England, Contemporary Documents (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: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Introduction To Contempory Documents

A seemingly inexhaustible supply of materials awaits the diligent researcher after tackling the various standard sources covered in other courses in the English department. Some cover fairly large segments of the population whilst others relate to only a few people. Some give only NDP (name-date-place) whilst others provide enormous detail about a certain episode in your ancestor’s life. Many are applicable to other British people and to others who spent time in Britain or her colonies. The section of this course introduces the student to most of these ancillary sources, giving details of what they contain, where they can be found and how to use them.

Gateways to English Archives and Libraries

The National Archives(TNA)
The National Archives covers England, Wales and the United Kingdom and was formed in April 2003 by bringing together thePublic Record Office (PRO) and theHistorical Manuscripts Commission (HMC, formerly the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts).

Main portals of entry to TNA are:

    Directory of archives maintained at TNA
  • Discovery
    The TNA catalogue of digitized collections.
  • MDR= Manorial Documents Register
    This identifies the location of manorial records. The MDR is partially computerised – Wales, Hampshire including the Isle of Wight, Norfolk and the three Ridings of Yorkshire are available online so far.
  • NRA = National Register of Archives
    The NRA contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history. It contains about 200,000 lists and catalogues of manuscript collections.

Some Other Major Archives and Libraries

  • Access to Archives
    English strand of the UK archives network. Directs researcher to about 350 archives and their catalogues.
  • BL = British Library
    The national library,includes Oriental/India Office, and newspaper collections at Colindale.
  • General Register OfficeGovernment office that administers census and civil registration. They retain census under 100 years old, and all BMDs back to 1837 (although some may be declared historic soon!)
  • Archives Hub
    Provides access to descriptions of archival collections in universities and colleges.

Copyright Libraries

Copyright has been obtainable by registration with the Stationers Company at Stationers Hall in London, from 1554 until 1924. A fee had to be paid and free copies of each publication presented to the copyright libraries. By 1801 there were 11 of these but the number was reduced to five in 1836 with another added in 1911, and they now comprise:

  • British Library
  • Bodleian Library in Oxford
  • Cambridge University Library
  • National Library of Scotland
  • Trinity College in Dublin
  • National Library of Wales (from 1911)

Note that the National Archives (TNA) is not on this list. In theory each copyright library should have a copy of every publication but there was widespread evasion of the procedure because of the cost of registration and provision of the complimentary copies. Further information about the procedures can be found in TNA leaflet (now Research Guide) D45.

Britons Abroad

Vast numbers of the English, and their families, spent a part of their lives outside of Britain. Employment was available in a variety of fields:

  • England was the first country to experience an Industrial Revolution and as this spread throughout the Empire and the rest of the world, British skills were needed in building and managing roads, railways, canals, mines and factories.
  • Agricultural expertise was required for the colonies and elsewhere, whether it was vast sheep or cattle herds or crops such as tea, coffee, rubber and cotton.
  • The defense of the Empire by the British Army and the Royal Navy required thousands of men, and some women.
  • Trade was carried out by British merchants situated abroad, using at first the many merchant trading companies, and later the Merchant Marine Service.
  • Trained professionals such as doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers and clergy were in great demand overseas and many families spent a period outside Britain.
  • Civilian services were needed abroad, including senior post office officials, civil servants, police, and customs and excise.

Other Britons visited friends, went on educational tours, or stayed at spas etc. for their health, and vast numbers emigrated voluntarily (or otherwise) for economic or religious reasons! Records exist for all of these types of Britons abroad and can be tracked down by the determined sleuth.

Church Records

Religious ceremonies such as christening, marriage and burial for British people stationed abroad may have taken place in the local church of the appropriate denomination. Their registers are kept locally in archives or with the incumbent, and many are available in microform at your FSC.

From the 17th century Protestant, English-speaking Anglican and nonconformist churches and chapels were built in many cities and major towns in Europe and in colonial territories overseas. Few records for English churches in Europe survive before the 18th or 19th century.

Many Anglican registers, or copies of them, were returned to England until local Anglican dioceses were created as most came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London whose records now are held mainly at the Guildhall Library in London.

Chart: Dates of Creation of Anglican Dioceses Abroad
Records before these dates were mostly under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London:

USA (Episcopal)
Southern Europe
Other British colonies
19th century
North and central Europe

Anglican records from India (including Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh) were returned to the civil authorities and are hence in the Oriental and India Office Collections at the British Library. Records for countries where there was no Anglican church may be found in the Bishop of London’s International Memoranda compiled from entries sent in by British embassy chaplains, travelling clergy or those on board ships.

A comprehensive list of Anglican and some other registers held in England, particularly at the Guildhall Library and the Society of Genealogists, together with a detailed discussion is given by Yeo and White. Nonconformist records may have returned to their headquarters in England, been retained locally or have since disappeared.

The FamilySearch Catalog should be consulted for all denominations under the country where the events took place and then under CHURCH RECORDS and CHURCH RECORDS – INDEXES. For example, under NETHERLANDS – ZUID-HOLLAND, ROTTERDAM – CHURCH RECORDS can be found:

  • English Presbyterian parish registers including baptisms, marriages and births 1700-1811
  • English Episcopalian church registers of baptisms and marriages 1708-1818.
  • Scottish Church records of baptisms, marriages, accounts, and minutes and baptisms of children from the Scottish regiment.
All of these are on film 0119799 and film 0119799.

Civil Registration

Indexes for births, marriages and deaths overseas for English and Welsh civilians and armed forces are listed in the course English: Civil Registration Records including Wales and certificates may be obtained from the General Register Office and the TNA research guides D61 and M13. There are equivalent indexes and certificates for Scotland and Ireland. Yeo and White also give details of the Miscellaneous Returns for overseas residents which can be checked if the regular sources are unproductive.

Residents in British colonies and dominions may have registered their births, marriages and deaths with the local authorities of that country. These records should be sought in the appropriate FamilySearch Catalog country section under VITAL STATISTICS (in North America) or CIVIL REGISTRATION (outside North America). If they are not yet microfilmed, then application will have to be made to the civil authorities in that country.

Other Contemporary Documents


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents 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.