Newspapers

A guide to the uses of local newspapers and where to find them.

From the 18th century to the present day, newspapers are an invaluable source of information for family and social historians: births, marriages, deaths, advertisements, crime, entertainments, disaster, scandal, and the price of fish are all reflected in their pages.  The Derby Mercury can be viewed online for the 19th century, and many other Derbyshire titles can be accessed on microfilm at the record office and/or local libraries.  Many national titles can also be accessed online.

History of the newspaper

The first English “newspaper” was perhaps the “Trewe Encounter” of 1513, reporting on the Battle of Flodden.  Local news pamphlets about unusual events “where it rayned wheat the space of six or seven miles” continued to appear, as did “corantos” of news published abroad, but the Civil War during the 1640s gave the newspaper its first real start, as hunger for news of the struggle combined with greater freedom of the press. Provincial papers began with the Norwich Press in 1701, though stamp duty made newspapers expensive and they were often read in coffee houses rather than bought for reading at home.  Stamp duty continued to restrict expansion until it was repealed in 1855.  Increased literacy, better printing technology, railways and the electric telegraph all powered the growth of national and local newspapers.  Early newspapers contained mainly national and foreign news and very little illustration, but by the late 19th century drawings and even photographs were becoming more common.

Derbyshire newspapers

The first Derbyshire newspaper was the Derby Postman in 1721, followed by the Derby Mercury in 1731.  Chesterfield is well represented by the Derbyshire Times from 1854 and the more radical Derbyshire Courier from 1831.  For early news, check all available county titles; later coverage is both wider and more in-depth, so check the title for a specific area first.  However, not all the local variant editions, for example of the Derbyshire Times, have survived.  It is not always easy to pinpoint the title you will need for a particular town or village, so do ask us for advice if you’re not sure.  Some areas may be better covered by non-Derbyshire titles, for example the Burton Mail for Swadlincote (a good run of which is available at The Magic Attic) or Nottinghamshire papers for the east of the county (see Nottinghamshire’s Inspire Culture) – use the Newsplan database online to find out titles held at libraries across the East Midlands.   The British Library also holds copies of most titles.

We also hold files of local newscuttings from the 1960s to 2015 which are currently being digitised, and will eventually be available via our onsite computers.

How to access newspapers

Most of our titles are on microfilm, apart from very recent issues of current newspapers.  It is advisable to book a microfilm machine in advance to view these, and please let us know if you require a printing facility.  Digitisation of newspapers from 2015 onwards is currently in progress.

Free access to the British Newspaper Archive is available at the record office and all Derbyshire Libraries.  This site includes many local titles including The Derbyshire Times.  You can search for free and then use the reference given to look the article up on our microfilms.

The official Government newspaper, the London Gazette, contains a wealth of historical information including bankruptcies, and is free to view online.

A word of warning: most of these sites use OCR (Optical Character Recognition), rather than human indexing, so you need to think laterally and use different search terms for the same thing to maximise results.

What you can expect to find

Apart from births, marriages, and deaths, ancestors are more likely to have “got into the papers” by wrongdoing, or witnessing wrongdoing.  Court cases were reported with relish, especially murders.  Most coroners’ reports only survive in newspapers.  If your ancestor ran a business they may also feature, including advertisements.  Social historians will find the growth of railways and canals, the rise and fall of companies, strikes and many social trends.  Road accidents, war news including deaths, prizes, sporting events and sales of all kinds may be reported.

Further reading
  • Chapman (1993) Using newspapers and periodicals
  • DFHS (2004) A Derbyshire medley: lists of Derbyshire people from newspapers… [CD]
  • Gibson (2011) Local newspapers 1750-1920
  • Gordon (2007) Local newspapers in Derbyshire libraries
  • McLaughlin (2000) Family history from newspapers
  • Murphy (1991) Newspapers and local history
Shocking ancestral find from the Derby Mercury, 23 October 1878

Derbyshire Probate: Wills and Administrations

A guide to locating Derbyshire wills and administrations 

A Will is a legal document by which a person outlines their wishes for how their property and estate should be managed, divided or disposed of after death.

Letters of Adminstration/Admon were granted to an administrator where a person died intestate, i.e. without making a valid will.  The Letters are granted by the court of probate.

Probate is the process by which a will is proved to be legal and valid and confirms that the executor or administrator can begin fulfilling the wishes of the deceased as outlined in the will.

Wills would usually have been proved by the court or registry covering the county where the biggest proportion of property was owned, but is also affected by where the person died and how much their estate was worth.

When searching for or obtaining a copy of a will, it is usually the probate copy that survives, i.e. the copy that has been proved to be legal by the relevant court.  This means it is not the original as dictated or possibly written by the individual, very few of these survive, and without comparison to the probate copy there is no way to know whether it was the final and therefore legally valid will.

Probate before 1858

Before 1858, proving wills and granting letters of administration was an ecclesiastical responsibility.  Derbyshire was not a Diocese in its own right until 1927, but was part of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry until 1884 (then the Diocese of Southwell to 1927).  Therefore, most pre-1858 Derbyshire wills are held at Staffordshire Record Office and wills proved in the Consistory Court of Lichfield from c1520 are available online through Find My Past.

