FO­CUS ON: TU­DOR RECORDS

Take your re­search all the way back to the 16th cen­tury with Ed Dut­ton

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Dr Ed Dut­ton is the au­thor of The Ruler of Cheshire: Sir Piers Dut­ton, Tu­dor Gang­land and the Vi­o­lent Pol­i­tics of the Pala­tine (Léonie Press, 2015), and runs a ge­nealog­i­cal re­search ser­vice – visit dut­tons ge­neal­ogy.wordpress.com

What is it that’s so cap­ti­vat­ing about the 16th cen­tury? Brim­ming with youth­ful con­fi­dence, it’s a time of ad­ven­ture and ex­plo­ration, lay­ing the foun­da­tions of the mod­ern world. But it’s also a time of un­par­al­leled con­flict in which old cer­tain­ties came crash­ing down.

What­ever it is that in­spires us about the 1500s, most of us would rel­ish dis­cov­er­ing who our an­ces­tors were dur­ing the cen­tury of Shake­speare and Henry VIII. Do­ing so with cer­tainty is fiendishly dif­fi­cult. But if we un­der­stand the na­ture, back­ground and re­li­a­bil­ity of par­ish records, wills, court cases, in­qui­si­tions post mortem (IPMs) and heraldic vis­i­ta­tions then we’re fully equipped to track down our Tu­dor fore­bears.

As you get back to the 16th cen­tury, you’ll likely be us­ing par­ish records: bap­tisms, mar­riages and buri­als. These first be­gan to be recorded in 1538 on the in­struc­tions of the king’s chief min­is­ter, Thomas Cromwell (c1485–1540). How­ever, the law wasn’t se­ri­ously en­forced un­til 1598. From this point copies of the par­ish reg­is­ters

had to be sent an­nu­ally to the bishop. This means that there are two sources for par­ish records: the par­ish reg­is­ters and the Bish­ops’ Tran­scripts.

Some­times the reg­is­ter prior to a cer­tain date has been lost, but the records are pre­served in the Bish­ops’ Tran­scripts. In Waver­ton in Cheshire there are no par­ish burial records be­fore 1667, but they are pre­served from 1600 in the Bish­ops’ Tran­scripts. Mar­riage records are the least com­pre­hen­sive, be­cause peo­ple were not legally obliged to marry in church un­til 1754.

Par­ish records vary enor­mously in de­tail. Some rec­tors re­garded them as a waste of ink and pa­per, record­ing the ab­so­lute min­i­mum: just the name of the child and the date of the chris­ten­ing. Other min­is­ters tell you the father’s name, oc­cu­pa­tion and even the part of the par­ish that he came from.

How­ever, you need to ex­er­cise cau­tion when us­ing even the most de­tailed par­ish reg­is­ters or Bish­ops’ Tran­scripts. Par­ish reg­is­ters were sub­ject to da­m­age from rot, leaks, spilled ink and can­dles fall­ing over. Ac­cord­ingly there will of­ten be gaps in the reg­is­ters, some­times of years at a time. Most of the pre­served reg­is­ters are later copies of the orig­i­nals. This means that tran­scrip­tion er­rors can eas­ily creep in. If an en­try in the orig­i­nal was il­leg­i­ble for what­ever rea­son, it sim­ply won’t be in the copy that’s been pre­served.

Ar­dent Catholics re­fused to have their chil­dren chris­tened

Par­ish reg­is­ters were sub­ject to da­m­age from rot, leaks, spilled ink and can­dles fall­ing over

The richer half of the pop­u­la­tion had double the num­ber of sur­viv­ing chil­dren than the poorer half un­til about 1800

by the par­ish priest; some sym­pa­thetic in­cum­bents, such as John Mor­res, the vicar of Black­burn be­tween 1606 and 1628, would al­low a Catholic priest to chris­ten Catholic chil­dren, or bury dead Catholics. How­ever, un­like Mor­res many par­ish priests would not record these events in the reg­is­ters. This all means it is im­pos­si­ble to use a process of elim­i­na­tion to work out who your an­ces­tor was based on the par­ish records – your an­ces­tor might not be in the par­ish records at all.

The power of wills

Re­search look­ing at Suf­folk in the 1620s showed al­most 40 per cent of males left a will. It’s quite likely your an­ces­tor did the same, be­cause by the time we get this far back most of us are de­scended from gen­tle­men and wealthy farm­ers or well-todo mer­chants and crafts­men. This is be­cause the richer half of the pop­u­la­tion had double the num­ber of sur­viv­ing chil­dren than the poorer half un­til about 1800. The wills tend to refer to as­sorted rel­a­tives, which means that you can cross-ref­er­ence them with other wills and doc­u­ments, al­low­ing you to get back fur­ther.

For ex­am­ple the will of Thomas Dut­ton of Waver­ton, hus­band­man (c1580–1632), lists his chil­dren in age or­der, which, cross-ref­er­enced with the par­ish reg­is­ter, proved that he was the father of my an­ces­tor whose own father’s name was not in his bap­tism en­try. The will of Ran­dle Dut­ton of Nantwich, yeo­man (c1570–1630), refers to land that was left to him by his father “Gil­bert Dut­ton”. The tes­ta­ment of Piers Dut­ton of the New­bor­ough, gen­tle­man (c1500–1558), men­tioned a spe­cific “cousin” whose an­ces­try I knew from other sources. So I could work out where Piers fit­ted in. Wills also in­clude lists of debtors, of­ten stat­ing the tes­ta­tor’s re­la­tion­ship to them if there is one. How­ever, it’s worth bear­ing in mind that in the 16th cen­tury words like ‘cousin’ and ‘nephew’ had very dif­fer­ent mean­ings from to­day (see box, left).

