Detail from U DDHO-17-2

Using the Family and Estate collections for family history research

Wills and marriage settlements provide essential sources for family historians. Title deeds and manorial records can contain evidence of family relationships and the passing of property between generations.

Records of the landed families themselves sometimes exist and provide valuable early history, for example, the Hotham family pedigrees in U DDHO/17. Be aware when using early pedigrees that they are often romanticised and may not be accurate, and you should try to cross-reference information within them with other records.

Local people appear throughout the estate collections but are not always straightforward to locate. Although villages would have included tradesmen such as blacksmiths and bakers, very few of their records survive. However, they may appear in wills, deeds and manorial records.

There are very few records of people employed on the estates, such as servants in the houses or gardeners on the estate grounds. Several of the collections include wages books but these are sporadic and often do not cover long periods of time. Search the online catalogue for “wages book”.

Finding records

Start by searching the catalogue for the name of a person you’re looking for. You can enclose the name in quotes (“John Smith”) to find exact matches only, but remember that this will not find results like “John A Smith” or “J A Smith Esq.”

Searching for a person’s name will find catalogue entries where they are listed as the testator of a will or a party to a deed. Wills are likely to contain details of the person’s family, particularly their spouse and children.

Manorial records relating to copyhold property may also be useful in tracing a family line, as this type of property was often passed between family members. Look out for “admissions” or “surrenders” in the catalogue. These types of records often contain a history of the copyholders of the property.

Other deeds such as conveyances, bargain and sales and lease and releases will tell you about the property your ancestor bought or sold, and may give the name of their spouse, children or siblings if they were also party to the transaction. 

There are other records which may be useful to your search which are not indexed by name in the online catalogue. These include rental books and manorial records such as court rolls. To locate these, search for the name of the place your ancestor lived. Select the place name from the search results and then click “Show items” on the right hand side of the screen. This will show you a list of the items we hold for that place.

Return to the family and estates introduction, or see tips on researching local history, social and women’s history, or political history.