What’s avail­able on­line and in the ar­chives

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Farm records

There were 250,000 farms in Eng­land and Wales in the 19th cen­tury, yet only a small num­ber of records sur­vive. Search with the name of the farm on dis­cov­­tion­ or try cat­a­logue.nrscot­­cat­a­logue for Scot­land. The spe­cial­ist col­lec­tion in Eng­land is the Museum of English Ru­ral Life ( MERL) in Read­ing ( read­, but lo­cal record of­fices may also have some farm records.


First pub­lished at the end of the 18th cen­tury, county di­rec­to­ries flour­ished from the mid-19th cen­tury on­wards. Lo­cal stud­ies li­braries and record of­fices have di­rec­to­ries for their area. The Guild­hall Li­brary, Lon­don has the na­tion’s big­gest col­lec­tion. The Uni­ver­sity of Le­ices­ter has digi­tised many di­rec­to­ries of Eng­land and Wales spe­cial­col­lec­­ing­page /col­lec­tion/p16445­coll4 and a sim­i­lar col­lec­tion

for Scot­land is at dig­i­­rec­to­ries.

Poor law records

Lo­cal poor law records may men­tion ru­ral an­ces­tors who hit hard times. Lo­cal record of­fices hold many records of the Boards of Guardians (post 1834) and par­ish vestry records (pre 1834). Search dis­cov­­tion­ to see what sur­vives for the area you are in­ter­ested in. Sub­scrip­tion sites An­ces­try and Find­my­past are start­ing to digi­tise records held at some ar­chives.

Quar­ter and petty ses­sions

Records of the county ses­sions are mostly in county record of­fices. Some of­fices have digi­tised their col­lec­tions too in as­so­ci­a­tion with An­ces­try and Find­my­past and lo­cal news­pa­pers (british­news­pa­per­ar­ and find­my­ of­ten re­ported on cases.

Es­tate records

Peo­ple who lived or worked on landed es­tates may fea­ture in ren­tals, sur­veys, ac­counts, and cor­re­spon­dence. Di­rec­to­ries re­veal who owned the land in the par­ish and a search on dis­cov­ery.

na­tion­ will show whether any records for that es­tate sur­vive. A use­ful guide for trac­ing Scot­tish es­tate records can be found at nrscot­ re­search/ guides/ es­tate-records.

Union records

From the 1870s on­wards agri­cul­tural trade unions started to grow, but few doc­u­ments sur­vive. There is a big ar­chive for the Na­tional Union of Agri­cul­tural and Al­lied Work­ers, which traces its ori­gins to 1908, at MERL. They can be use­ful for trac­ing an an­ces­tor who was a union of­fi­cial, but there are no gen­eral mem­ber­ship records. The same is true of the agri­cul­tural sec­tion of the Trans­port and Gen­eral Work­ers Union, the records of which are at the Mod­ern Records Cen­tre, Uni­ver­sity of War­wick ( www2.war­­vices/li­brary/mrc). The Na­tional Farm­ers’ Union was founded in 1908, and a good col­lec­tion of ar­chives for the first 40 years or so is at MERL. Records are mainly ad­min­is­tra­tive, so mem­bers who were on com­mit­tees fea­ture most.

Maps and plans

Maps can show where our ru­ral an­ces­tors lived – if we’re lucky right down to the ex­act cot­tage! En­clo­sure maps, tithe maps and es­tate maps are among com­mon types to be found. The col­lec­tions in the Bri­tish Li­brary and The Na­tional Ar­chives are large, but lo­cal record of­fices are of­ten a good start­ing place. On­line sources in­clude Old Maps ( and Old Maps On­line ( oldmap­son­, while some record of­fices have digi­tised map col­lec­tions.

Ex­plore di­rec­to­ries us­ing the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions On­line page at the Uni­ver­sity of Le­ices­ter

Search union records at the Uni­ver­sity of War­wick’s Mod­ern Records Cen­tre

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