About the County
These pages contain information about resources for family history research in Northamptonshire.
Please note that we are unable to undertake research on behalf of our members although we can help with general enquiries. For detailed research it is recommended that you contact the Northamptonshire Record Office who offer their own research service.
Northamptonshire is often called the county of ‘spires and squires’, a reference to its many wonderful churches and stately homes.
Arthur Mee in his Kings England series of books
describes Northamptonshire as:
Northamptonshire contains over 340 parishes and stretches around 73 miles from Easton on the Hill on the Lincolnshire border in the north to Ayhno on the county border with Oxfordshire in the south. It is a county of rolling hills and meadows and its uplands are the source of many rivers including the Avon, Nene, Cherwell and Welland. The Nene runs from near Naseby through to the county town and then onwards via Thrapston, Oundle and Peterborough to the Wash. It was gradually made navigable from Peterborough to Northampton between 1730 and 1768 and connected Northampton with the east coast shipping trade.
Watling Street, built by the Romans, runs across the county from Old Stratford through Towcester and Weedon and onwards into Warwickshire. Between 1706 and 1750 all the major roads crossing the county became subject to Turnpike Acts and so were improved and regularly maintained. Northamptonshire was now well connected to all the adjacent county towns and beyond. This led to an increase in stage-coaches and inns and increased prosperity.
The coming of the canals and then the railways had a great effect on the county. By 1790 Birmingham was already connected to London by canal but via Oxford, a long and circuitous route. The Grand Junction Canal which opened in 1799 linked with the Oxford Canal at Braunston and was a more efficient route between the two major cities. It brought in cheaper coal, Welsh slate, pottery and other goods. An arm of this canal was eventually linked to Northampton in 1815. There is an excellent canal museum at Stoke Bruerne. Weedon Barracks was built by the side of the canal in 1805 as a major inland depot for Ordnance Stores and was chosen because of its proximity to the network of roads and canals.
The London to Birmingham railway (later part of the London & North Western Railway) came in 1838 with major stations at Blisworth, Weedon and Long Buckby. The Great Northern Railway in 1850 linked London to Doncaster and led to Peterborough becoming a major railway town in the following years. The Midland Railway opened in 1857 and linked Kettering, Wellingborough and Market Harborough with London. With the other smaller branch lines, the railways, at their peak, had 75 stations in the county, now there are only 5.
Northamptonshire has played its part in many historical dramas; Thomas a Becket fled from Northampton Castle before being murdered at Canterbury Cathedral, Edward IV secretly married Elizabeth Woodville at Grafton Regis. Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringay, and King Charles 1 was defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Naseby in 1645, being later imprisoned at Holdenby House.
The landed gentry were the principal beneficiaries of the Restoration; although many already had homes in the county they were further able to consolidate their positions. Among the most outstanding stately homes are Deene Park, Althorp House, Burghley, Boughton House, Easton Neston, Castle Ashby, Kirby Hall and Rockingham Castle. For further details on these and other historic homes in the county click here.
The archives of many of these great estates can be found at Northamptonshire Record Office and are a most valuable source of information for family historians.
The ‘old’ shire also contained the Soke of Peterborough (which was transferred to Cambridgeshire in the Local Government re-organisation of 1974). The Diocese of Peterborough was created in 1541 and the Northamptonshire Record Office is also the Diocesan Record Office. As such, all church records including parish registers, bishop’s transcripts, wills proved at the church courts and other ecclesiastical records will generally be found at Northamptonshire Record Office. Parish Registers for Rutland will be found at Leicestershire Record Office but the Bishop’s Transcripts and Wills (being Diocesan documents) will be at Northampton. Prior to 1541 the county (including the Soke) was in the Diocese of Lincoln and very early ecclesiastical records will be found at Lincolnshire Record Office.
The Northamptonshire Record Office is at Wootton Hall, Northampton, on the southern outskirts of the town and about 2 miles from junction 15 or 15a of the M1. For further details about the Record Office including opening times, directions, collections and search service click here.
There are a number of books about the county and also for individual parishes.
The three main reference books which are available
at the Record Office are:
Copies of many local and parish history books will
be found at Libraries across the county.
Click here to take you to the Library catalogue search page
The Mormon Church has many resources useful for the family historian including the IGI and 1881 census. They have also microfilmed many other records including registers, probate records, books and census. They have a Family History Centre at 137 Harlestone Road, Northampton. Telephone 01604 587630 (limited opening hours) where you can order and view these records.
Website currently under reconstruction - please call above number for info
There were historically 7 Registration Districts within Northamptonshire. These being Corby, Daventry, Kettering, Oundle/Thrapston, Northampton, Towcester/Brackley and Wellingborough. They were all combined in April 2011 in one district
For further information including contact addresses and numbers and information on how to order certificates, please see the Civil Registration pages on the County Council website. Click here for the link.
The Northamptonshire Record Office has an outstanding collection of family and estate records. As well as records relating to the family, you will also find estate rentals, maps, surveys, household accounts, wage books and occasionally, court rolls and deeds. Click here to view the guides to the collections.
