The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Access to Archives A2A

from Lynne Burlingham

This article was originally published in the April 2003 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society

Despite good intentions, I very rarely actually get round to following up even a few of the interesting web sites which I come across when I buy one of the various family history magazines.

Access to Archives was a rare but, certainly for me, a definitely worthwhile exception. The article was by Sarah Flynn (Archives: on-line and available to all) and appeared in Family History Monthly, No.83, p46-47, August 2002.

Briefly, for those of you who have not yet come across it, Access to Archives (A2A) is a project which is being led by the Public Record Office, the Historical Manuscripts Commission and the British Library. It is an online catalogue at:

It enables users to find archive material in various libraries, record offices and other repositories in England, and then to obtain copies of documents. The range of material covered is wide, from family and estate archives and Quarter Sessions records to the archives of political parties, local government and even of prominent individual scientists and politicians. For the family historian, comprehensive indexing of documents and A2A's powerful search engine mean that it is possible to find documents which mention forebears quickly and easily, searching by surname, full name or place. The database is huge - as of the update in October 2002 there were 3.95 million records from 197 record offices and other repositories all over England.

So what did I find when I logged on to the site for the first time? Without much optimism I typed in the name SOLLEY but, much to my surprise, was rewarded by a list of 25 catalogues with from 1 to 8 hits per catalogue (typing in SOLLY was even better producing a list of 85 catalogues with 1 to 20 hits per catalogue!). Many of the Solley references related to the Worcestershire Solleys, but there was also material on the Kent Solleys and the material seemed to be located all over the country.

One item in particular caught my eye as I scrolled through the seemingly endless list. This was a reference to a 19th century petition to the House of Commons by Thomas Solley, Thomas Minter Tomlin, Thomas Coleman and others of Ash, Kent for the repeal of duties on malt and beer (Reading University Library, KEN 4/10/1). Thomas Solley could well have been my great-great-great-grandfather, who farmed at Richborough, near Ash. Thomas Coleman farmed at Goss Hall, Ash and married Bertha Solly (without the 'e') from Sandwich. Their son Thomas Solly Coleman was a friend (and co-executor of the Will) of my great-great-uncle George Christopher Solley. A copy of this document was a definite 'must'. I emailed Reading University Library for a quote, sent off my cheque and within a few days received a copy of the document. In fact, the copy covers eight A3 pages, two for the wording of the petition and the rest three columns per page of signatures. In all there were over three hundred signatures, including several more Solleys/Sollys and other names recognised for their connection with my family history.

Another reference under Solley caught my eye but I was even more intrigued when a similar reference also appeared, when I keyed in Solly. Years ago the spelling Solley and Solly seems to have been interchangeable, which probably accounts for the two different listings. They both come from the West Kent Quarter Sessions Records, Recognizances. One, in 1602, is for 40 for Stephen Solly, labourer, to appear and answer for his wife Mildred to keep the peace towards Robert Turney, gentleman. (Centre for Kentish Studies: Kent Quarter Sessions [QM/SRc/1588-QM/SRc/1605]). The other, in 1616, is for 10, for Thomas Hamond, husbandman, to keep the peace towards Mildred, wife of Stephen Solley (Centre for Kentish Studies: Kent Quarter Sessions [QM/SRc/1606-QM/SRc/1618]. What was going on here going on here?! Although I haven't done so yet, I think I really will have to get copies of these two documents to see if they provide enlightenment!

Have a look at the web site - you might find something useful, but be warned though - it doesn't always work! Buoyed up by my success, I tried looking up my husband's family. Unfortunately, there are also places bearing the name Burlingham and most of the hits were to these places, rather than to people with that surname, so nothing useful came to light.

Return to The Sole Society Home Page