Written Sources

Hit a brick wall? Then read on, perhaps other written sources may help.

As well as records of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the Census Returns, there is a wealth of other written evidence available to help you in your research. Very useful sources are wills and probates, settlement and removal papers, bastardy bonds and a variety of Manor records.

Wills and probate

Wills can be a wonderful resource in helping to piece together the jigsaw of family names.

For example, I have an ancestor, Sarah Manclarke, whose baptism I still have been unable to find, after many years searching. However, I have her ancestry back to William Manclarke who died in Norton Subcourse in 1547. In a Norfolk Wills Index I found the reference for the will of Sylvester Manclark who died in 1774. I applied to Norfolk Record Office and bought a photocopy of the will.

Sylvester, a widower, left everything to his daughter Ann and her heirs. However, if she died without issue his property went to his parents, if they were still living. If they were not still living (or after they died) the property was to go to Sylvester’s nephew William Seely, son of William and Sarah Seely of Blundeston. Sarah Manclarke married William Seely in Blundeston in 1770. So, thanks to Sylvester’s will, I was able to link Sarah to the family that could be traced back another 200 years, using wills and parish records.

Thomas Tripp who died in 1809 is my first cousin six times removed (via my Tripp ancestry) and my first cousin seven times removed (via my Edmonds ancestry). He was a wealthy man who helpfully, from the point of view of genealogy, died without issue. Thomas left a will eight pages long, which took some time to transcribe. The effort was worthwhile, because he named all of his nephews and nieces and gave the names of their spouses and children.

Birmingham Library has the England and Wales Wills indexes which began in 1858. Wills from before that date are held by The National Archives (PCC Wills) or in county record offices. The post 1858 Wills indexes give the reference for the will and to whom probate was granted. This is very useful for tidying up twigs on the tree as wills cost at least £5 a time. My great uncle Charles Brittain died in 1929 and this is what the index told me about him:

Charles Alfred Brittain of Pendinnis, Yarmouth Road died 23 September 1929.
Probate Ipswich 9th November to Elizabeth Brittain, widow and Benjamin Edmonds, fish salesman
Effects £ 708. 15s 4d

Probate documents pre 1858 often have an inventory of all the effects left by the testator. Sometimes this can be very detailed, down to ‘linen and plate’. Others are less detailed because property was transferred during the lifetime of the deceased.

Where the deceased left no will the next of kin could apply for Letters of Administration. These are much less detailed but can still contain useful information. When my ancestor Mary Capps died, her son applied for Letters of Administration and this appears in the Index:

Letters of Administration granted August 16, 1859 (effects under £20). The personal estate and effects of Mary Capps, late of Lowestoft in the County of Suffolk, widow, deceased, who died 19th January 1859 at Lowestoft. Aforesaid was granted at Ipswich to William Christmas Capps, of Lowestoft aforesaid, fisherman, one of the children of the said deceased, he having been first sworn.

Wills can be very difficult to read, the older they are the more difficult it is to decipher the writing, many being written in secretary hand or court hand. In addition there is a great deal of legalese that you have to plough through to get to the ‘meat’ of the will. But the effort is almost always worthwhile.

I was able to look at the Wills Indexes in Birmingham Library but they will also be available in many county record offices and at The National Archives.


A transcription of the earliest Will I have.

1548 Richard Manclarke Consistory Court of Norwich
Loddon, Chatgrave, Gylingham, Gelston, Wynston,
Ravenyngham, Stockton etc

