Other Primary Sources
There are some specific types of primary sources that can be useful for researching local history. These include:
There are a number of other types of historic maps that can be consulted, including:
Goad Insurance Plans
These were produced for fire insurance and were produced from 1885-1970 by the firm Charles E. Goad Ltd. They were produced at a scale of 1:480 and 1:600. They provide a record of all the individual buildings and businesses in a street, coving most major towns and cities. The maps are still updated today, so can also provide information on current street plans and buildings.
Photographs, Illustrations and Engravings
A huge variety of pictorial sources are available from paintings and old photographs through to postcards and illustrations in books.
Click here for larger image
Registers kept by Church of England parishes may contain records of baptisms, marriages and burials from as early as the 1530s. They are most frequently used for family history research, but they can also be used for researching local and social history. For instance, they can be used to examine the level of bastardy within a parish or other local events, such as epidemics and unusual weather conditions. Not all parish registers have survived to the present day. It is also worth bearing in mind that there are also separate registers for Non-Conformist churches.
Registers of electors in Parliamentary elections have been produced annually since 1832. There are some exceptions: there were no registers 1916-17 and 1940-44. There were two registers a year from 1919-26 and 1945-46. They list all electors by parish or electoral district. It must be born in mind that the different groups were enfranchised at different times: 1832 males with larger properties, 1867 all male householders, 1918 all men over 21 and women over 30, 1928 everyone over 21, 1969 everyone over 18.
These inventories accompanied wills and provide records of people's estates at death. They often contain a detailed inventory of personal possessions and provide a fascinating commentary upon personal wealth and material culture. A good example of how to use this type of source is provided by N.W. Alcock's book People at Home: Living in a Warwickshire Village 1500-1800, which covers the parish of Stoneleigh.
Hearth Tax Returns
This tax was collected from 1662 to 1689. Householders were required to pay two shillings for each fire-hearth, paid in two instalments per year. Only individuals whose house was worth more than 20 shillings a year and who paid church and poor rates were liable for the tax. Exemption certificates were issued to those not eligible to pay. For those households that did pay, it provides details of hearths in a property and the amount of tax paid. Therefore the size and importance of a property can be gauged by the number of hearths recorded and will reflect the social standing of the occupants. The hearth tax is useful for examining life in the 17th century, but of course does not include the very poor.
Land tax records date from 1693 to 1963. For local history the most useful period of land tax is from 1775 to 1832, since during this period inclusion on the land tax list provided evidence of voting qualification, thus people were prepared to pay it and the lists are fairly complete. For each parish the land tax lists include the names of owners and occupiers of property and the amount of tax paid. After 1832 the lists are much less complete because of the introduction of electoral registers. Land tax records are useful for determining the owners and occupiers of property before the 19th century.
A rate is a tax raised for local purposes based on the yearly value of a property. Rates have been collected intermittently since the 14th century in different parts of the country. Parish rates, which include Church and Poor Rates, were made compulsory in the 16th and 17th centuries until 1868. From 1868 until the 20th century they continued on a voluntary basis. Parish rate books provide evidence on the occupancy of properties, some evidence of status and can be used to trace particular individuals and families. Poor rates were superseded by general rates after 1925. General rate books were the responsibility of local authorities and the rate books have not always survived. However, general rate books can provide information on the size and value of a property, as well as determining when properties were first occupied and when some streets came into use. They can also be used to trace the movements of individuals and families.
These are an often under used resource. There are many thousands of deeds and related documents held at record offices in deposited collections from solicitors and landed families. They detail the exchange of land between owners and tenants and provide information on the development of property sometimes over a period of several hundred years. They will often also include details of abutments (i.e. adjoining properties).
These plans, which were lodged with the records of the Quarter Sessions, show the development of railways, canals, turnpikes and bridges from the late 18th to early 20th centuries.
There are other broad categories of primary sources which also can be useful for researching local history, including:
These can include details of rentals, surveys, account books, correspondence, maps and deeds, which may date from the late medieval period until the twentieth century. Estate records can be especially useful for finding information on land use, particular families and detailed maps.
These can include court rolls, surveys, steward's accounts and presentments, amongst other items. They may provide varied and useful information but can be difficult to use. Before using these records it is advisable to seek advice from your local record office.
These are records kept by the church. There are two categories of these records.
Parish Records include records relating to officers of the church within a parish, such as churchwardens, Overseers of the Poor and Surveyors of the Highways. They can also include deeds to parish property, plans, faculties, printed material and accounts. All this type of material may be available in your County Record Office.
- Diocesan Records include records of ecclesiastical courts and administrations. Examples include bishops' transcripts, marriage licence bonds and allegations, bishops' registers and wills. However it is worth bearing in mind that not all record offices will hold these records depending on the organisation of a diocese. For instance Worcestershire or Lichfield Record Offices, depending on the area of the county, may hold the diocesan records for Warwickshire, whereas the Warwickshire Record Office holds Coventry Diocesan records (which covers most of Warwickshire).
Oral History Records
Some oral history records may already exist. However it may also be worth speaking to local people who may have memories of the area in the past.
The Oral History Society (http://www.ohs.org.uk/) publishes guidelines for conducting oral history recording, including ethical considerations on dealing with interviewees. They also run training courses for those who wish to take this research further.
Oral History Society
Department of Sociology
University of Essex
Finally there is one final source which although it is a primary source, is most widely available as a printed secondary source:
The Domesday Book
In 1086 William the Conqueror ordered a survey of the whole of England to be conducted in order to assess the extent of the country's resources and land for taxation purposes. The information was collected within one year. It provides records of landholders, their tenants, the amount of land they owned, how many people occupied the land, the different types of land and resources and any buildings present. There are also records of who held the land before and after the Conquest in 1066. The Domesday Book has its limitations, but can provide an early source of information on settlements. The originals of the Domesday Book are held by the National Archives, but a published version for each county is widely available in libraries, record offices and bookshops. Individual County volumes are also published relatively inexpensively by Phillimore.
The Domesday Book is also now available online via The National Archives website www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/domesday.