Ask AGRA: Family History Question Time

Listen to my colleagues and I discuss a variety of topics in this series of Podcasts – I will feature in the October podcast talking about getting started with your family history research and some of the common pitfalls we all fall into from time to time!
 Podcast series from the genealogy experts – first episode 1st September. Do you have a question for a future episode?

We are excited to announce that we are starting a series of themed podcasts (Ask AGRA – Family History Question Time) to be streamed on this website.

This initiative has been developed in response to the COVID pandemic. Many consumers took the opportunity to begin researching their family history during the lockdown, but the closure of archives and cancellation of family history fairs and events has presented challenges which normally our members would help to resolve. Now, the free AGRA podcasts will be available to all, the first series of six to be made available monthly from 1st September 2020.

AGRA members will form panels of experts in discussions led by Moderators such as Sarah Williams of Who Do You Think You Are? and Helen Tovey of Family Tree magazine. Some well-known authors and experts in their field will be adding their voices to the discussions including Gill Blanchard, Dr. Geoff Swinfield, Les Mitchinson and Simon Fowler, to name but a few.

The six themes will be as follows, broadcast on the 1st of each month:

House Histories – September
Ancestral research – getting started including understanding BMD and Census records – October
Research before 1837 – November
Military research including British service in India – December
DNA testing and use in conjunction with genealogical research
 – January 2021
Using land records such as maps and tithe maps to further research – February 2021

Sharon Grant, Chair of AGRA commented “AGRA is excited to announce this new initiative which demonstrates our commitment to finding new ways of working in these times of crisis. Our members have always been available at the various family history events to give advice to members of the public. We miss that, and we know you do too. This is an opportunity for you to access the extensive expertise and knowledge of our members from the safety of your own home. Get your questions in now!”.

The first in the series will go live on September 1st 2020 at of the public are invited to submit general questions about the subjects to ask the panel on the above themes at

My brick wall breakthrough

My maternal grandmothers paternal family have always been a mystery in our family. My great grandfather was Fred Sheard Oldfield. His mother, May Ann Turner was married to Tom Oldfield but he was not named on the Fred’s birth or marriage certificate.

We also could not figure out where the name ‘Sheard’ came from. However, after my recent studies and further insight into how names came about (and in many ways probably still do) and my research into his mother, Mary Ann, found her living as a ‘House keeper’ for Fred Sheard in the 1901 census, the conclusion drawn was that Fred Sheard was most likely Fred Sheard Oldfield’s father.

It was also discovered that Fred Sheard was lodging with Mary Ann’s brother in the 1891 census. Fred Sheard was said to be born in about 1863 in or around Huddersfield, according to the census returns.

But how to find his parents? There were just too many possibilities to be sure of the right family based on traditional records research alone. So, unfortunately my Nanna died is 2012 so the closest relative I could obtain a DNA specimen from was her youngest sister, my great aunt Janie, who my mum is very close to. She was very willing and the test was carried out in Summer 2019. It has however taken me until now to get round to studying those results and searching for a DNA connection to try and resolve this brick wall.

This morning, East Monday during the Corona virus lock down 2020, I decided to tackle it and what a eureka moment! Within minutes I had found DNA matches with a number of cousins (1st, 2nd, 3rd including some of them being 1x or 2x removed) to my great aunt…and these were on her paternal side with the common ancestor being my great x4 grandfather through the mother of Fred Sheard 😁😍🧬

This has enabled me to locate his mother and father using traditional research methods – Ann Goldthorpe and Joseph Sheard who married in 1843. Fred was their youngest child of five. Unfortunately as yet there does not appear to be any DNA matches through the paternal side, Joseph, but traditional records research names his father as David. There are a number of possible alternatives for which couple are his parents – David and Mary or David and Hannah. I think it is David and Mary but there is insufficient information, being prior to useful census records and the introduction of civil registration, to confirm this. They all live in a similar area!

So, another small brick wall is built on this paternal side, although I am sure as more DNA results are available this will be broken down – or further traditional research at the archives when I can travel to Yorkshire on the other side of these Corona virus times!

What I doubt I’ll ever find, is a photograph of Fred Sheard 😢

In the meantime it is on to checking the rest of my DNA matches 😊

A brief history of how our Ancestors were educated

And even did your ancestors receive an education? Certainly the further you go back in time the less likely they received an education unless they were in certain professions, although many ‘skilled’ labourers did serve apprenticeships. It was only 150 years ago when William Forster’s Elementary Education Act was passed in 1870 which was the beginning of ‘compulsory’ education for all 5 to 13 year old children although there had been a growing number of factory schools, colliery schools, chemical and railway schools established in the earlier half of the 19th Century.

Historically, it was the monasteries and churches which provided basic education and the Universities of Oxford (established in the late 11th Century) and Cambridge (established in the middle 13th Century) providing education for the professions (clergy, lawyers) available only to the wealthy and those is religious orders. The wealthy often educated their children privately at home, with hired governesses or tutors for younger children

Grammar schools (private and outside the control of the church) began to develop in the 15th Century with around 300 such Grammar schools existing at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1538, with an increasing number thereafter being established by Royal Charter and endowments of noblemen and wealthy merchants, all being private independent ‘public’ schools available only those who could afford the fees! It was often the ‘town-based middle class’ who could afford to send their sons to such schools.

So what about the ‘ordinary’ family and their children? It is well documented that the larger proportion of the population were illiterate and that children were required to work from as young an age as possible to help support their families. Of course, many children will have learnt trades from their parents – or should I say sons would learn trades from their fathers whilst daughters would learn their domestic and family ‘duties’ from their mothers – although of course those in particular who ‘worked the land’ would require the whole family to ‘work the land’ is order to survive.

17th Century

Charity schools began to develop to provide some education to children of the ‘deserving’ poor. Such schools would provide education free of charge and were usually funded by private contributions being established and run by churches and other religious organisations. Some such schools (often known as hospitals where they provided boarding facilities) provided education for boys up to the age of 16, preparing them to go on to University usually by means of a scholarship.

Dame schools provided voluntary education for young children essentially as forerunners to nursery schools. Theses were often run by women in their own homes to the children in their local community most likely, as nursery’s do today, to enable both parents to earning a living and financially support their families. The work the mothers would undertake however would be vastly different to diverse roles women undertake today!

Daughters of wealthy families could be sent to private boarding schools to be taught the classics, foreign languages, music, dancing, social and domestic skills.

18th Century

Following the introduction the General Workhouse Act of 1723, parish workhouses began to establish ‘workhouse schools’ to prepare their pupils for apprenticeships, thus the education was largely in practical subjects than the core subjects of education today (language, maths etc).

In the latter half of this century, the Freemasons established their own charitable schools for children of its members – firstly for girls in 1788 and then boys in 1798.

It was at the end of this century that Sunday Schools also began to develop, being introduced nationally in 1780, provided by churches These schools were for children and adults alike, educating them in basic reading but became the ‘building blocks’ of our education system.

19th Century

Following the success of Sunday Schools, ‘Ragged Schools’ were established in the early part of the 19th Century. Firstly by Thomas Cranfield in London in 1810, followed by John Pounds in Portsmouth in 1818 and later Thomas Barnardo in 1867. These schools provided free education to impoverished children, described as ‘ragged’ schools because the children were ‘raggedly clothed’!

From 1802, any child (male or female) who was apprenticed was required to be provided with free part-time education and in 1811 the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church was set up and financed by the Church of England. This society quickly became the country’s most influential educational body.

Following the emancipation of Roman Catholics in 1829 and the Reform Act of 1832 all religious schools were equal (I have not touched upon the many schools set up over the centuries by non-conformist/dissenting religious groups) and from 1833 Government grants were introduced of £20,000 per year to British, Foreign and National Society schools. This system changed in 1861 to a payment of 4 shillings per pupil plus 2 shillings 8 pence per subject per pupil passing a yearly exam in reading, writing and arithmetics.

