How to find East Sussex ancestors at East Sussex Record Office
Discover how to find your East Sussex ancestors with our guide to family history resources held at The Keep.
The Keep is home to over a million records, covering centuries of East Sussex history, from 1101 to the present day. It is a partnership between East Sussex Record Office, University of Sussex and the Royal Pavilion & Museums, and also houses the county’s Historic Environment Record; four-fifths of the material forms part of the holdings of East Sussex Record Office.
Together, these archives document the people, places, buildings and events from across East Sussex and beyond, through written records, maps and plans, prints, drawings, photographs and oral histories.
The material includes parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials from 1538, registers relating to Nonconformity, and records for cemeteries, hospitals and workhouses.
The many manorial records held at The Keep have the potential to track ancestors back before the survival advent of parish registers, an are a highly illuminating source for village communities at all periods.
The archives of the Sussex Police Authority and its predecessors (from the 1840s onwards) demonstrate how law and order were enforced out, whilst The Keep also holds a nationally important collection of a pioneering hospital – The Lady Chichester Hospital, which was one of the first in the UK to recognize and treat nervous disorders.
The Keep also holds a large local map collection, with tithe maps from the 1840s for almost every parish in East Sussex, as well as maps and plans of many estates and farms in the county from the sixteenth century onwards.
As well as the records of criminal trials from 1594, Quarter Sessions records at The Keep include many plans, both fulfilled or abandoned, for road, bridge, canal, railway and coastal works. The County Council’s archives include a very full series of plans, drawings and photographs of council-owned property (including schools and police stations), while building control plans from district and borough councils, dating in some cases from the mid 19th century, are an excellent source for the history of buildings in the region.
The library at The Keep contains many items which can help anyone searching for East Sussex ancestors. Among the resources are a large collection of Brighton & Hove street directories, 20th-century electoral registers for Brighton & Hove, a large collection of family history and local history books and professional directories including clerical registers and armed forces lists.
The Keep’s electronic catalogue can be found on the website, where you can search by keyword, theme or category. The advanced search facility allows you to refine or restrict your search.
The places section of the catalogue is a work in progress, and when complete, will allow visitors to search for records relating to a specific place within the county. The website also has a number of useful research guides which include church and cemetery registers, tithe maps, electoral registers and probate records.
Researching at The Keep
The Keep is a modern community hub with state-of-the-art spaces for education and outreach projects. The public searchrooms include a reference room with library, computers and microform readers, and an adjoining reading room where visitors can consult original documents.
There is free public access to The Keep, with a drop-in service, and an efficient document ordering system. You can complete your first-time registration on The Keep’s website, and bring along ID on the day to complete the process.
You can book a seat before your visit if you wish, and order documents in advance, or simply turn up on the day and search the records via the electronic catalogue.
The Keep, Woollards Way, Brighton BN1 9BP; tel: 01273 482349; website.
(Building images copyright Jim Pike)