Before the rise of the Internet well the majority of visitors to our archive were genealogists. The ever increasing availability of online genealogy resources through sites like Find My Past and Ancestry mean that both the total number of our visitors and the proportion who are genealogists have fallen. Another A to Z Challenger (Pauleen at Family History Across the Seas) has written a nice summary of some of the pros and cons of digitised genealogy resources in D is for Digitisation and DNA.
As a county record office, we are the repository for all the official records for the geographical area of the historic county (of Bedfordshire, in case you are wondering). We are also the official place of deposit for the Church of England for the county, which mearns we hold some of the most important sources for genealogists, the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials. Off the top of my head – and I am sure I will have forgotten several things! – the records we have that are likely to be particularly useful to genealogists include:
- Parish registers – baptisms, banns, marriages and burials
- Bishops transcripts – the copies of parish registers sent to “head office”
- Marriage licences
- Non-conformist records – not just baptism, marriage and burial records, but also various membership records. We hold records for denominations including Methodist, Moravian, Baptist, Society of Friends, Congregationalist and others (but not Roman Catholic records, which are kept by the Catholic Church)
- Registers of electors, and for earlier dates, poll books
- Taxation records – rate books and land tax records
- Poor law records – these include settlement papers (when paupers were returned to the place in which they were considered to be “settled” and therefore the responsibility of that parish), workhouse records, lists of “out relief” payments (money and other items given to paupers who remained in their own homes), records of parish overseers of the poor before the introduction of the new Poor Law in 1834)
- Hospital records (including asylums)
- School records – admission registers and log books
- Wills – there were proved in the Church courts until the 19th century, and we hold the Church copies of wills proved in the county from the 16th to 19th centuries
- Court and gaol records – these include some 17th century assizes records, quarter sessions records from the 18th century to the early 20th century, petty sessions records, and gaol registers. If your ancestor committed a crime of any sort, particularly if it was in the 19th century, there is a good chance that we will have a record of it
- Manorial documents – harder to use than most record sources as they are rarely indexed or transcribed, and until the mid 18th century they were written in Latin. They can be an excellent way to establish family relationships as they record how property held from a manor was passed on following a death.
It is worth bearing in mind that access to records that are less than 100 years old is likely to be restricted due to data protection legislation, unless we are given proof that the subject of the record has died. Health records in particular are heavily restricted and permission is often required from the relevant healthcare trust. Data protection can be a source of frustration, but ethics (and law!) trumps genealogical curiosity.
Only a tiny proportion of these records are available online, with a handful more likely to be added over the next couple of years. If you are a genealogist with ancestors from England, then a visit to a local archive will almost certainly allow you to add new information to your family history.