Influences in English Genealogy

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Associated with the England Project

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This topic page is about the many people throughout history that have influenced or made a significant contribution to our collective knowledge of our Ancestors in England. Some have spent a lifetime with their heads in old documents or wandering the country seeking out information, others have simply made decisions which had a profound impact on the records that we all have access to today. So, some of them may not be English or even Genealogists but if they had a significant influence on Genealogy in England, then this page is for them.

Game Changers

Guillaume de Normandie In 1086, he ordered the compilation of the Domesday Book, a survey listing all the land-holdings in England along with their pre-Conquest and current holders.
Magna Carta (Great Charter) was an agreement on 15 June 1215 between John, King of England, and twenty-five rebellious barons. The resulting documents have inspired the Wikitree Magna Carta Project
The Heraldic Visitations which took place 1530-1668 and initiated by Henry VIII are an important source of information on nobility and gentry. They were undertaken by the Kings of Arms in order to record and regulate lawful use of Coats of Arms and ensure proper use of certain titles, so the process was both formal and thorough. Having said that, for various reasons, records should be used with care and compared with other sources such as Parish Records and Wills, if they exist.
The Victoria County History (VCH), is an English history project which began in 1899 and is a valuable work in progress, now roughly at the halfway mark with more than 200 volumes already published. Some of the volumes are published on British History online with drafts on VCH [1][2]

Parish Records

A parish register in an ecclesiastical parish is a handwritten volume, normally kept in the parish church in which certain details of religious ceremonies marking major events such as baptisms, marriages and burials are recorded.[3]
The way in which birth, marriage and burial records have changed over time have an impact on what information is available in different periods. See this article by Durham County Record Office for examples.
Parish registers were formally introduced in England on 5 September 1538 , when Thomas Cromwell, minister to Henry VIII, issued an injunction requiring the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials to be kept.
1649-1660. The period of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth of England was hugely disruptive causing large gaps in parish records.
1660 Charles II, Act for Erecting and Establishing a Post Office, increased the amount of letter writing and subsequent keeping.
1662- 1689 Charles II was also behind the Hearth Tax pushed through the commons by Sir Courtenay Pole. Hearth tax lists are fairly complete records of the primary occupants of a dwelling with two hearths or more.
The Marriage Act 1753 was initiated by Lord Hardwicke and was aimed at stopping clandestine marriages. The impact for genealogy was that special forms with names, occupation, witnesses and whether by banns or licence had to be used. As a result from 1754 banns and marriages were recorded in volumes separate from those used for baptisms and burials and marriage registers had uniformity, with spouses names and parishes, time and place, banns or licence, the name of the officiating minister and signatures or marks of witnesses and spouses.
George Rose’s act of 1812, by which the forms of entry of baptisms, marriages, and burials in Anglican churches were standardized in bound volumes.[4]

Land Records

The Tithe Commutation Act 1836 replaced the ancient system of payment of tithes in kind, with monetary payments. The resulting tithe maps give a comprehensive survey into the usage, ownership and occupation of land in England and Wales 1837-1850s. A commission was established to identify all affected properties and to resolve boundary issues arising from the survey. It was headed by three commissioners:
William Blamire (chairman)
Thomas Wentworth Buller
Reverend Richard Jones

Civil Registration

Prior to 1837 there was no national system of civil registration in England and Wales. Baptisms, marriages and burials were recorded in parish registers maintained by Anglican clergy. However, for various reasons many events went unrecorded. As a result, ilegislation was passed by the Whig government of William Lamb that ordered the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales. This took effect from 1 July 1837. A General Register Office was set up in London and the office of Registrar General was established.[5]

Educational Records

Before 1832, the only two successful university establishments in England were In Oxford and Cambridge.[6]The collation and publication of biographical records of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office Is largely down to a few individuals.
Alumni Cantabrigienses in Cambridge which was published in ten volumes between 1922 and 1953. Rev John Venn and his son John Archibald Venn
Alumni Oxonienses in Oxford which was printed in 6 volumes between 1891 and 1893. Joseph Foster.

Intellectual Property

In England, grants in the form of letters patent were issued by the sovereign to inventors, though they were also used for many other purposes[7]. These ‘letters patent’ provided the recipient with a monopoly to provide particular goods or services. The earliest example is in 1331 to John Kempe and his Company.[8]
Patents of invention, and related records, dating from between 1617 and October 1852 are held at The National Archives. [9] after this date records can be found in Espacenet Inventors names and often location and company of employment are available.

England Genealogists

England Genealogists have been responsible for pulling much of the information together. A list is here


  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Victoria County History," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 11, 2020).
  2. medieval English genealogy; Victoria County History: lists of contents and place index
  3. Wikipedia contributors, "Parish register," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 23, 2020).
  4. Oxford Reference
  5. Wikipedia contributors, "General Register Office for England and Wales," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 18, 2020).
  6. Wikipedia contributors, "List of UK universities by date of foundation," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 18, 2020).
  7. Wikipedia contributors, "Letters patent," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 24, 2020).
  8. Wikipedia contributors, "History of patent law," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 24, 2020).
  9. Intellectual property: patents of invention


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