes my application had been accepted and I was now (subject to payment of the joining fee) an AGRA Associate.

You may be wondering why it has taken me until now to write this post. Well, yesterday I (nervously) attended my first official event as an AGRA Associate – the AGRA study day and AGM. It was lovely to finally meet members and fellow associates, a very friendly and welcoming group of like-minded people. It made me truly feel part of this great professional organisation and it always inspires and encourages when you meet so many people happy to help and support you on your career path.

AGRA not only seeks to improve and promote professional standards in genealogy through education and experience, but promotes continued professional development but provides extremely valuable networking groups. The majority of genealogists and family researchers are self employed and anyone who is self employed in any walk of life knows how isolating it can be with no daily work colleagues to just “have that coffee break” with or “grab sandwich at lunch” with. Networking groups help overcome this by bringing like-minded people together to share knowledge, practices and build strong business relationships – you never know when you may need to collaborate on a research project!.

My first networking event takes place next Friday and I am looking forward to meeting more AGRA colleagues and making new connections.

If you would like to know more about AGRA visit there website

The life of my shoemaker ancestor

Joseph Turner, was my great (x3) grandfather on my maternal grandmothers’ side. He was born in Darton, Yorkshire on 26 December 1820[1] to Joshua Turner and Sarah Turner (nee Crossley), being the sixth child of eleven (six girls and five boys). He was baptised on 4 February 1821[2] at All Saints Church, Darton, Yorkshire.

In 1881 Darton was described as a “parish and village and station on the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway, 3 miles north-west from Barnsley, 8 south-west from Wakefield and 12½ east-south-east from Huddersfield”[3]. Joseph’s father, Joshua, was a tenanted farmer[4]. When Joseph was a child there was an endowed school in Darton for both boys and girls which was a free school set up by George Beaumont in 1688[5]. There was also a Sunday school. This meant that education would have been available to Joseph as a child, although I have no documentary evidence to confirm whether he did attend school. I have searched the online catalogue for school records for Darton in this period on the West Yorkshire Archive Service website[6] and there do not appear to be any records available.

What I do know however is that Joseph did not follow in his father’s footsteps and become a farmer. It may be that his parents wanted more for Joseph (and his siblings) and he may have gained some form of education in between no doubt helping his father on the farm. In 1841, at the age of 20, Joseph is listed in the census returns as living at Anchors Yard, Knottingley, Pontefract, West Riding of Yorkshire where he is, a shoemaker’s apprentice, living with Charles Abson, Shoemaker. Given his age, he would by this time have been coming towards the end of his apprenticeship. Apprenticeships for skilled workers were 7 years, usually ending at the age of 21, thus he would have begun this apprenticeship at the age of 14 (in 1835). Apprentices worked under a master. Charles Abson is not described as a master shoemaker, however given Joseph appears to be living with him at the time the census was taken it is most probable that he was Joseph’s master.

Having searched the West Yorkshire Archive Service catalogue again in various ways, I have not been able to find a record of his apprenticeship indenture unfortunately but not surprisingly. Stamp duty was no longer payable on apprenticeship indentures and there was therefore no longer a central record for apprenticeships. It is not known therefore how Joseph chose this trade and/or his master was found.

It is unlikely this was a parish apprenticeship as they were usually entered into within the child’s own parish or a neighbouring parish (with anyone who would take them and they were not necessarily taught a trade). Knottingley is about 25 miles north east of Darton where his parents stayed until their respective deaths and not a neighbouring parish. However his father was a farmer, a notoriously fluctuate business and farmers were often found in poor law books as being in receipt of some assistance at difficult farming periods, then it is not beyond the realms of possibility, although parishes where not usually able to afford the high premiums skilled masters often demanded. Charities often then stood in and provided the financial assistance to enable those from poorer families to enter trade apprenticeships. These records would be held at West Yorkshire Archives Service. A search of their online catalogue does not find any obvious records available[7] and as I live 200 miles away I am unable to visit the archives at this time.

