Time for an Index: Essex Record Office in partnership with Ancestry.com

After a lot of work we are finally able to announce that the Essex Record Office, working alongside Ancestry.com have launched a new searchable index of the Essex parish registers. Searching for your Essex ancestors is now easier than ever!

In celebration of our new partnership with Ancestry.com, Edward Harris, Customer Service Team Lead, takes a look at some of the stories found in the pages of our parish registers. Read on for more information about what we have been working on with Ancestry.com.

D/P 94/1/1 – Parish register for St Mary the Virgin, Chelmsford.

The Parish Registers of England, containing as they do the records of baptisms, marriages and burials made by the Church of England are frequently the start and the backbone of a genealogist’s journey into family history. Prior to 1837 and the start of civil registration, they are essential for family history. Unfortunately they are all too often the end of that journey. When the next link cannot be made or one elusive great, great, great, great grandparent fails to materialise, it is usually normally the pages of a parish register that we are gazing at.

Despite the frustrations so many of us hardy researchers are well aware of, it cannot have escaped our notice that within this great national collection there are a countless stories. These stories provide snippets of the joys and sorrows of everyone, whether normal or extraordinary. They can be better than any soap opera but always tantalising because of what they often don’t tell us and the questions they can’t answer for us. We decided to take a retrospective look at some of the stories we have unearthed over the years at the Essex Record Office where a helpful curate or vicar has decided to provide us with a few extra snippits of information.

The parish burial register for St Mary the Virgin in Hatfield Broad Oak includes in its pages the sad and untimely death of 5 year old Betsy Rogers burnt to death, and two extraordinary marginal notes on that page give a clue as to how:

D/P 4/1/26 – The burial register for St Mary the Virgin, Hatfield Broad Oak showing the burial of Betsey Rogers.

Feb.y 7. A frost of 7 weeks broke up today. Temperature 12° below freezing point! Many persons frozen to death. One at Gt Canfield, one at Sawbridgeworth.

The seat of Lord Rendlesham (Rendlesham Hall, Suffolk) burnt to the ground, damage = 100,000£; The seat of Lord Sandwich (Hinchinbroke, Huntingdonshire) also destroyed by fire with title deeds, fine pictures, etc.; The Argyle Rooms, Regent St, London also destroyed by fire. Lyceam also…All in Jan.y in Feb.y arising from the unusual heating of flues etc. in consequence of the uncommon severity of the season.

The register for Little Clacton contains a very sad and somewhat mysterious story dating from 1592, when a bride, Prudence Lambert, hanged herself the morning after her wedding to Clement Fenn.

D/P 80/1/1 – Marriage register for Little Clacton showing the marriage of Clement Fenn and Prudence Lambert.

Clement Fenn singleman, and Prudence the late wife of Nycholas Lambert, wch dwelt in Little Clacton Lodge; were maryed uppon Teusdaye [six], the xvth day of August; but the (most accursed creature), did the verye next morning, desperatelie hang her selfe, to the intolerable grieffe of her new maryed husband, and the dreadfull horror and astonishment of all the countrye.

Prudence’s burial is recorded two days later in the same register.

D/P 80/1/1 – Burial register for Little Clacton showing the burial of Prudence Fenn.

Prudence Fen, now the wife of Clem[e]nt Fen, and late the wife of the above named Nicholas Lambert; was buried out of the compas of Christian burial; in ye furthest syde of the churchyard northward; uppon the xviith daye of August; for that shee most accursedlie hanged her selfe.

A slightly happier story is found in the parish register from Ugley (one of Essex’s more esoteric place names) in 1759 which records the baptism of:

Anne daughter of John Grimshaw, a Sailor in the Dreadnought Man of War, & Jane his wife found in Labour in the Road, & taken care of by the Parish, was born June 27th & baptized July 7th

D/P 373/1/2 – baptism register for Ugley including Anne’s birth.

From these stories of life and death, to the sort of story that leaves family historians pulling out their hair in frustration.

In 1862 the baptism register for St Mary Magdalene in Harlow recorded the reason for its early closure. The registers had been removed from the church by the curate Revd William Raymond Scott who took them to Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands). The curate had travelled to accompany the new Bishop of Honolulu to the island, but also to chaperone 70 young women destined for a life in Australia.

