Find Your Ancestors in English Manorial Records
Was your ancestor the lord of an English manor or, more likely, someone who lived and worked in the vicinity of one? Or are you a Downton Abbey fan who would just enjoy reading the old records kept by a grand manor? Then you should know about English manorial records available online and offline.
The Manorial Document Register, an arm of the National Archives (U.K.), manages manorial records and even has put some online. You can search its site by the name of the manor or, if you don’t know it, the name of the parish or county. According to the site, “The records noted in the Manorial Documents Register include court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and all other documents relating to the boundaries, franchises, wastes, customs or courts of a manor.”
What’s an English manor?
In English history, “A manor is an estate or an agricultural unit of local government, held by a landlord,” explains the FamilySearch wiki. “The residence of the landlord was called the manor house. Those living on the manor were subject to the customs of the manor, a sort of local common law often set by the landlord and which varied from manor to manor. The landlord was referred to as Lord of the Manor, but was not necessarily a titled person….Manors began after the Norman Conquest (1066) and weren’t abolished until a property act of 1922.”
“The people who lived on the manor were either
- Villeins, people who owed allegiance to and were bound to the lord of the manor, or
- Free tenant farmers (may also be known as franklin or yeoman) were not subject to the customs of the manor or the will of the lord.
It is estimated that there were between 25,000 and 65,000 manors in England, compared to the approximately 12,000 to 15,000 parishes.”
How else can I find English manorial records?
Manorial records may also exist elsewhere, like a Harvard University collection in the U.S. that has been partly digitized. It’s worth Googling the name of a parish, manor or county and the phrase “manor records” (“manor* records” will also search for the phrase “manorial records).
The all-new second edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke teaches you how to use search operators like these to find exactly what you’re looking for online (if it’s out there, Google can help you find it!).