Records Useful to Historians and Those Tracing their Family Tree

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Early Records (1000-1300)

Domesday Book:

The Domesday Book is a great land survey from 1086, commissioned by William the Conqueror to assess the extent of the land and resources being owned in England at the time, and the extent of the taxes he could raise. The information collected was recorded by hand in two huge books, in the space of around a year. It was written by an observer of the survey that "there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out". The Domesday Book provides extensive records of landholders, their tenants, the amount of land they owned, how many people occupied the land (villagers, smallholders, free men, slaves, etc.), the amounts of woodland, meadow, animals, fish and ploughs on the land (if there were any) and other resources, any buildings present (churches, castles, mills, salthouses, etc.), and the whole purpose of the survey - the value of the land and its assets, before the Norman Conquest, after it, and at the time of Domesday. Some entries also chronicle disputes over who held land, some mention customary dues that had to be paid to the king, and entries for major towns include records of traders and number of houses. However, the Domesday Book does not provide an accurate indication of the population of England towards the end of the 11th century.

Pipe Rolls:

The pipe rolls of the Exchequer contain accounts of the royal income, arranged by county, for each financial year. They represent the earliest surviving series of public records, and are essentially continuous from 1155 onwards until the 19th century; one roll from 1129-30 also survives. A copy of each pipe roll - known as the Chancellor's Roll - was also sent to the Chancery. (The unusual name - officially it started out as the 'Great Roll of the Exchequer' - comes from the distinctive way in which the membranes were sewn together, which made them look like pieces of piping when rolled up.)  The early pipe rolls provide a useful source of information from a period when few other records are available. Those from the late 12th and early 13th century have been published with indexes, mainly by the Pipe Roll Society.  One other point to bear in mind is that many of the entries record outstanding debts, which were presumably copied from roll to roll until they were paid - and, of course, information copied from year to year may easily become anachronistic.  Derbyshire Extracts of Pipe Rolls, extracted from Yeatman’s “Feudal History” are available through this website.

Early Charters

  1. Hearth Tax
  2. Free & Voluntary Present: This, as the name indicates, is a list of those persons making a “voluntary” contribution to the King.

Court Records

  1. Petty Sessions
  2. County Quarter Sessions
  3. Estate Records(Strutt Estate)
  4. Wills & Probate
  5. Parish Records 


Public records: Subsidies and other taxes

Medieval monarchs were frequently desperate for money, and devised a bewildering variety of taxes to raise it. This activity left behind a huge residue of detailed records, which are potentially a mine of information for genealogists. Moreover, although for obvious reasons the rich were taxed most heavily and most often, on occasions taxation extended right to the lowest levels of society.

The largest accumulation of taxation records is in class E 179, traditionally known as the 'subsidy rolls', produced between the 12th and the 17th centuries. An online listing of the records, the E 179 Database, is in progress (it currently covers more than 25,000 documents, with records of lay taxation in five English counties complete). It can be searched by place, date and other categories, and gives descriptions of the records, lists of places covered, and details of published texts, but does not include transcripts of the names mentioned in the documents. A published work covering taxation records in E 179, Lay Taxes in England and Wales, 1188-1688, has also been produced, which includes a detailed chronological listing of all the taxes levied, the political circumstances which gave rise to them, and the administrative procedures for their collection.

Forms of taxation

Taxes were raised in many different ways. Earlier land taxes - including carucage, feudal aids, scutage and tallage - are discussed in a separate section. In the early 13th century a new variation - the subsidy based on a fraction of the value of moveable goods - was developed, and went on to become a mainstay of medieval taxation. Initially, the fraction varied with each assessment, but from 1334 the process was simplified by fixing the sums required from each community at the amounts that had been levied in 1332. These were based on one fifteenth for rural and one tenth for urban areas and the royal demesne. The tax was therefore known as a fifteenth and tenth from that time until its abolition in the 17th century. The poorest inhabitants, and also the counties of Cheshire and Durham, were exempt, and few returns have survived before 1294. In addition, after the system was reformed in 1334, names of individual taxpayers were not returned to the Exchequer (except for Kent and Sussex). Nevertheless, valuable returns survive for the intervening period, listing for each county the taxpayers and the amounts for which they were assessed. Many of those for the 1332 assessment have been printed.

Another device for raising money, employed from the mid-14th century onwards, was the forced loan (known in later Tudor times as the privy seal loan). These 'loans' were usually voluntary in theory - although refusal could be very difficult, and might result in imprisonment - and were often never repaid. They varied in their scope, but often only the wealthier members of society were invited to contribute.