There was an ever increasing number of children receiving an education although this was not compulsory and was often intermittent, in that during for example harvest time, children were still needed at home to help with the harvest rather than continuing to be sent to school.

The education system as we know it today developing from Forster’s Elementary Education Act of 1870 which gave education boards the powers to require parents to send all children aged 5 to 13 year old to school, however it did not make it compulsory nationwide. This was not until the 1880 Education Act which did make it compulsory for all children aged 5 to 10 years old, with the leaving age being raised to age 11 in 1893 and to age 12 in 1899.

20th Century

Our 20th century ancestors saw a gradual increase in the school leaving age from 12 to 14 in 1918 after the first world war. The Education Act of 1918 also included provision for compulsory part-time education for all 14-to-18-year-olds. However this provision did not come into force until 1921 due to cuts in public spending after World War I.

Compulsory education up to the age of 15 was introduced in the Education Act 1944, but did not come into force until April 1947 due to World War 2. This was further increased to the age of 16 from 1 September 1972.

21st Century

Following the Education and Skills Act 2008, which came into force in the 2013 academic year, whilst the school leaving age ‘technically’ remains at 16, essentially ‘children’ are now required to remain in some form of education until the age of 18, be that continuing their schooling by with continuing their academic qualifications (e.g. ‘A’ levels) attending a vocational qualification course (e.g. Btec) or entering into an apprenticeship.

And of course as of the 23rd March 2020, albeit temporary (indefinitely temporary😂) it almost feels like we have gone full circle, with home education but at least we still have the support of teachers and the school curriculum to guide us…. I’m sure for some parents it may feel like ‘the educated leading the blind’ with teaching having changed so much since many parents were themselves at school …. I know I (having left secondary school 30 years ago albeit I was lucky enough to go on to A levels and university) sometimes feel like teaching is a new language in itself … ‘phonics’, ‘digraphs’ ‘graphemes’ etc – of course we learnt it but it was never a ‘subject’ as such it was all just part of learning to read and write! 😜

It is not difficult to see how the class structure in this country managed to maintain itself for such a long time. Without access to education it would have been extremely difficult for the vast majority of our poorer ancestors to climb that social ladder. Another reason to be living today and not 500 years ago perhaps!?

Persecution and toleration of Catholics (recusants)

