Workhouses, Wills, Churches & More – 400 Years of London History Launches Online[i] – World First

Ancestry____logo1.bmpOne in two Brits with ancestors in collection, including J.K. Rowling, David Beckham and Patsy Kensit

  • 77 million records when complete, including workhouse, parish, school
  • Famous names include Oliver Cromwell, Samuel Pepys and William Blake, as well as ancestors of contemporary celebrities JK Rowling, David Beckham, Patsy Kensit and Britney Spears
  • An estimated 165 million people around the world has an ancestor in the collection, including more than half of the British population[ii] 

The definitive collection of records detailing the rich history of London and its inhabitants over 400 years is available online for the first time today at leading social and family history website, 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 London Historical Records, 1500s-1900s will include more than 77 million records, providing an unprecedented insight into the colourful 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 the London Historical Records, 1500s-1900s.

Furthermore, 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 collection includes the names of millions of ordinary Londoners alongside famous and infamous figures from the city’s past. Notable examples include Oliver Cromwell’s marriage record, the baptism record for poet Samuel Pepys and the burial register listing for writer and statesman John Milton.

A number of modern day celebrities can also find ancestors within the collection. JK Rowling’s 3x great-grandfather, William Richard Rowling, appears in the Mile End marriage registers for 1872, while Patsy Kensit’s ancestor Thomas Kensit can be found in Shoreditch Baptism records from 1815. David Beckham’s London roots are also well documented; with his 3x great- grandparent’s marriage listed in the collection. Even international pop star Britney Spears can find her great-grandfather, George Portell, listed in the Tottenham marriage records for 1923.

The workhouse or ‘Board of Guardians’ records now online contain the names of anyone who was 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.

The workhouse records cover 12 key London regions[iii]. Also included today are a variety of workhouse creed registers, admissions, discharges, apprenticeship papers and lists of ‘lunatics’.

Workhouse records are just one of the record types which comprise the London Historical Records, 1500s-1900s. Others 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 history 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

Diocesan Divorce Exhibita – one of a number of interesting records from the London diocesan courts, when applying for divorce, a husband or wife would submit evidence for their partner’s marital failings, including love letters, witness accounts and sworn testimony, which were then kept on record.

Josh Hanna, Senior Vice President of Ancestry, comments: “We estimate that half of Brits will be able to find an ancestor in this collection, which pre-dates civil registration and censuses, and documents the history of a great city and its people, their birth, poverty, fortunes, faith, education, marriage and death.

 “No city in modern history other than London can claim to have been the capital of such a far reaching empire, which really is why this collection is of such significance not only to Brits, but also to many others around the world with ancestral ties back to England.”

Dr Deborah Jenkins, Assistant Director of the City of London’s Department of Libraries, Archives and Guildhall Art Library, comments: “We were delighted to work with to digitise this impressive collection of documents.

“Not only will this mean that millions of people will be able to access this resource from the comfort of their own homes all over the world – it also ensures that we will be able to support the long term preservation of the documents and provide fast, free access to researchers who visit our sites.”
[i] When complete in 2010

[ii] London roots – research methodology
In order to estimate the percentage of the population with London roots in four major countries (U.S., Canada, Australia and the UK), more than 9,000 people who had researched their family history were surveyed using Zoomerang International. The percentages of people who found London ancestors (more than three generations back) in each country was as follows: UK (60%), U.S. (55.6%), Canada (59.6%) and Australia (70.8%).These percentages were then applied to the white/European fraction of the population based on national census data, giving the following results: UK (33 million), US (107.8 million), Canada (14.6 million), Australia (12.7 million) = 168.1 million – approx 165 million.

[iii] Records launched today cover 12 major London regions: 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.


8 thoughts on “Workhouses, Wills, Churches & More – 400 Years of London History Launches Online[i] – World First

  1. It is nice to see our planet moving from empire nations to umpire nations. Yeah!

    No one ever has all the pieces of people’s lives that got us here, but its fun looking.

    Everybody counted then and does now. Thanks you for all your work which gives us a hobby,

    A very noble hobby.

  2. Will this database be available to US World members, or only to members?

  3. Does this include Scotland. Also I to wonder if it is included in my World membership. I tried to look things up today and didn’t see a difference yet!

  4. search for my descendant for pablo married gabriela treveno, pablo parents where Cecilio Alanis and Rumalda Rodriques, gabs parents was Maria De Jesusa pina and Enecimnio Treveino, her parents was igancia Chapa and Marcelino Pina.

  5. These London records will be a great help for many people researching their UK family history, especially those with ancestors who are often left unsung – the poor and needy.

  6. The London Metropolitan Archives has this on their website:

    “We will provide free access to view the indexes and images through on the computer terminals in our public rooms. The program will start shortly and we will release further information about the project over the coming months.”

  7. I have found members of my family who lived or died in the workhouse in Bradford and Otley, Yorks. How can I access their records and when will the 1911 census records be available to Ancestry members?

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