Four Favourite Sources for Researching English Ancestors in the Early Twentieth Century

I am in the midst of promoting my newly-released historical novel Barefoot on the Cobbles, which is set in the early twentieth century. It is based on a true story and the sources that I used, in order to research the lives of the characters, are those that I also use for family history research. I thought I would share my four favourite sources. Regrettably, only one of these is universally available online. I realise that this may be frustrating for those of you who are unable to visit the relevant English archives. I am spreading the word about these fascinating record sets in the hope that raising awareness will encourage you to persuade the data-providing websites to make them part of their digitising programme, so that they can be accessible to all.

Firstly, the 1910 Valuation Office records. They are largely un-indexed and often ignored; yet their value is equal to that of a census return. The returns are arranged geographically and every property was valued, resulting in four pages of information being recorded in ‘Field Books’. Owners and occupiers’ names are given, together with details such as: when the tenancy commenced, how much rent was paid and who was responsible for repairs. Entries also include a description of the property’s construction, condition and number of rooms. The records for England and Wales are held at The National Archives (TNA), at Kew, in class IR58. The equivalent records for Scotland and Ireland are held at National Records for Scotland and The National Archives, Ireland. A research guide, Valuation Office Survey is available and reading this is highly recommended.

Another under-used source is the National Farm Survey of 1941, which again is held at TNA. Class MAF32 includes a series of four forms relating to each land holding. These are:

  • The Farm Survey itself, completed by the surveyor, giving the names of the owner, occupier.
  • The 1941 Agricultural Census, which lists the acreage, crops and livestock on the holding.
  • The Labour and Motive Power Survey. This lists tractors and machinery but also gives information relating to tenanted land, such as the rent paid and when the tenancy began.
  • The Soft Fruit and Vegetables for Human Consumption Survey, which is particularly useful in market gardening areas.

There is a National Archives’ Research Guide, which gives further information about the Farm Survey.

The Absent Voters’ Lists are a specific kind of electoral roll. They were compiled in 1918 and 1919 to allow those who were still on active service to vote. For each individual listed, there is also information on their military service, ship, regiment, number and rank as appropriate. Surviving records are likely to be in local archives. There are further details and links to a few online lists.

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Finally, a site that you can all consult and will be of interest if your family were in England during the First World War. This is the Red Cross website, which gives details of the service of all the Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses. The site allows access to the personnel records of over 90,000 volunteers, with details of the hospitals in which they served, as well as giving interesting background information.

The next presentation of my five week online course ‘Discovering your British Family and Community in the Early Twentieth Century’, run by Pharos Tutoring and Teaching starts in January. I will also be giving a presentation about researching early twentieth century English ancestors at Family Tree Live at Alexandra Palace in April 2019.


Cheri Hudson Passey

About Cheri Hudson Passey

Cheri Hudson Passey is a Professional Genealogist, Instructor, Writer and Speaker. She is the owner of Carolina Girl Genealogy, LLC which provides research services as well as instruction and coaching though her Genealogy 1-on-1 classes. Born in South Carolina, Cheri has roots in the state for many generations. Her blog Carolina Girl Genealogy has helped tell the story of these ancestors and her research process. You can contact Cheri by email or by visiting her blog Carolina Girl Genealogy. Cheri Hudson Passey writes the Modus Operandi column for Going In-Depth Magazine.

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