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People, Places and Religion: A joint workshop with Cornwall Record Office

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digitisation, Online Access, Outreach, Protestation Returns

On the 6th Feb I went to Cornwall to deliver joint workshops with Cornwall Record Office inspired by our new geo mapping web resource. The workshops were filled in record time by local family historians keen to research their 17th century ancestors.

The new map allows researchers to search for records by location. The records have been plotted on the map linking them to the area that the records originated from. This means that researchers don’t need to know old parish or county boundaries but can look on a map to find local records relevant to their research needs.

The map is still a prototype. We have recently uploaded the Protestation Returns for Berkshire, Cornwall and Cumbria. The map links through to high quality digital images of the original 17th century Protestation Returns.

The Protestation Returns are the closest thing we have to a census for England in 1641-1642. They originate in the scuffling between Parliament and Charles I just before Civil War engulfed the country. It was decided that all men over the age of 18 in England and Wales should swear an oath of allegiance to the Protestant religion, Parliament and the King.

Around one third of the records for England survive. We have very few Welsh Protestation Returns. In most cases the records are a list of individual’s names written by a scribe. Occasionally more details are added such as signatures, ages, marks (this is when a person can’t write but leaves a symbol instead of a signature), and where they live. You sometimes find that women have taken the oath. People who refused to make the oath, recusants, are recorded, often with the reason for their refusal. This often gives an interesting insight into local history. For example, in Cornwall half of the recusants came from the Pyder Hundred due to the presence and influence of the Arundells, a prominent Catholic family.

Alison Spence, an archivist at Cornwall Record Office, used the Parliamentary Archives Protestation Returns and their own records to trace the history of individuals from the county. This included looking at the different fates of two brothers; John the elder and John the younger from St Ewe. The two brothers had distinctive signatures and by seeing the two signatures on the Protestation Returns, Alison could tell which record was about which brother.

The workshops were organised by Chloe Phillips at the Cornwall Record Office and included a tour of the archive strongroom by David Thomas. We’re very grateful to the Cornwall Record Office for organising such a productive day, especially as they are very busy planning for their new archive centre, Kresen Kernow for which they recently received Heritage Lottery Funding.

The map illustrates that the Parliamentary Archives has records relevant to the whole of the UK, and not just London and Westminster, and provides a new way in which to find them. We hope to upload the images of the remaining Protestation Returns held by the Parliamentary Archives, in the near future.

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