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E 179: Code to Your English Medieval Past

Before the advent of parish registers in England in 1538 there are few sources to provide comprehensive listings of common people in Great Britain. Lay subsidies are one exception to this rule.


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Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Nathan Murphy
Word Count: 478 (approx.)
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Before the advent of parish registers in England in 1538 there are few sources to provide comprehensive listings of common people in Great Britain. Lay subsidies are one exception to this rule. This article is designed to help you push pedigrees back further in time in England and Wales and learn "the code" to access medieval documents.

The term lay subsidy refers to taxes exacted by the monarchy from laymen, or in other words non-clerical individuals between the 12th and 17th centuries. They name the levied individuals, who are arranged by parish, hundred and county. They usually do not list relationships; however, after researchers pinpoint the medieval residence of an ancestral family, they can produce rough pedigrees for comparison with other surviving sources. Be forewarned that the handwriting, both in Latin and English, can be fairly tricky. However, most of the time, you're just looking for names in a list and they're not that hard to decipher.

Few lay subsidies have been published. The majority of these manuscripts must be searched on-site at the National Archives (UK). The National Archives has catalogued these documents under the category E 179. They have also produced a very helpful database to assist researchers in accessing these records appropriately called the E 179 Database: Records to Lay and Clerical Taxation. To use this database, first visit the National Archives' official website Next, move your mouse over the heading "Search our collections," and then proceed down the list until you reach "E 179 (tax records)," and then click. You can now enter the database.

This is not an indexed collection. There is no search engine for names of individuals. How it works is you must first know an ancestor's medieval parish residence. Type that place into the "Place" box and then click "Lookup." The database will identify hundred and county jurisdictions for parish(es) with that place name. "Select" the appropriate listing.

The database provides various searching capabilities. You can search for a specific time period. You can also choose between seeing the catalogue entries to "All documents," or simply to "Documents containing the names of individuals." For our purposes, we would obviously click the latter option, and then "Search the database." You should retrieve a long list of references. If you look at the details to specific references, they reveal whether or not the material is available in a published format. Make a list of the references you'd like to check and plan to visit London soon!

Amazingly, the National Archives allows individuals who obtain a pass to enter their facility, free access to these 600-year-old manuscripts! Don't forget to acquaint yourself with the rules of admission and the document viewing procedures of the National Archives before making your first visit.

If you need help in accessing these documents, the author routinely visits the National Archives and provides an affordable retrieval service. Click here to find out more.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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