Wills of persons holding property in more than one diocese would have been proved in one of the two Prerogative Courts depending on where their property was located.  The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills (including those proved 1653-1660 in a court of civil commission which transacted all testamentary jurisdiction during the Commonwealth) are held at The National Archives.  Many of these wills, including over 1 million from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury can be searched and viewed online: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/wills-1384-1858.  For information about the wills proved at the Prerogative Court of York, please see the Borthwick Institute website.

A small number of Derbyshire wills before 1858 (usually originals that do not record a note of probate) are available in the archive collections, often amongst bundles of title deeds.  Search the online catalogue, using the ‘AnyText’ field – search for the full name in the first instance, with the parish of residence if necessary.

Derbyshire 1858-1928

Since 1858, proving wills (and granting letters of administration) has been a civil responsibility.  In Derbyshire, this work was carried out by Derby Probate Registry until 1928 when the Derby office was closed.

The Record Office holds the Probate Books which include copies of all the wills proved at the Derby District Probate Registry between 1858 and 1928, and and letters of administration granted to 1875.

Search the online catalogue entering the person’s name in the ‘Any Text’ field and D96/* in the ‘RefNo’ field.  The catalogue entry gives the name of the testator, the year the will was proved (note, this is not necessarily the same as the year of death), place of abode and the total number of pages.  The reference number includes the first page number of the will within the book.  The catalogue entry also includes the reference number for the DVD or microfilm that the will can be viewed on.

UK after 1858, including Derbyshire after 1928

Following changes within the Probate Service in the last few years, all wills and administrations from 1858 are available to search and purchase through www.gov.uk/wills-probate-inheritance. This includes all wills from 1858, including for Derbyshire.

Further Reading

Census Returns

A guide to the census returns for England and Wales, 1841-1911; with invaluable information for family and social historians, especially when used with other resources like maps and directories.

Historical background

By the late 18th century the Industrial Revolution had resulted in great changes in employment and population movement. Governments wanted greater knowledge of their populations for military, economic and social planning. The first UK census was taken in 1801, though along with the censuses of 1811, 1821 and 1831 this contained mainly statistical information. Most of these returns were destroyed, and only a few local copies have survived in archives (including a few Derbyshire parishes) or in newspaper reports. Most of these early censuses are of limited value to the family historian, being without names of inhabitants. The England and Wales census has continued to be taken every 10 years. The 100-year rule applies with regards to access, meaning the 1921 census cannot be viewed until 2022.

Dates taken

It’s important to remember that the census only gives a snapshot of a given place on a given Sunday evening in spring, once every ten years (see dates below). People were expected to be mainly at home, but remember that your ancestor could be away from home that night, visiting or working elsewhere.

  • 1841: 7 June
  • 1851: 30 March
  • 1861: 7 April
  • 1871: 2 April
  • 1881: 3 April
  • 1891: 5 April
  • 1901: 31 March
  • 1911: 2 April
What you can expect to find

Names, ages and relationships of family members; addresses in some cases; occupations; birthplaces. Sometimes the wife’s maiden name can be inferred. Human error is there at every stage of the process: what the householder told the enumerator; what he heard; what was copied into the books; and importantly, the indexing: there are many mistakes in the online indexes. Keep an open mind and use lateral thinking and alternative spellings. Full addresses are often not given, especially in smaller places or in earlier censuses, but there is a description of the parts of the parish covered at the start of each section. The Schedule Number in the first column should not be read as a house number; it is a rolling enumeration household by household. Street indexes are available for larger towns, plus some locally-compiled name indexes.

The 1841 census gives much less information than the others and does not include the relationship to head of household (this has to be inferred) or the birthplace (only a yes/no answer to the question “born in same county?”).  Ages over 15 tend to be approximate; and it contains many people born in the 18th century.  From 1851, in addition to the relationship to head of household and birthplace, the census also includes a note about any disabilities.  More detailed addresses tend to be included from 1901 depending on the size of the town/village in question.

From 1911, there is one page per household (plus a cover page) and the householder themselves usually completed the form so you can now see your ancestor’s handwriting.  The return also now gives number of years married, number of children born, including those who have died. Note: some women abstained in protest over lack of the vote.

How to access the returns online

All public computers in Derbyshire Libraries and the Record Office have free access to Ancestry and Find My Past, which both provide access to the England and Wales census returns 1841-1911, including a digital copy of the original page. The emphasis is on searching by surname, though Ancestry also has a county/civil parish browsing option and for some years Find My Past has an address search facility. For Scotland only a transcript is included, there are no images. Ancestry also includes census returns for the USA and Canada; Find My Past for Ireland, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Derbyshire returns for 1841-1901 can also be accessed on microfilm. The place name card index to help you find the right reel. It is advisable to book a microfilm reader in advance as space is limited. For social historians wanting an overview of a locality, its employment, population and so on, microfilm can be a quicker option than waiting for each page to download online, and internet sites tend to assume you want to search by name.

Modern census and the 1939 Register

The UK census continued to be taken every ten years; unfortunately the 1931 returns were accidentally destroyed by fire in the 1940s and no return was made in 1941 due to World War II (see 1939 below). Personal information cannot be viewed until 100 years have elapsed. However, the Local Studies Library has some statistical information for Derbyshire from 1921 to 2001 (2001 has individual printouts for each parish), and statistics for 2011 can be viewed online at http://observatory.derbyshire.gov.uk; this site also includes mid-year population projections.