As with the reg­is­ters, these wills are usu­ally copies of the orig­i­nals, they may be badly dam­aged, and of­ten wills have not sur­vived. An old ge­nealog­i­cal book on my own fam­ily refers to var­i­ous wills in the Cheshire Ar­chive that are no longer there, so they’ve been lost since just 1901. We also have to un­der­stand the con­text in which the wills were made. They were re­li­gious doc­u­ments that tes­ta­tors used to dis­trib­ute what­ever God had blessed them with in life. Peo­ple would post­pone mak­ing a will to the last pos­si­ble mo­ment,

su­per­sti­tiously be­liev­ing that mak­ing one has­tened death. They would usu­ally be on their deathbeds, and pos­si­bly deliri­ous, when dic­tat­ing their will. So you have to be care­ful read­ing too much into things. Hus­band­man John Lar­den of Tat­ten­hall’s 1601 will lists a group of sib­lings I’d al­ready dis­cov­ered in the wrong age or­der. This does not mean that there were two groups of iden­ti­cally named sib­lings; it just means Lar­den was con­fused. Equally the will of Hugh Dut­ton of Lon­don, gen­tle­man (c1532– 1586), in which he does noth­ing more than leave ev­ery­thing to “my only daugh­ter Jane”, does not im­ply other (es­tranged) sib­lings – Hugh has made his legally un­nec­es­sary will out of re­li­gious duty.

Feu­dal in­qui­si­tion

If some­one held feu­dal land from the Crown then there will be an IPM set­ting out what he owned and, of­ten, who his chil­dren were. These are at The Na­tional Archives (TNA) in Kew.

Court doc­u­ments are an­other valu­able re­source. Tu­dor Eng­land was a law­less so­ci­ety; it was ef­fec­tively a gang­land in which ri­val gen­try bat­tled for con­trol of as much turf as pos­si­ble. Each gen­tle­man had a gang of re­tain­ers (‘ser­vants’) and ten­ants who would help him in­vade the lands of ri­vals, nob­ble ju­ries and beat up or even mur­der the re­tain­ers of en­emy gen­tle­men. With no po­lice force, so­ci­ety was ex­tremely liti­gious. Its nu­mer­ous court cases are pre­served in TNA, and are a mine of in­for­ma­tion. For ex­am­ple wills and reg­is­ters got me back to Thomas Dut­ton of Waver­ton, web­ster (c1550– 1592), who seem­ingly had a brother called Robert. A court case re­vealed that in 1553, in neigh­bour­ing Tat­ten­hall, a young man called Robert Dut­ton, along with other hench­men, had beaten up the par­ish bailiff on the or­ders of his very wealthy master, Ralph Dut­ton Esquire (c1515–1582). Other court cases, over land in­va­sions, re­vealed which Dut­tons held

A her­ald might forge a doc­u­ment in­di­cat­ing some­one’s an­ces­tor had the right to arms

land in Tat­ten­hall in the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, and their re­la­tion­ships to var­i­ous oth­ers.

The Tu­dors were not only ob­sessed with land but also with an­ces­try. The right to use a coat of arms, which was granted to ‘gen­tle­men’ by the her­alds or re­flected de­scent from a grantee such as an an­cient knight, was a pow­er­ful sta­tus sym­bol. The her­alds toured the coun­ties ev­ery 30 years or so to con­duct ‘vis­i­ta­tions’. Those who bore coat ar­mour had to prove their right to do so by pre­sent­ing their fam­ily trees, and men who called them­selves ‘gen­tle­men’ but were non-armiger­ous (that is, they had no right to heraldic arms) had to prove that they had the nec­es­sary life­style, in which case arms could be granted. Manuscripts of these vis­i­ta­tions (known as ‘Har­leian manuscripts’) have been pub­lished, com­posed of de­tailed fam­ily trees from the 17th cen­tury back.

Tran­scrib­ing a tran­scrip­tion

How­ever, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that these are Vic­to­rian tran­scrip­tions of late 17th-cen­tury tran­scrip­tions of now lost manuscripts. And, up­dated by the armiger from mem­ory, even the orig­i­nals were rid­dled with er­rors and omis­sions. Some­times they only record the di­rect line down to the per­son pre­sent­ing his pedi­gree, omit all the sis­ters, and leave out lines that de­scend into the lower gen­try or il­le­git­i­mate lines.

An­other dif­fi­culty for fam­ily his­to­ri­ans is that the her­alds were no­to­ri­ously cor­rupt. If a very wealthy gen­tle­man, whose con­nec­tion to the armiger­ous branch of the fam­ily was lost in the mists of time, had been il­le­gally us­ing the fam­ily’s coat ar­mour, then in re­turn for the right bribe a her­ald might forge a doc­u­ment in­di­cat­ing that the briber’s pre­vi­ously un­known dis­tant an­ces­tor had the right to arms.

How­ever, if you are armed with the right sources, and an un­der­stand­ing of what they can tell you, then there’s no rea­son why you shouldn’t be able to get back to one of these Tu­dor gen­tle­men your­self.

A Pu­ri­tan father teaches his fam­ily to sing psalms – he may be us­ing hand sig­nals to in­di­cate the cor­rect notes

Fol­low our ad­vice if you want to find out what your fore­bears were do­ing in the 16th cen­tury

Ac­cord­ing to a cen­sus pub­lished in 1577, there were ap­prox­i­mately 17,000 ale­houses in Eng­land and Wales

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