My instinct however is that this was more likely to be a private agreement between the parents and the Master, his parents perhaps wanting a better life for Joseph. It may be that Joseph’s parents advertised for a master to apprentice Joseph, or that they answered an advertisement place by Charles Abson, seeking an apprentice.

Knottingley is described in1881[8] as “a township and ecclesiastical parish formed from the parish of Pontefract….3 miles east-north-east from Pontefract and 171 from London, situated on the south bank of the navigable river Aire”. It was an important inland river port until 1699 when the river Aire was made navigable up to Leeds. However its main industry until well into the 20th century continued to be boat building. There remains a joint station at Knottingley for the Great Northern and the Lancashire and Yorkshire railways (after this section opened in April 1847).

In reality there was poverty, squalor and disease, with a lack of adequate drainage and sewerage facilities, and polluted and insufficient water supply. Anchor Yard where Joseph was living and learning his trade from 1835 to 1842 was a densely populated area between Aire Street and Back Lane/ The Croft, where the problems were particularly acute with open gutters, cesspools and refuse heaps.

“Knottingley also had a reputation for hard living. With over 40 liquor outlets in the town vending their wares to a motley band of ‘outsiders’ such as mariners, commercial travellers and transient visitors, all supplementing the demands of the local inhabitants, there must have been some lively times at Knottingley during the mid-nineteenth century.”[9] Aire Street, was a major shopping street, with for example, bread bakers, drapers and tailors, a currier, shoe makers, a nail maker, a basket maker and a whitesmith as well as housing the traders families and many mariners and their families.[10]

Shoemaking was an ancient local hand craft with most villages having their own shoemaker. A shoemaker was also sometimes known as a cordwainer. Shoes were “made to order” for individual customers. It gradually grew into a cottage industry with workshops or “factories” breaking the shoemaking process down and sharing the process between different people: for example, “clickers” who cut around the shoe pattern, “closers” or “binders” who sewed the uppers[11] of the shoe together, “blocker” who shaped the instep and “riveter” who attached the sole to the uppers. This was particularly the case in towns which were rapidly growing as a result of the industrial revolution.

By the time Joseph was an apprentice there was some mechanisation with machines being adapted to making boots in particular as a result of the increased demand for boots during the Napoleonic war years (1803 to 1815) however it was not until the late 1850’s when mechanisation lead to the start of shoemaking factories being opened (see later) and Joseph as an apprentice shoemaker, would have been trained in the art of making shoes and boots by hand. He would have received training in every stage of the shoemaking process:

  1. Constructing the last – the wooden shape around which the shoe would be shaped;
  2. The pattern would be made;
  3. The parts of the leather uppers would be cut out using a clicking knife[12];
  4. The leather uppers would be sewn together;
  5. The complete upper would then be moulded round the last;
  6. The leather soles and heels would be attached to the uppers[13];
  7. The complete shoe would then be finished by trimming, polishing and removing it from the last.

He would acquire knowledge of leathers, leather tanning, Fatliquoring (using fats and oils to soften leather), deglazing, washing, and preparation of leathers for dyeing dyeing, finishing, colour restoring preparations and processes; leather cleaners and polishes, leather cements and glues, removing spots and stains from leathers, shoe and leather oils, greases, and waterproofings.

The process of making a pair of shoes would normally take around twelve to fourteen hours to make a standard pair of boots, no doubt as an apprentice, at least in the beginning, it would have taken Joseph much longer. He would have been taught to use the tools of the trade including:

  • A tranchet (knife);
  • Lingels (thread);
  • Lasts (the shoe moulds);
  • Awls (piercers);
  • Shoeing horn;
  • Nails

Shoes were traditionally hand made with leather, however in the 1840’s a new material for soles of boots and shoes was available known as Gutta Percha[14]. In 1851 the material was promoted by Thomas Horlock, a shoemaker from Uxbridge[15]:

“You are now just left to the alternative to take it and turn it to your own account, or let it alone, for it will be used, and if you will not meet promptly the wishes of the public, there will be plenty who will, and you will be left with your last and stool to make whatever else you can of them. The great secret of success in life is to take advantage of circumstances as they rise, it is this that gives one man the start before another; and so you will find in the present instance, those who come first will fare best”.