In contrast, the three poll taxes levied between 1377 and 1381 embraced the whole adult population, both male and female - only beggars were exempted. Many returns have survived, the most detailed being those of 1379, in which occupations were often stated. On the other hand, these returns are less complete than those of 1377 because - just as in the 20th century - there was widespread evasion of the poll tax. In addition, some of the 1381 assessments were destroyed in the ensuing Peasants' Revolt. The experiment was not repeated for several hundred years.

The surviving poll tax returns have been printed in full in Carolyn Fenwick's The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379, and 1381 (1998-2005).

In the fifteenth century, in parallel with the continuing use of fifteenth and tenths and forced loans, a succession of subsidies was levied, essentially based on landed income, but often also with an element of taxation on moveables. Under the Tudors, the sophistication of both the method of assessment and the administrative procedure increased, and a larger proportion of the population became liable, though evasion later became widespread. The survival of the earlier returns is uneven, but from 1523 a fairly complete series survives, the fullest being those of 1524 and 1525. A number of those from the first half of the 15th century have been printed.

Links and bibliography for subsidies and other taxes

Available online:

  1. Taxation Records Before 1660 (P.R.O. information leaflet)
  2. Exchequer: King's Remembrancer: Particulars of Account and other records relating to Lay and Clerical Taxation
  3. Medieval Customs' Accounts (P.R.O. information leaflet)

Also available online:

  1. E 179 Database (Public Record Office)
    Listing of tax records from class E 179 (12th-17th centuries), in progress, searchable by place, date and other categories. Currently covers over 25,000 documents, with records of lay taxation in five English counties complete. It gives descriptions of the records, lists of places covered, and details of published texts, but does not include transcripts of the names mentioned in the documents
  2. Gazetteer of Military Levies from the City of London, 1509-1603 (Dr. Ian W. Archer, Keble College, Oxford)
    Although it contains no names of individuals, this is a very extensive list, with full details and references to manuscript and published sources for each levy.
  3. The Muster Rolls for Derbyshire - Clay Name Study
  4. The 1522 Muster Roll for West Berkshire: Part One Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five (The Vale and Downland Museum, Wantage). PDF format. Series of four articles by Lis Garnish discussing and analysing the records (only a few names are mentioned), with a critical reply by Simon Kemp.
  5. UK Genealogy Search for a wide range of parish records.

Published works:

  1. M. W. Beresford, Lay subsidies and poll taxes (Bridge Place, 1963)
  2. Carolyn Fenwick, The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379, and 1381 (3 parts, 1998-2005)
    Includes transcripts of all the surviving returns. The third part contains indexes to the places covered, but not to individual taxpayers.
  3. R. E. Glasscock, ed., The Lay Subsidy of 1334 (London, 1975)
    Includes a listing of the places assessed, and the (fixed) assessments which applied from 1334
  4. R. W. Hoyle, Tudor taxation records: a guide for users (P.R.O. Readers' Guide no 5; London, 1994)
    Includes listings of printed records
  5. M. Jurkowski, C. Smith and D. Crook, Lay Taxes in England and Wales, 1188-1688 (Kew, 1998)
    Comprehensive chronological listing of taxes, with some notes of published returns 

Seventeenth Century Tax and Other Lists

Derbyshire Marriages

Transcriptions of the marriage registers about half the parishes of Derbyshire (mainly in the south and east) have been published in Phillimore's "Derbyshire Parish Registers". Other transcripts are available as typescripts at the Derbyshire Record Office and in the library of the DFHS. More recently a number of parishes have been indexed on CD-rom. A significant number of parishes remain neither transcribed nor indexed.

Visitation Pedigrees

The visitations of the heralds were made to arms bearing families to check and validate their right to bear arms. These visitations also provided a useful source of income to the royal exchequer since fees were levied by the heralds. Visitations of Derbyshire took place in 1569, 1611 and after the restoration in 1662. Brailsford pedigrees also are found in the visitations of Nottinghamshire and of London in 1662 and 1664. Data from these visitations have been published by the Harleian Society.

