What’s available online and in the archives
All Chancery Court records are held at The National Archives ( TNA) in Kew. The indexing is slightly complicated but there are good online research guides to what is available, including on the TNA’s own website ( bit.ly/1IfsSGW) and on FamilySearch ( bit.ly/1IfsMiv).
Bills and Answers
The Bills and Answers are known as the ‘pleadings’ and are grouped in several different classes, reference numbers C 1- C 16. The reference numbers are approximately chronological, although there are several concurrent series – particularly for the period c1649 to 1714, where there are six different series. Some cases cross between one series and another, particularly when a counter- claim was brought, and it is always worth searching through all of the series.
These records are gradually being described online and are therefore searchable. Its research guide to Chancery records includes an updated list of what level of detail for each series is included in Discovery. This can vary from the surnames only of just the principal plaintiff and the principal defendant, to the full names of all the plaintiffs and defendants, the place involved, and the general subject of the case. Where the place name has been included in the description, it is wise to search for this, as many cases do not involve the families of the plaintiff or the defendant but another related family. For example, in one case between Thomas Springbatt and Francis Giffard there are five generations of the Mundy family described, as the case involved a possible entail of lands granted in her will by Mary Mundy. The villages involved were Wilsford and Charlton in Wiltshire.
The Depositions are divided into Town Depositions (C 24) for those taken in the London area, and Country Depositions (C 21 and C 22) for those taken elsewhere. Discovery does not include the names of the individual witnesses, but many of these can be found in the Bernau Index at the Society of Genealogists. See TNA’s research guide for exactly what is included in the Bernau Index.
The Cause Books (C 32) are very helpful for 19th- century records and run from 1842 to 1880. They summarise each case and list the documents that comprise the case.
Masters’ Reports (C 38) can include detailed references to the pleadings, but also certificates such as proof of sale of property.
Decrees and Orders
Decrees and Orders (C 33) are often purely administrative but can record the final judgement. Other records relating to cases such as the Masters’ Exhibits, Masters’ Documents, Petitions, and Affidavits are also all held at TNA, and access to these is via on-site indexes. Some final decrees are enrolled in the TNA class C 78 and these are being photographed and indexed by the Anglo American Legal Tradition ( uh.edu/waalt/ index.php/Chancery_ Final_ Decrees).
Chancery Court records are being added to TNA’s Discovery catalogue