This maybe a material Joseph trained with or later used to sole the shoes he made. Horlock’s book explains how to use and work with the material. However it is unlikely Joseph read this manual as I do not believe he could read or write (see later).

I am sure he would have worked very long days even more so given that he was living and working with his Master. In return for his apprenticeship, Joseph would not have been paid in monetary terms, but would have been provided a roof over his head, food to eat and clothing to wear all at the expense of his master.

When entering into an apprenticeship indenture, there were usually a number of rules relating to conduct which the apprentice agreed to obey, including for example, not to steal from their Master, not to reveal any trade secret of their Master, not to visit taverns, inns or alehouses (thus it is unlikely he took advantage of the “over 40 liquor outlets in the town”) or undertake any gambling and not to marry during the term of their apprenticeship. We know therefore that Joseph had completed his apprenticeship by October 1842 as he married Ann Lockwood on 19 October 1842 at St Edmunds church, Kellington (with Whitley).

Kellington was and still is a rural village about 3 miles east of Knottingley, described in the 1881 Kellys directory as five miles “from Whitley Bridge station on the Wakefield and Goole branch of the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway, 6 miles north-east from Pontefract, 6 miles north-west from Snaith and 6 south-west from Selby”. St Edmunds church dates back to at least 1185 and its gate posts are under a protection order having been built in 1698![16]

Ann was the youngest child of John Lockwood and Ann Lockwood (nee Shillito), having an older brother and sister. Ann was born in Kellington in 1817[17], being baptised at St Edmunds church on 27April 1817. Her father, John, was an agricultural labourer. No occupation was listed for Ann in the 1841 census before she was married.

Joseph and Ann’s marriage certificate describes Joseph as a labourer and suggests neither Joseph nor Ann could write as they have made their marks with an “X” rather than signing their names. This would suggest that Joseph did not in fact attend school as a child, neither did Ann. It is interesting that he is described as a labourer, suggesting he was an unskilled manual worker. On completing his apprenticeship he would have usually been known as a journeymen. It is likely therefore his occupation has been incorrectly described by the vicar and as it seems neither Joseph nor Ann or their witnesses (who also made their mark with an “X”) could write, then it is probable that they also could not read and were therefore unable to confirm the details on the marriage certificate were correct.

He could not be known as a master shoemaker until he had his own apprentices, a system usually regulated by guilds, although their powers had diminished by the mid 1800’s. I have not been able to find any records for any local shoemakers/cordwainers guilds, I believe the nearest to Knottingley would have been either:

  1. The Cordwainers guild of Leeds established in 1661[18]. I cannot find any other information about this guild and it is likely membership was restricted to those shoemakers actually working in Leeds.
  2. The Company of Cordwainers of the City of York dating from around 1272/3[19]. However Joseph could not have been a member of this guild as it actually ceased in 1808, according to an article in the York Press newspaper[20] ran out of money!

I have therefore not been able to establish whether Joseph was a member of a guild, however in the 1871 census he is described as a Master Cordwainer. I will come back to this later.

At the time of their marriage Joseph’s address is given as Barnsley so it may be that he moved back home briefly after he completed his apprenticeship, or again this could just be an error by the vicar: if Joseph was asked where he was from he would probably have said Barnsley as that was his home town (where he was raised). Following their marriage Joseph and Ann lived in Whitley. By 1851[21] they were living at Whitley Thorpe and Joseph is described as a shoemaker. By this time they had four children: Sarah Ann aged 8, Hannah Marie aged 6, William Lockwood aged 3 and Joshua John aged 1.