(1) 1599 and 1603 Subsidy Rolls - A Subsidy was the monarch's method of raising taxes. It was in effect a property tax. The first figure after the name is the value of the property, the second is the amount of tax payable. The sums are in pounds (li), shillings (s) and pence (d). (1 pound=20 shillings, 1 shilling=12 pence)

(2) 1633 Freeholders List - "The Vills and Freeholders of Derbyshire 1633"

(3) 1641/2 Protestation Returns - "Protestation Returns, 1641/2, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire", NFHS All adult males in each parish were required by Act of Parliament to sign the Protestation Return. This was in effect a declaration of loyalty to "the true Reformed Protestant Religion" and to the king, Charles I. Most of the Derbyshire returns have not survived but many from Nottinghamshire and from Lincolnshire have and have been transcribed. Where the return has survived it is in effect a census of all adult males in the parish.

(4) 1661 The Free and Voluntary Present - Transcribed by David Clay, Derbys. Family History Soc., 1992>

(5) Hearth Tax Assessments From "Nottinghamshire Hearth Tax, 1664 and 1674" - Notts. Family History Society Record Series, Vol.24 1670 - "Derbyshire Hearth Tax Assessments 1662-70" - Derbys Record Society, Vol.7

NOTE: All of these may be found on the website or the FamilySearch website, but a subscription and/or registration is required.

1661 The Free and Voluntary Present

In 1661 Parliament passed a bill to present the newly restored King Charles II with a "free and voluntary present" to assist with the costs of re-establishing his court. The money was to be raised by a public subscription. In Derbyshire the subscription was raised during Oct/Nov 1661. All the Brailsford entries are found in Scarsdale Hundred.

5. Hearth Tax Assessments (see here)

This tax was normally paid by the occupier of the property. Exemptions were made for property worth less than £1 (20s) per annum or less than £10 overall, and for the poor. The Hearth Tax, or Chimney money as it was popularly called, a type of levy entirely new to England, was introduced in 1662 and withdrawn in 1689. It was at the rate of two shillings per annum for each hearth or stove assessed. The hearth tax, granted to Charles II and his heirs in perpetuity by the Act of 1662 was intended to be part of the ordinary revenue of the king, that is the finance necessary to conduct the normal business of government for the whole of his reign.
' Derbyshire Hearth Tax Assessments 1662 - 70` Derbyshire Record Society

Typical number of hearths:
  Husbandman, 1
  Most craftsmen, tradesmen and yeomen, 2-3
  Wealthier ditto and merchants, 4-7
  Gentry and nobility, 8 or more


  1. Some internet libraries
  2. Medieval and early modern texts:
    1. (1) Works arranged by author, A-G, H-N and O-Z
    2. (2) Anonymous works arranged by place name
    3. (3) Anonymous works and collections arranged by subject
  3. Modern works:
    1. (1) History
    2. (2) County and local history
    3. (3) Modern biography and prosopography
    4. (4) Peerages and other compilations
  4. Public records
    1. (1) Land taxes and feudal surveys
    2. (2) Inquisitions post mortem
    3. (3) Pipe rolls
    4. (4) Taxation and other lists
    5. (5) Common law records
    6. (6) Feet of fines
    7. (7) Chancery and other equity suits
    8. (8) Chancery rolls
    9. (9) Miscellaneous public records
  5. Charters
  6. Manorial records
  7. Probate records
  8. Funeral monuments
  9. Church records and religious houses
  10. Parish registers
  11. Heraldry
  12. Heralds' Visitations and the College of Arms
  13. Miscellaneous
    1. (1) Urban and guild records
    2. (2) Schools, Universities and Inns of Court
    3. (3) Private letters and papers

Derbyshire Records Office, Matlock:

The Record Office has a vast collection of original documents relating to Derbyshire.

The collections include:   

  1. Official records of Derbyshire County Council and its predecessors.
  2. Records of Derby and Derbyshire Quarter Sessions.
  3. Archives of many other Derbyshire public bodies including hospitals, courts, local councils and the Derby probate registry.
  4. Archives of the Diocese of Derby and of over 400 Anglican parishes in the county.
  5. Archives from Derbyshire schools, industries, businesses, societies, charities, estates, families and voluntary groups.

These collections include original:

  1. Parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials from the 16th century onwards.
  2. Registers of baptisms, marriages and burials in non-conformist chapels from the 17th century onwards.
  3. Personal and estate papers from major Derbyshire families.
  4. Wills and probate records of Derbyshire people from 1858 to 1961.
  5. Cemetery records for most of Derbyshire from the 19th century.
  6. Electoral registers from 1832.
  7. Manuscript and printed plans from the 17th century onwards including estate plans, tithe maps, enclosure maps and early ordnance survey maps.

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