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My ancestor emigrated from Hertfordshire ...

Quite a few requests for information to this Forum, and to other newsgroups and lists are looking for details of an ancestor who emigrated from England sometime in the last 400 years of so. The following tips are given to help people to know what kinds of information to include in their request.

(1) Remember that you are looking for a person.

If you simply look for a name and a date of birth without any other checking you could well end up with the wrong person as an ancestor. It was very common for cousins to have the same given name - however uncommon the surname. The danger is well illustrated by the census returns for Kimpton in 1851 where two families lived at Ansels End. One was headed by John IVORY, aged 50, born at Kimpton and married to Susannah, and the other was occupied by John IVORY, aged 50, born at Kimpton and married to Ann. In this case you can't help noticing that there are two John Ivory's of the same age and place of birth - but if the two lived in adjacent parishes, rather than adjacent houses - it would be easy to assume that the first one you found was the one you are looking for.

(2) Why did they leave England?

There can be many reasons for leaving England and these can be a clue to their English background. There are many possible reasons, and each have implications for the type of records that will need to be searched.

Their work: Merchant seamen, traders, soldiers and civil servants who would have travelled as part of their work, and either decided to remain overseas, or returned there after retirement. Others may have travelled with a well-to-do family (such as a colonial governor) as domestic servants. Unlike most other groups of emigrants, such people will have had a first hand experience of the new country before they committed themselves to staying there.

They were sent there: This will include criminals who were transported and who had no say about where they went, and possibly little knowledge of the country to which they were going. While some may have had the option to return after their sentence was up, many will have chosen to stay. Some went for similar reasons, but not "officially." Reasonably well-to-do families sometimes sent their "black sheep" overseas to get them out of the way, while other emigrants may have been fleeing the courts - including the bankruptcy court.

They were "political" refugees: Many of the early emigrants to America were, in effect, refugees escaping from religious persecution, and this immediately says something about their background. Initial religious affiliations can give important clues to the family religious beliefs before they left England.

They were economic refugees: A number of emigrants at the bottom of the social pile would have been unable to emigrate if they had to pay their fare. A number of parishes decided that it was cheaper to send the poorest families overseas than to maintain them on the poor rate, and a number may have been dispatched as a group. In 1873 the agricultural workers union arranged to find new work for strikers from Sandridge, Herts, who lost their jobs and may well have helped some travel overseas - and many of the labourers who lost their jobs in the major strikes which affected the East of England in 1874 definitely went overseas.

They were looking for a better future: Basically they were unsatisfied with their prospects in England and, based on reports they had heard, they made a deliberate decision to go. They may have been tempted by special offers of cheap fares and/or land by counties where needed more people to develop, or they may have seen expanding markets for their trades. One must remember that some may well have been attracted by stories of gold and other riches.

(3) What did they do?

What did your ancestor do when he arrived? If he had a trade in England his occupation overseas may well be related. A farm labourer is more likely to become a farmer when he gets to Australia than is a cobler. In the new country there would be a need for carpenters, brewers, millwrights, etc., and someone with these skills could well find it very profitable to use these skills when he arrived. As trades ran in families, the trade followed overseas may well relate to the trade the family followed in Hertfordshire.

(4) How well off were they when they arrived?

Do their activities when they arrived suggest that they had access to significant funds when they arrived. Of course some people, on entering a new country, may well have made a fortune because they were able to exploit some unfilled niche - and it may sometimes be difficult, without extensive knowledge, to distinguish between these possibilities. However it should be remembered that the English society was very highly structured in the past, and initial wealth (or abject poverty) could give clues to the pre-emigration background. Information about education (even if merely a knowledge as to whether they could read and write) can provide similar clues about social status.

(5) How did they name their family?

Given names ran in families, and if the family had several sons they were likely to be named after the father, grandfather(s), and uncles, while daughters would be named after the mother, grandmother(s) and aunts. This tradition would have almost certainly been retained in the first generations overseas, and if the same given names are used by the emigrant family and the possible Hertfordshire relatives it is a clue that you are on the wrong track. If none of the given names coincide you probably have the wrong Hertfordshire family.

(6) Who did they know?

Your ancestors may have travelled from England with a party of people they knew in England, or because a relative or friend suggested they join them. Maybe a future wife came out to join her fiancée. Some small towns overseas may well have been established by a party recruited by the same Hertfordshire emigration agent, and while your ancestor's place of birth may merely have been recorded as Hertfordshire, more detailed information on some of those who came over at the same time may suggest more local areas.

(7) What did they say about their origins?

