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Civil Service Evidences of Age

Government appointments in the past were made upon the nomination of those in power but as the result of a highly critical report on the organisation of the permanent Civil Service in 1853, a Civil Service Commission was established by Order in Council in 1855 to examine the qualifications of candidates. Initially the Commission applied tests of fitness for junior situations in all branches of the Service and patronage continued, but following an Order in Council open competitive examination became the normal method of entry from 1 October 1870, though some posts continued to be filled by limited competition or by nomination of the head of the appropriate department. The Commission also held examinations for special entry to the Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, for interpreters in these services, for language allowance in the Foreign Service, and for promotion in the police forces. In 1913 there was a complete series of about 871,300 files of successful candidates who had been examined or received appointments since 1855.

The examinations were open to persons in strictly defined age groups and candidates for appointments were obliged to file copies of their birth or baptismal certificates. In 1923, on the instructions of the then Public Record Office, the filed birth certificates were removed from the candidates' files, and those that had not been properly registered (at the General Register Office and in other such offices) and were considered difficult of replacement were preserved, the remainder of the files being destroyed. This group of extracted certificates, many consisting of sworn statements providing evidence from a variety of sources such as Family Bibles, Prayer Books, and private family records, was known at the Commission as the 'Irreplaceable Evidences of Age'.

By 1947 there were about 60,000 of these certificates. Some 37% related to people born in England (many born after 1837 but whose births had not been registered), 28% to people born in Ireland, 6% in Scotland and 2% in Wales. Of the total, 2,500 were born in the Indian sub-continent, 1,250 in Malta (many seeking employment in the Admiralty Dockyards at Valetta), 545 in Canada, 520 in Australia, 475 in the United States of America, 410 in South Africa, 400 at Gibraltar, 240 in France, and others in Jamaica, Ceylon, Germany, Bermuda, New Zealand, Burma, the Barbados, China, Greece, Egypt, Hong Kong, Italy, Belgium, the Bahamas, and other countries, as well as 80 born at sea.

In 1855 about 50,000 persons had been employed in the Service (including about 17,000 revenue officers and postmen and 15,000 artificers and labourers in government dockyards) but by the end of the century the figure had risen to 107,000 of whom 77,000 were employed in the Post Office and nearly 9,000 in the Admiralty. The records contained applications for these and for a wide variety of other positions, e.g. in the prisons service, Indian Civil Service, Board of Trade, Customs and Excise, Stationery Office, Victoria and Albert Museum, National Maritime Museum, Registrar of Friendly Societies, even the Royal Mints in Melbourne and Perth and the 1881 Census Office in Dublin, but not all show the intended place of work.

All these numbered certificates, together with a card index, were retained until 1947 in case the persons involved asked for their return (those for persons certified in the years 1855-1880 had been sent to the Public Record Office in 1923, and others were periodically transferred until 1946). The retention of the candidates' birth certificates ceased in 1947.

The surviving 'Irreplaceable Evidences of Age' that were not reclaimed by the persons involved thus basically run from about 1820 to 1931 (though some details of relatives who lived between 1752 and 1948 are also mentioned). They clearly form only a fraction of those originally filed; some estimates put the figure as low as 2%. The oldest index cards contain details of the candidates' birth, background and Civil Service careers, but the later ones, written in the 1960s and 1970s contain less detail. There are a very few cards for candidates who were born about 1935, but the information given is restricted to date and place of birth (and sometimes department). The whole archive, which prior to 1880 was arranged in numerical order and subsequently in numerical order by department, was deposited with the Society of Genealogists in 1984. It was then sorted into one alphabetical series by volunteers, comparisons and additional information being taken from the index cards. In some cases only the card survives. In 2008 an index (showing full names, year of birth, and country and county of birth) was made available on and copies of the papers are available on payment of fees from the Society of Genealogists.

Illustrations of some of the more exotic certificates appear in the article by Elisabeth McDougall and Dick Mynott, 'Irreplaceable evidence of age from the Civil Service Commission' in Genealogists' Magazine, vol. 27, no. 7 (September 2002), pages 316-9 [FHL 942 B2gm]. The above statistics about the coverage of the Evidences of Age are taken from the notes provided by

Lists of the names of successful candidates were published in The London Gazette [see the article under that title] from 1855 onwards and in the Commission's Annual Reports. They also appear in the earlier volumes of the Commissioners' Minute Books, 1855-1962 [Class CSC8 at The National Archives]. Further detail of examination marks, appointments, promotions, salaries, pensions, etc., may be found in other records at The National Archives (see the sections on 'Crown employees and civil servants' in Tracing your ancestors in The Public Record Office (2002) [FHL 942 A5p], and on 'Civil Servants' in Stella Colwell, Dictionary of Genealogical Sources in the Public Record Office (1992) page 46 [FHL 942 D23cs]).

Government Employees

Other details of government employees are generally at The National Archives amongst the records of the appropriate department. Very few give more than place of residence at the time of appointment. It was, of course, not customary to ask the age and place of birth of a gentleman who was generally accepted as such when appointing him to a government or any other office and such details are not recorded until the 19th century.