Ann’s parents lived next door to them and her cousin next door but three from them (he was a Teasel[22] grower)! There were 46 families living at Whitley Thorpe, many were farmers and agricultural workers, although other tradesman/professions/workers included: two blacksmiths, a grocer and draper, a wheelwright, a grocer and char woman, another shoemaker employing two apprentices, a school master, a school mistress, railway labourers, canal labourers, brick maker, publican, tailor, butcher and Teasel growers. There were also a number of annuitants and paupers, so quite a “mixed bag” of residents but together making up a small community providing many daily requirements! In fact genuki[23] describes Whitley Thorpe as “a farm-house in the township of Whitley, and parish of Kellington, liberty and bailiwick of Cowick and Snaith; 7 miles E. of Pontefract and 7 from Snaith.”.

This was and still is a rural area 2 miles from the Aire and Calder navigation canal at Whitley Bridge where there was (and still is) a station on the Wakefield and Goole as mentioned above.

What is unclear from the census return is whether he was working for himself or with/for another shoemaker. He was not described as a master shoemaker at this stage and does not have any apprentices living with him. There is another shoemaker, Charles Taylor, living at Whitley Thorpe who is listed as employing two apprentices. Usually a journeyman would continue working alongside a master until they created their “master-piece” and were accepted by the local guild as a master.

It appears from the census returns that Joseph and his family moved about quite a lot over the next 30 years. In the 1861 census they lived at 19 Victoria Street, Doncaster and had a further three children: Charles aged 7, Henry aged 5 and Mary Ann aged 3. Joseph is described as a shoemaker. Doncaster is one of the oldest towns in England, famous for its horse racing since 1755, and railway heritage.

Doncaster had been like all towns in the first half of the 19th century, dirty and unsanitary with many families living in squalid and overcrowded conditions. In the late 19th century however, sewers were built and a piped water supply was created. An infirmary opened in 1853 and the first free public library opened in 1869. Doncaster had good transport links for trade and travel, being located on the Great North Road (now known as the A1) and “In 1852 the Great Northern Railway opened their Locomotive and Carriage Buildings Works, where Flying Scotsman and Mallard would be designed and built many years later”[25], this brought a new prosperity to Doncaster with the engine works becoming the main employer in the town. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries industry in Doncaster was dominated by engineering.

Doncaster was also (and still is) a market town “Doncaster’s market can trace its origins right back to the Roman times”[26].

Perhaps Joseph and his family moved to Doncaster in the hope of finding more lucrative business, perhaps having a market stall to sell his shoes, or trying to specialise in shoes/boots which may have been worn by the workers of the local industries such as:

  • Welted boots – “The upper part of the shoe is shaped over the last and fastened on by sewing a leather, linen or synthetic strip (also known as the “welt”) to the inner and upper sole. As well as using a welt, stitching holds the material firmly together.”[27] These were traditionally made by a hand-welted method and it was not until 1869 that Charles Goodyear Jr invented a machine-based alternative. “In 1872 the first Goodyear welt sewing machines were introduced into England. (fn. 84) Invented in 1862, they were said to be 54 times as fast as stitching by awl and thread. (fn. 85) With this machine and the Goodyear chain stitcher it was claimed that a boot similar in quality to a hand sewn boot could be produced, and boots produced on these machines eventually superseded cheap hand-sewn and welted work. By 1899, the improved version, first introduced into Leicester by Royce Gascoigne & Co., could do in 18 seconds what had formerly been done in an hour”[28]. These are the types of boots which the local railway workers and labourers may have worn, possibly with the benefit of what today is known as the “steel toecap” in the 19th century they were more commonly known as “toe plates” usually made from steel or iron and affixed by nails.
  • The Jockey Boot
  • The Racing Jockey Boot

Interestingly their children were not described as scholars, suggesting they were not at school, of course compulsory education had not yet been introduced and it may have been in fact that Ann and his older children helped Joseph in his business. Women and children traditionally “worked” as “closers” in the shoe making industry.

