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Sources for Village History

For those who are thinking of developing a history of your own village, there are many written records which contain useful information, and to which you can look for help. This guide describes some of those records used in the construction of our history, although the researcher can expect to find many records not mentioned here.

In beginning any research into an aspect of a village's history, the importance of collecting the written memories of those current inhabitants whose families have lived there for several generations cannot be over emphasised. An appeal for old photographs is also of prime importance.

The Parish Church may also be a useful source of information. One of the most informative records of a parish is often the vestry minutes, which record the business carried out by the vestry, the forerunner of the parish council, one of whose most onerous responsibilities was the supervision of Poor Relief. Parish records the Minutes might refer to include such items as highway maintenance, the local militia and muster rolls, records of clubs and societies and a wide range of other miscellaneous material, and other parish affairs.

The chief parish officers were the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor. Accounts for the churchwardens will provide details of expenditure on the church fabric and money spent on the numerous civil duties assigned to them, such as public health and road maintenance. Those for the Overseers will include detailed accounts of money spent on poor relief and various documents such as apprenticeship indentures, removal orders and settlement examinations. Less common, but fascinating where they have survived are the records of minor parish officials, such as the surveyor of the highways and parish constable. For information on Poor Relief after 1834, you will need to examine the records of poor law unions, which include union workhouse records.

The local Record Office usually holds microfiche copies of parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, dating back in some cases to the 16th Century, as well as original registers for most parishes together with any records of nonconformist churches in the area.

Also useful, and to be found in parish and diocesan collections are glebe terriers, which are surveys describing the land belonging to a rectory or a vicarage. They may provide descriptions of fields before the introduction of enclosure and sometimes have accompanying maps.

Villages were often part of the lands of a large estate or a medieval manor, and your local record office may hold Manorial and Estate Records for some local manors along with family and estate archives. Manor court rolls record leases and surrenders of land, the regulation of agriculture and cases involving rights and trespass associated with the administration of the manor properties. You will almost certainly find any early manorial records written in heavily abbreviated Latin and difficult to interpret. Estate surveys and rentals list the names of tenants, while surveys also provide names and acreage of fields. Estate maps often show field boundaries, lanes, paths and buildings and may cover an entire parish. Estate collections also contain title deeds, accounts and leases.

Tithe maps with their apportionments date from the 1830s and 1840s and cover whole parishes. The maps show the land in the parish divided into numbered plots, while the apportionments give details of the owner, occupier, field, state of cultivation, acreage and tithe payable for each plot. The maps are available on microfiche in the Record Office, and the Office may hold some original tithe maps and apportionments for local parishes.

Most enclosure awards date from between 1760 and 1870 and the majority have accompanying maps. Later enclosure awards often have very detailed maps showing field strips. The size of the areas covered by enclosure awards varies greatly. The information they give includes boundaries, ownership, acreage and use of each plot of land, while the maps show boundaries, roads and paths.

Your Local Records Office will normally hold copies of Land Tax Assessment's for local parishes covering the period 1780-1832 on microfilm. These will contain the names of the owners and the occupiers of each listed property, and the amounts of tax assessed, and are particularly useful for the history of farms and larger properties.

Turnpike trusts were set up during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to take over the responsibility for certain roads or to build new ones, on which tolls were charged. Records of individual trusts include minute books, maps and plans, poll deeds (investment certificates), details of toll charges and, occasionally, tollhouse keepers' daybooks. The records of the turnpike trusts are an invaluable source for methods of road maintenance and the effect of traffic on rural communities. Also useful are the records of nineteenth century public projects for the development of roads, railways and canals.

Published Trade Directories for 1830-1939 provide details of the main trades and occupations in a village, information on the village school and lists of local gentry and other inhabitants.

The Record Office holds records from many former urban and rural district councils, 1894-1974, as well as the records of local borough, later town, councils, these records include minutes, accounts, correspondence, legal papers, rating records and Parish council records.

Other Sources (non-Record Office material)

Local newspapers, are a mine of information on village history.
Parish files, containing a selection of newspaper cuttings and other miscellaneous information, are often a useful starting point for research.
The Record Office holds sale catalogues, business and club records, as well as a number of large collections of records from local solicitors.
Census returns are available at the Local Studies Centre on microfilm from 1841 to 1901.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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