Family traditions are great - and usually have a grain of truth in them, but it is important to realise that verbal traditions are upwardly socially mobile - in that the favourable is emphasised and the disreputable is suppressed. With repeated telling over the generations an ancestor who was a private in the army at the time of the Battle of Waterloo becomes someone who fought at Waterloo, and he has possibly risen in rank at the same time. An illegitimate child born to a servant in one of the great British houses becomes a descendant of Lord xxxxx. Among my own ancestors we now know that a family tradition relating to the Civil War could not have involved the person named - but may well relate to another member of the family. The emigrant may also have falsified his past on arriving in his own country. Nearly 100 years ago a relative ended up in Australia as a "bachelor" have "forgotten" he had married a few years earlier in New Zealand. Others, having more to hide, may well have assumed a "new personality", possibly including a new name, occupation, and place of birth, when they arrived in a country where their past would not be known. The important thing is to keep an open mind.

(8) Who might help you?

When you publishes a query about an ancestor from England on the World Wide Web the ideal respondent would be from a professional historian and genealogist, with plenty of free time on his hands, and ready access to the most appropriate records offices, who just happens to be a distant cousin, and who has your ancestor on his family tree. As very few such ideal relatives exist it is important to realise that there are many other people with overlapping interests who may be able to point you in the right direction, but only if you include something that will attract their attention in your posting, and if you seem willing to exchange information. Their interests could include:

Their ancestor also came from Hertfordshire and emigrated on the same ship

They are researching the village your ancestor came from

They have an in depth knowledge of your ancestor's occupation in the county

They know about specialist documents that could help you.

(9) Don't forget basic information?

The above advice suggests information you could include a request about your ancestor who emigrated from England. In addition you should include the birth and emigration dates as accurately as your knowledge allows, whether they emigrated as a single person or as a family, and the nature of the records which suggest that they came from (a village in) Hertfordshire.

Archives and Libraries:

Hertfordshire Record Office
County Hall
SG13 8DE

Telephone:- +44 [0]1992 555105

The home page of Hertfordshire Libraries, Arts and Information.

Church Records

Ted Wildy's UK Marriage witness index entries for Hertfordshire[ ftp ].

There is a Surname List for Hertfordshire to which people can subscribe the names they are researching.


About Hertfordshire:

The County of Hertfordshire lies just (nine miles) North of London and was first created in Saxon times. It stretches from Rickmansworth and Waltham Cross in the South to Royston and Hitchin in the North. Westward it stretches out beyond Berkhamstead and at its Eastern border you will find Bishop's Stortford. There are old towns such as Potters Bar and Royston; and a number of post war New Towns - Stevenage, Welwyn Garden City, Letchworth and Hemel Hempstead. There are also a wealth of picturesque villages and sleepy hamlets nestling in the green countryside. Since the turn of the century the population has increased four-fold, making it the sixth most populous in the UK. Some of the reasons for this growth are its proximity to London, excellent transport links and modern industries.


The Southern boundary of the county lies just 12½ miles North of central London. It is also bounded by the counties of Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Essex. Much of the county is green belt, which means the countryside is protected by statute. It is a county of geographical contrasts, parts of it being large swathes of countryside dotted with farms and villages; others to the South being urban and industrial. Much of the geology is either chalk or clay, which results in a soil ideally suited to the growing of cereal crops, including barley (malting was a major industry up to the 19th Century). There are also rich deposits of gravel around the Lea Valley.


The history of the county can be traced back to the Stone Age around 8000 years ago. In the first century AD the Romans settled, founding the ancient city of Verulanium, close to what is now St.Albans. Some remains of the city can still be found, including the theatre, baths and a villa. In the fifth century the Romans departed and the Anglo-Saxons arrived, forming settlements of their own such as the county town, Hertford. The county was on the frontier of a struggle with the Danes that lasted 200 years. The county expanded following the Norman Conquest of 1066 and became increasingly important as a trade centre due to it's proximity to London. This also led Royalty and the Nobility to frequent the county - Elizabeth I grew up at the Old Palace at Hatfield and Hertford Castle was a royal palace for some three hundred years. Agriculture and industry both grew with the coming of improved river navigation during the eighteenth century and again with the establishment of the railways in the nineteenth century. This produced a dramatic increase in the population which resulted in the establishment of the first Garden City at Letchworth in 1903. This was later followed by a second at Welwyn. In 1946 the New Towns Act was passed by parliament resulting in the building of three new towns at Stevenage, Hatfield and Hemel Hempstead.

Hertford Museum

18 Bull Plain

Hertford SG14

Tel: 01992 582686

Open Tuesday - Saturday 10am to 5pm
closed Sunday and Monday


The Museum has a large collection of old picture post cards. It includes all towns and the most of the villages in the Hertfordshire.
These may be copied - please ask at the desk for details.

Map to Museum


"THE EARLY DAYS" display


Temporary Exhibition Area

Craft Case


An award winning 17th century style knot garden




Natural History

Scocial History

Activity Room

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