Year Legislation Associated record sources
1534 Act of Supremacy Refusing to take Henry VIII’s Oath of supremacy and supporting the Pope became an act of treason. Parish registers and Parish chest records If there is a marriage and burial record but no baptism it may indicate a Catholic[1]; some clergy would make a note in the register is a person was a recusant.   Churchwarden accounts Churchwardens were responsible for bringing offenders before the courts and their accounts may provide details of recusants.   Execution records Recusants executed for treason can be found at the British Executions website[2]  (years 1100 to 1964) and at the Capital Punishment UK website:[3]
1549 1552 Act of Uniformity Act of Uniformity Clergy were given one year to adopt the Prayer book or face stiff penalties as would anyone speaking out against the Prayer book[4]: First offence – confiscation of income for a year and 6 months imprisonment;Second offence – 1 year imprisonment with no bail and then stripped of his church position;Third offence – life imprisonment. The 1552 Act introduced a revised Prayer book and extended the penalties to imprisonment for anyone attending other forms of service Quarter Session records­ (discussed below) Churchwarden accounts (as above)  
1554 Revival of the Heresy Acts Which had been repealed under Henry VIII and Edward VI: Richard II’s Letters Patent 1382Henry IV’s Heresy Act 1401Henry V’s Heresy Act 1414 Quarter Session records (see below) A lack of Catholics appearing in these records during this period demonstrates this period of toleration of Catholics.[5]
1559                 Act of Supremacy Reinstated the supremacy of the Church of England repealing the heresy laws Mary I had revived. Act of Uniformity The Book of Common Prayer was introduced, similar to the prayer book of 1552 but retaining some Catholic elements.  Clergy faced stiff penalties for failing to comply: First offence – forfeit their benefice for a year and 6 months imprisonment; Second offence – 1 year imprisonment with no bail and then stripped of his church position; Third offence – life imprisonment. Anyone speaking out against the Book of Common Prayer or attempted to disrupt parish services also faced penalties: First two offences – a fine; Third offence – life imprisonment Anyone failing to attend their parish church for Sunday service or on a holy day would be fined 1s[6] every time they failed to attend[7]. In 1563 the death penalty was introduced for priests who continued to hold mass. Those who continued to defend the supremacy of the pope had their property seized. Churchwarden accounts (as above) Quarter Session records  (see below) Execution records (as above)  
1570 Papal Bull [8]‘Regnans in Excelsis[9] Encouraged Catholics to be a heretic, releasing even those who had sworn the oath of supremacy from allegiance to the monarchy. The bull also excommunicate any Catholic obeyed the monarchy’s orders!  
1571 Treason Act It became high treason to bring any further papal bulls into England and to call the monarch a heretic or schismatic. Quarter Session records (see below)  
1581 Recusancy Act The penalties for recusancy increased: Fine of £20 per month Fine of 100 marks and a years imprisonment for hearing Mass From 1581 if anyone converted to Catholicism or attempted to convert anyone else to Catholicism, the penalty was death. A further Act was passed forbidding Catholic education of children. From 1586 failure to pay a fine would result in a recusant losing land they owned, a penalty which, from 1604 could be imposed in place of the £20 per month fine. Quarter Session records (see below) Pipe Rolls 1581 – 1601 Include the names and fines imposed on Catholics yearly; largely written in Latin and arranged by county; held by the Exchequer – copies provided to the Chancery. Available at: National Archives series E372[10] and E352[11] (not digitised)Catholic Record Society publication: “Recusants in the Exchequer Pipe Rolls, 1581-1592” by T. J. McCann[12] (not digitised) An index of Pipe Rolls is also available at the Pipe Roll Society[13]
1585 Act against Jesuits, Seminary Priests and such other like Disobedient Persons A further act to ‘force’ Jesuits[14] and Seminary priests[15] to take the oath of allegiance to the Queen. Failure to do so within 40 days was an act of high treason unless they left the country. Any person who harboured or knew of the whereabouts of a Jesuit or Seminary priest and failed to inform the authorities, would be penalised: A fine of 200 marks Imprisonment Execution if the authorities wished to make an example of the priest. Any Jesuit or Seminary priest who were or travelled overseas, had to return to England within six months to swear the oath of allegiance (within two days of their arrival) and swear to submit to the Queen, or face the penalties for treason. Once taken the oath, they were forbidden for a period of 10 years to come within 10 miles of the Queen without her personal written permission or face the penalties for treason. If they left England for more than six months their land would be forfeited. Quarter Session records (see below)  
1587 Act against noncompliance Anyone who refused to accept the authority of the monarchy and thus the Church of England and Book of Common Prayer, were not permitted to buy or sell land. Quarter Session records (see below) Pipe Rolls 1581 – 1591 (as above)  
1593 Act for Retaining the Queen’s Subjects in their due Obedience[16] Required all over the age of 16 years to attend an Anglican Church service. Failure to attend for a period of one month would result in imprisonment without bail, for such period as they refused to attend, as would their encouragement to any other person not to attend. If they continued to refuse to attend for a period of three months they would be removed and exiled from England and any other countries within the queen’s realm until and unless they were licenced by the queen to return. Act against Popish Recusants Catholics were no longer permitted to travel more than a five mile radius from their home. The penalty for doing so without permission was a loss of all goods, chattels, lands, tenements, hereditaments rents and annuities due to them during their life. This was however never enforced during the reign of Elizabeth I which ended with her death 1603 when she was succeeded by James I (James VI of Scotland). Quarter session records (see below) Recusant rolls 1591 – 1691 Specific Rolls recording names and fines of recusants in place of Pipe Rolls. Arranged by county, containing: 1. Land seized from recusants, detailing: Name of recusant;Rent due to the Crown;Description of land;Date of seizure;Name of commissioner affecting seizure of land;Memoranda Roll record authorising seizure of land;Name of Crown’s lessee (if any);Arrears;Total debt;Payments made; 2. Goods and chattels seized, detailing: Name of recusant;Amount of forfeiture;Articles seized; 3. Sheriffs charge and final audit 4. Enrolment of new convictions, detailing: Name and address of recusant;duration of recusancy;date of conviction;amount of debt Available at: National Archives series E376 and E377 (not digitised)Catholic Record Society publications: “Recusant Roll No. 1, 1592-3, Exchequer, Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer by M.M.C Calthrop [17]; “ Recusant Rolls no 2, 1593-1594. An abstract in English by Hugh Bowler”[18]; “Recusant Rolls no 3, 1594-1595 and recusant roll no. 4, 1595-1596. An abstract in English by Hugh Bowler”[19]
1604 Book of Common Prayer James I promised to “neither persecute any that will be quiet and give but an outward obedience to the law [nor to] spare to advance any of them that will by good service worthily deserve it”[20] he did made it clear that unity and uniformity of the church was his aim, proclaiming in July 1604 that all clergy were to fully conform to the Book of Common Prayer by 30November 1604.  
1605 And 1606 Popish Recusants Act (Following the Gunpowder Plot) Oath of Allegiance Forbidding Catholics practicing in the legal or medical professions, the military and from acting as guardians or trustees; Calling for them to swear a new Oath of Allegiance to the monarchy denying the authority of the Pope; Making it high treason to obey the pope over the monarchy, imprisoning those who refused to swear the oath. There was an incentive of £50[21] for those who identified priests and members of their congregations The rules also applied to any protestant who took a Catholic wife! Quarter session records (see below) Oath of Allegiance rolls 1606 – 1828 (see below)  
1610 Act extended the Oath of Allegiance To be taken by all Catholics over the age of 18 with penalties including: Imprisonment Loss of rent and personal property Persecution was also financial: £100 fine for failing to baptise a child within one month of birth by Anglican clergy; On marriage any property of the recusant bride would be forfeited; if she had none £100 fine was payable; Married women recusants could be imprisoned until the conformed or their husband paid to redeem them for £10 per month Quarter Session records (see below) Oath of Allegiance Rolls see below)  
` Taxation Charles I introduced a double rate on taxes for Catholics. Lay Subsidy Rolls (cover period 1275 to 1665) Record taxes imposed on moveable property (not land) from time to time. The name, village and parish of a Catholic can be identified as they had to pay double the rate. Available at: National Archives series E179[22] and E359[23];County record officesLocal Family History societies – e.g. West Surrey Family History Society have an ongoing project to transcribe the Surrey Lay Subsidy Rolls.
1626/7 Commission for Compounding with Recusants A commission set up to investigate concealed sources of revenue recusants may have had and any amounts available which could be recovered from poorer recusants. Convicted recusants were targeted by obtaining information from the quarter session records who had to bargain with the commissioners and usually agree an increased rent to lease their land which had been seized from them and in order to pay fines and arrears of fines.    
1643 Oath of Allegiance Charles I introduced a further Oath of Allegiance requiring all men over the age of 18 years to deny catholic beliefs. Those who refused lost most of their estates, both real and personal. Vow and Covenant 1643 Taken by members of the House of Commons and House of Lords – demonstrates lack of Catholics in official positions Solemn League of Covenant 1644 This was an agreement in which Scotland agreed to support the English Parliamentarians in their disputes with the royalists and was signed throughout England and Scotland – demonstrates support against Catholics Protestation Oath Returns 1641 – 1642 Provides names, village, parish and occupation of all those who took the oath and Catholics[24] who refused to sign. Remaining records cover about one third of the country. Available at: National Archives series SP28[25] or E179Parliamentary ArchivesSociety of Genealogy – for some parts of the countryLondon Metropolitan Archives – City of London and various London districtsCounty record offices  
1643 Committee for the Sequestration of Delinquents Estates/ Committee for Compounding for the Estates of Royalists and Delinquents A committee set up at the beginning of the civil war much like the earlier Commission for Compounding with Recusants. Their role was to seize and confiscate land from and/or impose fines on royalists, papists and recusants.  
1648       1650            Blasphemy Act[26] Anyone found guilty of blasphemy and/or heresy would suffer the death penalty unless they renounced. Blasphemy Act This act provided for less severe penalties: first offence – six month imprisonment;second offence – Banished from the country not to return without a licence Act repealing penalties for nonattendance at church It was no longer a legal requirement to attend the parish church. Penalties for blasphemy and heresy still continued. Quarter Session records (see below)  
1660 Declaration of Breda Issued by Charles II promising to bring religious freedom at the start of the Restoration. Although it appears this was not to include Catholics!  