Those who had a patent of appointment would appear on the Patent Rolls in Class C66 at The National Archives, but (incomplete) calendars of these have only been published to 1589, after which there is a variety of calendars and indexes. Lists of many officials have been compiled and some published and there is a useful 'Biographical guide to the lists of English office-holders (to c.1800)' in the Handbook of British chronology, by F.M. Powicke and E.B. Fryde (Royal Historical Society, 3rd edn 1986) [FHL 942 C4rg].

Published Lists

Annual lists of many officials are found in Angliae Notitia (1669-1707) [not in FHL], Magnae Britanniae Notitia (1708-1755) [not in FHL], The Court and City Register (1742-1813) [FHL has 1760 on film 1656404.4 and 1835 at 942 E4cc], The Royal Kalendar (1767-1893) [FHL has 1818 & 1864, apparently missing] and some other similar almanacs, precursors of Whitaker's Almanack (first published in 1868) [FHL has 1889, 1893, 1894, 1910, 1912, 1929 and 1934 on films 924170-6 and 1992-date at 942 A7w]. Some of the early almanacs have consolidated indexes of names enabling an office-bearer to be traced from office to office throughout his lifetime. All these lists show by office (with its address) the names of the chief employees, but not their places of residence. An alphabetical list of many civil servants has appeared in an 'Official Directory' at the front of the London Post Office Directory since the early days of the 19th century.

A yearly almanac similar to the above, The British Imperial Calendar (1810-1972) [FHL has 1813, 1814, 1829, 1835, 1836, 1838, 1839, 1849, 1857 on films 1696494-5, and 1887 on film 1696659.4], developed into an official list of Civil Servants and became the annual Civil Service Year-Book in 1972 [not in FHL].

In 1972 the Institute of Historical Research at London University began to publish a series of volumes listing Office-Holders in Modern Britain [FHL 942 N2; not filmed]. Each volume contains lists by appointment and an alphabetical list of officials. They include all grades, down to messengers and porters, and have useful introductory notes as to salaries and the methods of appointment used. The following officials are covered:

1. Treasury Officials 1660-1870 (vol. 1, ed. J.C. Sainty, 1972).
2. Officials of the Secretaries of State 1660-1782 (vol. 2, ed. J.C. Sainty, 1973).
3. Officials of the Board of Trade 1660-1870 (vol. 3, ed. J.C. Sainty, 1974).
4. Admiralty Officials 1660-1870 (vol. 4, ed. J.C. Sainty, 1975).
5. Home Office Officials 1782-1870 (vol. 5, ed. J.C. Sainty, 1975).
6. Colonial Office Officials 1794-1870 (vol. 6, ed. J.C. Sainty, 1976).
7. Navy Board Officials 1660-1832 (vol. 7, ed. J.M. Collinge, 1978).
8. Foreign Office Officials 1782-1870 (vol. 8, ed. J.M. Collinge, 1979).
9. Officials of Royal Commissions of Inquiry 1815-1870 (vol. 9, ed. J.M. Collinge, 1984).
10. Officials of Royal Commissions of Inquiry 1870-1939 (vol. 10, ed. E. Harrison, 1995)
11. Officers of the Royal Household 1660-1837; part 1, Department of the Lord Chamberlain and associated offices (vol. 11, ed. J.C. Sainty & R.O. Bucholz, 1997).
12. Officers of the Royal Household 1660-1837; part 2, Departments of the Lord Steward and the Master of the Horse (vol. 12, ed. J.C. Sainty & R.O. Bucholz, 1998).

Further unpublished lists are available at The volumes on the Royal Household are supplemented by the additional lists in the Database of Court Officers 1660-1837 hosted by Loyola University, Chicago, at

The annual Foreign Office List with detailed statements of service (showing date of birth) was first published in 1852 [FHL has a complete run 1852-1940 on fiche 6027832-943 in British and Irish Biographies 1840-1940]. The Foreign Office List also contains consolidated indexes to the names of persons employed in the Foreign Office who died between 1853 and 1930 (in the editions for 1903, 1911, 1921, 1941 and 1951). Later editions have consolidated lists of those who died between 1930 and 1950. The volumes also include chronological lists of ambassadors, envoys, ministers, charge d'affaires, &c., from Great Britain to foreign states from 1740 to 1813 (editions previous to July 1862), from 1814 to 1836 (editions previous to 1873) and from 1837 to 1850 (editions previous to 1902). Subsequent editions contain lists from 1851. They also contain chronological lists of consulates-general and of some consulates from the earliest times to date. The Foreign Office List became the Diplomatic Service List in 1966 [FHL has 1966 at 942 N25di].

Much more detailed lists of the senior British Diplomatic Representatives 1689-1789 have been published in the Camden Society, Third Series, volume 46 (1932) [not in FHL] and in 1789-1852 in the same Series, volume 50 (1934) [not in FHL]. An earlier period is covered by G.M. Bell, A handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives 1509-1688 (1990) [FHL 942 C4rg no.16].

The annual Colonial Office List was first published in 1862 [FHL has a complete run 1862-1940 on fiche 6069310-388 in British and Irish Biographies 1840-1940].


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