Miscellaneous sources

The previous sections have outlined some of the more widely used sources for medieval and early-modern genealogy - some other possible ones are listed below.

Beyond this, there are any number of less conventional ways in which useful information may have been preserved. One class of possibly under-exploited 'documents' are church bells, which survive quite frequently from the early 17th century, and occasionally from medieval times. They are often inscribed with the date of their manufacture and the name of the benefactor who paid for them. Antiquaries have traditionally been interested in church bells, and details may be given in parish or county histories. Another unusual source, suggested by Doris Jones-Baker in the Genealogists' Magazine (vol.24, p.137; 1992), is medieval graffiti in parish churches, which can occasionally record baptisms, marriages and burials.

In a recent BBC television series, 'Meet the Ancestors', forensic reconstruction techniques were applied to excavated skeletons, and - in two cases - the results were brought face-to-face with suspected descendants. Although family historians are famously obsessive, this is probably further than most of us would want - or be allowed - to go. A more promising scientific application is the use of 'DNA fingerprinting' to test whether pairs of living individuals share the same male-line descent (using DNA from the Y-chromosome) or the same female-line descent (using mitochondrial DNA). Although these techniques have so far been applied mainly to causes célèbres - such as the Romanovs or Thomas Jefferson - it will probably not be too long before they become a significant weapon in the armoury of the ordinary genealogist.

Links and bibliography for miscellaneous sources

For source material on the internet, click one of the following:
town records,
private letters,
medieval texts,


Urban and guild records

Medieval England was predominantly rural, and urban areas stood outside the general pattern of life. Towns with borough status had their privileges and institutions, including their own courts of law, which remained important until Tudor times; in the medieval period a number of wills were proved in borough courts. Another predominantly urban institution which produced useful records was the guild (or gild), usually an association formed for commercial purposes, by a group of either merchants or craftsmen - though some guilds had religious or charitable purposes.

Unsurprisingly, the largest urban settlement of all - the City of London - produced particularly full records. They include the rolls of the Court of Husting, which contain both wills and deeds, and records of the City Livery Companies, a number of which begin in the late medieval or early modern period.

An excellent web site devoted to medieval English towns - with a particular emphasis on East Anglia - is

This site includes translations of documents, summary histories of seven towns - Colchester, Ipswich, King's Lynn, Maldon, Norwich, Great Yarmouth and York - maps, a glossary and a comprehensive list of links. There is also an in-depth study of borough officers in East Anglia between 1272 and 1460, and the Florilegium Urbanum, a collection of illustrative contemporary texts in English translation.

More online information is listed below (and see more on urban markets in the section on Markets and fairs below):

City of London Livery Companies

Many early urban records have been printed by local historical societies. Some published works discussing the institutions and their records are:

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Markets and fairs

In medieval times, the right to hold a market or fair was a valuable privilege, which the 'manor-holding' classes often sought. Records of the royal grants of such rights are to be found in the Chancery rolls, and the grant was often preceded by an enquiry as to whether the rights of others would be harmed (an inquisition ad quod damnum). The following information is available online:

Medieval markets, and in a wider sense medieval economics, are being actively studied in the academic world. A number of articles, including those listed below, are available online. Except where noted, they don't generally contain a lot of information about individuals, but do shed interesting light on how people lived in medieval times, and on relevant factors such as their mobility.

Schools, Universities and Inns of Court

Records, such as registers of admissions, kept by educational institutions can be a useful source for the late medieval and early modern period. A number have been published - for some of the older public schools, and for the four Inns of Court in London, where lawyers trained. There are also biographical listings of those who attended the two medieval Universities - Oxford and Cambridge. These draw both on the University archives and on other sources - such as ecclesiastical records - and can provide very detailed accounts in some cases.

Some useful printed works:



Inns of Court

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Private letters

Although some at least of the late-medieval gentry seem to have been avid letter-writers, sadly little of their correspondence has come down to us. However, apart from stray survivals, there are several substantial collections - notably the Paston, Stonor, Plumpton and Cely letters. As well as recording genealogical information about the families in question and their circles of acquaintance - which could be quite wide - they give a fascinating insight into how the 'manor-holding' classes of the 15th century actually led their lives.

A large electronic collection of English letters from 1417-1681 has been compiled at the University of Helsinki, under the name of the Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC). Two copyright-free samples are available from the Oxford Text Archive - The Parsed Corpus of Early English Correspondence and Corpus of Early English Correspondence Sampler.

Some published editions are listed below.


Correspondence, from the 1470s and 1480s, of a family of wool merchants with interests in London and Calais.


Fifteenth-century correspondence of a Norfolk family. This is the most famous collection of medieval English letters, and there are a number of published selections and discussions in addition to the principal editions:


Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century correspondence of a Yorkshire family.


Medieval correspondence of an Oxfordshire family.


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This is the miscellaneous section of the miscellaneous page. Obviously, there's not much more I can say to summarise it ...

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