The catalogues for many of these collections are available online on the Access2Archives website. Click here for the link.
The county was anciently divided into hundreds
and these acted as areas of administration until the late 1800’s.
The Hundreds are:
The Northamptonshire Studies Collection
at the Central Library in Northampton has the county's main collection
of printed and pictorial material on the history of Northamptonshire.
Resources include books, pamphlets, maps (both historic and modern), illustrations,
parish registers and census records. It also holds the GRO index to civil
registrations of births, deaths and marriages for 1837-1983. They hold
c20,000 photographs and over 8,000 prints and engravings of scenes from
across the county and a collection of 1,500 historic portraits of notable
Northamptonshire families and individuals. There is also a specialist
collection of material relating to the economics and history of the footwear
Peterborough Library has
the GRO Index for 1837-1925, local census, National Probate Index for
1858-1943 and microfiche of local parish registers (including some ‘cross-border’
parishes) and calendars of wills. It also has an extensive photographic
and local studies collection.
Banbury Local Studies Library
also holds many records for the north Oxfordshire and south Northamptonshire
area including newspapers, census, parish register fiche and photographs.
There are many museums within the county and many hold items relating to the boot and shoe industry including Kettering, Rushden, Desborough, Rothwell and Wollaston. The Northampton Museum and Art Gallery has galleries showing the history of shoes and also a permanent exhibition on the history of Northampton. For further details click here. To see photos from the museum collection click here
Northampton Abington Park museum holds military collections relating to the Northamptonshire Regiment and the Northamptonshire Yeomanry. The smaller museums such as Oundle, Earls Barton and Burton Latimer will have much local information such as archives and photographs. Other museums may be more specific such as the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne, the Harrington Aviation Museum or Rushden Transport Museum.
The county is well known for its stately homes. These include Boughton House, Prebendal Manor, Sulgrave (home of the ancestors of George Washington) and Castle Ashby as well as Kelmarsh, Deene, Cottesbrooke and Althorp.
To find out more about Northamptonshire Museums and Historic Homes please click here
The Mercury was first published in 1720 and was the main newspaper for the county. The Record Office has copies of The Mercury on microfilm for the period 1720 - 1850 but the Central Library has a more comprehensive collection including The Mercury from 1720, the Chronicle & Echo from 1931 and its predecessors (from c1900) and the Northampton Independent from 1905.
The north of the county was covered by the Stamford Mercury (the oldest surviving continually published newspaper) and microfilms of these are held at both Stamford and Peterborough Libraries. The south of the county was covered by the Brackley Advertiser from 1869 as well as by various Oxfordshire newspapers. Copies of regional newspapers may be found at branch libraries.
The British Newspaper Library Archive is now available online. this covers many regional newspapers from Aberdeen to York. Northamptonshire newspapers that can be found digitised here are The Northampton Mercury (1770-1904) and Northants Evening Telegraph (1900-1901).
Note that the British Newspapers 1800-1900 site is no longer available. If you would like to access this content, please contact your local library to enquire about availability of the library version, 19th Century British Library Newspapers.
Northamptonshire has a strong history of non-conformity. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, some of the gentry families such as the Catesbys of Ashby St Ledgers and the Brudenells of Deene continued to practise the ‘old faith’ as Catholics but were heavily penalised. It was only really after the Toleration Act of 1689 that non-conformists could worship freely and many of the Baptist and Independent (later Congregational) chapels in the county date from around this time. Records, where they survive, will be found at the local Record Office.
Graham Ward has written a very informative book for the Society covering the non-conformist sources and records in the county. It is called ‘Sources for Researching Nonconformists in Northamptonshire’ and is available from our bookstall.
Additionally, his website contains a wealth of information about chapels, ministers and other non-conformist records. Click here for the link.
For a list of Non-conformist Registers held at the Record Office click here.
Parish registers (unless still in use)
are normally available on microfiche at the Record Office with the notable
exception of Finedon which is still held by the church.
Many have been transcribed and indexed and are to be found on the open
shelves in the Search Room. The Record Office has an almost complete set
of Bishop’s transcripts which can be used to fill in the gaps where
the registers are not deposited.
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 created 11 Poor Law Unions within the county. These are Brackley, Brixworth, Daventry, Kettering, Northampton, Oundle, Peterborough, Potterspury, Thrapston, Towcester and Wellingborough.
Poor Law and Workhouse records, where they survive, are held by the Record Office and details can be found on their website. Click here for the link.
Further information on workhouses can be found by clicking here.
There is an index to other Poor Law records (mainly pre 1834) on the open shelves at the Record Office.
The records fall naturally into 4 main groups:
These will be found at Northamptonshire Record Office and full details of the extent of the records held can be found on their website. Click here for the link.
An Index to the Northants and Rutland Probate Records from 1469-1857 can be searched online. Click here for the link
VISITING THE COUNTY
Page Updated 21-Jan-2014