England Land and Property
England Land and Property
You 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 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.)
An online transcribed version is available here: http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/
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 at the London Metropolitan Archives (formerly 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:
[COUNTY], ENGLAND - LAND AND PROPERTY
In medieval times, transfer of land by deed included the witnessed act of the seller handing to the buyer part of the property, such as a piece of turf or handful of soil or the key to a building. This was called 'livery of seisin.'
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 any of the following:
- 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.
Feet of Fines
"From the 12th century an alternative method of recording that a transfer of land had taken place was by a fine or, from the 15th century, a recovery. These were both judgments in court actions about fictititious disputes." Such court actions, and the corresponding levying of a fine, served to record the transfer of property. They were also used to bar entails. The final judgement was recorded three times on a document, which was then cut into three pieces with wavy cuts. The top left and right pieces were given to the seller (the vendor or deforciant) and the purchaser (the plaintiff or querient) and the bottom piece, or foot, was retained by the court and enrolled on the rolls of the feet of fines of the Court of Common Pleas. Fines date from the 12th to the 19th centuries.
- Herber, Mark D. "Ancestral Trails: the complete guide to British Genealogy and Family History." Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, Ltd. 1997, p. 517.
Inquisitions Post Mortem
When a person who held Crown 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. If the heir was underage (21 for males and 14 for females), the land was ‘escheated’ (or returned to the King) until the heir was of age. The King controlled the heir and the property in wardship and even had say over whom the heir could marry. Sometimes the King sold his rights to another.
These records began during the reign of Henry III (1235) and continued until 1660 (though they were disbanded during the Interregnum). The original records are in the National Archives at Kew, Richmond, near London. Some abstracts and indexes are available at the Family History Library. These include:
- Calendar of inquisitions post mortem and other analogous documents: preserved in the Public Record Office; Henry III through Richard II, 1236-1399.
- Calendar of inquisitions post mortem and other analogous documents; for the reign of Henry VII, 1485-1509.
- Lists of inquisitions post mortem, Henry V - Richard III; inquisitions ad quod damnum and miscellaneous…, Henry VII - Charles I (C138 - C142), 1413-1640.
- Name index to chancery inquisitions post mortem, Henry V - Richard III (C138 - C142).
- Inquisitions post mortem, series II--Class C142; for the reigns of Henry VII through Charles II, 1509-1660.
Leases were for varying lengths of time and required the payment of rent to the landlord. Leases could be for the life-times of three named persons (often father, son, and grandson), which could be altered as needed and upon a further payment to the landlord. Therefore these records can be of particular genealogical value. Copies of leases were retained by the landlord and by the tenants and may be found in country record offices in estate collections.
Tenants could sub-lease property to others.
Lease and Release
These two documents were a way to transfer land without the inconvenience and expense or court process of other forms of transfer. These lasted from the mid-17th century until 1845. The documents were drawn up by lawyers and copies may be held by county record offices.
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.
The Return of Owners of Land 1873
Known as the 'modern Domesday Book,' these returns were compiled throughout the United Kingdom, except in London. They identify the owners of one acre of land or more, and were compiled from records of rates paid by landowners. These have been published. (FHL book 942 R2L, 2 vols.; also on film 1696632 Item 6; also on CD from S & N Genealogy Supplies. Also look in the Family History Library Catalog for a county of interest and the topic of 'Land and property.')
Tithe apportionment maps and schedules
Compiled between 1838 and 1854.