Shoemaking was not a lucrative trade, shoemakers often went bankrupt. However having searched the London Gazette archives[29] I cannot find any record of Joseph being made bankrupt, but it may be that they moved about to stave off bankruptcy, most probably living hand-to-mouth. I have found it difficult to locate the actual street in which they lived, or any of the other streets mentioned in the enumerators description of the area covered in the census return of 1861. I have found Victoria Street still listed in the 1911 census but no such street appears exists today (although there is a Victoria Road). Victoria Street was said to be in the ecclesiastical district of Christ Church which consists of rows of terrace housing. Their neighbours consisted of railway labourers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, other labourers of various sorts and a number of other boot and shoe makers. I have not been able to find Joseph in any trade directories from the period, or indeed in any period up to his death (see below).

Certainly Yorkshire was not a shoemaking industry centre. Making an income for the small local shoemaker was increasingly made more difficult as the 19th century progressed as the process became increasingly mechanised in the major shoemaking towns and cities, in particular Leicester, Northampton and London, following the invention and adaption of the sewing machine to stitch leather in 1830 in America.

“The first machines were introduced to Britain by Edwin Bostock in Stafford in October 1855. Although quickly abandoned following workers’ unrest, it was soon introduced in Northampton and London, and the first recognisably modern factories followed in 1857. These early machines were only for closing the uppers, traditionally women’s work, so other processes were still carried out in the shoemaker’s home. Over the next decades a series of further inventions ensured all processes could take place in a factory system. The Blake sole stitcher was perfected around 1864, and introduced to Stafford and Stone by 1871. Pegging and riveting machines were adopted in Britain during the 1860s. Finishing was the last process to be mechanised, but by the 1890s mechanisation was complete”[30].

However it was not until the 1920’s that most village shoemakers had changed their business to become cobblers: the difference being that a shoemaker would make new shoes from scratch whilst a cobbler would repair shoes. Joseph’s trade was therefore still in demand in the 19th century, particularly in more rural areas, but would no doubt have become increasingly challenging as his career progressed with this growth of factories, mechanisation and transport links making mass produced footwear less expensive than hand crafted. There was also the challenges faced by the industry of American imports both in machinery and actual footwear in the later part of the 19th century (about 1870 onwards).

Joseph is likely to have made his own shoe polish, ‘jet’ for boots, ‘dressing’ for leather, waterproofing ‘compositions’, leather ‘renovators’, cementing glue, shoemakers wax and other “lotions and potions” used in the shoemaking process. He may have even produced some of these to sell to boost his income. Recipes for these ‘lotions’ and ‘potions’ can be found in books such as “The Art of Boot and Shoemaking”[31] and “Handbook for Shoe and Leather Processing”[32].

By 1871 Joseph and Ann had moved back to living at Whitley Thorpe with their youngest daughter Mary Ann (nicknamed Polly) now aged 13 (their other children now making their own way). Their neighbours were some of Ann’s family – her brother William and a cousin, Robert, her parents have now deceased. Joseph is described as a Master Cordwainer for the first time. Although there is no record of him employing an apprentice in the census records, there is of course a period of ten years between them and as an apprenticeship was for 7 years it is quite possible that within that ten years he did have an apprentice enabling him to become a master cordwainer. On the other hand, this could just be an error by the enumerator because in the 1881 census Joseph is described once again simply as a shoemaker and not a master; he and Ann were by this time living alone in Kellington. Unfortunately later that year Joseph died[33], he would have been 60 years old (although his burial record gives his age as 60). He was buried at St Edmunds Church Kellington on 19 November 1881[34]. It seems sometime after his death Ann moved back to live in Whitley[35] where she died in July 1892.

