England Using Multiple Sources to Reconstruct Families (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Integration Of Records (cont.)[edit | edit source]

The family historian should consult appropriate catalogues (FamilySearch Catalog, Smith’s Inventory, county archives especially online catalogues, TNA and others) to find what lists of persons survive for the area and period of interest. Only the main, country-wide ones are discussed here, other local ones may exist and only the county archivist and local historian will have detailed knowledge of these.

Each list described herein has a limited amount of data; the determined researcher can ascertain a lot if information by looking at all available lists. A continuum of lists can suggest solutions for the two commonest problems in genealogy:

  • Possible place of origin of antecedents suddenly arriving in a parish.
  • Differentiation of people with common names by occupation or place of residence.

A collection of information from such lists will also give a host of other items of information:

  • Who was the head of the household at a range of dates thus providing clues as to approximate year and parish of death.
  • Actual addresses of family members.
  • Social and economic status of households comparative to others at one time, or over the course of many years.
  • Religious affiliation, with changes over time.
  • Changes in the size and structure of buildings occupied.
  • Occupations, meaning their actual trades rather than the company they belonged to, carried on at the place of residence and elsewhere.
  • Changes in family size and structure over time.
  • When to look for wills and who the eldest son or legatee was.
  • Names of employers and employees.
  • Where a person has moved to since his known place of christening or marriage.
  • How long a family stayed in a particular place.
  • A picture of the community in which your family lived.

Coverage in this volume has been of those taxes and lists that are most common. There are indubitably others compiled for a single purpose in a single parish. The researcher is encouraged to explore and utilize everything that is available for their parish of interest for a series of records is far better evidence than an isolated occurrence.
An indexed return for a whole county can be invaluable in locating prior abodes of ancestors who suddenly appear out of nowhere. They are not a complete census but will at least indicate areas where the surname appeared previously.
Much has already been indexed and this effort continues, giving invaluable aids to picking up the thread of a family again.

Mackman and Watt (The E 179 (Lay Taxation) Project: The Records and the Database. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 28 #1, page 3-15) give examples of several tax returns from Crowle, Worcestershire, a tiny sample to illustrate possible family relationships, as well as common spelling variations is presented in the chart below where we see:

  • Reginald Wolmer disappears from the returns after 1567, but is followed by widow Frances (his relict or a daughter-in-law?), and then by William in 1598.
  • The Daniell family are taxed for the first time in 1594; James is then followed by Johanna a widow, and later by Richard

The researcher is thereby alerted to look for wills and manorial documents denoting heirs in specific time periods.

Chart: Lay Subsidies in Crowle, Worcestershire 1566-1597
Brief excerpt from data in Mackman and Watt

Reginald WOLMER
Frances WOLMER wid
Johanna DANIELL wid
William WOLMER
Johanna DANIELL wid

A comparison of lists taken for different purposes can find different members of the family for various reasons, as shown in the chart below.

Chart: DASHWOODS in Subsidy and Protestation Returns 1641-2
Note that not all returns are complete.

Nettlecombe and Woodavent
Elizabeth and Robert
[collector is Robert Dashwood)
Sampford Brett

Sampford Brett and Torweston


(St. Decumans)

Window tax and land tax were assessed on virtually the same group of people as were paying rates. It follows that the lists should be similar, and where one is missing another may substitute.

By comparing the series of highway (or any other such rate lists) with the parish registers one can often sort out to which of two families your ancestor belongs, as in the following hypothetical example. Say you have a John Thorpe who was born in this place and lived in Church Lane, but there are two possible christenings and neither died as an infant. Consult the highway tax assessments and the following information becomes available.

Chart: Comparison of Parish Register and Highway Rate

Several christenings, including a John 1796, to Thomas THORPE carpenter.
Thomas THORPE dwelling in a carpenters shop in Church Lane until 1826, when Widow THORPE is the rate payer. By 1830 John THORPE is the occupier.
Several christenings, including a John 1795 to William THORPE butcher.
William THORPE at butcher’s shop in Mill Street paying highway tax until 1834, when he moves to a cottage in Blackbird Lane, and the new occupier of the butcher’s shop in Mill Street is Richard STOUT. John THORPE labourer appears in 1834 in Taylor’s Lane.

Another useful series to use together are Poor Rates, Freeholders Books, Poll Books and Land Tax Assessments. They may not all survive for every year, but between them may produce a good picture of your family’s annual economic ups and downs.

In 20th century research one can utilize street and telephone directories, newspaper announcements giving addresses and electoral rolls to advantage along with addresses from certificates. Texts explaining more about how to integrate different kinds of records include Unett and Tanner (Making a Pedigree: An Introduction to Sources for Early Genealogy, 1997), Wagner (English Genealogy, 1983), West (Village Records, 1982 and Town Records, 1983).

Some good examples of integration of records are:

  • Morris’ study of record linkage in 18th -century Stepney (And I Leave to Joseph Coltman My Parrot. Record Linkage in Eighteenth Century Stepney, Middlesex. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 27 #4, page 147-154).
  • Following the history of inns in Herne Bay using tax and licensing records (Gough’s The Ship Inn at Herne Bay. Bygone Kent Vol. 25 #9, page 543-549).
  • Using 18th century sources in London (Rooke-Matthews’ Using 18th Century Sources in London. Cockney Ancestor (East of London Family History Society) #104, page 12-15).
  • Re-assembling a village around 1840 (Ken Morley’s Writing a Family History. Some Problems and Solutions Part III. Family Tree Magazine Vol. 9 #6, page 27-29.).

More tax and business records can be found, and auction catalogue descriptions on the websites . Let’s use everything we can to add flesh to the bones or, in the words of W.S. Gilbert, find corroborative detail to add artistic verisimilitude to your family history!


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.