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Rule #1 for genealogy in the early 21st century has to be “don’t trust information from trees you find online: verify first”. That said, I’ve actually had some quite good results from following back some online trees, and cross-checking for possible alternative candidates for some of the people. I was even able to trace one line from my in-laws’ tree back into the mid-1500s, to Leonard Kighley and Margaret Man of Rylstone.

But some of the trees I find on line that appear to connect to other parts of my in-laws’ tree go back all the way to the 1400s. For example, there are several public trees on Ancestry.com that go back to a Thomas Crudgington born 1425 in Shropshire, and may connect to the Mary Crudgington who married Richard Millichap in Stoke St Milborough, Shropshire, in 1732.

There were no consistent parish records back that far in England. So unless someone has gotten very lucky with wills or some sort of contemporary family history, I’m unsure where they get the information from initially. The information might be wrong, but it is surely not entirely made up? Assuming I can get step by step back from the 1700s to the beginning of extant parish records, how would I go about sourcing information about the earlier people?

  • Yes, this is related to this question but I thought a more general question on available sources and strategies would be useful. – Verbeia Aug 5 '13 at 1:38
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The records that survive longest in England and Wales are those that concern property ownership, legal matters, and those who lived at the top of the status pyramid. So to research individuals in 15th Century England, you should be looking for sources such as:

  • Wills
  • Property transfers and title deeds
  • Civil and criminal legal cases
  • Inquisitions post mortem
  • Manorial documents
  • Registers of taxes and oaths
  • University registers (for Oxford and Cambridge)
  • Clerical records
  • Livery company records
  • Pedigrees of titled families, including the Herald's Visitations produced starting 1530 (but be wary of the vested interests that went into the production of all of these!)

If your ancestors were not well-to-do, Manorial documents are most likely to refer to them, but some military records also survive such as those indexed at The Soldier in Later Medieval England.

British History Online has a variety of interesting material, as does The National Archives. Medieval Genealogy is another useful resource.

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  • When I've time, I'll come back to this and add in some more info about the source types). – user104 Aug 5 '13 at 8:34
  • Would you include Heralds' Visitations (that being a classic term) in "Pedigrees of titled families"? – AdrianB38 Aug 5 '13 at 10:01
  • @AdrianB38 Yes. I didn't include them explicitly because the visitations didn't start (I believe) until about 1530, so aren't original 15th century sources. Do you think it's worth mentioning them explicitly. – user104 Aug 5 '13 at 10:08
  • I didn't realise when they started. Given that they may be the closest anyone can get on some lines, they are surely worth mentioning - with the caveat about vested interests. – AdrianB38 Aug 5 '13 at 14:44
  • @AdrianB38 Done. – user104 Aug 5 '13 at 14:49
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Almost all of the Crudgington trees on Ancestry.com about the Crudgingtons to the 1400s ultimately come from my work. I have used manorial records and wills to do this; the manorial records clearly state when the farm lease was transferred from father and mother to son, and the years in which this happened, and sometimes the mother's father's name. eg. 1483(22E4) Thos Crogeton died seized of 1 messuage + 1/2 the said piece in Oldington & that John was his son then aged 30

1500(15H7) John Crudgington of Newton with Joan his wife secured the reversion after their decease of 1 messuage & 1/2 land in Newton to their son Thomas & Alice his wife

!+2P+M(1555) John Crudgington & Christabel his wife surrendered the same piece of land to John their son & Alice his wife. Christabel d of Thos Garbet & wife

So quite a lot can be built from this , assuming that the manorial rolls are correct.

also the church rolls give details such as 1511 for ye soule of Jone Crogynton iiis ivd

so we can build up from there.

I know (from more recent research and more records becoming available) that some of the above might be a simplification of what actually happened ( e.g. might be several John Crudgingtons at a time) but the records are there. Also i cross reference with other local families that Crudgingtons married into; often will references give more detail.

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    Sparkles, I've edited your answer to remove your contact details, but you're welcome to include them in your profile if you wish to make them available for people to contact you. – user104 Aug 10 '13 at 13:55
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I didn’t really intend to answer my own question, and this post should not deter any others. Some possible sources include:

Shropshire Archives hosts a useful guide to researching this period.

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I have seen lines that were entirely made up, so don't discount it. The two big ways it happens are:

  1. genealogical fraudsters who invent that stuff for profit (e.g. Gustave Anjou), and
  2. every once in a while you'll find something that some honest psycho basically hallucinated and decided to share with the world.

In the case of legitimate trees, it's probably from the landowning gentry. They can sometimes be reconstructed from chains of wills and heralds visitations. Note though that it is very common for people to find these very rare instances of reliable pre 1500 genealogies and attach to them by way of very unreliable evidence. For some people, the prospect of being able to connect to these overrides their good judgement, and they sometimes without good reason assume that a name is so rare that their John Smith must necessarily be the same John Smith that's listed in a visitation. Instances where you really have solid evidence back that far do exist, but they are very, very rare. I agree that scattered sources like court cases do exist for that period, but their coverage is so spotty that the chances of being able to put together more than a couple generations are very slim. What happens a lot is that you get isolated chunks of 3 generations from wills and 3-life leases, but they're really hard to put together beyond that. Contemporary pedigrees are about the only hope, and most of those come from heralds visitations.

Practically speaking, genealogy in England for the common man starts in the mid to late 1500s.

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There's the Liber Niger and the Liber Rosetta, books of the Exchequer, you can check medieval feets of fines, pipe rolls and lay registers and church tithes records going back to medieval times in the UK. Also the archives of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and most of the regional bishoprics and lords palatine bishops of Durham. Most British county archives keep records.

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    Welcome r.letchford! I've edited your answer slightly to correct spelling and capitalization, but is the making of a good answer about 15th century sources. Would you mind using the edit button on your answer to add a few more details about the records/books you mention, for example which Liber Niger you refer to (there are several books of this name) and where they might be accessed (online or otherwise)? – Harry Vervet Jan 16 '17 at 3:15
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Latter Day Saints so far I trust and find my past as they all connect to England relatives. If you can get an answer from tribal.com its amazing. National Archives UK is good as well as rootsweb. Be careful of Ancestry as some of the content has nothing to do with your direct relations and postings are copied and or inaccurate. As usual you have to pay but newspaper.com helps for some stuff. Check parish registers (again might have to pay) Type circa and date after names can also get you info. Good luck .

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    Newpapers did not exist in the 15th century, nor did (except in a tiny minority pf places) parish registers. Familysearch Family Tree suffers form the same issues as you have identified for Ancestry, especially this far back. – user104 Jan 6 '17 at 8:47

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