        1661           1662                           1664                     1665 Clarendon Code – a collection of four Acts of Parliament designed to weaken the nonconformist movement including Catholics and Protestant nonconformist sects: Corporation Act Catholics[27] were excluded from official positions unless they swore the oath of allegiance, renounced the Solemn League and Covenant[28] of 1643 and accepted the supremacy of the monarchy. Act of Uniformity Required all clergy to be: ordained episcopally;renounce the Solemn League and Covenant;accept and preach the new Book of Common Prayer Catholics[29] were liable to three months imprisonment if they continued to preach in public or worked as a private tutor or schoolmaster without first obtaining a licence to do so from an archbishop, bishop or ordinary of the diocese. If clergy remained in office or attained office in the Church of England without episcopal ordination the penalty was a fine of £100. Conventicles Act Congregations of more than 5 persons (including the priest!) became illegal, even in private houses. The penalties for breach were: First offence – fine of £5 or 3 months imprisonment;Second offence – fine of £10 or 6 months imprisonment;Third offence – transportation for seven years to a foreign plantation (other than New England) The Five Mile Act Catholic[30] priests were no longer allowed to approach within 5 miles of any former parish or town save to pass through on the road. The penalties for doing so were: Fine of £40 Many were imprisoned for persistent offending resulting from the simple need to make a living! Quarter session records (see below) Oath of Allegiance Rolls (see below) Sacramental certificates (see below)  
1670 Conventicles Act [31] Increased the penalties: First offence – fine of £20Subsequent offences – fine of £40 Quarter session records (see below)  
1672            Declaration of Indulgence Charles II forced this Declaration through Parliament, legally enabling Catholics[32] to practice their religion by allowing them hold mass in private (nonconformists could apply for licences to establish meeting houses). However due to the strength of the continued anti-Catholic he was forced to quickly repeal it with the Test Act.  
1673 Test Act This reinforced the need for civil and military offices (including priests/clergy) to swear the oath of allegiance and supremacy of the monarchy and provide a sacramental certificate confirming they had taken Anglican Communion, which would be signed by the Anglican minister and churchwarden of the parish and further witnessed by two credible witnesses. This act did not apply to MP’s and peers. Thus a second Test Act was introduced. Oath of Allegiance rolls (see below) Sacramental certificates (see below)  
1676 Compton Census Churchwardens and Constables were ordered to provide a list of those attending Anglican services, including nonconformists and recusants over the age of 16 years to the local Justice of the Peace (JP) who then called on each person listed to take the oath of allegiance. If they refused the penalty was imprisonment. The lists became known as the Compton Census. Compton Census Largely numerical providing details of the places of worship and the size of their congregations demonstrating the distribution of religious sects, in particular parishes where Catholicism thrived or died. A small number may contain names of individuals.   Quarter session rolls (see below)  
1678            Test Act This required all members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to make declarations against transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrament of Mass, with the effect of excluding Catholics from both houses, in particular evicting the five Catholic Lords from the House of Lords.   Estreat Rolls 1537 – 1837 Record fines and bonds due to the Exchequer following legal proceedings.   Nichil Rolls 1537 – 1837 Record debts due to the Exchequer where the sheriff attempted to collect but there were insufficient funds to pay.   Available at: National Archives series E362[33] (not digitised)  arranged by County
1687 & 1688 Declaration of Indulgence and reissued in 1688 James II was an openly Catholic King and made his own declaration of indulgence, suspending both the Test Act and other earlier Acts restricting religious freedom. James II began a policy of appointing Catholics to positions of power e.g. JP’s, MP’s and Lords-Lieutenants. Records include for example, at The National archives: Series C 216 “Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Admission Rolls of Officers[34] and Solicitors”  
1689 Toleration Act Allowed freedom of worship provided Protestant nonconformists swore an oath of allegiance[35]. Catholics were specifically excluded! The Clarendon Code Acts and Test Act were still in force. Oath of Allegiance rolls (see below)  
1692 Land Tax A double land tax rate was introduced for Catholic land owners. Land tax assessment and records Yearly records of tax imposed on owners whose land was valued in excess of 20s. Catholic land owners can be identified by the rate of tax they paid – double rate. Arranged by county, the records provide the names of the land owner, tenants and occupiers[36]; the name and parish address of the property; rental value; amount of tax due. Available at: National Archives series IR 23[37], IR 22[38] and IR 24[39]County Record Offices – duplicates: often quite difficult to find due to lack of transcription and indexing at local levelGuild Library – City of London records   Quarter Session records / estate papers / parish records Assessments prior to 1780
1696 An Act for the Better Security of His Majesties’ Royal Person and Government Following the attempted assassination of William III, the Solemn Association Oath had to be sworn by military personnel and civil officers of the Crown.   Association Oath Rolls Include those who refused to swear the oath such as Catholics. Many of the records contain original signatures, but they also include marks and listings made by clerks. Available at: National Archives series C 213[40], C 214/8-12[41], KB 24/1[42], KB 24/2[43]County Record OfficesLondon Metropolitan Archives (City of London and various London districts)
1698            Popery Act Enacted in 1700 the Act reinforced the laws against practising Catholics, the penalty for which could be “perpetuall Imprisonment”[44]. Further Catholics were forbidden from inheriting or purchasing land and could face fines for sending their children abroad to be educated. Quarter session records (see below)  
1702 1714            Security of Succession Act Security of the Sovereign Act Officials were required to take an oath denying the right of James II’s son the right to succeed the throne. Oaths of allegiance, test and abjuration roll (see below)  
1715            Papist Act In the wake of the Jacobite rebellion, everyone over the age of 18 was required to swear an oath of allegiance. Catholics were also required to register details of their estates, including documents such as Wills, conveyances of land and/or property with the county Clerk of the Peace. This was further reinforced in 1723 when Catholics refusing to swear the oath of allegiance were now required to register their names and details of their estates at quarter sessions or have their property seized. Seizure of property was overseen by the Forfeiture Estates Commission. Oaths of allegiance, test and abjuration roll (see below) Quarter session records (see below)   Close Rolls Sealed documents: By the Court of Chancery giving order and instructions to royal officials and subject;By private individuals to enrol documents such as deeds of land, wills, leases and quit claims amongst many other documents. Catholic wills should have been enrolled after 1715 and can provide names, addresses, occupations, details of family, land/property etc as set out in their enrolled wills. Available at: National Archives series C 54[45] and also PRO 31[46] (various subseries, for example, PRO 31/7/173  Extracts from Close Rolls) (not digitised)
1753            Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act Catholics were required to marry in an Anglican Church Parish registers – as discussed above  
1778            Catholic Relief Act The first Act towards toleration of Catholics enabling them to own land and freeing them from persecution, repealing the 1698 Act. Land and Property Records including Title Deeds Ownership of land/property and how they were conveyed. Documents will not themselves identify Catholics however where a person has not previously been registered as an owner of land, it may indicate they were Catholic. Records provide name, address, occupation, marital status of vendor and purchaser, description of land or property, family relationships (especially if land has been passed through generations), dates of death, wills and maps are sometimes attached. Available at: The National Archives – various records within division CP including:concords of fines in CP 24/1-CP 24/13feet of fines in CP 25/1 and CP 25/2notes of fines in CP 26/1-CP 26/14entry books recording the public announcement of fines in CP 27enrolments of writs for fines and recoveries in CP 28rules to amend fines and recoveries in CP 30books recording the king’s silver in CP 34 and CP 35recovery rolls in CP 43portions of broken writs of covenant files in CP 50, with the complete files in CP 55files of writs of entry in CP 56concords files in CP 61and enrolments of writs of entry in CP 65County Record Offices – Surrey History Centre has various conveyancing documents relating to individual estates/families.British LibraryLand RegistrySolicitors, (building societies and banks in later years)  Quarter session records Lack of further offences recorded of the nature set out in the 1698 Act reflects this new toleration
1791            Catholic Relief Act The second Act towards toleration of Catholics enabling Catholics to register and open their own chapels. Despite this, marriage and burials could still only take place legally in Anglican churches. Parish registers– as discussed above Catholic Church registers and records Newly opened catholic chapels began registers of baptism, confirmation, marriage and death. Baptisms registers include: Name of child and parents (inc mother’s maiden name)Date of baptism (and possibly birth)Names of godparents or ‘sponsers’ “Double” marriage records may be found: Catholics would have an Anglican service to “legalise” their marriage and have a Catholic marriage service which may be recorded in the Catholic registers. Marriage registers include: Names of bride and groom (inc brides maiden name)Names of witnessesOccasionally – ages of both parties, place of birth for bride and names of parents of both parties. The same principal applies to death/burials of Catholics who had to be buried at an Anglican church yard until 1852 (see below)[47]. Burial registers include: Name of deceasedOccasionally – age, name(s) of deceased wife and children It should be noted that these registers were usually in Latin until 1965. Available at: National Archives(see The Non-Parochial Registers Act below);County Record Offices (Catholic registers at Surrey History Centre appear to begin in the 20th Century (see The Non-Parochial Registers Act below);Diocesan Archives – For my local Diocese of Guildford they are held at the Surrey History Centre (County Record Office);Catholic Record Society – Catholic church registers published for various locations in various series;Catholic National Library – Mission Registers (listing baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths) amongst a large collection of Catholic history books and periodicals Quarter Session Records (see below)
1829            Catholic Emancipation Act Removed the majority of the remaining restrictions on Catholics allowing them to take up most public offices including parliamentary seats. Quarter session records (see below)
1836            General Registration Act Finally allowed Catholics to marry in their own churches and chapels although burials were still required to take place at Anglican churches. Civil registration certificates – birth, marriage, death in particular marriage certificate which will provide details of the place of marriage i.e. Catholic church/chapel
1840            The Non-Parochial Registers Act Following civil registration it was requested that the registers of nonconformist sects, including Catholics, be deposited with the Registrar General, however few if any were deposited by Catholics. These registers are therefore likely still be in the hands of the individual Catholic church. Catholic[48] registers deposited both in 1840 and 1857 at the National Archives can be found in: Series RG4: General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857 arranged by County and then alphabetically by placeSeries RG8: General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non Parochial Registers Commission of 1857, and other registers and church records. These registers are also available from
1852             Burial Act Catholics were legally able to establish their own burial grounds. Municipal cemeteries developed during this century and may have also been used for Catholic burials Burial registers of Catholic burial sites As pre catholic registers discussed above