NRO ref 236, 237 Wymer

1 In the name of god Amen
2 in the second year of the reign of
3 King Edward the sixth the third day of
4 August I Richard Manclarke being and
5 lying in ?extremis? and mercy of god doth
6 pronounce and declare to the quietness of
7 my mind and relief and comfort of the
8 poor this my testament and last will
9 first I bequeath unto Margaret my wife all
10 my house and land being and lying in
11 the town of Loddon and Chatgrave
12 for the term of her life with that house or
13 ————— ?Ingloss? ——- ——- —- and all my
14 stuff of household being in my 
15 house at the date of my death Item I give
16 unto the children of Robert Manclarke ten
17 pounds and I bequeath unto the poor xx? To be
18 bestowed among them in ————– years
19 that is to say every year xx? Then I be
20 queath unto ?Harriet? Manclarke the daughter
21 of John Manclarke xx? Also I will that after
22 the death of the said Margaret the foresaid
23 house and land to be sold by hand of
24 my executors furthermore I will that
25 my land and tente ?setting? lying and be
26 ing in the town of Gylingham, Gelston
27 Wynston, Ravenynham, Stockton and Toft
28 or elsewhere belonging to the said both
29 free and copy to be sold by the hands of
30 my executors whom I ordain and make
31 Gregory Howse and John Manclarke made
32 in the presence of John ———– William
33 Painter Charles ————- other the executors of all my
34 goods un————— or bequeathed I put them
35 to the discretion of my executors

Examples of wills


© Guinevere 2008

Settlement & Removal Papers

Until the Act of Settlement, or Poor Relief Act, of 1662 the poor and the sick had to rely on charity and the goodwill of others to eat and have a roof over their heads. The 1662 Act made this the responsibility of the parish and laid down definitions as to when a parish could be held responsible. The parish was responsible for all those who were legally settled in a parish, should they fall on hard times.

A full explanation of this can be found on Wikipedia: Poor Relief Act 1662.

Families wishing to move to another parish would apply for a settlement so that they would be provided for if they fell on hard times. The parish guardians wanted to be sure that those applying would be unlikely to make a claim on the parish, so an examination was held and a settlement granted or refused.

These papers are very useful to family historians who find that ancestors seem to suddenly appear in a parish from nowhere. Unfortunately many records have been destroyed, but those that survive can be found in county record offices. If there is a settlement for your ancestor you will know where to look for his baptism.

Somerset Record Office has indexed all their surviving settlement papers and this is how I discovered that my ancestor, Caroline Perkins, and her family were originally from Chewton Mendip.

James Cottle, cordwainer, was examined by the Justices of the Peace of South Petherton on the 21st May 1807. He had to detail his entire life and work history and swear to its truth then sign the paper. The document makes it possible to follow James from his birth in Midsomer Norton to his apprenticeship to Mr Black in Frome Selwood. From there he went to work in Radstock for William Weeks, obtaining a settlement there by working for a year and a day. After the death of his first wife he worked as a journeyman cordwainer at various places, not working long enough to obtain a settlement, other than the one he held for Radstock. He stated that a fortnight before he had married his second wife, Susannah, in South Petherton and that she had since had a child, ‘as yet unnamed’. James’ intention was to carry out his trade of cordwainer in South Petherton and provide for his wife and child.

Not everyone who moved parishes applied for a settlement and they were often left alone, until they asked for parish relief. The parish was not obliged to provide for any pauper without a legal settlement so would enforce a removal order. The person was transported back to the parish of his or her last legal settlement, often hundreds of miles, and on arrival there could claim poor relief. Removal papers that survive can also be found in county record offices.


© Guinevere 2008

Manor Court Records

The National Archives website defines a manor thus:-


It is difficult to find a definition of a ‘manor’ which fits all examples. It is often described as a geographical area, with the lord of the manor’s house at the centre, around which are the houses of the tenants and the local church. Surrounding these buildings are then the arable fields and the waste or common pasture. However, although this may describe some manors, it does not take into account the fact that some manors were scattered farms and homes, interspersed with lands from other manors. Neither does it describe the situation where several manors were owned by one lord, who only having a residence in one of the manors, thus leaving several manors with no manor house. It is worthwhile considering the manor as a system of social and economic organisation. This organisation is based on the tenants holding land from the lord of the manor and the land being regulated through the manorial structure of the manor courts.

Early manor court records are written on parchment (manor court rolls), in Latin and in court hand so can be almost impossible to read. By the 18th Century most were written in English and in books, but they can still be very diffficult to transcribe as faded ink, crumbling paper and dreadful handwriting conspire against you.

Many manor records have been lost. Those that remain can mainly be found in TNA and county record offices. Some remain in the hands of the heirs of the original Lords of the Manor. The LDS has filmed some records which can be found by doing a place name search in their catalogue.

