Learning about new English resources from my friends
by Sandra M. Hewlett, CGSM, ISBGFH board member
In August, I was fortunate to spend three weeks in England, with a chunk of time free to do a bit of genealogy research on several of my English families. This was not my first research trip to London. In 2002 I began my onsite education into the many resources available at greater-London’s record repositories, such as the Society of Genealogists, the National Archives at Kew (then the Public Record Office), the London Metropolitan Archives, and the now-closed Family Records Center, so delving into English records has become comfortable for me, but as we genealogists know, we are always learning!
One of the highlights of this recent trip was to spend quality time with several London-based genealogists who graciously discussed my research problems, offered assistance, and introduced me to websites and resources that were new or not on my to-do list.
I came home with much new information on a few ancestors so thought I would share my success with my fellow ISBGFH members, offering you a connection to websites that I found helpful, plus a few other hints I learned during my trip.
Records of London’s Livery Companies Online (ROLLCO)
Apprentices and Freeman 1400-1900
This fully searchable database was launched in June, with the goal to index the records of four of the twelve major London trade guilds: Clothworkers, Drapers, Goldsmiths and Mercers. To date three of the four are online (however, the Goldsmiths’ records cover only 1600-1700); we’re waiting for the Mercers records to be included on the website. So far this collection includes 270,000 individual names, including 60,000 apprentices and 40,000 Freedoms of the City.
Notable information gleaned from reading the website’s introduction is their finding that during the 16th century the majority of apprentices were the sons of gentry, yeomen and husbandmen from the country, and not the sons of Londoners, making this dataset a unique research source for most of England.
In the Drapers’ Guild records I found the Freedom of London for my 5th great grandfather William Stacey in 1792, and the Freedom for his son, George Stacey in 1797. And I found George Stacey as a witness to a Clothworker’s record in 1835. Both Staceys were born in Braintree, Essex, confirming how valuable this database is for tracking ancestors who lived outside of London.
A complement to these records can be found on Ancestry.com: London, England, Freedom of the City Admission Papers 1681-1925. If you have access to Ancestry’s World Explorer membership, you can check their index to view digitized images of any records you find on the ROLLCO’s website. Ancestry’s database includes men who were awarded freemanship through their membership in several other guilds such as the Bakers’ and Coopers’ guilds.
Among other benefits, any man who became a guild member also obtained freeman status to the City of London, so the guild membership leads to Freeman’s records, and the Freeman’s records database on Ancestry tells you that most likely there is a guild membership to look for.
To read more detail about these databases and the history of guilds, apprenticeships and Freeman of the City, Londonroll.org offers additional information at www.londonroll.org/about. The following explanation is a partial extraction from that web page:
The Livery Companies of the City of London originate from medieval trade guilds, established to regulate particular crafts. Guilds supervised the training of apprentices, controlled standards of craftsmanship, and protected craftsmen from unfair competition. They also provided financial support to their members in old age and in times of poverty and bereavement. Up until the nineteenth century, Freedom of the City of London (or Citizenship) and the right to exercise one's trade there could only be obtained through membership of a Livery Company.
There were a variety of routes for someone to become a member of a Livery Company, or to be admitted to the Freedom as it is known. Chief amongst these were Servitude, by which a person gained the Freedom after serving an apprenticeship; Patrimony, by which children of Freemen qualified for membership through their parents; and Redemption whereby the Freedom was obtained through the paying of a fine (often quite substantial). Other methods of gaining the Freedom are described in the Glossary.
Over time many Companies' direct involvement with their original craft declined, but membership has continued to be important. Today, Freedom of a Livery Company confers few tangible benefits; however, members continue to take pride in the history and traditions of their Companies and many present day Company families have generations' long connections with their Company.
The institution of apprenticeship has a long history, one which has been central to the development of London as a major economic power. The earliest apprenticeships in the City date from the thirteenth century, with the practice of masters taking apprentices being regulated by the City's Courts of Aldermen and Common Council in conjunction with the Livery Companies, from the very beginning. A number of Companies (such as the Fishmongers’, Loriners’ and Cordwainers’ for example) established ordinances with the assent of the Mayor which detailed the particular rights and obligations pertaining to masters and apprentices. The City ordained that the Companies had to keep registers of their members, and although the minimum term of apprenticeship was officially seven years, it has been estimated that a quarter of apprentices served longer terms (up to over a dozen years in some cases) in the first decade of the fourteenth century.
By the sixteenth century apprenticeship had become the principal method of acquiring citizenship in London, with over 90% of admissions to the Freedom taking this route in the early 1550s, for example. Interestingly, and unlike later periods, the majority of apprentices in this period were not the sons of Londoners, but were the sons of gentry, yeomen and husbandmen from the country.
In 1516 a list drawn up by the Corporation to manage disputes in the processional precedence of the Livery Companies during civic ceremonies identifies 48 'misteries' or 'crafts', each regulating an aspect of the economic and industrial life of the City. The formation of these Companies in many cases embodied several centuries of development and definition, reflecting the merging and splintering of associated trades and craft activities. Even by the sixteenth century, though, membership of a Livery Company did not necessarily signify that an individual followed the actual trade of that Company, even for those who had served a term of apprenticeship (although these individuals were more likely to follow the trade). As the data in the Records of London's Livery Companies Online project show, many freemen in a Company pursued a business or profession entirely beyond the sphere of the activities regulated by their Company.
Finding Those Disappearing Ancestors
I should have remembered to think outside the box when I could not find two children of an English family who last appeared in the 1881 census. The last time this happened, my missing person was eventually discovered in India.
Again, while my friends were listening to my tales of frustration, it was suggested I run the names through a global search on FamilySearch.org. And they were right! These two young men obtained jobs at a bank that then sent them to Brazil where I found them in the 1895 Brazil census. This census is digitized and indexed at FamilySearch! Subsequent searches on other British websites turned up several English passenger lists at FindMyPast.co.uk, listing Horace Dobson and family as passengers sailing to and from Brazil. The name Horace Dobson was probably an easier mark than, say John Walker, but nonetheless a sweet result. Another fabulous find, in a record group that I never considered!
For interested readers, a great website for locating people who might have gone to India between 1600 and 1947 is “Families in British India Society” www.fibis.org. The FIBIS database of over one million names is free, contains a long list of record indexes, including transcripts of wills in the India Office Records [IOR] 1780-1909.
Indexes to English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Probate Records
Another great website was brought to my attention earlier this year, and since I refer to it often and used it while in England, I’m going to share it. Dr. Andrew Millard of Durham University created a detailed webpage for finding British will indexes that are online. “Recent Indexes to English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Probate Records” has links to national will indices such as the Prerogative Court of Canterbury and the Prerogative Court of York, as well as a list of will indexes that are online for each county, plus a few peculiars. I found links for wills that I might not have ever looked for!
Two books by well-known English genealogists (and friends) were recently released. The Society of Genealogists in London, http://www.sog.org.uk, has published John Titford’s My Ancestor Settled in the British West Indies, an up-to-date guide to Caribbean records with a chapter on each island country, and British Guyana (that’s another place where one of my Dobson’s lived!) and British Honduras (Belize). Audrey Collins and David Annal have written an essential guide explaining not only British vital records but their history, plus the how and the why of recordkeeping, including nonconformists and records for those in the military. Also explained are the systems for the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Birth Marriage and Death Records is available from the National Archives at Kew, www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.
Lastly, my good friend Roy Stockdill is now blogging for FindMyPast.co.uk. Check out his blog, and all the blogs on this site. You will find research hints, stories about identifying photographs, tales of new research offerings and hints to develop your knowledge of British military service records.
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