Record Mas­ter­class

These valu­able records can re­veal where your an­ces­tors lived, and whether they owned any prop­erty, 180 years ago, says Alan Crosby

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

Trace your kin with mid-19th-cen­tury tithe maps

The tithe sys­tem re­quired own­ers and oc­cu­piers of land to give one-tenth of their pro­duce to the Church – from the 1530s the Church of Eng­land, even if you were Catholic or non­con­formist. The main ben­e­fi­cia­ries were the par­ish clergy, but in many cases pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als – mostly ma­jor landown­ers – ac­quired ‘tithe rights’, so they ben­e­fit­ted in­stead. The sys­tem was deeply un­pop­u­lar: peo­ple saw a size­able por­tion of their pro­duce go­ing to a wealthy or­gan­i­sa­tion or a rich in­di­vid­ual. And one-tenth meant just that – one in ev­ery ten calves born, one in ev­ery ten sheaves of wheat har­vested.

Al­though the Church au­thor­i­ties fiercely re­sisted at­tempts to abol­ish this lu­cra­tive ar­range­ment, the 1836 Tithe Com­mu­ta­tion Act re­formed it, sub­sti­tut­ing an an­nual mon­e­tary pay­ment based on the value of land. These pay­ments were fixed, so inflation grad­u­ally re­duced their value un­til they be­came to­ken sums.

Of course, the land first had to be val­ued so that these pay­ments could be as­sessed. Af­ter 1836 the tithe com­mis­sion­ers over­saw a mas­sive ex­er­cise in sur­vey­ing, valu­ing and record­ing landown­er­ship in the great ma­jor­ity of places in Eng­land and Wales. This pro­duced the tithe maps, usu­ally at a scale of 26 inches to the mile and plot­ting ev­ery par­cel of land sub­ject to tithes, which in most cases meant the en­tire par­ish or town­ship.

The maps cross-ref­er­enced with tithe ap­por­tion­ments: large parch­ment sheets on

‘The ear­li­est tithe maps date from 1837’

which was listed, for ev­ery par­cel, the name of the landowner; the name of the oc­cu­pier (the per­son ac­tu­ally ‘us­ing’ the land); a ref­er­ence num­ber, also shown on the map; the name of each field; its land use and acreage; and de­tails of the val­u­a­tion and the payable charges.

The process of sur­vey­ing and record­ing con­tin­ued for over 15 years. The ear­li­est tithe maps and ap­por­tion­ments date from 1837, the peak years were 1839–1843, and the last few were fin­ished in the early 1850s. There are roughly 11,000 sep­a­rate sets of tithe records from Eng­land and Wales (note that the ex­er­cise did not in­volve Scot­land, where tithes had been re­formed in the 1630s). Ap­prox­i­mately 73 per cent of the coun­try is cov­ered. In the other ar­eas tithes had al­ready been elim­i­nated, when a landowner bought them out by pay­ing a lump sum to the Church, or the en­clo­sure of the par­ish pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to ex­tin­guish them.

How can fam­ily his­to­ri­ans use this re­source? Only a mi­nor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion is listed, so many of our fore­bears won’t ap­pear. The pri­mary pur­pose was record­ing land, not peo­ple, but if your fam­ily owned any prop­erty in the 1840s, or were tenant farm­ers, they will al­most cer­tainly be in­cluded (un­less they lived

in a place not sur­veyed). The num­ber of landown­ers varies dra­mat­i­cally – some­times there were dozens in one par­ish, in other cases only one. Much more nu­mer­ous were the oc­cu­piers who might also be own­ers (hence the term ‘owner oc­cu­pier’), but were mostly the main ten­ants who worked the land or rented hous­ing from the landowner. You are sta­tis­ti­cally more likely to find fore­bears among the oc­cu­piers, but it is im­por­tant to check both col­umns.

Who’s Left Out?

Peo­ple omit­ted en­tirely in­clude those who oc­cu­pied sub-let prop­erty, so some­one who rented a cot­tage from a tenant farmer will not ap­pear in the sched­ules. Nei­ther will a per­son who rented rooms, or did not have a for­mal lease. In con­gested ur­ban ar­eas, with slum land­lords, tithe records show only a tiny per­cent­age of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion, and in gen­eral they are skewed to­wards the ‘mid­dle classes’ and up­wards.

But if you do find a fore­bear, you’ve hit gold. The sched­ule cross-ref­er­ences with the map to re­veal ex­actly which prop­erty was owned or ten­anted by your fam­ily 180 years ago. Plot the hold­ings on a mod­ern map and see the ex­tent of their farm, and the lo­ca­tion of their cot­tage. Learn how they fit­ted into lo­cal so­ci­ety – were they ‘top peo­ple’, or one of many small own­ers or

oc­cu­piers? Fam­ily his­tory comes alive; you might even be able to visit their fields.

Three copies of the records were made for each par­ish (or town­ship in the north­ern coun­ties). One was de­posited with the other par­ish records; the sec­ond was sent to the rel­e­vant Church of Eng­land dioce­san of­fices; and the third was in­cluded with the records of the tithe com­mis­sion­ers. Par­ish and dioce­san copies are usu­ally in county record of­fices, al­though quite a few have been lost or dam­aged thanks to the va­garies of his­tory (damp, fire, mould, ver­min and ne­glect). The third set, cov­er­ing the en­tire coun­try, is now held by The Na­tional Archives (TNA); it is al­most com­plete, and for the most part in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion.

The sub­scrip­tion web­site TheGe­neal­o­gist ( thege­neal­o­gist.co.uk), in con­junc­tion with TNA, is work­ing on putting all of the tithe maps and ap­por­tion­ments on­line, fully in­dexed and search­able; how­ever, it will be some time be­fore the na­tional cov­er­age is com­plete. For­tu­nately, there are a num­ber of free lo­cal or re­gional projects.

Trac­ing Welsh Kin

The Na­tional Li­brary of Wales has cov­ered the whole prin­ci­pal­ity ( places.li­brary. wales) with in­ter­ac­tive links be­tween the maps, ap­por­tion­ments and tran­scribed data; mod­ern and his­toric map over­lays; and lo­ca­tion pins. For the his­toric coun­ties of Som­er­set, Devon, Glouces­ter­shire and Wilt­shire, Know Your Place West of Eng­land ( kyp­west.org. uk/about-the-project/maps) has the maps but un­for­tu­nately not the ap­por­tion­ments; the web­site is also quite com­pli­cated to nav­i­gate.

For East Sus­sex and Brighton and Hove the­keep. info/col­lec­tions/tithe-maps has tran­scribed de­tails from the ap­por­tion­ment and zoomable map im­ages. How­ever, the map is shown in a small, square pane, so it is dif­fi­cult to see a wide area – the site en­cour­ages you to buy it on CD. In ad­di­tion, a warn­ing says that “the tithe maps search func­tion will not pull up ev­ery per­sonal name. For a full name search, please use our on­line cat­a­logue, which in­cludes all the names recorded in the tithe ap­por­tion­ments.”

Cheshire Archives and Lo­cal Stud­ies also has tithe records on­line ( maps.cheshire. gov.uk/tithemaps). Fi­nally, a good site for the City of Leeds, ‘Tracks in Time’, is now part of a new re­source for West York­shire: www.wytithemaps.org.uk.

‘TheGe­neal­o­gist is putting tithe maps and ap­por­tion­ments on­line’

Well-to- do farm­ers at the first meet­ing of the Royal Agri­cul­tural So­ci­ety at its show yard in Ox­ford on 17 July 1839

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