I was lucky enough to get access to the manor court books of Lowestoft in the Lowestoft branch of Suffolk Record Office. The books have been indexed so I was able to order the particular volumes I needed. Most ROs restrict how many documents you can order from the vault, so it’s important to choose wisely.

I was interested in the books dealing with the buying, selling and transfer of land and property by my ancestors. I was trying to establish where their homes and properties would have been in present day Lowestoft. In some instances entire wills are reproduced in the books, which is very useful if the original will is lost.

Those who bought land copyhold from the Lord of the Manor had to pay an annual ‘fine’, which is similar to today’s ground rent on leasehold land. The Lord made a tidy income from rents and also from the selling or transfer of land. If land was sold it had to be officially handed back (surrendered) to the Lord, who then admitted the new owner on payment of a fine.

The books have wide margins on the left hand side where the steward made notes at a future date if the land was later transferred. The margin notes can be as informative as the text because there may be the names of heirs of whom you are unaware.

Below is a transcription of the entry in the Lowestoft Manor Court Books of 1735.

Extracts from Lowestoft Manor Book 1735

ALSO at this court Sarah Tungate (otherwise) Browning widow copyhold tenant of the said Manor and surrendered by the Rod out of her hands into the hands of the Lord of this Manor by the hands of the Steward of this Court All and singular her Messuages and Tenancies, Hereditaments, holden of this Manor by Copy of Court Roll with their Appurtenances: To the only ???? behoofe of Anne the wife of John Edmonds of Lowestoft aforesaid, Carpenter(Late called Anne Tungate Spinster/Daughter of the said Sarah to her heirs and assigns forever.

(Margin note)

Surd. Abs. From Sarah Tungate to Anne wife of John Edmonds.

IMMEDIATELY afterwards sitting the court comes Anne the wife of the said John Edmonds in her proper person and brings into the Court the Last Will and Testament of Anne Ellis late of Lowestoft, aforesaid widow ?????? bearing date the ——- Day of ———— in which among other things is contained as follows I give and devise unto Sarah Tungate (otherwise) Browning (my loving Kinswoman) whose maiden name was Sarah Ellis of Bungay in the county aforesaid All and singular my Messuages, or houses, Lands and Premises whatsoever and wheresoever the same are or be in the said Town of Lowestoft or elsewhere in the said County of Suffolk with their every of their Rights Members Proffits Priveledges and Appurtenances whatsoever to the same belonging or in any ??? Appertaining To hold to her the said Sarah for and during the time and term of her Natural Life. And my Mind and Will is that her handwriting or making a mark for her letting these premises or any part thereof for her receiving the rents and proffits thereof shall be sufficient (be she married or solo) and from and after her decease I give and devise the same unto Anne Tungate daughter of the said Sarah to hold to her the said Ann her heirs and assigns forever as by said Will appears. And the said Anne the wife of the said John Edmonds desire the ffavour of the Lord of this Manor to admit her tenant to these premises so as aforesaid and devised to her.

(Margin note)

Adm’n of Anne Edmonds

(to wit) to one tenement in which the said Anne Ellis lately dwelt between a messuage formerly of John George and the late of Thomas Britton on the part of the West and the lands formerly of

(Margin note)

John Ward admitted to this parcel under a Bargain and Sales from Extors of the said Anne Edmonds x 168

John Russell called the Old White Horse on the part of the East Abutt upon the common way called West Lane towards the North and upon the lands of Simon Ling towards the South and also to one tenement copyhold in which C?????? Stanford lately inhabited Parrell of a messuage formerly of John Wilde Merchant late of Matthew Reeve with a shop and yard to the same adjoining to

(Margin note)

Rev. William Oldham admitted to these premises on the surr abs of the said Ann Edmonds 15th Nov 1793

