Jonathan Scott re­turns to the city of dream­ing spires to in­ves­ti­gate re­sources for ge­neal­o­gists in Oxfordshire

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Find your Oxfordshire fore­bears

The on­go­ing Oxfordshire DNA project aims to cre­ate a repos­i­tory for DNA hap­lo­types from the county

Aburial took place in Sand­ford-on-Thames in 1591. The man had drowned while swim­ming and wash­ing at Sand­ford Ferry with other “va­grant per­sons”. Since no lo­cal knew who he was or where he came from, the jury at the coroner’s in­quest gave him what they thought was an ap­pro­pri­ate name – John Mutch­wa­ter.

This is just one of count­less sto­ries and events pre­served in the parish reg­is­ters, which re­side at the Oxfordshire His­tory Cen­tre.

Since our last visit to the county at the end of 2013, dig­i­tal images of the cen­tre’s bap­tism, mar­riage and burial reg­is­ters have launched on Ances­try, in a project funded by Oxfordshire Fam­ily His­tory So­ci­ety. This in­volved the scan­ning of records from about 300 parishes, and the re­sult­ing Oxfordshire Col­lec­tion cur­rently con­sists of nearly two mil­lion pre-1812 reg­is­ters, plus a fur­ther 1.25 mil­lion births and bap­tisms up to 1915, mar­riages and banns to 1930 and deaths/buri­als as far as 1965 (

The so­ci­ety plays an im­por­tant role in the county’s her­itage ser­vices. Not only does it con­tinue to lead and pro­vide vol­un­teers for all kinds of projects and publi­ca­tions, but mem­bers also an­swer queries at li­brary helpdesks.

Last year the so­ci­ety launched a two-year re­search project ex­am­in­ing sur­names recorded in county reg­is­ters from 1538 on­wards. The aim is to build a com­pre­hen­sive data­base of Oxfordshire sur­names, to trace their where­abouts in dif­fer­ent parishes over time, and to plot ori­gins and hotspots.

This dove­tails with the on­go­ing Oxfordshire DNA project ( fam­i­ pub­lic/oxfordshire), which en­cour­ages peo­ple with proven Oxfordshire ances­try to have a DNA test. The ul­ti­mate goals are to cre­ate a repos­i­tory for DNA hap­lo­types from the county; to find fur­ther clues about the ori­gins of sur­names as­so­ci­ated with Oxfordshire; to help ver­ify doc­u­men­tary re­search; and per­haps to break down brick walls that have been caused by il­le­git­i­macy or adop­tion.

The main county repos­i­tory, the Oxfordshire His­tory Cen­tre, opened its doors in Ox­ford in July 2011. It is home to both the county archival col­lec­tions, and the vast lo­cal stud­ies and pho­to­graphic col­lec­tions that were once stored at Ox­ford Cen­tral Li­brary. The prac­ti­cal up­shot is that to­day a re­searcher might be able to find a re­la­tion in the Gen­eral Reg­is­ter Of­fice in­dexes or parish

reg­is­ters, then look for ref­er­ences in coroner’s in­quests or news­pa­per re­ports with­out ever hav­ing to leave the build­ing.

A wealth of re­sources

Along­side parish ma­te­rial, the cen­tre houses wills, coun­cil records, school and Poor Law ma­te­rial, elec­toral reg­is­ters and court records. The lat­ter in­cludes both church courts (dat­ing from be­tween c1542 and 1860) and quar­ter ses­sions, which cover all kinds of crim­i­nal and ad­min­is­tra­tive busi­ness. Cat­a­logues of some quar­ter ses­sions ma­te­rial can be searched via the Her­itage Search cat­a­logue avail­able at her­itage­search.

Printed or mi­cro­form sources in­clude news­pa­pers, jour­nals and mag­a­zines, trade and street di­rec­to­ries, tran­scripts of parish reg­is­ters and lo­cal cen­suses, plus books and pam­phlets on Oxfordshire. These sit along­side oral his­tory record­ings and a pho­to­graphic archive.

The cen­tre has ma­te­rial re­lat­ing to lo­cal busi­nesses and firms, such as Mor­ris Motors, Mor­rell’s Brew­ery of Ox­ford and Mor­land Brew­ery of Abing­don – Mor­land’s sur­viv­ing records in­clude ti­tle deeds and ten­ancy agree­ments, plans of pubs, minute books and fi­nan­cial records.

Mark Prid­dey, the man­ager of the His­tory Cen­tre, ex­plains that since our last visit the cen­tre has con­tin­ued to take in a va­ri­ety of of­fi­cial, or­gan­i­sa­tional and in­di­vid­ual col­lec­tions from through­out Oxfordshire.

“We have re­ceived al­most 500 de­posits in the past five years,”

Tithe maps from more than 150 parishes be­tween 1838 and 1865, rep­re­sent­ing the first de­tailed map­ping of some towns and vil­lages, have been digi­tised

he says. “Among these are reg­u­lar de­posits of parish reg­is­ters, some from parishes that have not lodged ma­te­rial with us for many years, and Methodist Cir­cuit and Quaker Meet­ing records.”

