Author Topic: Public Record Office printed registers - surname geographies  (Read 2158 times)

Offline longshanks

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Public Record Office printed registers - surname geographies
« on: Wednesday 20 October 04 21:45 BST (UK) »
I wondered how many of your correspondents had tried using Public Record Office Calendars and Registers to resolve family history problems, particularly the distribution of a given surname?

These volumes are available for Scotland and England and to some extent Wales and Ireland and are generally available in town libraries, university and other research libraries. What they provide, amongst other things, are records of instances of named individuals in a wide range of contexts - property deeds, inquiries into inheritance, criminal court cases, payments to merchants, civil unrest etc.  English examples include Calendars of Inquisition (post mortem, miscellaneous etc), Close Rolls, Charter Rolls etc, and by the 16th Century, State Papers. In Scotland they include the parallel Registers of the Great Seal and Privy Seal, and in the 16th to 17th century the Registers of the Privy Council.

Mostly these sources are too far back and don't provide enough information to help family trees unless you have got that far back that you spot an ancestor.  They do identify family relationships over a couple of generations. What is perhaps more useful, from this source, is an insight into the geography of surnames. Criminal proceedings in State Papers or the Scottish Registers of the Privy Council may name people for a variety of reasons accused, pursued, victims, bonds of good conduct on neighbours, court officers etc. Property related documents such as occur both in Charter Rolls or the Scottish Register of the Great Seal will show succession of heirs and describe property, often naming tenants and other beneficiaries.

All this information enables the distribution of a given surname to be identified at any given time, and changes in distribution to be plotted over time. This could help genealogists find out where surnames originated, and why an ancestor might be found somewhere away from the best known places up to the 18th century before modern factors increased mobility. It can also help resolve changes in placenames.

I did this with my own surname a few years ago. Welsh is generally found in Scotland and in Ireland comprising settlers from Scotland. It differs from the surname Walsh, an anglo-norman family awarded lands in Ireland in the 13th century, and also a cadet house in Lancashire. The name Welsh is first found in southern Dumfriesshire in the 13th and 14th centuries. They became established in the parishes north-westwards from Dumfries including Irongray, Holywood, Dunscore particularly and Glencairn. However many of these were killed or exiled during religious persecution in the late 17th century. Even from the 16th century they had been migrating northwards. Tracking through the Public Record Office Calendars and Registers I was able to detect two migration routes. One was westwards into Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, where they settled fairly permanently in mid Ayrshire.  The other route followed the Annan to Moffat, then into upper Tweedale, from where they spread into Peeblesshire and by the 17th century in Edinburgh. Also from this time they appear in Fife, which is where my ancestors were by the late 18th century.

I would strongly recommend correspondents look these sources up in their town libraries. They tend to be kept out of the way, so you may have to go into a dusty back room or be sent up copies one at a time.  Each volume has an index of names, places and offices. A problem in some libraries is that they have been badly kept and have started to brown and decay - they are also dusty if you are asthmatic. In other instances the pages haven't been separated because no-one has used them. Libraries do not always have complete runs. Libraries tended to acquire them when they were told it was the done thing, and nowadays, unless the resource is recognised, they tend to be tucked out of sight.
Beattie,Edwards,Hope,Jarman,McLuckie, Meason, Murray, Summers, Welsh, Wilde, Wemyss, Wright