Assizes/Quarter Session Records

Catholics were essentially criminalised. Quarter session records contain perhaps the largest collections of records providing details of Catholics (and other nonconformists) including (but not limited to):

  • Indictments and Presentments – Details of Catholics fined, imprisoned, banished from the country and sentenced to execution;
  • Sacrament certificates (see below);
  • Oaths of Allegiance including lists of those refusing to take the various Oaths (see below) (Chancery Court/Exchequer Court or King’s Bench division records if the person lived within 30 miles of London);
  • Declarations against transubstantiation;
  • Registers of names and estates of Catholics who refused to take the Oath of Allegiance following the Papist Act 1715, arranged alphabetically by county and town;
  • Records of land and property seized for failing to take the Oath of Allegiance and/or registering their names and estates;
  • Certificates of Roman Catholic Chapels and priests following the 1791 Catholic Relief Act

These numerous records can provide names, addresses and occupations of those Catholics prosecuted or who had land seized, or who registered themselves as required. They may include details of family members.

These numerous records are available at:

  • County Record Offices – Surrey Quarter Session records held at the Surrey History Centre include:
  • Session Rolls, 1661-1799, 1889-1915
  • Session Bundles, 1630, 1637, 1701 – 1888
  • Indictments
  • Estreat Books
  • Calendars of Prisoners: Surrey Sessions and Assizes
  • Land Tax Assessment Books
  • Registration of the Estates of Roman Catholics
  • Certificates of Protestant dissenting and Roman Catholic places of Worship and related documents
  • London Metropolitan Archives – Proceedings at the Old Bailey
  • Society of Genealogists e.g. calendars of prisoners, microfiche copies of summary convictions and other court records
  • British Library – including legislation, cases and traditional legal commentary
  • Local newspapers often reported on criminal proceedings

Oath Rolls and Sacramental Certificates

As can be seen from the table above, oaths of allegiance and supremacy were required to be sworn at various times. The oath rolls provide a list of names, addresses and occupation of those taking the oaths and frequently a list of those refusing to take the oaths. Both lists may include Catholics as some Catholics may have chosen to take the oath to avoid criminal proceedings. In particular if a Catholic wished to serve in an official office (military, parliament, courts etc) under following the Clarendon Code.

Those swearing the oath obtained a Sacramental Certificate as proof they had received communion in the Church of England.

Oath rolls began in 1606 and essentially ended with the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration under the reinforced Papist Act of 1723. The location and availability of Oath Rolls for 1723 can be found in the publication “The 1723 oath rolls in England: an electronic finding list” by Edward Vallance[49].

TNA series C 203/6 includes certificates naming those who failed to swear the oaths of allegiance, supremacy and abjuration as required by the Security of the Sovereign Act 1714.

After the Catholic Relief Act of 1778 Catholics were able to sign a new oath of allegiance which can be located at the National Archives series E169/79 – 83[50] and “The rolls contain the actual signatures of persons taking an oath and most of them state the form of the oath to be taken, together with the authorising statute…While a few of the rolls give places of residence, only one roll (E 169/80) includes full addresses”[51]. These have not been digitised and are only available at TNA.

There is also a wealth of records available at TNA series PC 1 (not digitised) such as:

  • Returns of Catholics for several counties PC 1/20/31
  • Roman Catholics: Lists of Roman Catholics who have taken the oath during 1796 PC 1/37/107
  • Roman Catholic Oaths: List for Westminster, London PC 1/40/130
  • Certificates under 31 Geo III, c 32 (1791) relating to Roman Catholics PC 1/2937
  • Returns of papists who have taken oath in accordance with Act of 31 Geo III PC 1/19/26/2

Sacramental certificates provide the name, address and occupation of the individual, the date sacrament was received, name of the church, name of the minister, churchwarden and the witnesses, and can be found at TNA series:

  • C 224 Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Sacrament Certificates 1673 – 1778
  • KB 22 Court of King’s Bench: Crown side: Sacrament Certificates Files 1676 – 1828
  • E 196 Exchequer: King’s Remembrance: Sacramental Certificates 1702 – 1827

There are also many other records relating to oath rolls at TNA, too many to discuss further and many of which may not be relevant to Catholics as they refused to swear the oaths, save, as stated above, some rolls do also contain lists of those refusing to swear the oath and thus those records should not be overlooked in any search undertaken.

Other records

Returns of Papists (Catholics)

These were censuses taken nationwide in 1680, 1705, 1744, 1767 and 1780 to record the number of Catholics in the country, arranged in dioceses by town/village. These were essentially used to identify Catholics and ensure the penalties in force at the time were imposed, hence lists of names can be found amongst quarter session records. Some of the returns record numbers but others record names, ages, addresses, occupations, family members and how long they have lived in the parish.

The 1767 return has been published by the Catholic Record Society and the 1767 return for London has been published by the Society of Genealogy.

[1] Or other nonconformist

[2] Accessed 6 April 2019

[3] Accessed 6 April 2019

[4] faced not just by Catholics but also nonconformist protestants

[5] John Rogers and around 300 other Protestants were burned alive during her short reign from 1553 to 1558 earning Mary I her infamous nickname “Bloody Mary”.

[6] Approx. £18 today using calculator on 30th March 2019

[7] that would have been one full day’s pay for a skilled tradesman (value at 2017) 30th March 2019

[8] Public decree, letters patent, or charter issued by the Pope

[9] Reigning on High

[10] Exchequer Pipe Office, Pipe Rolls

[11] Chancery, Chancellors Rolls

[12] Catholic Record Society Record Series 71 (1986)


[14] “The Society of Jesus is a religious order of men in the Catholic Church” –  (2 April 2019)

[15] Catholic priests trained either in England or abroad in seminaries after 1534

[16] Aimed at all nonconformist sects including Catholics

[17] Pipe Office Series, Catholic Record Society Record Series, 18 (1916)

[18] Catholic Record Society Record Series, 57 (1965)

[19] Catholic Record Society Record Series, 61 (1970)

[20] A. Dures “English Catholicism, 1558 – 1642” page 40

[21] Approx. £6,704.78 in 2017 National Archives currency converter

[22] Particulars of Account and other records relating to Lay and Clerical Taxation

[23] Exchequer Pipe Office: Account Rolls of Subsidies and Aids

[24] And anyone else but largely Catholics as the aim was to establish the number of Catholics in the country in order that they knew who to tax more heavily!

[25] Commonwealth Exchequer Papers

[26] This offence was not limited to Catholics.

