The Society's Records
- County Records
by Tony Storey
This article was originally published in the August 2003 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
In all likelihood, our ancestors were neither royal nor famous but were content to live their lives as peacefully and in as much comfort and dignity as their circumstances allowed. Consequently, you will not find an account of them in most history books but fragments of their lives may be glimpsed at the County Record Office.
Births, deaths and marriages are the bedrock of our family charts and together with census records provide the basic information about our ancestors’ lives. But the bare facts can be cold and give no clue to character. At the County Record Offices we can often discover more intimate details about our forbears, the problems they had to contend with and the sort of people they were. It would take too long to list everything you might find at your CRO so I’ll just give you a few examples.
You will certainly find local trade directories dating back to the eighteenth century and possibly pre-1858 wills, both already mentioned in previous editions of Soul Search. There might also be local history publications, parish magazines and old parish maps.
There may be Hearth Tax returns such as the following extract from the Lady Day, 1674 return for Cambridgeshire. As well as being a census of sorts, the number of hearths indicates how wealthy the person was.
Andrew Sewell, 4 hearths at Chesterton hundred in the parish of Chesterton
John Saywell, 1 hearth at Longstow hundred in the parish of Croxton
Francis Soule, 1 hearth at Witchford hundred in the parish of Streatham
Jeremy Sowell, 3 hearths at Witchford hundred in the parish of Wilburton
Walter Sewell, 3 hearths at Chilford hundred in the parish of Babraham
Widdow Sowell, 1 hearth at Chesterton hundred in the parish of Dry Drayton
The Minutes Book of the proceedings of the Quarter Sessions are also likely to be kept at the CRO. These examples are from Hertford, the first an appeal against a bastardy order, the second withdrawing a victualler’s licence and the third what seems to be a sub poena.
12th April 1697. Appeal by William Sawell the younger, of Barkhamsted St Peters, higler, against an order to pay £6 for the expenses of the bastard child of Margaret Stephens of Bushey, single woman, lately born in that parish, of which he is the reputed father. Order made that the amount be reduced to £4.
24th April 1682. Order that John Sole be suppressed from keeping an alehouse in Chesthunt, as he does not attend his Parish Church, or any other church or chapel.
6th and 7th October 1645. Order that Anne, wife of Augustine Brooke, of Braughin, labourer, be bound over to appear to prefer a bill of indictment against Susan Sewell, now a prisoner in the County Gaol, for stealing 13s.4d. out of the chest of the said Anne.
However, the core of the CRO collection will be the records known as the “Parish Chest”. From the sixteenth century, all documents pertaining to the parish had to be kept in a locked chest. Nowadays, most of these ancient records have found their way to the CRO and as well as the obvious things, such as the old parish registers, may include many miscellaneous civil records dealing with every aspect of the parish, from collecting tithes to maintaining the highway.
Some of the most moving records relate to the treatment of the poor of the parish, and might include payments made by local charities, work house registers and accounts. The Poor Law was often administered quite strictly to ensure that the rate payers of the parish were not burdened unduly. Amongst these Poor Law records you should find Settlement Examinations, which determined which parish was responsible for providing support should someone become unable to work.
Here I feel I must declare an interest. My 4 greats grandmother was born in Poole, Dorset, as were her six young children. But her husband came originally from Ringwood, Hampshire and on the day after his funeral she was summoned to appear before the local poor law commissioners who told her she must remove herself and her family from Poole as she could no longer support herself. I have a copy of the Removal Order, the original is in the Dorset CRO.
The gentlemen of Poole showed little mercy to the poor widow that day and, although they were only doing their job and it was two hundred years ago, it still makes my blood boil whenever I read that document.
So if you want to set your pulse racing and really get to know your ancestors, go along to your County Record Office and see what they have. Many Record Offices have made a start on indexing their records and, in any case, most types of record will be filed alphabetically. If you have some spare time, have a look for the Sole Society names and note what you can.
Remember: As well as Saul, please note any Sawell or Sawle entries.
As well as Solley, we’re looking for Solly and Soley.
Sewell includes Saywell, Seawell and Suell.
Sole variants include Soal, Soul, Soole, Sowle and Sowell, any of which may appear with an extra ‘e’, ‘l’ or ‘s’.
Please help if you can and either post the information to me or e-mail an attachment, Excel if possible but other formats will do, including good old pen and paper. My address is inside the back cover.
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