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England Land and PropertyYou can use land records to learn where and when an individual lived. They often reveal the names of a spouse, children, heirs, other relatives, or neighbors. You may find where a person lived previously, his occupation, or other clues for further research.
The records in this section usually pertain to transactions among the wealthy class. If your ancestors were poor, search the records described in the "Court Records" section of this outline.
The first land survey, known as the Domesday Book, was compiled in 1086 by order of William the Conqueror. Tenants and subtenants are listed along with a description of their land holdings. The survey covered all of England except the city of London and the counties of Cumberland, Durham, Rutland, Lancashire, Northumberland, and Westmoreland. However, parts of these counties are included with the entries of other counties. Many libraries have the following published edition:
Morris, John, editor. Domesday Book. 35 Volumes. Chichester, England: Phillimore, 1975–. (FHL book 942 R2d.)
Records of landownership and transfer are difficult to find. There was no national system of registration before 1862. Yorkshire and Middlesex began recording deeds as early as 1708. Deeds provide the names, addresses, and occupations of the parties mentioned, a description of the property, and the date and terms of the sale.
The original records for Yorkshire are in the East, West, and North Yorkshire County Record Offices. The Middlesex records are in the Greater London Record Office. You can find microfilm copies of some deeds listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - LAND AND PROPERTY
From 1204/5 until the late 19th century, letters to wealthy individuals from the Crown were folded (closed) and impressed with the Great Seal. They contained deeds, transfers of land, and records of charities, coinage, armed forces, wills, and so on. These letters are in the Public Record Office. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of a few. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND - PUBLIC RECORDS
ENGLAND - TAXATION
GREAT BRITAIN - PUBLIC RECORDS
GREAT BRITAIN - TAXATION
Enclosure was the process of enclosing agricultural lands with boundaries such as fences, walls, hedges or ditches. Enclosure allowed land to be farmed by one individual rather than being shared by a community.
A landowner's decision to enclose was usually driven by economics:
- The need to consolidate holdings
- To improve the return on his investment
- To introduce new ideas in crop or livestock raising.
There were three types of enclosure:
- Informal enclosure (with no legal documentation)
- Enclosure by formal agreement
- Enclosure by Private or General Act of Parliament.
For more information on the types of enclosures, the enclosure process, and the availability of records and maps, see the article on England Enclosure Records and Maps.
Inquisitions Post Mortem
When a person who held king’s land died, an inquest was held to establish the date of death, the identity and age of the heir, and the extent of the lands held. These records began during the reign of Henry III (1235) and continued until 1660. The original records are in the Public Record Office (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline for the address). A few copies are in the Family History Library. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND - LAND AND PROPERTY
Manorial records include information about land transfers and rent payments for tenants of the manor. See the "Court Records" page for information about manorial records.