The demise of the independent shoemaking industry and the rural area in which the family lived were most likely the reasons why none of Joseph’s children followed him into the trade: William was a cartman (a driver of a horse-drawn vehicle for the transporting of goods); Joshua was an agricultural labourer (also described as a shepherd[36]); Charles was a road worker/labourer for Rural district council; and Henry was a farm labourer. All their children married and had children of their own.

[1] West Yorkshire, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910

[2] West Yorkshire, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910

[3] Kelly’s Directory of West Riding of Yorkshire, 1881. [Part 1: County Information & Places A-K], page 284

[4] 1841 census




[8] Kelly’s Directory of West Riding of Yorkshire, 1881. [Part 1: County Information & Places A-K], page 609


[10] 1841 census

[11] The name given to the complete parts of the top of the shoe when stitched together

[12] hence the name “clicker” being given to those individuals who carried out this task in the workshops or “factories”

[13] Known as “making”

[14] “Gutta-percha, yellowish or brownish leathery material derived from the latex of certain trees in Malaysia, the South Pacific, and South America, especially Palaquium oblongifolia and, formerly, P. gutta” –

[15] “A Few Words to Journeyman Shoemakers about Gutta Percha; What it will do, and what they may do, to turn it to their advantage” published by W Strange, London 1851

[16] I have a large number of ancestors on both my maternal grandparents sides buried in this churchyard dating from the death of Joseph in 1881 (see later) to my maternal grandfather (in 2003) and maternal grandmother (in 2012). However the graves of those beyond two generations are either unmarked or have unreadable gravestones, I have searched the graveyard on a number of occasions in the past! I need to see if the church has any records/plans of the graves.

[17] Baptism record and census records

[18] The Leeds Economy Handbook, published by Leeds City Council Economic Development online at



[21] Census returns

[22] Dipsacus Fullonum – formerly widely used in textile processing, providing a natural comb for cleaning, aligning and raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool.


[24] –






[30] History of Shoemaking in Britain – Napoleonic Wars and the Industrial Revolution:

[31] John Bedford Leno’s 1885 book reprinted by Ravenio Books 1949

[32] By Anon (original publication date not known) reprinted by Read Books Ltd 2013

[33] In November

[34] West Yorkshire, England, Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985

[35] 1891 census

[36] 1901 census

The Christmas of our ancestors

With Christmas just around the corner I have been wondering and reading about the Christmases of the past which my ancestors would have experienced. Did they really celebrate Christmas like we do today? With the commercialism of Christmas today, I doubt it very much. In fact what I have discovered is that our ‘modern’ Christmas is in fact only around 170 years old! The Victorian Christmas is often talked about and celebrated at various events, this is because it was in fact Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who essentially began the ‘trend’ of celebrating Christmas as we do today!

So was Christmas celebrated pre-Victorian Britain? And if so how?

The winter solstice is of course on the 21st December each year and is thought to have been celebrated even in the Neolithic and Bronze Age considering the layout of archaeological sites such as Stonehenge (primary axis points to the winter solstice sunset) and Newgrange (in Ireland where the primary axis points to the winter solstice sunrise).

The winter solstice was celebrated in a pagan festival celebrating fire, light and jollity, marking the end of winter and the dawning of spring when they celebrated ‘Yule’, a 12 day festival of the winter solstice, originating in or about the 4th Century. The festival incorporated many of the traditions of todays Christmas – decorating with greenery including boughs, evergreen herbs and trees and placing a yule log on the fire to burn for 12 days and nights. 

But Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus not the winter solstice so how are they linked?

The Roman Empire were also well known for their festival ‘Saturnalia’ celebrating Saturn, the Roman God of agriculture and plenty which took place between the 17th and 23rd December with the Roman Emperor Aurelian consecrating the temple of Sol Invictus in 274 AD creating ‘Die Natalis Solis Invicti’ (the birthday of the unconquered sun) which was celebrated on the 25th December, the Roman winter solstice festival.

Perhaps this is why Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December a few years after 336 AD when the first Roman Christian Emporer Constantine appears to have made the first reference to the 25th December being the birthday of Jesus. There is much debate and theses surrounding the timing of the birth of Jesus and of course there are many who would deny his very existence.