The 1939 National Register was taken as an emergency measure at the outbreak of World War II. It is available online via Find My Past and Ancestry, though records of people younger than 100 and still alive, or who died after 1991 are officially closed.

Other sources similar to the census

Published transcripts for the Domesday Book, 1086; Derbyshire Feet of Fines, 1323-1546 and Hearth Tax Returns, 1662-1670 are available in Local Studies, as is the 1851 Religious Census (on microfilm for Derbyshire only). Original muster rolls for the militia, 18th-19th centuries, and the “Domesday” Valuation Office Survey of 1911 are available via the archive search room.

Further Reading: a few books to help you
  • Christian, Peter (2014) Census: the expert guide
  • Jolly, Emma (2013) Tracing your ancestors using the census
  • Levitan, Katherine (2011) A cultural history of the British census

See also The National Archives guides to the census and 1939 register.

Lockdown Stories: What work can we do without access to our collections?

Well the answer to that is quite a lot actually. One of the tasks that I have been given/been volunteered for (?), has been responding to the email enquiries that have been received by the office during this unusual time.

As you can imagine, the number of enquiries at the beginning of lockdown was quite small. I, along with most of the population, I would think, thought this situation would probably last a few weeks and everyone thought they could wait that long for any information they required. However, as time has gone on the enquiries have started to increase in number, and a few people have found that, even though we are all staying at home, there are some things that just cannot wait! Several of the enquiries are from people needing copies of documents for legal purposes and one enquiry was from someone who needed a copy of their baptism certificate for their wedding to take place in August. As all Record Office staff are working from home without access to the collections and all the finding aids, we are striving to reply to enquiries as fully as we possibly can under the circumstances, but I should stress that we are very far from business as usual. We have very limited access to the building currently, just for security purposes and to check, for example, the humidity levels to ensure the documents are stored in optimum conditions, especially during the incredibly sunny couple of months we’ve just experienced!

Unsurprisingly, many of the enquiries have been from people who have taken up or have decided to re-visit their family history and are trying to solve that elusive family connection. One of our researchers has even traced her family back to 1044 (a very unusual occurrence!).

House history has also proven to be very popular (unsurprising since we are all spending so much time there at the moment!). Fortunately, there are many online resources available to whet your appetite, until such times as we are able to access the collections at the office again.

Hopefully, the Research Guides we have been publishing on the blog are proving useful to both novice and experienced researchers.

One of the more unusual enquiries we have received was from someone trying to find out the place and date of death for an Arthur Rodgers, who was born in Derbyshire on February 18, 1885. Apparently, Arthur was a footballer for Nottingham Forest, and, later, Turin FC. Unfortunately, I had to refer the enquirer to the General Register Office, as I am sure many of you are already aware, Derbyshire Record Office doesn’t hold copies of birth or death certificates.

A lot of the enquiries have been from overseas researchers, one, for example, looking for the reason an ancestor was transported in the 19th century and another, looking much more recently, for their parents records at St Christopher’s Railway Servants Orphanage in Derby.

As you can see, I certainly haven’t been bored whilst locked away in my makeshift office (spare bedroom!). Responding to your enquiries has kept me intrigued, entertained and above all still in touch with our researchers. I look forward to continuing to try and assist with your research and, hopefully, in the not too distant future, once public health restrictions allow, to meeting you in person at the Record Office.

Anne Lawley, Assistant in Charge

Electoral Registers

A guide to the collections at Derbyshire Record Office.

First produced in 1832, electoral registers are a record of all those persons entitled to vote at parliamentary, local and parochial elections.

They are a useful tool for family historians looking for the addresses of their ancestors, for house historians looking to see previous occupiers of their property, and local historians interested in the residential development of a particular area.

What is available

Derbyshire electoral registers are available between 1832 and 1999. For registers after 1999, please contact the relevant district or borough council. Registers were produced annually from 1835, except:

  • 1916 and 1917, due to World War One
  • 1940-1944, due to World War Two; registers were produced in 1945 or 1946 for a particular district, not both
  • 1919-1929, when two registers were produced, one in the Spring and one in the Autumn.

Registers covering Derby borough (later city) are available up to 1900 only (for registers after this date, please contact the Derby Local Studies and Family History Library). There is an incomplete run of registers for the borough of Chesterfield – Chesterfield Library holds a complete run from 1974.

Finding the Right Register

Between 1832 and 1867, Derbyshire was divided into two electoral divisions, North and South; each then sub-divided into smaller polling districts. The districts have changed many times since 1867 and it is essential to know which division covered the place in which you are interested to be sure you order the correct register.

Details of the electoral registers available can be found via the online catalogue (note the registers themselves cannot be seen online). You can also Search the Catalogue to find the results for the place you are interested in:

  • Reference Number: ER/*
  • Any Text: enter the place name you are interested in (we recommend using the parish name)
  • Date: if you have a particular date in mind, e.g. 1876 or 1920-1935

The full reference number of each volume will include an abbreviation for the division and the date, e.g. ER/ILK/1920. It is this reference you will need to order the relevant register through the search room.

Electoral registers covering 1832-1900 are available on microfiche in the Computer Room, and these original registers will not normally be retrieved in the search room. The microfiche are arranged by year and then by division. It is advisable to search the online catalogue in the first instance to identify the correct division. A hard copy index which includes the microfiche reference number is also available in the Computer Room.