[27] and other nonconformists

[28] An agreement made at the beginning of the Civil War by which the Scottish Parliament agreed to support the English Parliamentarians in their disputes with the royalists; both countries pledging to work for a civil and religious union of EnglandScotland, and Ireland under a Presbyterian–parliamentary system

[29] and other nonconformists

[30] and nonconformist

[31] The 1661 Act expired in 1669

[32] and other nonconformist sects

[33] Exchequer: Pipe Office: Estreats: Rolls and Nichil Rolls

[34] Including but not limited to lord chancellor, the solicitor general, the lord high treasurer of England, and the master of the rolls

[35] Quakers were to make a similar declaration

[36] Tenants and occupiers between 1772 and 1832

[37] Land Tax Redemption Office: Quotas and Assessments 1798 – 1914

[38] Land Tax Redemption Office: Parish Books of Redemptions 1799 – 1953

[39] Land Tax Redemption Office: Registers of Redemption Certificates 1799 – 1963

[40] Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Association Oath Rolls 1696-1697

[41] Chancery: Petty Bag Office: Rolls of Oaths of Allegiance and Test Oaths 1673-1889

[42] Association oath roll 1696 May

[43] Association oath roll 1696 June-July

[44] William III, 1698-9: An Act for the further preventing the Growth of Popery. [Chapter IV. Rot. Parl. 11 Gul. III. p. 2. n. 2.] section III, accessed 4 April 2019

[45] Chancery and Supreme Court of Judicature: Close Rolls

[46] Public Record Office records

[47] After 1871 many were buried in Catholic section of the community Cemeteries which began to develop

[48] And other nonconformist sect registers

[49] History Working Papers Project

[50] Exchequer: King’s Remembrancer: Oath Rolls: Papist Oaths

[51] (13 April 2019)


Websites accessed 30th March 2019

Websites accessed 1st April 2019

Websites accessed 8th April 2019

Websites accessed 13th April 2019

Websites accessed various dates between 30 March 2019 and 13th April 2019


W B Patterson            King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (Cambridge University Press 2000) (Google books)

E. Rose                        ”Cases of Conscience: Alternatives open to Recusants and Puritans under Elizabeth I and James I” (Cambridge 1975)

A. Dures                      “English Catholicism, 1558 – 1642” (Harlow 1983)

Coffey, John               Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England, 1558 – 1689 (Pearson Education 2000)

Herber, Mark               Ancestral Trails, Second Edition (SOG 2005)

Hey, David                 The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History (Oxford 1996)

Scott, Jonathan            A Dictionary of Family History (Pen & Sword 2017)

Tracing your Trafalgar ancestors

The Battle of Trafalgar which took place on 21st October 1805 was only one of the battle which took place during the Napoleonic war, however it is the most famous and most written about, not in the least because it was of course the battle in which Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was killed on his flagship HMS Victory, now one of the main attractions at the Historic Dockyards in Portsmouth, where there is also a dedicated permanent exhibition to him: a good place to start to research his life and career, including a time line of Nelson the man and Nelson the “Hero”. There is also the Nelson Museum in Monmouth.

There are “over a 1000 books”[1] detailing the life of Nelson, “more than 20 films and television programmes”[2] and countless online resources, including various letters written by him regarding his fleets’ movements, his concerns and thoughts and the day to day management of his fleet from 1804 to 1805[3] and a collection of 251 letters (representing a sample) he wrote to his wife over a fifteen all held by the Navy Records Society. These can provide an overall picture of the life of an officer or seaman sailing in Nelson’s fleet at the period, including the Battle of Trafalgar and the personal life of Nelson himself. There are similar letters written by Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood between 1794 and 1809[4].

But what about the countless other officers who served in the Battle of Trafalgar: both commissioned officers[5] and warrant officers[6].


A list of some 1640 officers and men who served at the Battle of Trafalgar[8] comprising of 7 files compiled alphabetically by surname. There is also a list of those officers killed and wounded. This is also therefore a good place to start to check if your ancestor took part in the battle. The list provides the name, rank, ship and “other clasps” (other medals) which they were entitled to, for example:

“GRAHAM Thos          LM         Victory

GRANTHAM Abrahm       Sailmaker Swiftsure

GRAY Francis          Mid        Orian         entitled to Venerable 16 Jan ?

GRAY Henry            Ord        Colossus “[9]

Steel’s Navy List

Produced monthly from 1782 to 1816 and provided various lists, such as:

  • A full alphabetical list of the Royal Naval vessels, their commanders/captains and their stations;
  • A list of British was ships lost, taken or destroyed;
  • A list of enemy ships lost, taken or destroyed;
  • A list of Admirals, Commodores, Captains/Post-Captains, Masters and Commanders who lost their lives.

Whilst this list provides little detail it may help answer questions such as what happened to an ancestors’ ship where little or no other information can be found, or if records for an ancestor appear to end abruptly with no explanation.

List of Royal Navy Post Captains 1714-1830, version 4[10]

Published by the Navy Records Society this is a list of 2830 men arranged by date of posting to the rank of post captain. It provides the following details:

  • Name;
  • Date of posting to rank of post captain;
  • In some cases date or year of birth;
  • The dates they were then later promoted through the ranks of Lieutenant, Commander, Rear-Admiral, Vice-Admiral and Admiral;
  • Month and year of death
  • Details of their fate e.g. retired, lost, died, superannuated.

This list can therefore again provide brief details of the career of those reaching the rank of post-captain and provide a starting point for further research. Paul Martinovich[11] states:

“Dates of birth and death can reveal interesting information about the circumstances of an individual, and of post captains in general. Generally speaking, anyone who was posted before the age of 25 was either particularly lucky or well-connected, and often both. The youngest post captains were usually the beneficiaries of flagrant acts of nepotism by their admiral relatives”

Details of being decorated for their service may be found[12]:  

Name Posted Born Lieut Cdr RAdm VAdm Adm Died Fate and comments
William Hargood 22/11/90 5/1762 1/80 6/89 7/10 6/14 7/30 12/1839 KCB 1/15, GCB 9/31, GCH 31[13]

There are other navy lists but I will not mention them further as they do not cover the period of the Battle of Trafalgar and generally cover much later periods.

Trafalgar Ancestors database[14]

Published biographical sources have been used alongside muster rolls, service certificates, Greenwich hospital in-pensioner records, passing certificates and survey returns to create this database. It contains more than 18,000 individuals “all those who fought in Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. This includes Royal Navy commissioned and warrant officers, ratings, supernumeraries and Royal Marines……..[which] over time aims to provide genealogical and service details about these individuals”[15], so again could be a good starting point for research providing basic information as can be seen in the example below:

Francis Gray[16].

Ship: HMS Orion

Rank/Rating: Midshipman[17]

Service details

Comments: From: Portsmouth

HMS Orion

12 June 1805 to 3 August 1805

Comments: Volunteer

Ship’s pay book number: (SB 447)

4 August 1805 to 17 October 1805

Rank/rating: Landsman

18 October 1805

Sources used

Catalogue reference: ADM 37/18

The database can be searched by surname only or by an advanced search including:

  • Last name
  • First name
  • Approximate age on 21 October 1805
  • Birth place
  • Ships name
  • Rating / rank

Patrick Marione’s The Complete Navy List of the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815

This is available on CD and is described as “The Complete Navy List contains the names of more than 11,000 commissioned officers who served in the Royal Navy from 1787 onwards, up to those who entered the service before 1817. The information, which has been collected comprises individual’s careers, their personal lives, their parents and families, the honours and pensions they earned, and much more, and extends into what they did after the Great War”[18].

The Ayshford Trafalgar Roll[19] by Pam and Derek Ayshford

This Roll contains the names and details of over 21,000 men who were on the musters of the British ships on 21st October 1805 (although still on the musters, some men had been discharged before the Battle), including:

  • The ship on which he served
  • Rank or rating
  • In most cases his age and place of birth.
  • Other details such as families, former trades, pensions, awards, medals, physical descriptions, pictures, injuries sustained, illnesses and date of death where records/documents survived.

CD includes a program which allows you to search and analyse the data in many different ways.


Nelsons’ Band of Brothers: Lives and Memorials by Peter Hore

In terms of biographical information, this book is a good starting point for those officer in command of the ships. It contains a short biography on each of those commanding officers, not only who took part in the Battle of Trafalgar, but also took part the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Copenhagen and the Baltic. It is important to note that Captain Thomas Hardy and Captain Thomas Fremantle are biographed in the sections “The Battle of the Nile” and “The Battle of Copenhagen and the Baltics” respectively, the remaining officers are biographed in the section “The Campaign of Trafalgar” suggesting that Hardy and Fremantle appear to be the only two officers who fought alongside Nelson for a number of years prior to and during his command in the Napoleonic Wars[20].