The registers would survive a mutiny, make a brief stop at the Falkland islands and Australia before reaching Hawaii. Fortunately the registers did return to the church 2 years after leaving these shores and so are still available to researchers.

D/P 533/1/1 – parish register for Harlow with note explaining closure of registers.

Fortunately, provided the register in question isn’t on a voyage around the world, searching the Essex parish registers is now easier than ever!

Since 2011, the Record Office’s service Essex Archives Online (www.essexarchivesonline.co.uk) has been making Church of England parish registers – and some other documents – available as digital images. Off-site, this works as a subscription scheme, offering various lengths of subscription between 1 day and 1 year. Some documents on the system, such as wills, come with their own name indexes, but the parish registers do not. Subscribers looking for a particular baptism, marriage or burial have often had to work through a whole parish year by year.

The ERO has now teamed up with Ancestry, the world’s largest online commercial family history website, to offer a new way to access the data. Ancestry have created a name index to the parish register images, and Ancestry users can click straight through from the index to Essex Archives Online in order to buy a copy of the indexed image. Images are emailed out automatically on payment; each one costs £2.99 including VAT.

Essex Archives Online expands as new registers are deposited, but currently it holds about 600,000 images of Anglican parish registers deposited either in the ERO itself or in Waltham Forest Archives. The registers cover the whole of the present county of Essex, including Southend and Thurrock – and also including parts of north-east London that used to be in Essex. Depending on the parish and the event in question, they cover the whole period from 1538 almost up to the present day. Ancestry’s new index covers all the baptisms up to 100 years ago; all the marriages up to 84 years ago; and all deposited burial registers, whatever their date.

For those with large family trees to discover the subscription option is still available, but for anyone who needs an image now and again the new system is easier, quicker and cheaper!

Essex Archives Online update – digitising our electoral registers

We have just begun the next big expansion of digitised records available through our subscription service on Essex Archives Online, with the beginning of our project to provide digital images of our electoral registers.

There are some 850 volumes in our collection of Essex electoral registers

There are some 850 volumes in our collection of Essex electoral registers

Ultimately we will be making available images of all the registers we hold from 1833-1974. The first phase of the project has just been completed, with digital images of our electoral registers from 1833-1868 now all available online. We will be releasing the images in batches, with a target completion date for the whole project of January 2018.

(There is a little caveat to this – the registers for 1918 and 1929 have been online for some time, and they will of course remain.)

While our set of Essex electoral registers is not 100% complete, it is the best surviving set of these records, and for some registers ours is the only surviving copy. This collection of some 850 volumes provides vital evidence of Essex people’s lives and locations over almost 150 years.

As with the images of Essex parish registers and wills already available online, the images of the electoral registers can be viewed free of charge in the ERO Searchroom, or as part of our online subscription packages. Information about how to find the records and how to subscribe can be found on our subscription home page.

Electoral register page for Bardfield Saling, 1851 (Q/RPr 1/10)

Electoral register page for Bardfield Saling, 1851 (Q/RPr 1/10)

 

Why digitise electoral registers?

There are two key drivers for digitising these records: 1, to make them more widely available, and 2, to preserve the originals. Electoral registers were not designed to have a long lifespan and can be somewhat fragile. As popular records they are frequently in demand, and digitisation allows us to make the information available while protecting the original documents.

 

How will the records be indexed?

As with the parish registers already available in Essex Archives Online, we are not publishing a name index, but all of the registers in this batch are arranged alphabetically – that is, electors appear in each parish in alphabetical order of surname.  This makes tracing individuals fairly easy.  In addition, each register is indexed by parish or place, and they offer great opportunities not just for family historians but also for studies of local society and urban development.  An annual list of the main property owners and occupiers in each place is a valuable addition to the online record, particularly where the local rate books (the ultimate source of much of this information) fail to survive.

 

Why do the records start in 1833?

Modern electoral registers came into being with the Great Reform Act of 1832.  The Act did not hugely increase the electorate, but for the first time it required the Clerk of the Peace – the head of the county administration – to have the annual parish lists of electors’ names ‘fairly and truly copied … in a book to be by him provided’, and to give to each elector’s name ‘its proper number, beginning the numbers from the first name’.  That book would be the electoral register for the following year. The Clerk was not required to print the registers, or to preserve them once the year was out, and before the mid-1840s only two survive in Essex. After that matters steadily improve, and from the early 1860s until 2001 the Record Office’s collection is fairly complete.