Using Electoral Registers

The arrangement of electoral registers changes over time, as does the level of detail included. Before 1918, only registers covering larger towns such as Derby and Chesterfield will include specific addresses. In these cases, the information is generally arranged alphabetically by street name within each polling district. Other registers tend to be arranged alphabetically by surname, which is generally very handy for family historians, but less so for house historians.

Particularly after 1948, identifying which polling district a specific street is in does become more problematic, and there are some streets that have one side in one district and the other side in another district. There are even some streets where the two sides are in entirely different divisions. In the absence of street indexes (which may be available for some divisions from the late 1980s), it is advisable to search all relevant districts to identify the street.

Remember, the right to vote (enfranchisement) was extended to various categories at different times during the 19th and 20th centuries. Not finding an individual or a property does not always mean that they or it was not there.

Timeline of Voting Entitlements for Parliamentary Elections
  • 1832: Great Reform Act – Men over the age of 21 years, and who either owned property worth at least £10, or who occupied land worth between £2 and £5, or were tenants paying rent of £50 per annum.
  • 1867: Second Reform Act – Extended to men over the age of 21 years, and who owned property worth at least £5.
  • 1884: Third Reform Act – Extended to freeholders of inherited land (or land acquired by marriage) worth 40s; freeholders of any land worth £5. 60% of male householders over the age of 21 now have the vote.
  • 1918: Representation of the People Act – property qualifications abolished meaning the franchise is extended to all men. Women over 30 also enfranchised if they also own property, are a University graduate, or a member of (or married to a member of) the Local Government Register (a record of persons paying property taxes).
  • 1928: Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act – Franchise extended to women over the age of 21, on equal terms with men.
  • 1971: Registration of the People Act (1969) – Voting age for all citizens reduced to 18 years.
Absent and Service Voters’ Lists

Due to the First and Second World Wars, at the calling of the 1918 and 1945 elections, many citizens were not resident at home as they were serving in the military. For this reason, Absent Voters registers (known as Service Registers after the Second World War) were produced. Derbyshire Absent Voters Lists for 1918 have survived only for the Chesterfield, Ilkeston and Western electoral divisions – follow the links for each division to download PDFs of the original registers.  Service registers for May 1945 are held for the following divisions: Belper, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derby City, Ilkeston and High Peak. Service registers for October 1946 are held for all divisions.

Poll Books

Before the Secret Ballot Act of 1872, poll books were produced recording how individual electors voted.  Sometimes the cause of eligibility (such as residence, burgess/freeman) is also included.  Books for disputed elections 1768-1869 can be accessed in the search room (Ref: Q/RE/2/1-93). A number of other poll books survive elsewhere among both the archives and local studies collections.

Further Reading

There are a number of articles available concerning electoral registers for family history (please see the local studies card catalogue for specific details). Jeremy Gibson’s Electoral Registers 1832-1948 (published 2008) contains useful information about content of registers and voting entitlements.

Bishops’ Transcripts

A guide to finding Bishops’ Transcripts for Derbyshire and how they can help family historians.

What are Bishops’ Transcripts?

In 1598, parishes were ordered to send an annual copy of all baptisms, marriages and burials for the year to the church authorities.  These returns are known as ‘Bishop’s Transcripts’, or BTs for short, and continued to be made until the late 19th century, although there were lapses in local diligence in sending the returns.

Why are Bishops’ Transcripts useful?

The BTs can be very useful when the original registers are hard to read or if a register is missing (for example, early Bolsover registers are missing following a fire in the 1960s).  Both Bishop’s Transcripts and parish registers can contain entries not found in the other.

Draft registers were often used for compiling both the register and the Bishop’s Transcript. Discrepancies arose and there can be differences in dates, surnames and given names.

Bishops’ Transcripts for Derbyshire

Derbyshire was part of the Diocese of Lichfield until the middle of the 19th century, so the Bishops Transcripts were kept with the Diocesan archives Lichfield Record Office, now part of Staffordshire Record Office. Contact Staffordshire Record Office for guidance on accessing and consulting the BTs.

With the exception of a few parishes, the earliest transcripts survive only from the 1660s, traditionally thought to be as a result of loss during the Civil War and the Commonwealth period.

There is no uniform cut-off date for the transcripts of baptisms and burials and these can cease at any time between the 1830s and 1880s.  Marriages are rarely included after 1837.

Further Reading
  • Jeremy Gibson Bishops’ Transcripts and Marriage Licences, Bonds and Allegations: A guide to their locations and indexes – available in the Computer Room

Online Resources

There are hundreds of online resources for Derbyshire history, this guide highlights some of the most useful.  As web addresses tend to change, only the site name is given.

