Civil and criminal courts and police forces

These can be key records for the family historian even if your ancestor, wherever they were in the UK, wasn’t a criminal. In England and Wales, the only form of ‘local government’ before the advent of county councils in 1889 was the Court of Quarter Sessions. Although it was primarily a body set up to deal with criminal offences, the fact that it existed in every corner of the land meant that it became the body used to administer state business. The records of the court can be wide-ranging and extensive, although like many other sources the picture varies from area to area; they include alehouse recognizance registers (for those ancestors who kept a pub), lists of pauper lunatics, Land Tax returns and much muchmore. In Scotland sheriff courts had similar responsibilities and we look at the wealth of material in these records as well as sources relating to the police force.


Most of our ancestors did not receive any sort of education much beforethe 19th century, although there were exceptions like the major public schools and some church provision. It seems hard to believe that the behemoth of the modern education system has only been in existence for just over 100 years. Records such as log books provide a marvellous picture not just of the school but often of the wider community.

Church court records

Church courts dealt with ‘moral’ offences, as well as probate. These include such offences as non-attendance at church as well as sexual peccadilloes. People who chose to marry by special licence, rather than by having their banns read, required a bondand allegation and these documents provide more information than therecord of the marriage.

Manorial records and estate papers

Before the modern period many people’s lives were regulated by the manor and the records generated can be very informative. Although mainly dealing with land holding, items such as court record scan shine a light on a long-forgotten system of farming. Individuals may feature in the court registers or in documents such as admittances and surrenders. In Scotland estate papers are a major source for genealogists and local historians.

Title deeds, maps and plans

These often represent the largest percentage of material in a record office and, until the system was simplified in the early 20th century, can be very complex. The transfer of property often took the form of afictitious legal action to provide a greater degree of protection for the vendorand purchaser. Although few of our ancestors would have held land, nevertheless these documents can be very valuable, especially at a period when little else survives. Great Britain has a long and distinguished history of producing accurat emaps, especially since the Ordnance Survey was formed in 1791. Early maps were more ‘representational’ and can often be works of art. This unit will lookat estate maps, enclosure and tithe records and maps and plans connected withpublic utilities.

Emigration, burgesses and apprentices and printedmaterial

Many individuals and families emigrated from the UK or came to the UK from other countries. The Highland Clearances of the 19th century are one of the most famous examples of this trend. One of the keysources for researching emigrationare passenger lists. This unit will look at these and other registersor printed sources which may mention your ancestors such as burgess and apprenticeship lists, local directories and newspapers.