Other sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tions with po­ten­tial for re­search­ing in­di­vid­u­als in­clude records of Early’s Blan­ket Com­pany of Wit­ney, the Oxfordshire Fed­er­a­tion of Women’s In­sti­tutes, Ox­ford Play­house, Kid­ding­ton Hall Es­tate, Nep­tune Row­ing Club (City of Ox­ford), and log books, ad­mis­sion reg­is­ters and gover­nors’ min­utes from many schools in­clud­ing City of Ox­ford High School.

The Oxfordshire His­tory Cen­tre web­site ( oxfordshire.­ford­shire­his­tory) has also been given a ma­jor over­haul since 2013. You can find de­tails of all ma­jor col­lec­tions, of­ten with down­load­able fact sheets and han­dlists (such as those for tithe and en­clo­sure records), as well as some in­dexes (in­clud­ing for school records). Mean­while the vast pho­to­graphic col­lec­tions – more than 400,000 images from c1850 to the present day – are search­able via a sep­a­rate web­site, pic­ture­

Mark says that much of the staff ’s time over the past five years has been spent “con­sol­i­dat­ing and ra­tio­nal­is­ing the archive, pho­to­graphic and printed col­lec­tions” in or­der to im­prove things for vis­i­tors on the ground and re­mote re­searchers who are ac­cess­ing the col­lec­tions on­line.

The cen­tre’s dis­trict val­u­a­tion records for ex­am­ple – maps and sur­vey books cov­er­ing 1910– 1915 – have been digi­tised, and are search­able by parish on the main web­site.

“These records cover in­di­vid­ual and prop­erty hold­ings in pre-1974 Oxfordshire. The books give the names of own­ers and oc­cu­piers of ev­ery build­ing and par­cel of land sur­veyed in the county.” An in­ter­ac­tive map and images of the in­di­vid­ual sur­vey forms are avail­able for fam­ily his­to­ri­ans to view in the pub­lic search­room.

Mean­while tithe maps from more than 150 parishes be­tween 1838 and 1865, rep­re­sent­ing the first de­tailed map­ping of some of these towns and vil­lages, have also been digi­tised: “At present these are avail­able to view in our search­room, but ul­ti­mately we are aim­ing to make these ac­ces­si­ble and search­able on­line as part of a wider project for a por­tal to Oxfordshire’s his­toric and cur­rent maps.”

There is also a sec­ond­ment ar­range­ment with Ox­ford City Coun­cil, with one of the county archivists cat­a­logu­ing and pro­vid­ing ac­cess to the city’s ar­chives. “Some of these are housed here at the His­tory Cen­tre, but the rest are at the Town Hall,” Mark ex­plains. “By the time the project fin­ishes in 2021, the city’s core ar­chives will be avail­able via on­line cat­a­logues, and re­searchers will be able to view ma­te­rial pre­vi­ously not open to gen­eral ac­cess.”

On the ground the cen­tre’s fa­cil­i­ties in­clude a re­cep­tion café, 10 com­put­ers for pub­lic use, two large-screen PCs for ac­cess­ing map col­lec­tions (tithe, dis­trict val­u­a­tion, Ord­nance Sur­vey and other printed maps), mi­cro­film read­ers for lo­cal news­pa­pers, and desk-spots for re­searchers to con­sult doc­u­ments only ac­ces­si­ble in their orig­i­nal or printed form.

The cen­tre has also re­cently been given grant fund­ing by The Na­tional Ar­chives (TNA) to up­date the Oxfordshire sec­tion of the Mano­rial Doc­u­ments Reg­is­ter – in other words to re­view the ex­ist­ing reg­is­ter, lo­cate mano­rial doc­u­ments not al­ready in­cluded, and up­load this in­for­ma­tion to TNA’s web­site.

“The ini­tial stages of this work have high­lighted the range of places and repos­i­to­ries that might con­tain court rolls and other mano­rial records,” says Mark. “For ex­am­ple, mano­rial doc­u­ments for the vil­lage of Ad­der­bury are held at the Bodleian Li­brary, the Bri­tish Mu­seum, an Ox­ford col­lege, in Wilt­shire, in Hamp­shire and in pri­vate hands in Scotland.”

Re­mem­ber too that some parishes in mod­ern Oxfordshire were for­merly part of Berk­shire, so use­ful ma­te­rial will re­side at Berk­shire Record Of­fice in Read­ing. Also Ox­ford col­leges main­tained their own ar­chives, con­tain­ing records of stu­dents, prop­erty and ten­ants (find out more at the Ox­ford Archivists’ Con­sor­tium’s web­site: Blen­heim Palace also keeps a large archive stored in rooms with con­trolled tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity ( blenheim­

Hert­ford Bridge, over New Col­lege Lane in Ox­ford, is said to re­sem­ble the Bridge of Sighs in Venice

A fore­man su­per­vises Vic­to­rian labourers as they peel wil­lows for bas­ket-mak­ing at Fisher Row, Ox­ford

Work­ers at the Mor­ris Motors fac­tory at Cowley rub down the body­work of a car

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