Family History Records
  • Ancestry: billions of records from across the world including UK census returns 1841-1911, birth, marriage and death (BMD) indexes 1837-2007, Derbyshire Anglican church registers from 1538.  Access: Subscription required.  Free access at all Derbyshire libraries
  • Find My Past: in addition to census and BMD indexes, also includes registers of several Derbyshire non-conformist churches, many Derbyshire school admission registers and log books 1870-1914.  Also includes Diocese of Lichfield records covering Derbyshire, including marriage licences and pre-1858 wills.  Access: Subscription required.  Free access in Derbyshire libraries
  • FamilySearch: volunteer-submitted transcripts of many Derbyshire parish registers back to 1538.  Worth trying this site if an Ancestry search is unsuccessful.  Also includes a wide range of research guidance and background information on places.  Access: Free, registration required
  • FreeBMD: volunteer-transcribed indexes to civil registration of births, marriages and deaths between 1837 and 1992, with transcription work ongoing.  Access: Free with no registration; often some search advantages over subscription sites, so often worth a try
  • FreeREG: volunteer-submitted transcripts “of baptism, marriage, and burial records, from parish registers, non-conformist records and other relevant sources in the UK”, including Derbyshire.  Access: Free, no registration
  • Find A Grave: volunteer-submitted transcripts of over 180 million memorials and gravestones including for many Derbyshire cemeteries and churchyards.  Access: Free, no registration
  • General Register Office: search indexes of and ordering copy birth, marriage and death certificates from 1837.  Access: Free to indexes, registration required to order certificates
  • National Probate Index: search for and order copies of UK wills after 1858.  Access:  Free, no registration.  Derbyshire wills 1858-1928 can also be searched via the record office online catalogue and copies ordered.
Newspapers

Newspapers are the most valuable source for many aspects of family and local history, particularly where other sources no longer survive:

  • British Newspaper Archive:  includes full text access to the Derbyshire Times, Derby Mercury and several other Derbyshire titles.  Access: Subscription required.  Free from the record office or any Derbyshire library (short registration required)
  • The Times Archive: access from 1795 to 1985.  Access: Subscription required.
Photographs
  • Picture the Past: Delve into the rich history of Derby and Derbyshire with this extensive collection of photos, postcards, glass plates and engravings from the city and county libraries
  • Images of England: was English Heritage’s photographic library of listed buildings across England.  Historic England has split the site into two: 1) the Official Register of nationally protected historic buildings and sites includes photographs alongside the corresponding description, and 2) over a million photographs via the Historic England website.
Information Services
  • Derbyshire Observatory: wide range of data and statistics on topics including population and households, health, census, crime, children and education, economy and employment
  • Derbyshire Mapping Portal: Ordnance Survey mapping showing key Derbyshire sites and boundaries, including parish boundaries, schools, public rights of way and schedules monuments
  • Derbyshire Heritage Mapping Portal: Ordnance Survey mapping of Derbyshire, with options to overlay a small number of historic maps
  • Derbyshire Historic Environment Record: digital records of archaeological monuments, findspots, designated assets, historic landscape information, aerial photographs
  • National Library of Scotland: view some editions of Ordnance Survey maps for Derbyshire over modern satellite images.
Research Guides
  • GENUKI: charity and volunteer-run site containing a wide range of information for researching family history across the UK and Ireland, including links to other sites
  • The National Archives: a wide range of guides on various family, local and other history research, plus detailed guides for reading old handwriting and Latin
  • Find an Archive: contact details for archive repositories across the world
  • University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections: detailed research guides on using historical documents and specific records such as deeds, accounts and manorial records.
Other Derbyshire collections
  • Record Office Guide: a summary of archive collections at Derbyshire Record Office, searchable by type of record creator, i.e. school, business, society, family, organisation, local authority
  • Online Catalogue: the main finding aid for all archive collections held at Derbyshire Record Office, and increasingly for the local studies collection also. A separate guide is also available
  • Hospital Records Database: searchable database of hospitals across the country, with a summary of records held at relevant repositories and brief history.
  • Manorial Documents Register: searchable database of manors across selected counties (including Derbyshire) and a summary of the records held at various repositories
  • National Archives Discovery catalogue: contains references to most archive collections at the Record Office, as well as Derbyshire records held at The National Archives and elsewhere.
Other sources
Local History Groups

A large number of local history societies or local interest groups have websites and social media pages with a range of information and some resources.  Unfortunately, it is not possible for Derbyshire Record Office to maintain a list of the groups and an online search is often the best approach to finding a relevant local group.

Civil Registration: births, marriages and deaths

A guide to searching for information about births, marriages and deaths in Derbyshire after September 1837, including the information provided on a certificate and how to order a copy certificate.

 

Civil registration is the official recording of births, marriages and deaths. In England and Wales, the system was established in September 1837 and is still in place today. The registration of births and deaths was not compulsory until 1874, although non-registration of deaths before this date is uncommon as burial could not take place without a death certificate.

Registrations districts (main source: www.ukbmd.org.uk)

The country was divided into Registration Districts, each under the control of a Superintendent Registrar. The districts were based on the Poor Law Unions, with no correlation to existing boundaries.

District Name Dates Comments
Ashbourne 1837-  
Bakewell 1839- known as Matlock district until 1839
Belper 1837-1994 superseded by Amber Valley
Chapel-en-le-Frith 1838-1974 preceded and later superseded by High Peak
Chesterfield 1837-  
Derby 1837-  
Erewash 1997- created out of parts of the Derby and Ilkeston
Glossop 1898-1974 created out of Hayfield; superseded by High Peak
Hayfield 1838-1938 preceded and later superseded by Chapel-en-le-Frith
High Peak 1837-1838, 1974- re-created in 1974 from Chapel-en-le-Frith, Glossop and Hayfield
Ilkeston 1938-1997 created from Shardlow and Belper; superseded by Erewash
Repton 1937-1974 created from parts of Burton-on-Trent; superseded by Swadlincote
Shardlow 1837-1974 superseded by Derby (many parishes transferred out before 1974)
South Derbyshire 1997 created from parts of the Derby and Swadlincote
Swadlincote 1974-1997 created from Repton and superseded by South Derbyshire

Some parts of Derbyshire were covered by the following non-Derbyshire districts up to 1938: Ashby de la Zouch (to 1938), Basford (to 1936), Burton upon Trent (to 1936), Ecclesall Bierlow (to 1935), Mansfield (to 1936), Rotherham (to 1895), Tamworth (to 1895), Uttoexter (to 1935), and Worksop (to 1936).

