The British Chancery was the royal secretariat. Beginning in the year 1204, the Chancery began maintaining documents on various types of rolls. The parchment papers were physically rolled and sealed closed with sealing wax of the Great Seal of the United Kingdom. Each British monarch had a particular seal. The purpose of the rolls was to keep the contents private and maintain the highest regard for the document. These royal instructions contained:
- Orders to the officers of the crown
- Writs summoning peers to parliament
- The Enrollment of private deeds
- Land grants by the crown
- Deeds of bargain and sale
- Deeds of lease and release
- Charitable records
- Royal letters
Many of the individuals in these records were not royalty. The records can include manor surveys of tenants, land inheritances, widow dowers, and minor wardships, which act as a sort of ‘census’ record that indicates an individual was in specific location at a specific time. Close rolls can be the stepping stone to additional records in that particular time period and area.
According to the Medieval English Genealogy website, there are about 180 volumes of printed abstract versions of these records up to 1509 that are indexed by name. They are extremely valuable for genealogists and go up to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The rolls are preserved in the Public Record Office under classifications C 54.
Some of these Close rolls are available online through BYU’s Family History Archives. Please note that these records are in Latin, and you may need a translator to assist you as you read through them.
In addition, a “Calendar of various Chancery rolls” is available on the Internet Archives website. One of the advantages to these records are that they are in English and have an index that lists surnames.
For more information on Close rolls and other English land and property records, see the England Land and Property article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.