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Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Tuesday's Tip: The Domesday Book

A person asked me at last month’s meeting of my UK Gen Research group, “What is the Domesday Book?” To my surprise, I remembered the basics: it’s a list of landholders recorded during the reign of William, the Conqueror which began in 1066. Not bad, but here are more details: 

What is the Domesday Book?
It is a listing of landholders and values in England in 1086 ordered by William the Conqueror, which contains information for that year and 1066, the year of the conquest.   

Why is it important to history and genealogy?
It is “the oldest survey of land, owners and occupiers in Britain.” (Herber)

What information is included?
Technically the land was all owned by the sovereign until he/she granted ownership or tenancy to a major tenant. In return the tenant could lease land to a subtenant who could further subdivide it. Everyone in the chain owed the king or queen soldiers in time of war and/or other payment or service. This is the essence of the feudal system.

The Domesday Book is a listing of more than 13,000 land holders at the major tenant and sub-tenant level. There are few, if any, ordinary people.
What area is covered?

There are two volumes. The first, called Little Domesday, covers the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Great Domesday, covers the rest of England, except London and Winchester and the counties in the north; Northumberland, Cumberland, Durham, and northern Westmoreland.
What would an entry for a parish contain?

Thanks to Mark Herber’s book, Ancestral Trails, page 673, we know that the entry for Dunsford, Devon translates from the original Latin:
Saewulf holds DUNFORD. He held it himself before 1066. It paid tax for 1 virgate of land. Land for 1 plough. 3 smallhoolders, pasture, 20 acres. Value 40d

             For more information go to the website www.domesdaybook.co.uk
                It has the list of names from the book. 

What do the experts say? How can genealogists use the information?
“You are most unlikely to trace your ancestry to persons named in Domesday, unless you find a link to nobility, but it is fun to read entries, over 900 years old, about places in which your ancestors lived.” (Herber)

“Information about ordinary people's lives does exist, but it often occurs in records created for other purposes. In general, archival records contain information about wealthier landowning members of society, so most ordinary people are less well documented. Before 1538, when parish registers began, births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials were not officially recorded, though some notes may have been kept by the priest. However, many other records which contain genealogical information start well before 1538, and continue long after.”  (The National Archives)

I am not an expert but…the earliest English ancestors who I can document are a man and woman married about 1575. I would need to trace back another 500 years +/- to get to 1066. It seems like a daunting task, going well before Henry the VIII required records be kept. I would need a miracle or a connection to nobility, both highly unlikely.

For more optimistic information about genealogy at the turn of the last millennium, check the websites for medieval genealogy and the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy listed below.

Sources:
Herber, Mark. Ancestral Trails. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2006.

www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk

www.domesdaybook.co.uk

www.nationalarchives.org.uk/records/research-guides/medieval-sources-for-family-history.htm

www.fmg.ac  - Foundation for Medieval Genealogy

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