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Research your family history

  1. Civil registration
  2. Parish registers
  3. Bishops' transcripts
  4. Nonconformist registers
  5. Roman Catholic registers
  6. Census returns
  7. Marriage licences
  8. Wills
  9. Electoral registers
  10. Tax and rate records
  11. Poor Law records - accounts, settlement
  12. Militia
  13. Other sources
  14. Copying and searching documents

1. Civil registration

In 1837 a system of civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced to England and Wales. You can buy a certificate for every birth, marriage and death from this date onwards. Certificates may give you more information than a parish register entry and can make tracing your family history easier. 

These records of civil registration are held by the General Record Office (GRO). You can search the GRO indexes online at subscription sites like Ancestry or FindMyPast - both of which can be searched for free if you visit the Essex Record Office or any library in Essex. An ever-increasing percentage of the index can be searched free of charge at FreeBMD.

The Essex Society for Family History has microfiche copies of the indexes which can be seen in their Research Centre in the Essex Record Office searchroom. Booking is necessary to use the Research Centre (telephone 01245 244670).

If you know the registration district where an birth, mariage or death occurred you can apply for a certificate from the local Superintendent Registrar. The GENUKI website for each county allows you to identify the registration district for each place and give contact details for the local Register Office.

You can also order paper copies of specific certificates direct from the GRO.

2. Parish registers

For the years prior to 1837, Church of England parish registers are the main source for family history. The earliest parish registers start between 1538 and 1598. Not all have survived and in some parishes the first date of the registers will be much later. Where early registers do survive, they may have gaps in the years where records were not kept. Registers after the last date shown are usually still held in the parish church.

All the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials deposited in the Essex Record Office are searchable on this site. Digital images of these registers, with the exception of marriage registers after 1957, are available to view if you buy a subscription.  Subcribers also get access to parish registers held by Waltham Forest Archives. To find out what registers we hold from any parish, and to identify images available online to subscribers, visit our Parish register page.

Most parish registers are also available on microfiche, and copies of the microfiches are available at Colchester Library and Southend Library. Registers for the north-west of the county can be seen at the Saffron Walden Archive Access Point. The Harlow Archive Access Point has registers for the Harlow area.

Where the original registers have been digitised, microfiched or microfilmed, the original registers are not normally produced except with the specific authorisation of the searchroom archivist.

3. Bishops’ transcripts

Annual returns of baptisms, marriages and burials were made by each parish to the diocese. Many counties have long series, but the Essex Bishops’ Transcripts are very poor, with few surviving before 1800, and many gaps for each parish. The originals can be ordered by searching this site for bishops transcripts and the name of a parish. Bishops’ Transcripts for any parish are available online via this site, to subscribers.

4. Nonconformist registers

The first nonconformist congregations appeared in the second half of the 17th century. From the late 18th century Methodist churches also started to appear. Although nonconformist do not have the same legal obligations as the Church of England to deposit records, the Essex Record Office does hold records from all of the different churches.

Before 1837 all marriages should be found in Church of England registers. Burial registers may also contain entries for people where there was no alternative burial yard. Often a Church of England incumbent may have made a note of nonconformists in parish registers. Remember that not every parish would have had a nonconformist church and people may have travelled some distance to another parish. Nonconformist churches have not always kept registers of baptisms, marriages and burials in the same way that Church of England parishes have done. However, church books and other records may record individuals and be useful for family history.

In 1837 various nonconformist churches surrendered their registers to the Registrar General. These records are deposited at the National Archives and individuals in these registers can be found on the International Genealogical Index (IGI) compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). This can be searched on FamilySearch. Digital images of the registers can also be seen on the subscription site bmdregisters.co.uk.  A CD copy of registers from Essex churches is available in the Essex Record Office.

Nonconformist records deposited in the Essex Record Office can be found by searching this site for nonconformist and a place name, or a specific denomination, for example Methodist and a place name. Records most useful to family historians are available to sdearch with a subscription.

5. Roman Catholic registers

A very small number of registers from Roman Catholic churches have been deposited in the Essex Record Office. Until 1837, as with nonconformists, all marriages should have taken place in the Church of England parish churches. Lack of alternative burial places may also mean that Roman Catholics were buried in parish churchyards. Consequently Roman Catholics may appear in Church of England parish registers.

A search for Catholic on this site will find all references to Roman Catholic records deposited in the Essex Record Office.

Most Roman Catholic churches keep their registers of baptisms, marriages and burials and you should apply to the church for copies of entries.

6. Census returns

The first census in Britain was in 1801 and has been held every ten years since, with the exception of 1941. All census records are closed to public access for 100 years. Until 1841 the census recorded only totals of populations in different areas. The first to record names, ages, addresses and occupations of individuals was in 1841. From 1851 the census also included family relationships within a household and a place of birth.

Census returns are indexed and can be searched on Ancestry or FindMyPast - both of which can be searched for free if you visit the Essex Record Office or any library in Essex.  We also have microfilm copies of the Essex returns for 1841-1901. For 1851 no returns survive for the Dunmow registration area.

Some early census returns for individual parishes have survived and have been deposited in the Essex Record Office and a search for census and a date or a place would locate any entries.