Find out which district a particular place was in with this online guide. Lists of the places covered by each district are also available.

What information is on a certificate?
  • Birth: child’s name, sex, date and place of birth, father’s name and occupation (usually blank if the child is illegitimate), mother’s name (and maiden name from June 1911), informant’s signature, residence and description (i.e. relationship with child)
  • Marriage: date, place, denomination (if marriage in a church), names of bride and groom, condition (i.e. bachelor/spinster, widow, etc.), age (or note that the parties are ‘of full age’), occupation, residence at time of marriage, names and occupations of their fathers, signatures of bride, groom and witnesses.
  • Death: name, age, date, place, cause of death, occupation, informants: relationship, signature and residence. On children’s death certificates, the parents’ names are usually found in the occupation field.
Civil Registration Indexes

Indexes are available for the birth, marriage and death registers from 1837. The indexes are arranged by quarter, so there are four separate indexes for each calendar year:

  • Quarter 1: Jan – Mar
  • Quarter 2: Apr – Jun
  • Quarter 3: Jul – Sep
  • Quarter 4: Oct – Dec

From 1837, all the indexes provide at least the subject’s name, registration district, volume and page number. From 1865, the death indexes include age at death, with dates of birth included from March 1969. From 1911, marriage indexes include the spouse’s surname. From June 1911, birth indexes include the mother’s maiden name.

The indexes are available to search for free online at FreeBMD and General Register Office, as well as via subscription sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past until the early 21st century. Indexes can also be searched on microfilm at Derbyshire Record Office.

Ordering certificates

Derbyshire Record Office is unable to provide any copy birth or death certificates. We can provide copy marriage certificates if the ceremony took place in a Derbyshire church. Certificates can be obtained online from the General Register Office (www.gro.gov.uk) or by contacting the relevant local register office (contact details for the Derbyshire register offices can be found on the County Council website). To order a certificate you will need to quote the information obtained from the indexes (see above). There is a standard charge for all certificates set by the General Register Office.

What about before 1837?

Before September 1837, there was no official system for recording births, marriages and deaths. However, since the mid-16th century Anglican churches had been required to record baptisms, marriages and burials taking place in their parish, and where the registers survive, these are available to search at Derbyshire Record Office.

Useful tips: Births
  • Before 1874 the Registrar would to travel within his sub-district to ask about new births. After 1874 when birth registration became compulsory the person having charge of the child was responsible for informing the Registrar; and there was a fine for late registration (after 6 weeks).
  • It was common for widows and widowers with small children to remarry quickly. As the bride will be registered under her first husband’s name it can affect the process of searching for her birth. At www.freebmd.org.uk you can search for a marriage using only the bride’s first name and groom’s surname. However, the number of results may be too large to identify the correct entry with certainty.
  • Records (especially census returns) may not always record ages accurately. Search at least two years before and after. Inaccuracies and deliberate untruths mean the search often needs to be wider.
  • Still births are not included at all until 1927, but from 1 July 1927 onwards are recorded separately in their own volumes. Adopted children are also recorded separately from 1 January 1927. 
  • Children whose name has not been decided at the time of registration are listed as Male/Female at the end of the list of the relevant surname. Many such children died shortly after birth, so check the same or next quarter for a matching death record. If one cannot be found, this birth entry may be the one you are seeking. Children with no surnames are listed after Z at the end of each quarter.
Useful tips: Marriages
  • If you can’t find an entry, start by confirming the birth of the oldest known child (try the census for this). If you can only establish the birth of one child, assume it is the youngest of many, and search back from that child’s birth until the mother would have been 12 (the then legal minimum age for marriage).
  • Don’t assume there is a marriage just because a birth certificate implies one – unmarried couples were more common in large towns, though examples exist in rural communities too. Divorce was not an option for most, and long-term, stable unions could not be made legal because of earlier marriages.
Useful tips: Deaths
  • Burials could only take place after the death was registered; therefore it is unusual not to be able to find a death entry. If it can’t be found in the indexes, the problem is likely to be an error in the transcription. It may be necessary to pay for a search of the original registers at the local registry office covering the area where you think your ancestor died; or search for a burial first. You can also browse the original indexes on Ancestry.
  • Ages on a death certificate may be inaccurate, informants may remember the birth day and month but not known the exact year, so don’t necessarily rule out an entry where the year of birth is incorrect.
Beware!
  • Name Changes: Surnames might be changed for a number of different reasons e.g. to inherit a legacy, to identify with a much-loved stepfather, to evade the police, desertion (army or spouse/family). Christian names could also change, with some never using their birth names in adult life or taking on names later for personal reasons. Changes are not always deliberate: order of names can change, spelling is not fully standardised, and with low literacy rates, spelling was determined according to how a name sounded to the person writing it down.
  • Missing Information: A woman’s previous married name may not be recorded; forenames are not always given in full; the lack of a father’s name on a marriage certificate implies illegitimacy but check the birth certificate; a marriage certificate will record the father’s name and occupation, but may not always indicate if the father is deceased (as it was not compulsory to record this information); where only one address is recorded on a marriage certificate, it does not necessarily mean that they were previously living together (it may be an administrative convenience, the bride’s address is the mostly likely to be recorded).
  • Human Error: Mis-spellings may occur at the time the original register and indexes were being written (e.g. due to illiteracy on the part of the parents, the registrar mishearing or misunderstanding the information, or simply more than one way to spell the name as standardisation of spelling had not yet occurred). Rare names are often mis-spelt as common names or something similar sounding. Errors may also occur on the online indexes that don’t appear in the original index (when the modern transcriber is entering the information into the online database).
  • Date of registration: events are filed in the index by the date they were registered, not the date that they occurred (e.g. a birth of 25 Dec 1867 was probably registered in Jan-Mar quarter 1868)
  • Events outside England and Wales: certain classes of people are not found in the indexes, including army, war deaths, at sea, abroad. Separate registers were kept for such events. See The National Archives online guides for more information.

