All hail the arrival of the indexes to the early London parish registers in our LMA collections. Now all those who claim their ancestors were proper Londoners can check this out and see whether they can push their tree back all the way to the era of Henry VIII, or even earlier.
From Edmonton to Battersea and Richmond to Camden, nearly 500 years of Londoners being hatched, matched and dispatched are now fully searchable by name, parents or spouses’ names, parish and county.
Given the tendency of Londoners to move across the numerous tiny parishes of the city and from the inner to the outer suburbs, the indexes will be a great help in tracking the movements of your families. But it’s the extra details that add the spice – and the registers provide these in their droves. Scattered liberally through the records, you’ll find mentions of what people actually did for a living and what street they lived on, plus occasionally what they died of and whether they were legitimate or not.
As well as your own family, it’s always fun to find some famous Londoners: not just figures like Samuel Pepys (buried at St Olave) and John Keats (baptized at St Botolph’s), but characters like James Summersett – the slave whose legal case signaled the beginning of the end of slavery in Britain – baptized at the age of 30 in St Andrews, Holborn.
You’ll find criminals such as John ‘Sixteen String Jack’ Rann, a notorious London highwayman, who was hanged in 1774 at Tyburn and buried at St Marlebone, near the spot of his execution. The ghosts of the Elizabethan age are also here – check out playwright Christopher Marlowe, friend of William Shakespeare, buried in St Nicholas church, Debtford, after being stabbed in a local pub, supposedly in an argument over the bar bill.
A word of warning though. London has historically been a population sink, sucking in the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside but failing until the middle of the eighteenth century to grow its own populace. Plenty of people were born in the capital, especially with lots of young marriages from the 1700s, but smallpox epidemics, infanticide and the gin craze carried plenty of babies and children off.
It’s a genuine challenge to find a Tudor or Restoration ancestor when so many of their descendents never carried a line into the 21st century, or left the city or indeed the shores of England.