Situate lying and being in Lowestoft aforesaid between the King’s Highway on the part of the East and the lands of the said John Wilde on the part of the West and abutt upon the common path to the messuage aforesaid and belonging towards the North and upon the Kings Highway towards the South with the appurtenances which ??????????? the said Sarah Tungate/other wife/Browning had and look up to her and her assigns by virtue of the aforesaid will. At a general Court Baronhold for this manor on the 15th day of October 1735 as appears. And the said Ann the wife of the said John admitted tenant thereof to whom the Lord of this Manor by the hands of the steward of this Court ???????????? delivered seizin thereof by the Rod to hold to her, her heirs and assigns according to the fforms and effects of the aforesaid surrender and will at the will of the Lord according to the custom of this Manor by the ????????? and survivors therefore due and of right ??????????? so saving everyones right and so forth and she paid to the Lord a ffine and so forth and her fealty is ???????????? until and so forth.

Afterwards sitting the Court the said John Edmonds and Anne his wife did surrender by the Rod (she the same Anne being solely and secretly examined and forfeiting) out of his hands and into the hands of the Lord of the Manor all and every ??????????? to be declared in the Last Will and Testament of aforesaid Anne.


I was interested to read that my ancestor Ann was solely and secretly examined to make sure that the transfer was with her consent and not under duress by her husband.

Extract of the entry

On June 13th Isaac Capps (my 3 x great grandfather) applied to the Lord of the Manor on behalf of himself and Joseph Bemmant.


© Guinevere 2008

Bastardy Bonds

Bastardy bonds are the rarest of the documents associated with paternity and illegitimacy and had almost died out by the 1830s.

A bastardy bond was a guarantee that someone other than the parish poor law authorities would pay for the maintenance of an illegitimate child and were only used in specific cases. An example would be where a putative father had absconded, or where the putative father was of comfortable financial means. There would be very little point in bonding a poor ag lab for instance, unless he could find a bondsman to act for him.

No money actually changed hands unless the bond defaulted. In such a case, the bondsman would have to pay the agreed amount to the overseer of the poor.

I found one bastardy bond in the search for my illegitimate 2x great grandfather, James Holden, born in 1824.

James was the third illegitimate child of Jane Holden of Wheelton in Lancashire. Her first child, Joseph Holden, was the subject of a bastardy order in 1819, which named the father of her child as Henry Foster, a labourer of Wheelton.

However, a year later, Henry had absconded without paying maintenance for Joseph and a bastardy bond was issued against Jane’s father, James Holden, a farmer of Wheelton. It was customary for the male relatives of an unmarried mother to be pursued for maintenance should the natural father default.

James Holden, the farmer, appears to have been comfortably off, as his bondsman is the local vicar – remember the bondsman stood to lose his money if the bondee failed to maintain the child.

The bastardy bond reads:

In the name of our Lord in the year of 18hundred twenty, the ??1st day of October.

The Overseer of the Poor in the parish of Chorley, and

James Holden, farmer of Wh??? H??? of Wheelton in the parish of Chorley [note: Wheelton, although small, contained two parishes] do undertake to provide the spiritual and earthly needs of my natural grandson Joseph Holding born of my daughter Jane Holding and Henry Foster who has lately absconded from this place and to apprentice him to a master at the age of ten years or later if I so wish to support him.

I hereby set my seal

(signed, sealed) Jas Holdun. (Note wrong spelling of his own name)
John Bolton, Deputy Overseer of Chorley.

William Holden, farmer of Wheelton his mark

Bondsman: Revd. John C??lte?

Bonded in the sum of 100L for the maintenance, care and apprenticeship of one Joseph Holding aforementioned.

Signed and sealed John C?????? Vicar of Christ, this 31st day of October in the year of Our Lord 1821. [Note the discrepancy in the year date].

Unfortunately, Jane blotted her copybook twice more, bearing two sons to Robert Ashton. Her father did not undertake to support these boys and later removal orders for Jane from Chorley, suggest that these two boys were brought up by their natural father. Bastardy orders exist for both boys but they are incomplete.

Bastardy bonds are usually found in parish poor law records at county record offices. However, if gentry were involved in paternity, the bond may have been issued elsewhere, or may have even been done privately, in which case there is little chance of finding them, other than by luck.

Olde Crone Holden

© Olde Crone Holden 2008