Ask The Expert

Ask the Expert - Dr Nick Barratt

Dr Nick Barratt


Looking for a particular place?

Start by looking in local trade and street directories, as well as rate books.

Remember that there are no electoral lists post 1939 due to the 2nd World War. These sources are all likely to be in your County Record Office.

Looking for the history of your house prior to the census of 1841?

Get started by looking at the Tithe apportionment of the 1840s, if one survives of course.

This survey combines maps with apportionment schedules that list the name of the owner and occupier.

Im looking for information on a farmhouse?

Try the Stewards accounts, rentals surveys as well as land tax returns. These accounts are to be found in the relevant county archive.

Looking for information on a property owned by a Baroness?

Try looking at the Tithe apportionment of the 1840s. You could also try Baroness Estate records, as well as land tax returns.

You could find them on the relevant county archive, though the Baroness archives may be elsewhere; try A2A or National Register of Archives, both hosted by the National Archives website.

My property has a religious connection, where do I find information about it?

Since there is a religious connection, you could try the local diocesan record office, thought the local archives will remain the best bet.

There could also be further material at The National Archives.

My house was owned by an Earl, where do I go for information?

You should try the personal archives of that particular Earl, but always remember to check your local archives.

Im trying to establish the age of my house, it looks Edwardian?

Start with the 1910 Valuation Office Survey, which combines maps and field books that provide a snapshot of house ownership / occupancy c. 1912 onwards. The records are at the National Archives.

You should also consult OS maps locally to see how the area has changed. There are some key dates, such as 1894, that allow you to compare the area over time. Finally, it might be worth checking the 1901 census, just in case it was a little bit earlier than you first thought.

My house is in an estate once owned by a Lord, where do I find information?

If your house was once owned by an estate, then you can use surviving records to build a picture of occupancy. However, you should work back in time from modern sources, so that you have a framework of names and dates with which to work; so you should consider land surveys, electoral lists and census records first.

This house belonged to a family for a long time; how do I find out its origin, who built it and for what?

If you can find old title deed or wills that link the family to the property, or even manorial documents, you should be able to untangle the history of the site. Old maps are always a good bet, as are estate records, but it can be very difficult to obtain a precise date of construction, let alone reason. You will have to hope that personal correspondence survives, or that the character that built the house was controversial enough to leave a trace in official records.

How do I read the street numbers on the 1841 census?

Sadly, early census returns often do not have street numbers on them and you may have to compare the results manually on microfilm with other sources such as rate books.

When was this property built, I think it was around 1901?

Many houses were not listed by house number, even as late as 1901 so you could look manually to compare your results with data from the 1910 Valuation Office Survey, housed at the National Archives.

Where do I research my houses history, built around 1830?

You should start with old maps, and compare them to a tithe map for the parish if one survives. There may also be mileage in working back from later surveys, such as the 1910 Valuation Office survey, and track back the owners from there (through wills for example).

I dont have a postcode, who owned this house?

Remember that postcodes are a fairly new invention. To track owners, you will need to look for title deeds, if they survive, or work through rate books, street directories and possibly sale particulars.

My farmhouse was freehold, how do I trace its previous owners, its very old, probably around the 1600s?

Its very hard to trace occupants or owners of a freehold property, but you may find the occasional survey that names all the manorial tenants, free or otherwise.

How do I trace my cottages history, its the oldest where I live?

Its best to start with old maps to see if the house is marked; the earliest Ordinance Survey maps go back to the 1850s and there may also be a tithe map from the 1840s. Earlier maps might exist, but it will take some tacking back. Otherwise, you are reliant on occasional sources such as manorial court rolls, land tax and rates.

I live in a 1550 cottage, very small hamlet, how do I find information about it?

Best to start with the tithe map to get the names of the owners or occupiers, and then see if you can work back with wills. It might also be worth checking for any antiquarian notes on the hamlet, if it is that small it would mean that at least some notes were checked. Of course, it would once have formed part of a manor, and it could be the case that all the properties were copyhold, which would mean that you can track owners through time provided the records survive.

Where do I find information on a particular building?

Start at your local study centre or relevant county / municipal archive, the County Record Office is a good place to start.

How do I trace the occupants/owners of my house prior to the 1750s, it was a farmhouse?

Try to track down manorial records to see if they contain any useful data provided your house was copyhold. If freehold, you may find the occasional survey that names all the manorial tenants, free or otherwise.

How can I tell, from early census returns, who lived in the house? The house numbers have been changed!

You will need to work with other sources, such as rate books that should survive in local archives.

How do I find information on a particular Inn?

Depending on the status of the Inn, there might be mileage approaching the brewers that owned the property as they should have landlord records. There would have been licensing applications made to local authorities, and of course trade and street directories would have listed the names of the publicans in charge at various times.

How do I find info about my grandfather? He was born in 1880.

Army service records are held at The National Archives, up to 1923 and including the First World War. You could also try for a coroners record in local papers, which might include some background information standard genealogy would also help.

How do I narrow down the search between two dates? I found my house in a map in the local archives of 1848, but on the next map it is only a plot of land.

You can get the name of the owner / occupier from the tithe map, and then work back from the 1832 Land tax returns at the county archives; these show how ownership and occupancy over time.

Where do I find out what my property was? Its in London and its from 1937.

The best place to start is via a street or trade directory, which would list the owners / occupiers of the house.

Am I able to conduct research on a propertys history without the current owners permission?

You can, as the records are in the public domain. Start by getting details from the Land Registry of the last registered sale, work back in time through electoral lists and you will soon head back to the 1910 Valuation Office Survey at the National Archives.

I want to know what a well known building looked like?

There might be images or engravings in antiquarian works or possibly stored in the local archives.

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