Further Reading

  • Langston, Brett (2001) A Handbook to the Civil Registration districts of England and Wales
  • Dixon, Barbara (1999) Birth and Death Certificates: England and Wales 1837-1969
  • McLaughlin, Eve (2001) Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths

 

Family History – Next Steps

A guide to help you dig deeper into your family history and add flesh to the bones.

Where your ancestor lived: See the guides to building history for the types of sources available for finding out where your ancestors lived.

Where your ancestor went to school: Admission registers for a large number (though not all schools) are available via the archive search room.

To see if admission registers are available for the school you or your ancestors went to search the online catalogue entering the place name and the word school in the Title field – the results will also include records held in other collections, such as plans of the school in the County Architect’s archive.

Admission registers are the main record referring to individual pupils, log books occasionally mention individuals by name (although usually teachers rather than pupils), but are wonderfully revealing about school life.

A full list of archive collections for Derbyshire schools can be found here.

See Find My Past for pre-1914 admission registers and log books   (subscription required)

Where your ancestor worked: it is not possible to find employment information for most of our ancestors, but there are a range of sources available depending on the business, the industry and the circumstances of the individual.   Look out for the forthcoming employment research guide to find out about records of apprenticeship, war service, coal miners (including accidents and trade unions), child employment and individual employees of several local firms.  A very small number of records survive relating to employees and servants on landed estates, particularly for the Harpur-Crewe family of Calke Abbey (ref: D2375).

Ancestors in the workhouse or receiving poor relief: Until 1835 parish Overseers of the Poor collected and distributed monetary and other relief to the in need.  The parish archives include records of people settling in new parishes, being removed to old ones, and examinations in bastardy cases.  Under the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, Poor Law Unions built workhouses to house, feed and set to work (if able) the poor in their district, rather than given money.  Admission and discharge registers only survive for the workhouses at Belper and Chesterfield, but records for the other unions  do include some names of individuals in receipt of poor relief.

Criminal Ancestors: Quarterly Calendars of Prisoners provide details of inmates in the county gaol and in houses of correction within the county.

Search the prisoner records database 

Other resources that might help

  • Trade directories: list prominent landowners, officials and some (not all) residents by place, plus a commercial section arranged by trade.
  • Newspapersfrom birth, marriage and death notices to reports of coroner and other court proceedings, newspapers provide more detail than can often be found in formal records.
  • Maps and Plans: can provide information to help find out about the house your ancestor lived in, or property they owned.
  • Family and estate archives: the estates of landed families were major business enterprises, employing large numbers of people and renting property to families.  Few family archive collections hold personal details of employees (though tradesmen might be mentioned in expenditure accounts), but many do include at least some records relating to tenants in rent accounts.
  • Taxation records: over the centuries many different taxes have been collected, some of which have local records.  Most of these are arranged by hundred and then alphabetically by parish, and are found in the Quarter Sessions archive collection (ref: Q).  For information about non-local records relating to taxation see The National Archive research guide.

Derbyshire Burials

A guide to using church burial and civil cemetery registers and to finding the location of a grave.

Image: All Saints Church, Brailsford, c1930s (Ref: DCHQ002850)

Note: Before civil registration was introduced in 1837, burial registers are the main source available to identify when a person died, as burials would have taken place within a few days of death.

Churchyard Burials

The earliest burial registers date from the mid-16th century and relate to burials in Anglican churchyards.  The majority of non-Anglican burial records for Derbyshire begin in the 19th century, with a small number from the 18th century and Quaker burials from the mid-17th century.

Information about the registers available for each parish and non-conformist church can be found in our Parish Register Guide and Non-Conformist Guide. You can also search the online catalogue – search for the church in the ‘Title’ field (e.g. Bolsover parish or Methodist Long Eaton) for a list of all the records for each church, or use the ‘D’ reference number given in the above Guides.

The amount of information recorded in the burial registers varies over time:

  • Before 1813, burial entries tend only to include the date of burial and name of the deceased; some may state whether they are a widow/widower and/or a reference to a family member, e.g. Sarah daughter of John Taylor.
  • After 1813, the registers often include the age at death, place of abode (usually just the area not a specific address) and the signature of the officiating minister.

It is unusual for churches to deposit grave registers at the Record Office, usually because they are not created in the first instance.  A small number of parishes have deposited plans of the churchyard that include information about some burials before a particular date (see below).

