Information in the Tables

Research on family history before 1837 is likely to be frustrating since the original records do not contain sufficient data to identify individuals unambiguously and relationships are often hard to deduce with real certainty. For Stephen Bridge and his non-conformist descendants there are no records of baptism for four generations, from 1700 to 1820, only marriages and some deaths and Stephen's own will. At the same time, there were clearly several families with the same surname living in the immediate area. The only possible approach is to research them all and also use all the available types of record, in an attempt to establish continuity. The best source for this purpose has turned out to be the Poor Law accounts, which preserve the names of ratepayers as well as of the poor of the parish. They therefore work like an annual census and show who was actually settled in the parish and for how long.

To make some sense of the many records I have found, I have organised them into tables relating to "family units" ideally centred on a marriage followed fairly closely by some baptisms or as described in a will. Each line in the table corresponds to a particular event, as originally recorded, with the information presented in six columns.

  1. Date of the event, following the modern convention that the new year commences on 1st January.
  2. Location – usually the parish, which implies the source is the parish register or Bishop's transcript (see below). In a few cases the location is the "hundred", an ancient civil system of registration. For a census, the street is included.
  3. Record type – birth, marriage, census etc. For the census, details of the source are given. Poor Law records were parish documents but there was no system for making copies and survival of the original records is more patchy.
  4. Name of person referred to. The name is recorded as originally written so if the record says "Jno Bredge", that is what I have shown, without expanding the abbreviation or standardising the spelling.
  5. Description – often the relationship to another person; in a marriage, the name of the wife. Otherwise the occupation or state (widow, pauper...)
  6. Note - any additional information, such as land area or rate paid. (However, recent records contain much more information which therefore has to be fitted in on an ad hoc basis.)

The early records provide very little extra information: for a marriage just the name of husband and wife and their home parishes; for an infant baptism the name of the father and (but only after 1660) the mother. There must therefore always be some room for doubt whether I have assigned any particular John Bridge to his correct family. (At one point there were at least six of them in existence.) Often it comes down to his being in the right place at the right time - he seems to fit. Clearly it is important to distinguish between the historical events, which are reliably based on documentary evidence, and the reconstructed families presented in the tables. In some cases I have shown a relationship in italics: this means simply that it seems a reasonable assumption but that there is no hard evidence. Other comments and interpretations appear on separate rows, on a buff-coloured background.

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Calendar conventions

The modern Gregorian calendar was not introduced in Britain until 1752, at which point the older Julian calendar was eleven days out (due to having slightly too many leap years). The solution then adopted was to omit 11 days from the month of September. In the same year the church and government adopted the modern (and also ancient) practice of starting the new year on the first of January. Previously, new year was officially reckoned from the 25th March, or Lady day. Thus 1752 began on 25th March and ended on 31st December which with the extra 11 days cut out reduced it to a mere nine months. (The Treasury however decided that for taxation purposes, a year must be a full year; the day which would have been 25 Mar 1753 under the old calendar had become 5 Apr 1753, which is why in the United Kingdom the financial year now begins on the 5th of April.)

In giving the dates of old records, the day and month are always quoted according to the original calendar, though for the period 1582 to 1752 a correction is needed in order to compare dates in (say) France and England. However it is normal to give the year according to the modern convention, often showing both (as in 3 Feb 1652/3). In these tables I have chosen to show only the modern form. There is obviously a danger of making mistakes here and new researchers are often puzzled by dates which seem to be a year out.

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Sources for research

Parish registers e.g. Smarden

The keeping of registers dates from 1540, though by no means all the registers are complete. There are however also the "Bishop's Transcripts", contemporary copies of the entries in the registers which were made twice a year at Ladyday and Michaelmas (25th March and 25th September) but each covering the preceding twelve months. These were sent alternately to the bishop and the archdeacon, so typically there should be three complete copies of the information. However, some parishes came under the direct authority of the bishop and these did not have to make returns to the Archdeacon. In East Kent, the bishop's transcripts have nearly all been preserved and are very useful for filling in gaps in the registers. For Smarden, the registers before 1630 have not survived but the transcripts have. However, during the English civil war and the succeeding protectorate (1640-60), no copies were made and the registers themselves were kept by civil registrars, to very varied standards if at all.

The early records provide only basic information. In 1810 new standardised registers were introduced and the records become much more detailed, providing the same amount of information as in the civil registers which were introduced in 1837.

Registers are all available on microfilm. The original bishop's transcripts used to be available to readers in Canterbury Cathedral library: a delight for the amateur historian but a conservationist's nightmare! Now they too have been filmed.

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Poor Law records

The original Poor Law dated from 1601 and made parish officers responsible for the relief of poverty, a system which survived in the same basic form until 1840 when parishes were grouped into "Unions" for the same purpose. The officers included a churchwarden and a lay member elected by the wealthy householders. They kept records both of the collection of the Poor Law "rate" and of the payments made. The Smarden records survive from 1630 and, unlike the parish registers, these tax records were kept throughout the civil war period. Originally kept in the "Parish Chest", the surviving documents are now deposited in the County Archives. There was no system of sending copies to the bishop; the parish officers were answerable to their (limited) electorate and to Parliament and King (who was also head of the Church, of course).

The rate was a simple property tax, based on the rental value of the property and often set at one shilling per pound sterling. Records therefore show the names of all the householders (and of their landlords) and the rent; as such they are perfect for establishing continuous occupation over a period of years. A resident may feature several times a year for thirty years, but only generate three or four entries in the parish register over the same period.

