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Commonwealth Gap Resources

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: About 1640 to after 1660
Location: England, Ireland and Walesmap
Profile manager: Drew Teague private message [send private message]
This page has been accessed 464 times.

Categories: British Projects.


Background and Goals

The goal of this project is to share resources and information regarding the "Commonwealth Gap" Period in English records. For many genealogists conducting research in England, Ireland and Wales, we encounter a sudden brick wall, and lack of records between the 1640s and 1660. This gap occurred due to the chaos of the English Civil War, and the decision by Oliver Cromwell and his Parliament to cease church-based record keeping for births, marriages, deaths, etc.

There are unconventional sources of information about individuals during this time, and this page is designed to be a resource for those seeking to bridge the Commonwealth Gap.

The "Commonwealth Gap" and Records

Births, Marriages, and Deaths

The Commonwealth Period saw the first tentative steps towards the 'civil' registration of marriages with acts that legalized marriages, not before the church, but by the local justice of the peace. After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, these were often retrospectively legitimized by the church and may be recorded much later after the event in the parish registers.

Visitations of Heralds to English counties

The visitations of the Heralds carried out before the outbreak of hostilities in the 1630s, and those undertaken upon the restoration of the monarchy in the 1660s can provide a snapshot of the pedigrees of middle and upper class families that bore coats of arms.

Sequestration and Royalist Composition Papers

Many estates of those deemed by parliament to be delinquents, that is, recusant Catholics (Roman Catholics who did not attend the services of the Church of England) and royalists were seized and sequestered during the Commonwealth Period. Some of these are registered in the above records.

The Protestation Returns

Throughout this period, heavy taxes were levied and Catholic recusants were taxed doubly. From the 'Free and cheerful gift' levied in 1625, to Ship Money, Collections in Aid of Distressed Protestants in Ireland, Subsidies, Poll Taxes and the Hearth Tax, lists exists of those persons who paid tax. Information on who was eligible for tax and the amount they paid were drawn from the records of the Protestation Returns.

Dissenter Records

There were terrific religious and political upheavals at this time when those who held military or civil office made Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy which were recorded in the Association Oath Rolls. Information on Friends (Quakers) imprisoned for their beliefs can be found in the State Papers, and of course Recusants (Roman Catholics, Nonconformists and other Protestant Dissenters) continued to be fined for refusing to comply with the rites of the Established Church of England and are recorded in county Recusant Rolls.

Quarter Sessions

Throughout the 16th century, the justices of the peace adjudicated on Poor Law orders and settlement appeals, as well as licensing such activities as "victualing" (providing food) They administered the pensions of ordinary soldiers who had taken part in the Civil Wars, first on behalf of the parliamentary committees, and later for the restored king.

Wills and Probate

Most church courts were in abeyance during the Commonwealth. Wills that would usually be recorded in the local courts were proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

Fleet Marriages

Before the Marriage Act of 1753 in Britain, some marriages and baptisms took place in the area of London around the Fleet Street debtor's prison. Defrocked priests there, along with tavern owners created a business of presiding over irregular and clandestine marriages. These took place outside the church, and were sometimes used to legitimize a child by backdating a marriage. While the legal status of these records was always questionable, they do offer another possible place to locate parents and children of the 17th century.

  • Note: As a historian, I'd like to mention that while these marriages were clearly clandestine, there is another important social element to them in addition to legitimizing children. Fleet marriages were not heavily taxed like those inside the church, and dowries for women were not required either. As a result, for some poor families, fleet marriages represented the only real means of recording a union. For some others, it was the only way to marry the person they wished to, even if their parents didn't approve. There was abuse in this institution as well, of course, and there are examples of women forced into marriages in this way.

Online Resources



On 6 Jan 2016 at 19:02 GMT Abby (Brown) Glann wrote:

Great project idea, Drew. This should connect as a sub-project of the UK top-level project. Thanks for creating it!

On 28 Dec 2015 at 13:14 GMT Bea (Timmerman) Wijma wrote:

Hi Drew,

Here's a website with links to archives and pages (England Scotland and Ireland) for this period :) 17th and 18th Century Sources By Else Churchill This page isn't updated But all links still seem to be working and leading to great archives .