You Cannot Separate Property and Genealogy

You Cannot Separate Property and Genealogy

The research approach that you presented/advocated over 35 years ago in your book Family History for Fun and Profit is even more applicable in Germany than it is in this country, if that is possible. And with even more dramatic results. In Germany dependence on Churchbooks alone–birth/baptismal/marriage/death/burial registers–to solve research problems is ill-advised.

The civil records, including house histories, tax records, and other property records, do more than supplement the church registers. They frequently bring the genealogist to a different conclusion regarding relationships, particularly when the given name and the surname combination are common in any relative period of time.

You’ve been on the right track for so many years!
Dr. Donald J. Martin

When I got this email from Dr. Martin, I requested permission to begin my Blog with his words. He is an accomplished German genealogy expert, fluent in reading old script and the Old German language–he was taught by his grandfather.

The British Isles is heavily Germanic in its origins and British local government institutions track back to Anglo-Saxon forebears who settled there. Even the great and well-known Norman Conquest by William I of Normandy did not eradicate those origins. William was too smart to change them; he adopted and adapted and modified so his new subjects could accept his Conquest.

My genealogy research expertise is in the British Isles. And in the transfer of British folkways and law to America before the American Revolution. While I focused on what is called the “Renaissance/Reformation period” for my academic research, I wanted to understand how the British Isles and its records came to be.

In order to understand the origins of the period of time from 1490-1600, I included the historical development out of which the Renaissance in Britain emerged. Then I also studied the following early modern era so I could watch the changes in jurisdiction over time. So my academic research covered roughly 1500-1800.

You see, I already knew that to find hard-to-locate ancestors, you have to search the jurisdictions which held governing or controlling power over the people. These jurisdictions created and preserved the records where the ancestors were chronicled.

Never mind that archives were not built to house the records until much later. Never mind that records were not centralized efficiently until later. The records were mandated by law and custom; they were created and kept in the jurisdictions themselves.

The jurisdiction which fascinated me most was the MANOR. The manor consisted of 1) The Lord who owned or had the right to use the land and the power to control the people who lived on the land. 2) The Tenants who lived on the land and gave service or work to Lord for the right to live on and benefit from the land. 3) And the Freeholders who had purchased or were granted and now owned outright lands within the Lord’s jurisdiction.

The Lord of the Manor had two and sometimes three courts where he maintained his control over tenants and freeholders. First, the Court Baron. This court was held regularly reporting three major questions: which tenants lived on what acres? What rights did the tenants have? And who were the tenants’ heirs to inherit those rights? All other matters brought before this court were focused on these questions. The “homage” or the Freeholders–called “good men and true”–were required to attend. The Tenants were required to attend. If they did not show up, they were fined. The Lord or his Steward conducted this court.

Second, the Court Leet. This court handled disputes and conflicts between the three groups of residents. Petty criminal actions were heard and punishments assigned. In capital matters, like murder, some Lords had jurisdiction, many did not. These higher crimes were often tried in the King’s courts. The Petty Jury, the Grand Jury and the Constable could be present in the Court Leet.

Third, the administrative functions of the manor could be monitored in the Court Leet or in a separate Lord’s Court. Here the Steward of the estate and his functionaries heard and decided actions.

These were all private courts with private jurisdiction which had been granted to or purchased by the Lord of the Manor. The records were private records preserved in the muniment room of the Manor house or castle where the lord resided.

Your ancestor could be all three: he could be the Lord of his own Manor, he could be a freeholder owning lands, or a tenant living on lands within the manor of some other lord. All at the same time. And you will find his genealogy recorded in the manor records. Private records–not preserved in the parish, not preserved at the county level (unless later transferred there for preservation).

How, then do you find and search the manorial records today? What time period do these records cover?  What percentage of the people are recorded in them?  Why have you not searched these records before?

Stay tuned!  We’ll discuss these records in greater detail in coming blogs–they date back almost to the Conquest.  Your favorite English genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS Don’t you find the prospect of records you have never searched before exciting?

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