How Reliable are these sources?

+10 votes
Should I trust a source like "The Visitation of Shropshire" as found at to use as a primary source for existing profiles and to create new profiles from?

I am used to using Dutch sources from 1580 to the present - the Netherlands has some extensive sites and databases that include photographs of the original documents.  Is there anything like this for people born before 1500 in England?  How trustworthy are lineages found in pre 1500 England?
in Genealogy Help by Bertram Sluys G2G6 Mach 3 (33.7k points)
edited by Darlene Athey-Hill
Be very wary of long undated pedigrees.  And this book contains lots of them.  Basically I'd say they tell you who you're looking for.

In any case, it's hard to identify or connect anybody without dates.

3 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

The Visitation series of books can vary a lot as to how reliable they are, depending on how the information was gained in the first place.  This one at least looks like it might have studied other records to develop the genealogies, but as RJ says, there are hardly any dates.  I also agree with RJ that being wary of a long undated (and unsourced) pedigree is always a good idea.

I think with any pre-1500 profile (and most post-1500 as well) we should be trying to find at least 2 different sources of information, and if those 2 sources differ, then we should be undertaking further research.  Even with excellent researchers like Richardson, I still like to have a look at the sources they have used, if for no other reason, then it improves my understanding of original sources and how they are interpreted.

This site has links to good sources for medieval English genealogy and the Sources page on Wikitree has a Middle Ages section and these two lists of sources would also be valuable. 

by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (535k points)
selected by Maggie N.
Thank you so much, John.  I like your good advice of using at least 2 sources when possible and checking further if they disagree.  Thanks also for the three source links.  You've just made an impossible looking task possible.
+8 votes
My understanding is that the Visitations were prepared by heraldry officials who asked the gentry of the applicable county to provide a signed copy of their pedigree. As such, they should be generally reliable, at least for the first few generations back from the person signing. One caveat, however, is that a lot of the Visitations contain edits/additions that were made later. These are definitely a mixed bag. Fortunately, most Visitations indicated what material was added later.
by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (253k points)
Thanks, Chase.  That's very helpful.  Is there a list someplace of major sources such as the Visitations and Pipe Rolls, what's likely to be found in them and how reliable they are?
Chris Phillips's Medieval Genealogy site has a good list of sources on the net.  But they don't come with a star rating for reliability.

With manorial families, look for a Victoria County History article on the parish.  Google "bho vch anyshire" to get started.  Coverage is very patchy, but the articles cite the primary sources and have no ulterior motives.

For political families History of Parliament is a goldmine.

Often there are older county and parish histories, but these are much more variable.  Burke's Landed Gentry is also worth looking at.  But treat these as background reading.  Many gross errors and blatantly fake pedigrees are in circulation in these channels.

Family histories compiled by descendants always come with a big danger sign.  Never assume they have inside information.

For Visitation families, wills are the best source.  There are millions of them, but no national index.  The PCC wills are online, but most wills have to be hunted down and got from county archives.

As Chase says, Visitation books are a mixed bag.  Some books just publish a manuscript, or a collation of manuscripts, but in others, the editor has added in a lot of his own research or a lot of other pedigrees from other sources.

And the manuscripts themselves often have a complex history with additions and other doctorings.  And in some cases the actual Visitation informant was confused or presented a fake pedigree.  More good background reading.

Having said which, Visitations are often used as primary evidence, but judiciously.

And of course WikiTree is a work in progress.  If nothing is done provisionally then nothing gets done at all.  No harm is done so long as sources are cited - the trouble only starts when sources are overrated.
Thanks for your help.  I'll make special note of your advice.
+7 votes

This source is Vol. 28 of The Publications of The Harleian Society  Additional information and the complete(?) set of volumes is available at this link.

A significant amount of the work by Douglas Richardson uses this and various other "Visitations".

There are many similar genealogy and historical societies publishing useful information. Much of it is available online for free. Here is a partial list: Genealogical and Historical Societies 

by Rick Pierpont G2G6 Pilot (119k points)

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