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Trac­ing an­ces­tors in the 18th cen­tury might not be as easy as the 19th cen­tury be­cause there are no census re­turns or com­plete cen­tralised na­tional in­dexes. How­ever, a lit­tle bit of sleuthing can go a long way. Here are some of the larger col­lec­tions of records that can help struc­ture your re­search into an­ces­tors dur­ing the 1700s.

Parish records

Prior to civil reg­is­tra­tion, we have to rely on reg­is­ters of bap­tisms, mar­riages and buri­als to join up the dots be­tween branches on our fam­ily tree. Un­for­tu­nately th­ese records are not par­tic­u­larly de­tailed, and it was up to the pre­sid­ing cler­gy­man whether the names of both par­ents were given on a bap­tism reg­is­ter, whether oc­cu­pa­tions or ad­dresses were recorded, and whether ages were noted on burial reg­is­ters, so pro­ceed with cau­tion. On the plus side, many parish reg­is­ters held in county record of­fices are now avail­able to search on­line at Fam­i­lySearch. org and the other big ge­neal­ogy web­sites.

Non­con­formist reg­is­ters

Hard­wicke’s Mar­riage Act stip­u­lated that all mar­riages, re­gard­less of religious de­nom­i­na­tion, legally had to take place in a li­censed Angli­can church from 1753, with the ex­cep­tion of Jewish and Quaker wed­dings. Nev­er­the­less, ini­ti­a­tions into one of the many non­con­formist faiths may ex­plain why you can find a mar­riage for your an­ces­tor in the lo­cal parish church but no bap­tism. In­creas­ing num­bers of parish­ioners aban­doned the Angli­can flock dur­ing this pe­riod to fol­low dis­sent­ing min­is­ters. The­Ge­neal­o­gist.co.uk and Ances­try.co.uk have scanned reg­is­ters sub­mit­ted to the GRO by Protes­tant non­con­formist con­gre­ga­tions, and some re­gional col­lec­tions are on Find­my­past.co.uk.

Wills

Th­ese are among the most in­for­ma­tive sources for piec­ing to­gether a pic­ture of a fam­ily, since they usu­ally men­tion the names and some­times ad­dresses and oc­cu­pa­tions of next of kin and ex­tended fam­ily. If your an­ces­tor wrote a will, the ex­ecu­tor could take it to an ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal court to have it ‘proved’, and a copy may sur­vive. Check the records of the Pre­rog­a­tive Courts of Can­ter­bury and York, as well as lo­cal con­sis­tory courts, archdea­conry courts and pe­cu­liar courts to en­sure a thor­ough search. If noth­ing is found us­ing the pro­bate in­dexes on the three prin­ci­pal ge­neal­ogy web­sites, try search­ing in­dexes at the county record of­fice lo­cal to where your an­ces­tor died, and the Borth­wick In­sti­tute in York.

Poor Law records

A sur­pris­ing amount of in­for­ma­tion can be gleaned about less for­tu­nate mem­bers of so­ci­ety who went cap in hand to the parish over­seers, or, worse still, ended up in the work­house. Un­mar­ried women found to be preg­nant were ex­am­ined by parish of­fi­cials to de­ter­mine who the father was, and at­tempts were then made to have him sign a bas­tardy bond se­cur­ing the child’s main­te­nance. Th­ese records, along with set­tle­ment ex­am­i­na­tions en­quir­ing into a per­son’s ori­gins, plus re­moval or­ders, ap­pren­tice­ship in­den­tures for pau­per chil­dren, and rate books are all held in county record of­fices, though some re­gional col­lec­tions are now on­line.

You can search many 18th- cen­tury parish reg­is­ters on­line for free at Fam­i­lySearch.org

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