The burial registers for the Anglican parishes are available to search and browse via Ancestry up to 1991 – see our Parish Registers Online guide.  A number of burial registers for non-conformist churches are available to search on Find My Past – these are the registers for which the originals are held at The National Archives (TNA) and Derbyshire Record Office has copies on microfilm.

Civil Cemeteries

By the mid-19th century, parish churchyards were becoming full and there was a need to open civil cemeteries.  Following the Burial Acts of 1852 and 1853, the first civil cemeteries in Derbyshire opened in 1855.  Originally managed by Burial Boards, in 1894 responsibility for these cemeteries transferred to parish and district councils and this remains the case today. For more recent records, please contact the relevant .

The majority of the original records for cemeteries remain in the custody of the District Councils, however records up to the 1990s are available at the Record Office on microfilm and DVD.  See our Cemetery Records Guide for details of the records available.

If you can’t find an entry in the parish burial registers, or there aren’t any burial registers for the period you are interested in, check the civil cemetery records.

Unlike the church burial registers, the civil cemetery registers tend to include more information and are usually accompanied by an index and a grave register.  Although the grave registers do not include a layout plan of the graves, they do include plot numbers and give a rough indication of burial area, i.e. consecrated or unconsecrated ground.  This information can then be used to identify the location of the grave in the cemetery – you will usually need to contact the relevant district authority as well.

National Burial Index

The NBI contains over 18 million entries relating to burials in England and Wales between 1538 and 2008, including 125,000 entries from 54 Derbyshire locations. Published by Family History Federation (formerly Federation of Family History Societies), it is now in its 3rd Edition and over 12 million entries are available via Find My Past, giving details of burial place, year of death and religious denomination.

Memorial Inscriptions

For some Derbyshire churchyards, groups of volunteers have created transcripts of the headstones and plaques in the church.  These transcripts are known as Memorial Inscriptions (MIs), and include information only about those graves where the headstone/plaque was extant and legible at the time the transcripts were created usually, most were created in the 1990s and later.  The MIs do not include information about unmarked graves or graves where the headstone is no longer visible or legible. All the MIs held by the Record Office are available in the Computer Room, arranged alphabetically by place.

Finding the Grave

As civil cemetery registers tend to include a grave reference it is usually possible to identify the location of the grave itself, although sometimes you may need to contact the district or borough council responsible for the cemetery for guidance about how to interpret the reference.

It is unusual for churches to deposit grave registers at the Record Office, usually because they are not created in the first place.  However, a small number of parishes have deposited plans of the churchyard that include information about some burials before a particular date:

Parish/ChurchDescriptionReference
AldercarSchedule of identifiable gravesD2574/19/2
AshoverGrave registers,1779-1828, 1846-1859D253 A/PI 10/1-2
Ashbourne St OswaldsNotes on graves (early 20th century)D662 A/PI 26/7
BrimingtonSchedule of graves, 1956D626/A/PD/6/1
CalowGrave Registers, 1862-1899D1642/A/PI/63-4
Chesterfield, St Mary and All SaintsSchedules of gravesD643/A/PI/28-29
Chesterfield, Elder Yard ChapelChurchyard plan, 1915

 

 

D6414/6/2/2
Chesterfield, Holy TrinityGrave register, 1856-1864D935/A/PI/108
DenbyGrave plan, 1902D935/A/PI/181
Derby St AlkmundsClerk’s rough note book of burials 1853-1864D916/A/PI/6/7
DerwentBurial and grave registers, 1908-1927D2036/A/PI/5/1-3
DoveridgeChurchyard register and plan, 1890-1955D1197/A/PI/18
EckingtonRegister of purchased gravesD750/A/PI/5/4
EdensorPartial grave plan, c1850D1192/A/PI/223
HayfieldGraveyard plan and book of reference, 1849D2462/A/PI/12/1-2
HorsleyGraveyard plan and list of graves, 18th cent-1920’sD2467/A/PI/10
Ilkeston St MarysList of burials, 19th-20th cent; Reinternment file, 1992D3082/A/PI/41, 46
IronvilleBurial register includes some plot detailsD3088/A/PI/4/1-5
Kirk HallamCemetery planD1537/A/PI/8/1
MappletonDescription of tombs and gravestones and inscriptions, 1911D845/A/PI/12
NethersealList of gravesD809/A/PI/32
Old BramptonBurials waste book, 1792-1887D947/A/PI/288
OversealPlan showing graves to be disturbed, 1951D812/A/PC/2/1-2
ShottleDraft graveyard plan and list of graves, 1973D964/A/PD/7/1-2
SomercotesGrave register and planD2006/A/PI/5/1-6
StaveleyFile concerning removal of gravesD661/A/PI/143
StonegravelsProposed gravestones, 1945-1950D2083/9/1
Stoney MiddletonGrave register and partial draft plan, 1879-1941D1455/A/PI/100-1
SwadlincoteMemorial Inscriptions, 1847-1931D653/A/PI/18/2
WhittingtonGrave register, 1879-c1914D2528/A/PI/19/1-2
WirksworthGrave plans, 1952D3105/A/PZ/2/6n
WormhillGrave plan and indexD1372/A/PI/145-8

It may also be worth contacting the church directly as a small number do also hold their own records about location of graves in their churchyards.

Edited 19 Jun 2020 to include details about the National Burial Index