The Value of Manorial Surveys for Family History Research

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Family history is easily one of the most common reasons for going to a county archive and that’s no surprise with the typical records that are available. However, despite county archives, by their nature, holding documents largely pertaining to places and people of their respective counties. There are many other records that are helpful across county lines.

Tracing family history back further and further, means that the survival of records available varies. Before the 1800s, family historians lose the informationally packed censuses for example. Similarly, certificates of births, marriages and deaths only existed after 1837. Before the creation of these essential types of records for the study of family history, parish registers are the most helpful for tracing our lineage and finding out about our ancestors. Registers can help trace a family back a considerable way to the 1530s, however even these vary in their survival with more parish registers surviving from the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Other than that, a myriad of other types of records are available depending on a person’s status in society. A landowner, for example, would have grants, quitclaims and other documents that might have survived today. In contrast, a person or family further down in society hundreds of years ago might only be recorded in certain types of records. Even then, that is only a possibility. They may be recorded in manorial records, which there are plenty of, yet still vary from manor to manor, court cases, such as the records of the Quarter Sessions or the Court of Common Pleas, and land surveys.

Recordings of common people of a manor into court entries relied on the obvious need to have been included in, for the most part, an offence or issue. This, of course, can’t be guaranteed for everyone. Nevertheless, these are often still good types of records to investigate for golden nuggets of glimpses into the past with maybe an anecdote or witness statement.

Manorial records and land surveys help provide context to people’s lives centuries ago and are therefore prime types of documents that can be inspected to help trace families further back. They are also types of documents that are, at times, found within archives that are different to their manor or land’s county. This can be due to documents pertaining to towns or villages that lie on a county border and have since changed county since they were deposited. Another reason could be that the documents are a part of a collection deposited in a local archive and cover various counties. Manorial documents, being an overarching term describe a range of records including court rolls, surveys, custumals, maps and accounts of officers within a manor.

As I’ve found researching my own family history, using parish registers alongside manorials and land surveys is incredibly helpful. Parish registers, to begin with, can include a postnominal of a person. A postnominal being an informal title placed after a name denoting a person’s place of birth or place of residence. For example “of Winchester”, however this could also be more locally specific, “of Stanmore”. For example, within a village this can help denote people to be living on certain farms or simply areas of land within a village. However, a postnominal could also be in the form of “junior”, “the younger” or “senior”.

Considering this, a postnominal can then be important when investigating surveys especially in a place where a family is deeply rooted with many family branches. A town or village with several people called Robert in the same family can make untangling them nearly impossible. A postnominal attached to just one person is extremely helpful in stopping the confusing web of same named individuals. Even if no postnominal is found attached to anyone of a family in a place, a survey document can provide a ‘identifier’ by listing any fieldnames they rent/work in or acreage.

An example of this is the survey of lands in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset belonging to Agnes, Marchioness of Winchester. The survey likely dates from during the Marchioness’ life before she died in 1601 or may have been produced after to assess her wealth.

Hampshire Archives: 44M69/E1/6/1. p.59 – Title page for the manor of Stockland, formerly in Dorset (Now in Devon)

This survey is an excellent document because it gives insight into each manor listed within. Some manors include Trewassa in the parish of Davidstow in Cornwall, Landkey in North Devon, Hooke, and Powerstock in Dorset, and various more. Each includes occupiers and tenants, field names, acreages, their yearly value and value per acre. In the image above (Hampshire Archives: 44M69/E1/6/1. p.59, the headline of the first of pages regarding Stockland even notes “from Broughton”, telling of how Agnes inherited the land – through her mother Katherine Broughton.

Stockland is a village of interest within my own family history as my family comes from here and the surrounding area from the early 17th century and going further back. This area, including Stockland, suffers in the way of having a wealth of people from the same family, some clearly separated in branches and some that stand out and haven’t yet been connected to others. When researching family history during a time period where parish registers don’t always survive from, and there aren’t other obvious documents regarding individuals of a family, remaining documents from the place in question are left for investigation. Although this might leave a hefty number of documents, these can include brief mentions that help build up family history research, or if not, context. This is why this survey is of interest to my own research.

The survey for Stockland includes eighty-one entries with only seven bearing the surname variant ‘Newbery.’ Although this is not representative of the number of Newberys in the village at the time, these entries still provide great insight. The many other tenants mention, and their own rented lands, help build up an idea of context in the area as many of the names of tenants I recognise as families that the Stockland Newberys married into. Using wills from the time, and the land described within them, and this survey helps reassure research of the family and how rented land was inherited through marriages.

Hampshire Archives: 44M69/E1/6/1. p.70 – Example entry of tenant in the manor of Stockland, formerly in Dorset (Now in Devon)

For example, in this entry, “Rob[er]t Newberie of Corie” is noted to pay a yearly rent of 22 shillings and 9 pence. In return he rents a tenement, orchard, garden, backside pasture, alongside land which is described by eleven field names including “the myddle more” and “Southe Crate”. Listing the whole value per annum of the lands he rents to have been £46 10s. 5d. Due to the vast number of Newberys in Stockland and the local area, I’ve taken to mapping out the farms and lands that the various family branches inhabited and worked on. With the detail of fieldnames and acreage described in this survey, has helped me map out further where these families were in the parish. In turn, letting me have a better understanding of how the family grow and spread out.

Looking at the survey, despite not recording every inhabitant of the manor, provides a great census-like record that directly connects people to specific land. The land described in field names and acreage, can then be used to map a manor to better understand growth of a family. Even when looking at a village centuries later, in another survey or in an early census can tell the story of how long a family has occupied surviving buildings or farmed certain fields. Although surveys can be relatively compared to censuses, they are distinctly different. Censuses are centred around the recording of people, their age and occupation and where they live, taken by the government. However a survey is centred around land and don’t always include the rental tenants’ names and details. The purpose of a land survey is to take account of the quantity and value of a person’s estate. A survey like the one mentioned is of greater value due to the level of detail it includes.

Ultimately, this survey is a great example of a record that covers and spans across county lines despite being held in the Hampshire archives, and underlines how important it is to look across different archives for records that could be relevant to research.

Researching family history back to a time of less records, moreover of less records of people of a lower status in society, draws out the need to look into records that may not be naturally thought of. Even those that are typically thought to be unlikely in mentioning specific people of that lower status. These records being those that are not obvious by their type of document, like surveys, but also records that might be held in other archives. This survey held by the Hampshire Archives is a great example of a document that has proven incredibly helpful for my own family history despite being a type of record that most of the time focuses on land.

Author: Jacob Newbury

Bio: Jacob is currently studying Medieval History at the University of Winchester. He also volunteers in the Winchester College Archive and Wolvesey Castle. Six years of independent research into Jacob’s family history dating back to the tenth century has given him a keen interest in the origins of heraldry, and seals. Jacob is self-taught in medieval Latin in order to transcribe and translate original documents sources from archives. Jacob also uses his skills in computer science alongside his interests in history in order to digitally reconstruct and 3D print historic buildings such as the Old Minster in Winchester.

Find Jacob Newbury on Twitter at @JJNewbs

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