The key records you need to research your Tudor ancestors


02 September 2022
King Henry VIII and his three children; Will Summers, the King's jester is in the background.
Helen Tovey takes a look at the key records for researching your 16th-century ancestors, along with websites to help grow your skills.

As many of us know, whose ancestral branches get stuck, or stop, in the 1700s, tracing back centuries and centuries isn’t necessarily easy. However it is possible. It’s quite an extraordinary thought that as regular family historians we are able to examine documents that may reveal clues about our ancestors, their lives and world, back in Tudor times. 

For Tudor era research, Latin and palaeography skills are going to be essential. Fortunately many of the records are extremely formulaic meaning that the acquisition of even a small vocabulary is going to be a big help. Sylvia Dibbs, Chair of the Catholic Family History Society, created an extremely useful guide to Latin here.

Findmypast provides a glossary of probate terms here. However what the researcher studying old wills more specifically needs is help with the words and phrases written in records such as wills and parish registers. For this, lists such as that by GenProxy are much more helpful.

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A key record collection covering the 1500s are wills. Those of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (1384-1858) can be located here (sign in to download a will for free) and here (with a subscription). For a breakdown of the wills for the Prerogative Court of York, see Family Search

While practical maps delineating parish boundaries are extremely useful, a look at the maps created in Tudor times reveal another window to the past.

Christopher Saxton’s collection of 35 detailed, colourful county maps created in the 1570s were used by Queen Elizabeth’s advisor William Cecil for ‘administration and defence’ - the ribbons of blue denoting rivers, not roads, and the hills and highpoints labelled - click here

Helen Tovey is editor of Family Tree magazine.

For an in-depth exploration of using Tudor records in your family history research, download the October 2022 issue of Family Tree