 

Who will be included in these registers?

The 1832 Reform Act expanded the electorate to some extent, but it was still limited to men aged over 21 who owned a certain amount of property. In 1851 just 11,500 county electors spoke for an Essex population of almost 370,000.

By no means all the electors for a particular parish actually lived there, or even close by, and their actual places of residence can be revealing. In 1851 the divided freehold of the King’s Head Inn at Gosfield, in the northern division of Essex, provided the qualification for 6 of the parish’s 13 electors. One lived in Chelmsford, one in Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, one in London and three in Surrey.

At Braintree, three brothers from the Buxton brewing family each held a vote in respect of Hyde Farm, the farm’s ownership being split between them. According to the register, however, Sir Edward North Buxton Bt. – who was in fact the MP for South Essex – lived in Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair; Charles Buxton lived near the brewery in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, Middlesex; and Thomas Fowell Buxton lived in Leytonstone (Leyton), which was at least in Essex at the time, although far away in the southern division.

At Leyton, the pattern was repeated and each of the brothers qualified once more, this time through the freehold of the Three Blackbirds inn – although Thomas Fowell Buxton had apparently forgotten that he lived in the parish and gave the Spitalfields address as his place of residence.  For researchers into Victorian society, and especially the connections between land and politics, electoral registers are a mine of information.

For family historians, the names of the electors will naturally be the focus of interest, although the electors themselves are not the only people named.  For example, William Wing of Bloomsbury in London had a vote in 1851 for his house in Braintree on ‘corner of square, Miss Wing, tenant’.  She, of course, had no vote at all – but the naming of such voteless tenants increases the registers’ value to historians.  Miss Wing is known from the 1851 census as Sarah Wing, a silversmith and watchmaker living and working in Great Square, and census users might well have wondered about a possible connection with William Wing, born in Braintree but working as a watchmaker in New Bond Street in London.  Despite the gap between New Bond Street and Braintree, the electoral register evidence makes their connection almost certain, and suggests something of Sarah and William’s family arrangements.  Linking the electoral registers to other sources makes the whole data set much more powerful.

 

How did elections take place in this period?

The process of electing MPs in the 1830s-1860s was quite different to today. There were two different kinds of constituencies – counties and boroughs. The theory was that county MPs would represent landholding interests, and borough MPs the interests of the mercantile and trading classes. Before 1832 Essex sent 8 MPs to Parliament – 2 from the county seat of Chelmsford, and 2 each from the ancient boroughs of Colchester, Maldon and Harwich.

Before 1832 there was enormous variety in the size of constituencies and in voting qualifications. Polling could last up to 40 days, and there was no secret ballot. The whole system was liable to corruption and domination by local elites.

The 1832 Reform Act went some way towards resolving some of these issues. Most rotten boroughs (boroughs with tiny electorates controlled by a wealthy patron) were abolished, and seats were redistributed to growing industrial towns. Polling was limited to two days, and the qualifications for the franchise were standardised.

Essex gained two more MPs as part of the changes as the county constituency was split into two divisions, north and south, each returning two MPs, in addition to the two each still returned from the three ancient boroughs.

Flyer by John Gurdon Rebow of Wivenhoe Park, who stood as an independent candidate for North Essex in the 1847 general election. The policies he outlines here include the protection of agriculture, and of the Church of England and individual liberty. He was not successful on this occasion, but was MP for Colchester between 1857 and 1859, and again from 1865 until his death in 1870. (T/P 68/38/9)

Flyer by John Gurdon Rebow of Wivenhoe Park, who stood as an independent candidate for North Essex in the 1847 general election. The policies he outlines here include the protection of agriculture, and of the Church of England and individual liberty. He was not successful on this occasion, but was MP for Colchester between 1857 and 1859, and again from 1865 until his death in 1870. (T/P 68/38/9)

Looking to the future…

Further reforms were, of course, to come, and successive electoral registers include more and more people, until finally all men and women over 21 were granted the vote in 1928. We will continue to post updates on the blog as the electoral register project progresses, and we hope you enjoy exploring the new images.