Interestingly Jesus was in fact a Jew and the Jewish festival of lights, known as Hanukkah, starts on the 25th of Kislev (in the Jewish calendar this is the months which occurs at about the same time as December) and celebrates when Jews were once again able to practice their religion after many years of it not being allowed.

Whatever your beliefs, from my reading I am of the view Christmas as a festival, began as a celebration of the winter solstice and was ‘adopted’ by Christianity as the date to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the introduction of Christmas (a shortened version of Christ’s Mass).  

Whilst the early Roman celebrations saw the wealthy eating and drinking lavishly and engaging in games such as: throwing a dice to decide who should play the role of the Saturnalia monarch and masters and slaves swapping clothes; and the wealthy were also known to give gifts to the poor to help them through the hardship of the winter season, Christmas was not a holiday as today, it was purely a religious day and not celebrated as it is today. Singing and Carols have therefore always been associated with Christmas.

Mince pies were introduced in Tudor times and the plum porridge was a medieval creation adapted by the Victorians to what we know today as Christmas pudding. Through the centuries, the practice of giving presents began to develop but traditionally took place on new years day gradually moving to the 25th December with Father Christmas first appearing in England in the early 17th century, although initially he was associated with joviality and drunkenness, it was not until the Victorians re-invented him that he became synonymous with gift giving as was the traditional Saint Nicholas from which he originated, who was known for the care of children, generosity, and the giving of gifts.

The union of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert saw the introduction of the ‘modern’ Christmas. Prince Albert was German and brought with him many of the traditional German traditions of pagan decent. Ultimately it was a photograph in the Illustrated London News in 1848 of the royals stood in front of a decorated tree which began the new trend of decorating trees at Christmas, hence the birth of the Christmas tree in the history of the English Christmas. 

In 1979 at the Scottish Record Office the first known Christmas card to have been sent was found. It had been sent by Michael Maier to James I of England and his son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1611. However Christmas cards were first designed for commercial use in 1843, commissioned by Sir Henry Cole (who had three years earlier introduced the penny post) and illustrated by John Callcott Horsley. 

Christmas crackers were, it is said, invented by Tom Smith, a confectioner of London, in 1847 when he was ‘re-inventing his ‘bon-bon’ sweets. The sweets were replaced by a trinket: fans, jewellery and other substantial items and later, his son, Walter Smith, introduced the paper hat, gift and varied designs to distinguish their brand from other rival brands which had sprung up. 

Eating turkey as Christmas was also introduced by the Victorians. Although they were expensive compared to the more usual bird of choice, goose, the Turkey was larger and able to feed more mouths so became increasingly popular for large entertaining such as Christmas family gatherings. Families would have needed to save up to buy the Christmas Turkey, even in the 1930’s the cost of a Turkey would have been the average persons weekly wage!

Today our beloved Turkey is much more affordable, becoming more widely available and affordable in the 1950’s. Although I know many people today have goose, duck, five bird roast and other alternatives (including meat free!) so maybe with the popularisation of turkey being available all year round, this is one tradition which may fall by the way side.

Can you imagine a year without Christmas? Well, during the civil war and commonwealth years (1640 to 1660) Christmas was banned by Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protector of the Republic of England) who, along with his Puritan colleagues, saw such festivities as ‘wasteful’. I am sure it did continue to be celebrated in private though by none Puritans. 

Christmas must have been a difficult period in the first and second world wars both for those on the battlefields and their loved ones at home. Of course I’m sure we’ve all heard about the Christmas Truce on 25th December 1914 during World War 1 and the infamous football match on the front line!

This is a Christmas card sent by my Nanna to my Grandad during the Second World War, I am not sure which year but he was called up for service on 16th July 1942. They had only been married 5 years and had a 5 year old daughter. At least he was not on the frontline due to health issues.