These biographies provide information as to where they were born/spent their childhood years, although they concentrate on providing a brief factual account of their routes into the Royal Navy, the ships they sailed on, under whose command they sailed, the ranks they held on each ship and thus their progression through the ranks. They provide details of their role in the Battle of Trafalgar and in some cases their relationship with Nelson himself. They also provide brief details of their careers after the Battle of Trafalgar, when they died and where they are buried. This is the “bare bones” of their career from which a timeline can be drawn for easy reference.

The Naval Biographical dictionary by W O’Bryne, 1849

This, as its title suggests, is an A–Z (by surname) dictionary of nearly five thousand naval officers, “whose names are contained in the ‘Navy List’ for January, 1845”[21]. Its usefulness in terms of those who served at the Battle of Trafalgar is therefore limited to those still living and listed on that Navy List for January 1845 but if it is known an ancestor was still living at that time then it is certainly worth referring to.

Being an A – Z dictionary it is easy to search for an ancestor by their surname. Each man listed has a biography of their career (some longer than others!).

Going back to our Midshipman, Francis Gray, O’Bryne’s book provides brief details of his three brothers who he lost in the Navy and tells us he was married with two sons and three daughters. It details his career in the Navy from entering in 1803 as a First Class Boy[22] on board the Pegase under Lieutenant Commander Edward Crouch.  He became Midshipman in 1805 serving on the Orion in the Battle of Trafalgar. It goes on to detail his continued service on the Orion until December 1813 and thereafter his service on board the ships Fortune and Venerable. It describes how “He had previously distinguished himself in the month of Oct. 1809, in jumping overboard when the ORION was refitting in Portsmouth Harbour, and rescuing the life of a boy named Edw. Simmons, who had fallen overboard, and could not swim” and how “On 7 of the following June, having passed his examination nearly five years, he was appointed Acting Lieutenant of the PIQUE…. to which frigate the Admiralty confirmed him on 26 of the next Aug”. It describes his further service assisting “Capt. John Marshall in the conduct of the Quarantine Establishment at Standgate Creek” and how he later “had the direction of the Police department of Chatham Dockyard” after which he “went, on half-pay for the purpose of joining the merchant-service, and has not been since officially employed”.

Royal Navy Biography by John Marshall 1760-1823

This comprises 12 volumes[23] providing biographies of all Flag Officers, Superannuated Rear-Admirals, Retired Post Captains, Post Captains 1798 – 1806, Naval Operations of the Burmese War of 1824-26, Post Captains 1822 –1831, Commanders, Post Captains 1806 – 1811, and Post Captains 1812 – 1822, as extracted from the Admiralty list of sea officers. These records are somewhat difficult to navigate. Anthony Gary Brown[24] in providing a much easier reference index[25] to Marshall’s work, states “the rather eccentric organisation of Marshall’s work that usually necessitates the researcher knowing something of the service seniority of a given officer in order to hazard which volume will contain his entry; and, even armed with this knowledge, a tedious amount of double-checking of Marshall’s own indices in the various volumes is usually necessary”. The biographies are similar in content to O’Bryne’s Dictionary although perhaps more detailed at the works do concentrate of the higher ranking commissioned offices on which they is perhaps more available official information than the lower ranking officers which can be found in O’Bryne’s Dictionary.

Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy by David Syrett and Robert L. DiNardo 1660-1815 (1994)

This is another A-Z list by surname of Commissioned officers who served in the Navy from 1660 to 1815, thus including the period of the Napoleonic wars and the Battle of Trafalgar.  It is based on the original work commenced by David Bonner Smith who was the Admiralty Librarian from March 1932 to May 1950. He died in December 1950 before completing the work which was then completed by the Royal Navy College, Greenwich, in collaboration with the National Maritime Museum[26]. A number of versions of this original list have then been published over the years including a version by C G Pitcairn Jones published by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich in 1979.

The list is compiled from numerous sources including the Navy Lists and provides each officers rank(s), the year(s) in which he served in that/those rank(s), the date of retirement and the date of death.

The list is also available to search at [27]. The list is limited to Commissioned officer and therefore any Warrant Officers and lower ranking officers such as Midshipmen will not be included.

The Trafalgar Roll: The Ships and the Officers by Robert Holden Mackenzie (2004).

Originally published in 1913 and re-printed for the bicentenary celebrations of the Battle of Trafalgar in 2005 this book is arranged by ship and lists over 1,250 officers who served at the Battle of Trafalgar, including midshipmen, surgeons, clerks, boatswains and carpenters as well as commissioned officers, for 850 of which there are details of their careers. It also includes brief service history of every ship including the little schooner Pickle.

One of the aims of the TNA’s Trafalgar Ancestors project is to eventually revise, extend and bring up to date Mackenzie’s Trafalgar Roll”[28].

Who’s Who in Nelson’s Navy by Dr Nicholas Tracy (2008)

This purports to be the very latest book containing biographies for two hundred Officers who served alongside Nelson in the Napoleonic wars. It is not limited to those who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. The A-Z chapters make for easy reference to find an Officer.

“Each biography, of around one thousand words, describes the events in these men’s careers and sets their achievements within the context of the wars. Their early lives and promotions are detailed as well as their marriages and family lives. Indeed, the extraordinary web of personal and service relationships that emerges is one of the fascinating themes of the book”[29]

The Mammoth Book of How It Happened Trafalgar by Jon E. Lewis (2005)

This book contains around 70 first-hand accounts not just of the Battle of Trafalgar but of the period 1793 to the Battle of Trafalgar and the aftermath set out in four parts. The accounts are by officers of varying ranks and include some of those from the French and Spanish fleets as well as the British fleet.

It is of limited use to family historians given the small number of officers whose account contribute to this book but may provide a first-hand account by an ancestor. There are of course many by Nelson himself others are by Captains, Colonels, Midshipmen, Second-Lieutenants, along with extracts for ships logs.

Midshipman William Dillan, HMS Defence, writes on the 29th May 1974 when engaged with the French, writes[30]

“I had never seen a man killed before. It was a most trying scene…[gory account of how the man was injured]…The captain went over, and, taking the poor fellow by the hand, pronounced him dead”

As darkness fell and the fighting ceased until dawn he goes on,

“I selected one of the topsail halyard tubs on the forecastle, and coiled myself as well as I could inside of it, where I took a snooze which I enjoyed. And felt more refreshed when I woke by the tars than I should have done had I gone to bed: at least I thought so.”

And he goes on at the end of the battle,

“The number of men thrown overboard that were killed without ceremony, and the sad wrecks around us taught those who, like myself, had not before witnessed similar scenes that war was the greatest scourge of mankind”.

The battle itself is described in great detail and perhaps not to be read by the faint hearted but this and many of the other accounts set out in this book really put you in the sailors’ shoes and bring their experiences to life!

There are also a number of Appendix, one of which is entitled “Life and death in the Royal Navy, 1973 – 1811”, which includes accounts of life on board ship in the navy during this period, written by Ordinary Seaman, but which provide a good picture of general life on board.

Naval Chronicles and Naval Chronicle, 1799-1818: Index to Births, Marriages and Deaths by Norman Hurst 1989

A monthly publication from 1799 to 1819 which provided news of campaigns, promotions and some announcements of naval births, marriages and deaths with a list of those named in those publications in a chronological and alphabetical order under the sections Births, Marriages and Obituaries having being collated by Norman Hurst.

Other Publications

Publications such as the Gentleman’s Magazine and the Illustrated London News sometimes included stories and news of officers, as sometimes did local and national newspapers and journals. At an officer’s death it is almost certain that at least the local newspaper would have included an obituary, giving a summary of their career.