7. Marriage licences

Original marriage licences, bonds and allegations are available to order. There is also an index to surnames. A search on this site for marriage licences and a date will locate the item so that it can be ordered.

8. Wills

Wills before 1858 were proved in ecclesiastical courts. Essex was originally in the diocese of London and records of the courts in the county are deposited in the Essex Record Office.

You can find wills on this site by searching for a surname or place name and the word will.  Alternatively, the three-volume index Wills at Chelmsford, edited by F.G. Emmison, lists the wills in surname order. Copies of pages from this can be provided on request for a surname.

The references in the index volumes are abbreviated and need to be converted before locating the will. Place D/A in front of the two letters and move the first number to the end, e.g.

21 EW 13 becomes D/AEW 13/21

58 CR 6 becomes D/ACR 6/58

Some wills are from the Peculiar Courts of the Deanery of Bocking (A or D/APb), Good Easter (GE or D/APg), the Sokens (D/APs) and Writtle and Roxwell (D/APw) and their references need further conversion, e.g. 49 AW 2 becomes D/APbW 2/49.

Wills with the letter R in the reference are available on microfiche at Chelmsford, with copies at Saffron Walden, and at the Colchester and Southend Access Points. With these references the second number is the folio number which can be seen at the top right of alternate pages, e.g. D/ACR 6/58 is folio 58 of the volume D/ACR 6.

Wills whose references include the letter W are original wills and are available as digital images for subscribers.

Not all pre-1858 Essex wills are deposited in the Essex Record Office. Wills from other diocesan courts are deposited at the London Metropolitan Archives. There were also other peculiar courts whose records may be held elsewhere.

The Prerogative Court of Canterbury was superior to the other courts in the county. Many of the more important Essex people chose to have their will proved there. The original records are deposited at the National Archives; use the National Archives' Discovery tool to search the indexes online and view the image of the will for a charge.

From 1858 a centralised system for probate was introduced. For a name index and online ordering system see Wills, probate and inheritance pages on Gov.uk.

Microfiche copies of the annual indexes from 1858 to 1943 are also available in the Chelmsford searchroom. Having checked the indexes you can order a copy of the will at any district probate registry. Alternatively, you can write to the Postal Searches and Copies Department, The Probate Registry, 1st Floor, Castle Chambers, Clifford Street, York YO1 9RG.

9. Electoral registers

Electoral registers can be used to find further details of the owners or occupiers of a property. The earliest registers date from 1832. It is important to remember that the right to vote has not always been universal and individuals may not appear because of this.

Electoral registers can be found by searching for the phrase electoral register and the place name. You can specify a date or date range to refine your search.

10. Tax and rate records

Land Tax assessments (Q/RPl) have been deposited and are available on microfiche in the Record Office, at Saffron Walden Access Point and at Colchester and Southend Libraries. These cover the years c.1780-1832 and list owners or occupiers, with a brief description of the property and the tax payable. The records of the hearth tax (Q/RTh), 1662-1673 have also been deposited, with copies available there. These list the name of each owner or occupier and the number of hearths in the house. Both the land tax and hearth tax are arranged by hundred (ancient divisions of the county) and may be useful for locating ancestors.

Rate books were kept listing all those paying rates and can be useful to identify people in a parish. From the late 19th century these can be found as part of local authority records. Before this individual parishes were responsible for collecting poor, church and highway rates. These rate books are in parish collections (D/P). A search for rates and a parish name or local authority area name should locate any rate books.

11. Poor Law records – accounts, settlement

Parish records include records of the poor who were supported by the parishes. These records include overseers’ accounts, settlement certificates and examinations and removal orders. A search on Seax for the type of record, for example, overseers accounts and a place name will identify any records. An index to settlement records is available on microfiche. After 1834 responsibility for the poor passed to Poor Law Unions (G/), which were groupings of several parishes. Each union built one large workhouse where the poor would be accommodated. Very few Union workhouse records survive for Essex but a search on Seax for workhouse and union will identify the records. Microfilm copies of records of the Saffron Walden Union are available at the Saffron Walden Archive Access Point.

12. Militia

Muster rolls and lists give names and other details of men serving in Essex militia and volunteer units from c.1775-1865. A search for militia and a place name will identify any records that survive.

13. Other sources

Transcripts

As well as original registers the Essex Record Office has a number of transcripts of registers that have been deposited over the years. A search for transcript register and a place name should locate these. The Essex Record Office Library also has Boyd’s Marriage Index, which provides an incomplete index to marriage registers for 1538-1837 arranged by surname.

Monumental inscriptions

The Essex Society for Family History  has a continuing programme to record monumental inscriptions in the county. Copies of their surveys have been deposited. Surveys compiled by others have also been deposited. A search for monumental inscriptions and a place name will identify copies in the Essex Record Office or take out a subscription to search behind the paywall.

14. Copying and searching documents

If you are unable to visit the Record Office in person we do have a search service which can search documents deposited here for information. We can also provide copies of entries or documents where they are not available in Essex Ancestors. Further details and the relevant forms can be obtained from ero.searchroom@essex.gov.uk.