This Christmas, as I open my presents, eat my turkey, pull my cracker, eat my Christmas pudding, my thoughts are with those less fortunate then myself and my family and with all those loved ones who cannot be together at Christmas and all those much harsher Christmases my ancestors will have endured.

What dates do we need to know?

Whether you are a hobbyist or professional genealogist there are key dates when events and government interventions affected the type of and content of those research documents which provide the basis of any family tree research: parish registers, census records and civil registration records.

Having completed the first 6 lectures of the IHGS Higher certificate in Genealogy, I have opted to take the Elementary Level exam to gain my first official qualification in genealogy and after revision in readiness for the exam my head is swimming with these key dates. So what are they?

Parish Registers

1537 Parish registers first “officially” introduced

1597 Bishops Transcripts of parish registers introduced

1641 – 1660 Civil War and Interregnum including:

1653 Marriage Act – marriage by Banns only

1657 Marriage Act – marriage licences restored

1666 Burial in Woollen Act

1694 Marriages, Births and Deaths Tax – to 1706

1752 Change from Julian Calendar to Gregorian Calendar

1754 Lord Hardwick’s Marriage Act – separate marriage registers

1765 Dade Registers

1783 The Stamp Act – repealed 1794

1812 Rose’s Act – separate birth and burial registers and age at death to be recorded in burial registers

Civil Registration 

1837 Civil Registration introduced – records of the Home Office

1874 Legal penalties introduced for none registration of births

1911 Mothers maiden name to be included in the GRO birth index

1912 Both surnames of spouses to be included in the GRO Marriage index

1927 Adopted Children Register

1927 Still birth register introduced – Births and Deaths Registration Act

1984 GRO began to produce annual indexes rather than quarterly indexes

Parish registers continue to exist today for baptisms and burials, however with the GRO records are now the main source of information for births and deaths as they are the legally required records.

Census Records

1801 First decennial census introduced (numeric only)

1841 First decennial census to include Name, age (rounded down to nearest 5), occupation, whether born in current county

1851 Also included relation to head of household, marital status and place of birth. Rounding of ages dropped

1861 Census records become the responsibility of the General Register Office (GRO). includes economic status

1871 Includes whether imbecile, idiot or lunatic

1881 Includes language spoken (in Scotland)

1891 Includes language spoken (in Wales), whether employer, employee or independent

1901 Includes number of rooms (if less than 5), whether employer, worker, work from home or not

1911 First census where the household schedules are the primary census returns available to the public and the industry/service with which the worker is connected, how long married, how many children born, how many still living and how many have died, and whether any infirmity

There is a 100 years restriction rule in the release of census records and therefore the 1921 census records will be release in 2022.


IHGS course progress

Well, it is now 6 months since I signed up for the IHGS Higher Certificate in Genealogy and I have completed the first 6 lectures…that’s 1/4 way through the course! I am really enjoying the course although sometimes I really wish I had more time to dedicate to it. With two young children and the summer school holidays, my study for 8 weeks was certainly cut short!

I have now covered the elementary genealogy topics:

  • Introduction to family history
  • Family records
  • Census records
  • Civil registration
  • Parish registers
  • Parish records

I am very pleased with my progress, both in terms of being on target to complete the course in 2 years and the marks I have attained. I would certainly say the most challenging lecture so far was parish records. Actually getting the time to visit the local archives to carry out the research necessary to complete the assignments was a challenge in itself!  But I got there and found attending the archives a very interesting and rewarding exercise. Everyone at the local archives were friendly and helpful and I felt very welcomed.

Some may say this is very brave of me but I have provided links below to some of my course work which discuss some of the topics covered:

Census records

Parish registers

Parish records

It is now an exciting time, having finally gained the confidence to officially launch this new business venture and start to put together my application for AGRA associate membership.
I have received my first family history commission and started work on the next set of lectures, firstly Wills and Probate followed by Palaeography.

A further update on my course progress will follow soon!