The above in no way provides a complete list of sources available, however they are perhaps the most useful in determining whether an ancestor took part in the Battle of Trafalgar, their ship, their rank, details of their career both before and after the Battle. There are also numerous books which provide a more general insight into the Battle of Trafalgar and serving in the Royal Navy in the late 18th and early 19th century which may also help provide an overall picture of the life a navy officer ancestor may have had such as The Trafalgar Companion by Alexander Stilwell and Trafalgar, The Men, The Battle, The Storm by Tim Clayton and Phil Craig.

[1] “The Immortal Memory” information board in the Nelson Exhibition at The Royal Navy Museum, Historic Dockyards, Portsmouth

[2] “The Immortal Memory” information board in the Nelson Exhibition at The Royal Navy Museum, Historic Dockyards, Portsmouth


[4] and

[5] included the ranks of Admiral, Vice-Admiral, Rear-Admiral, Commodore, Captain, Commander and Lieutenant

[6] included the ranks of the Acting Lieutenant, Master, Purser, Surgeon, Chaplain, Boatswain, Gunner, Carpenter, Armourer, Cook, Master at Arms, Sailmaker and Schoolmaster.

[7] Whilst the muster rolls ADM36 and ADM37 at TNA include those from all 33 ships making up Nelsons’ fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, there are many other published sources to consult.


[9]; LM = Landsman; Mid = Midshipman; Ord = Ordinary seaman; AB = Able seaman; Lieut = Lieutenant



[12] an extract from the list for William Hargood, Captain of Belleisle at the Battle of Trafalgar:

[13] Honours or Orders granted: KCB = Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath; GCB = Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath; GCH = Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Hanoverian Order



[16] As found in the example list from above

[17] A Midshipman was a junior ranking officer



[20] 1803 to 1815 – Nelson died a Trafalgar on 21st October 1805

[21] At page (v) the Preface

[22] “a boy aged 16 to 18 under training, who had previously served for between 9 months and 18 months rated as “boy 2nd class”, shown sufficient proficiency in seamanship and accumulated at least one good conduct badge (the requirements varied between training ships). His rate of pay was increased on being promoted”.

[23] including addendums and historical and explanatory notes


[25] both by way of a list of the contents of each volume but also an A – Z index, by surname, of those officers biographed with the volume(s) and page number(s) of where to find them.

[26] This original work was in three volumes




[30] In his account entitled “The Glorious First of June, 30 May – 1 June 1794 (at page 16 of pages 13 to 31 of his account)





Peter Hore                  “Nelsons’ Band of Brothers: Lives and Memorials”

            (Seaforth Publishing In association with the 1805 Club, 2015)

W O’Bryne                 The Naval Biographical dictionary (John Murray 1849)

John Marshall             Royal Navy Biography (Longman 1824)

David Syrett and Robert L. DiNardo Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy,

1660-1815 (Navy Records Society 1994)

Robert Holden Mackenzie      The Trafalgar Roll: The Ships and the Officers (Chatham 2004)

Dr Nicholas Tracy                   Who’s Who in Nelson’s Navy (Chatham 2008)

Jon E. Lewis                           The Mammoth Book of How it Happened Trafalgar (Carrol & Graf 2005)

Alexander Stilwell                  The Trafalgar Companion (Osprey 2005)

Tim Clayton and Phil Craig    Trafalgar, The Men, The Battle, The Storm (Hodder 2005)

Huntington Library Catalog   Naval Chronicles

Norman Hurst                         Naval Chronicle, 1799-1818: Index to Births, Marriages and Deaths                                   (Hurst) 1989

Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA)

” When you are researching your ancestors there may be times when you need to use the services of a professional genealogist or a family history researcher. So how do you know where to find a good quality researcher? The best way is by using a Member of AGRA (Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives) for research in England and Wales”

Having started my business in October 2018, I decided in November 2018 that I was ready to submit my application for AGRA Associate. As is the usual process, I was invited to attend an interview with the Board of Assessors on 22nd March 2019. It seemed such a long time to wait but it came round so quickly!

As part of the interview process I was required to prepare a drop-down pedigree tree from a number of documents AGRA provided one week prior to the interview which would then be discussed at the interview. As ever I was drawn into the family from the documents provided and really enjoyed “teasing” out the necessary information to complete the required pedigree tree. Whilst no other research was required, as any genealogist will appreciate, I could not resist a little research deeper into the family. A very interesting family, on the one hand seemingly affluent but those fortunes did not favour all members of the family – perhaps it was his marriage to a servant which was his financial “downfall”?!

Anyway, pedigree tree drawn, documents thoroughly “got to grips with” I nervously attended the interview. A panel of three lovely ladies awaited me. Pedigree tree approved and onto the documents themselves. They could clearly tell I was nervous the brain just wouldn’t find the words I wanted and I was somewhat thrown by the wording of some of the questions but through discussion we got the answer they were seeking! It certainly turned out not the be the “interrogation” I had dreamed in my head it would be, non of the particularly technical questions I had imagined there would be about parish registers, census records and civil registration.

In the end I thankfully came out feeling it had gone well and was hopeful my application would be successful. I would find out by the end of the next week…….thankfully I only had 4 days to wait. Into my inbox pops an email from the Chair of the Board of Assessors. I nervously open it…. Yes my application had been accepted and I was now (subject to payment of the joining fee) an AGRA Associate.

You may be wondering why it has taken me until now to write this post. Well, yesterday I (nervously) attended my first official event as an AGRA Associate – the AGRA study day and AGM. It was lovely to finally meet members and fellow associates, a very friendly and welcoming group of like-minded people. It made me truly feel part of this great professional organisation and it always inspires and encourages when you meet so many people happy to help and support you on your career path.

AGRA not only seeks to improve and promote professional standards in genealogy through education and experience, but promotes continued professional development but provides extremely valuable networking groups. The majority of genealogists and family researchers are self employed and anyone who is self employed in any walk of life knows how isolating it can be with no daily work colleagues to just “have that coffee break” with or “grab sandwich at lunch” with. Networking groups help overcome this by bringing like-minded people together to share knowledge, practices and build strong business relationships – you never know when you may need to collaborate on a research project!.

My first networking event takes place next Friday and I am looking forward to meeting more AGRA colleagues and making new connections.

If you would like to know more about AGRA visit there website

When did we become obsessed with time?

So today is the day we put the clocks back and marks the start of the shorter days of winter. But this is a relatively new phenomenon as is standardised time and what changes in time keeping did our ancestors experience?

From Ancient Egyptian obelisks dating back to around 3500BC and sundials to around 1500BC the latest digital ‘gadgets’ of today, to the latest time has always been measured in one way or another. But I doubt our ancestors were so aware of time as we are today.

Until the mid to late 19th century, time was set locally rather than nationally or internationally. Our ancestors largely kept time by the sun – an organic system known as local mean time. How did this work? In each town across the country the time of day was decided, firstly, by consulting a sun dial and then by the creation of local time.

With the introduction and development of the railways there came a need to standardise time and the UK was the first country to set a standard time when it established the Greenwich Mean Time standard in the 1840s (initially known as “railway time”). As Greenwich, due to the presence of the Royal Observatory, was the national centre for time and had been since 1675, the choice was obvious. .

Most railways used this time by 1847 however our ancestors day to day life was still governed by local mean time and so arose the situation where the town railway station h kept one time, and the town itself kept another! Very confusing! And by 1845 railway timetables had to point out that there was a difference between “town” time and “railway” time. Some stations even had two clocks, one for local time and one for railway time!

Clearly the situation could not last and by 1855, most public clocks in Britain were set to GMT, although some had two minute hands, one for local time and one for GMT. However it was not until 2 August 1880 that GMT was adopted officially by Parliament

I wonder how this affected our ancestors lives?

Would it have made their lives easier? It would have certainly made travel easier and time less confusing! Was this the beginning of our ‘obsession’ with time?

What do you think?