I’ve concentrated mainly on Nicholas Delaney, Sarah Marshall and John Simpson in this blog so far. They are three of my earliest Australians, all convicts. And because convicts tend to be well-documented, they are easier to trace.
And I’ve been given some wise advice – don’t jump around your family tree, concentrate on one line. (Do you agree?)
But this time I’m going to take a leap onto a far-away branch and look at the background of the man who is the fourth convict I’ve found (so far). James Thomas Richards was a Thames waterman, transported for theft on the Royal Sovereign in 1835. That makes him a Londoner.
Or does it?
On Friday I went to the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) headquarters in Farringdon for a day of workshops dedicated to researching London ancestors.
The first thing they said was that looking for Londoners was far from easy. (Great, I thought, having come up against all the well-known brick walls there are for Irish research.)
But they gave us a lot of tips to make the task easier and, since there will be plenty of people with London ancestor, I thought I’d share some of these while they’re fresh. I won’t put everything down here or it would be a huge post and dull reading, but I hope there will be enough tips, pointers and links to make looking for your Londoner a little easier.
What is London?
That’s the first question. The City of London, as seen in the Tudor map above? The bigger city, now taking in Westminster, in this 1806 map – made just as London’s huge and fast population explosion was beginning, leading to the old London County? (The green area to the left is Hyde Park, then jutting out into countryside, now in the middle of town.) Or modern Greater London?
In other words, what is now in London may not have been part of it when your ancestor lived. My James Thomas Richards was from Deptford; central London, you’d think. No – in 1835 it was part of the county of Kent. You can just see it as a small jumble of dockyards in the bottom right of the map.
So first find a map and see where your ancestor was at the time they lived there. Some excellent online maps include Horwood’s of 1799, with fantastic detail, Greenwood’s of 1827, fairly detailed, and Charles Booth’s poverty maps. Warning – it’s very easy to spend a lot of time
playing researching on these sites. And another warning – your ancestor may have come to London from another town or village, so their birth details may not be found in your London region searches.
Registers and indexes
Now you’ve found where your ancestor lived, you’ll be able to work out which parish they were in, which you will need if they were alive in or before 1837. Why that date? Because that is when modern Births, Marriages and Deaths registers began in England. You won’t find James Richards on Free BMD – he was in Australia before those records began. (You may need to use Phillimore’s Atlas to find the name of the ‘old’ parish, as this post explains.)
Here are some places you can find BMDs and their older counterparts, baptisms, marraiges and burials. You’ll probably find that Ancestry.co.uk will crop up a lot in this post. This isn’t because I’m endorsing it, but because LMA have a partnership with them to digitise all their records.
Parish registers are online at Ancestry under this arrangement. You can also look at the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on Family Search, though not all parishes have been transcribed. I’ve heard it said that the transcription on FS is better than on Ancestry, but of course I couldn’t possibly comment. You could also look at the appropriate National Index of Parish Registers booklet, published by the Society of Genealogists.
Pallot’s Marriage Index and Boyd’s Marriage Index are just what they say and again don’t cover all of London, but if you’ve got a subscription to Ancestry (Pallot’s) or findmypast.co.uk (Boyd’s) they’re worth looking at. FMP also has London Docklands baptisms, which is great for James Richards.
As for burials, those conducted under the rites of the Church of England are on Ancestry. The City of London Burials Index (also on FMP) covers 1813 to the 1850s, but earlier dates are being added. In 1852 the old London burial grounds were closed and new, larger ones, the ‘Magnificent Seven’, including Highgate and Kensal Green, were opened.
Finally in our ancestor’s life cycle, the will, or rather the court that dealt with probate. The Prerogative Court of Canterbury covers relatively wealthy individuals living mainly in the south of England and most of Wales and can be seen at the National Archives and online. There were 10 probate courts in London, all indexed on Ancestry. The Court of the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster is separate, and can be found on FS and, recently, has an arrangement with FMP.
Huge numbers of London men were apprentices, like James Richards, or members of trade associations known as guilds or livery companies. The Guildhall Library holds their records at the moment, while the London Apprenticeship Abstracts are on origins.net.
And then if you were like James and got caught committing a crime, there are the records of the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey). I found him in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, which are online and free (and another wonderful way to spend too much time), but these are not the original records, which are kept at the National Archives in Kew.
This is a long post, and I’ve only written about what I learned at LMA. I’ve checked most, but not all, online. I wanted to post while I could still see the workshops in my mind’s eye. And there’s so much more to add about researching Londoners, I’m sure.
Other places to go to for tips on finding your London ancestor include London Lives. GENUKI has an impressive list of London links, and Ron Lankshear has some more links on his page, which leads with the cheerful message: ‘London – a difficult place to research’. I think I can agree, Ron. But it’s also fascinating and fun.
If I’ve missed any important London resources please let me know – and if any of the information needs correcting, tell me that, too!
- Update, 2.1.2014 – I’ve just learned that the wonderful MAPCO site is unavailable, and its future is ‘uncertain’. John D Reid of Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections has the details here.
• Update, May 19th – since I wrote this post at the end of April, the best (in my view) site for detailed views of Horwood’s and Greenwood’s maps has become unavailable. The account at http://www.oldlondonmaps.com has been suspended. I’ve changed the links in the text to the next best I could find. There is also a huge list of links to old London maps online here.
• Ancestry or FMP for UK research? Peter Calver of LostCousins has a useful overview here, about half way down the page.
• BBC Television screened A Picture of London on Saturday, May 26 2012 at 2115 (BBC2). The programme-makers say about it: “Architects and social engineers have strived to organise London, but painters, writers and many more have revelled in its labyrinthine unruliness.
“This is the story of a city that tried to impose order on its streets, but actually discovered time after time that its true character lay in an unplanned, chaotic nature.”
I enjoyed it – catch it via iPlayer if you can. It was a historical and pictorial tour from the Tudor map above to the present skyscrapers and some imaginary future Londons too. The beauty, squalor, disasters and recoveries of the always-changing city were well illustrated through paintings, maps and photographs (though I’d have preferred to see more of these and fewer of the shots of 21st-century people rushing around, but that seems to be the fashion this year). The people of London, past and present, were there, too, and just as interesting to me.
August 18th update: Map lovers – here’s a fascinating post about using a C17th map (1658, by Wenceslaus Hollar) and Google Earth.
And (September 4th) a new book, London: A History in Maps has just been published by the British Library. If you’ve got £30 to spare…
Read about the wonderful Visscher Panorama of London in 1616
Plus (September 19th) a post about digital mapping of London with some useful links