Issue 46

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Tracks in time

The will of Joseph Stuttaford


Please note our new alternative web address which now carries 

a complete copy of the material to be found on this site:


Not only are all of Devon's Parish Registers not in the IGI, many are missing, either in whole or in part. There are numerous reasons for this. Some have been damaged from four centuries of inadequate storage, leaving fragile pages totally unreadable; others have had pages cut out or mutilated - perhaps in an effort to hide a marriage or the entry of a bastard birth. There are those with tantalising gaps of  several years - times when the parish had no incumbent to oversee the keeping of records, and there are those which have, over time, simply been lost.  In 1538 the keeping, in parishes, of registers of baptisms, marriages and burials was first ordered but by no means everyone complied - there are parishes in Devon where  more than a century was to pass before the law was finally complied with. These problems can bring family history research to a full stop unless we search for other documentary insights into our ancestors' lives.

The coming of William the Conqueror could have done the family historian a favour, in that he, and his Norman henchmen, brought with them a passion for making lists. The Domesday Survey was just the beginning: those lists of property, servants, farm implements, and animals plus the names of all the principal people in each town or village made it easy to invent a method of taxation still in use today. Lists of taxpayers led to lists of able-bodied men who must serve in the militia if required and the control of wills meant that even dying could be monitored - and taxed. 

The concept of the State as a controlling force came to fruition in 1538 with the establishment of a register for each parish in which the birth, marriage, and death of every citizen was permanently recorded. The register was not a matter of religion - it was a system which, for centuries, enabled the State to keep tabs on everyone, from birth to death. Some far-sighted official must have foreseen the possibility that it might fail through human weakness and decreed that all those other lists of people and property should be saved. From that time on,  millions of priceless records have been carefully stored away all over our land, surviving wars, fires and pestilence right up to today. They provide us with many alternative routes back to the past and give us a salutary reminder that although you may tear a page from a parish register, the tax inspector has already got your name.


Keep in touch,

Muriel and Richard


Link to Office of National Statistics for information on how to obtain copies of Birth, Marriage and Death certificates.

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Tracks in time

The will of Joseph Stuttaford


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