On March 26 Ancestry announced the first release of data to the definitive collection of records detailing the rich history of London and its inhabitants over 400 years. This historic collection is being completed in partnership with London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts following a competitive tender by the City of London to digitise and exclusively host their collection online.
Starting with records from London’s infamous Victorian workhouses memorably depicted by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, the collection will include more than 77 million records, providing an unprecedented insight into the colorful history of one of the world’s greatest cities.
Key record types include parish and workhouse records, electoral rolls, wills, land tax records and school reports. According to a recent family history survey, more than half of the current British population will have an ancestor in these historic London records. In addition, it is estimated that approximately 135 million people from the U.S., Canada and Australia will also be able to trace ancestors in the collection due to London’s status as the city at the centre of the British Empire for centuries.
Assembled over time direct from various London institutions, the final collection, estimated to be completed in 2010, will include the names of millions of ordinary Londoners alongside famous and infamous figures from the city’s past from Oliver Cromwell to John Milton.
The workhouse or ‘Board of Guardians’ records now online contain the names of those who were born, baptised or died in a London workhouse in the 19th and early 20th century. During this time, men, women and children who couldn’t support themselves were forced to live in these institutions, working long hours in tedious jobs in exchange for minimal food and board.
The conditions were kept intentionally poor to deter others and unofficial beatings or starving of inmates were not unheard of. Overcrowding was also a major problem, compounded by the influx of Irish immigrants after the potato famine of the mid 19th century. While conditions improved slightly in the early 20th century, the workhouses were still a feared ‘last resort’ by most until their abolition in 1930.
Today’s release includes records from: Poplar, Paddington, St Marylebone, St Pancras, Southwark, Islington, Stepney, Westminster, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Holborn and Hampstead. The remaining regions will launch online in the coming months. Also included today are a variety of workhouse creed registers, admissions, discharges, apprenticeship papers and lists of ‘lunatics’.
Access the data through one of these recently added databases:
Workhouse records are just one of the record types which comprise the London Historical Records, 1500s-1900s. Future updates will include:
Parish Registers – from 1538, priests had to keep records of all baptisms, marriages and burials in their parish. These records are taken from over 10,000 Greater London parishes, and as they pre-date both civil registration and censuses, they are the essential ‘next step back’ for people wishing to trace their family genealogy beyond the 19th century.
School Admissions and Discharges – contain records taken from 800+ London schools dating from the early Victorian times through to 1911. They provide admission details and information about millions of London students.
Non-Conformist Registers – details the birth, baptism, death and burial of religious dissenters who did not worship at the established church in England from 1694 to 1921. The majority of the records are for Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed churches, although there are smaller collections of other denominations such as Quakers and Seventh Day Adventists