Payments to a particular individual might be made regularly but records are more likely to be intermittent. However, they can give valuable extra information, explaining a change in circumstances. In addition, there was a system of "settlement" which assigned everyone to a particular parish, in order to protect against one parish having to support the poor of another. So occasionally one finds settlement orders, granting settlement in a different parish or enforcing return to another.

In between the householders paying rates and those on poor relief, there must have been another large group of working people able to support themselves but living in accommodation provided by their employer. However, the division between rich and poor is actually not as clear cut as might be expected since rates were paid even on very small plots of one or two acres. Some such ratepayers also feature in the list of people receiving help.

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Baptist records e.g. Smarden Baptist

In theory, all such records were handed over to the civil authorities for safe keeping in 1837. Many non-conformist communities resented this unequal treatment (parish records were retained by the churches) and kept their records, illegally, and then found it impossible to hand them in at a later date. Consequently many such registers have been completely lost. Smarden Particular Baptist chapel had an old record book and a full register for the period after 1837. These are now in the Centre for Kentish studies. If there was an older register, it is now lost.

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Family records

It was common for families to record dates of birth on a blank page in a bible and I have two such bibles, which provide very useful information. There are several collections of photographs, mostly without names, though most of the pictures could be identified by my older relatives. There are also a few letters, though these contain little of relevance.

Since publishing these pages on the internet, I have obtained a lot of extra information from various contacts all over the world, notably on the north American relatives. One family had preserved a number of pictures of my family, all nicely labelled. I had some of the pictures, but without the labels; people never make a note of the names of their close relatives, since they know them all, but cousins of in-laws are a different matter. One mystery picture in my own collection turned out to be my own grandfather, effectively disguised by having his hair slicked back with "Brylcream"!

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These sources can provide very full information about family relationships and of course are quite precise because it was essential to identify individuals clearly. However, there is no point in making a will unless there is some property to bequeath and in many families there was simply nothing of value. Wills were administered by ecclesiastical courts and in East Kent (Archdeaconry of Canterbury) there were two such: the Archdeaconry court and the Consistory court (nominally under the control of the archbishop and therefore having higher rank). Every parish in the diocese of Canterbury (the eastern part of Kent) fell under the jurisdiction of one or other of these; if a person owned property in two parishes which were in different areas, the Consistory court automatically took precedence. Every diocese had similar arrangements: much of west Kent lies in the diocese of Rochester. In addition the Prerogative court of Canterbury, which had authority over the whole province of Canterbury (i. e. central and southern England), dealt with large estates and those involving property in more than one diocese. Usually what survives is the copy of the will made in the record book at the time the will was proved. These books are preserved in the original probate records of these courts; the records of the lower courts are now kept by the county record offices and the prerogative court records are held by the Public Record Office in London. Some of the local records are copied onto microfilm, the prerogative court records completely so. Finding old wills is actually quite difficult because there is no single index. The "calendars" of each court were produced each year and list every administration sorted alphabetically on the basis of the first letter of the surname, but in date order within these categories. For some dioceses indices have been compiled in book form (mostly printed over 50 years ago).

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Birth, Marriage and Death registers

The present nation-wide system of registration dates from 1837; prior to that records were only kept by the churches and chapels, though after 1810 these provided much more information, similar to the national registers. However, the information in the civil register is only released in the form of a certificate, for a fee.

What are available to search are the indexes, compiled quarterly for England and Wales. The entries are in alphabetical order by the individual's name and show only the name of the subdistrict and the number of the registration district and the page number of the full record. At the Family Record Centre you handle the actual books but images of the pages are available on-line, again through Ancestry. Once you find a relevant entry, you have to pay for a copy of the certificate and wait for delivery before being able to read the rest of the data. This can be highly frustrating if your starting information is at all vague, since there may be a number of possible candidates. Ancestry also provides a searchable index, but this is a work in progress and does not extend past 1910. It also depends on the accuracy of the transcription and of the original spelling, both of which can be a problem.

In my tables the date shows the year and quarter of registration and the location the subdistrict; the district and page numbers are in the last column. It is worth noting that some registration districts overlap county boundaries, which were in places incredibly convoluted, so there is a distinction between the historic/geographical county and the "registration county".

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Census records

Census records are effectively multiple records, containing details on all the residents of a given household and giving the relationship to the head of household as well as age and place of birth, which makes them very useful for tracking families. The records are only opened to the public 100 years after the date of the census, so the latest one now available is for 1911.

The first national census in England was conducted in 1801 and then one was held every ten years but until 1841 no names were recorded permanently. Exceptionally, the census notebooks for the 1801 and 1811 censuses in Smarden have survived; these are in the Centre for Kentish studies. They contain the names of the heads of households and the numbers of occupants in various categories of employment.

From 1841 to 1901 all the census data is on microfilm and copies are available in county record offices and in the Family Record Centre; now they are also available on line, through Ancestry and other companies, with the major advantage that the census data has been transcribed into a searchable database. Even more than with the BMD indexes, though, the original hand-written entries may be incorrect or incorrectly transcribed. Records were originally collected according to "registration districts" and subdistricts, further divided into enumeration districts small enough for a man to walk round and collect the forms. In each of these every house was given a "schedule number", corresponding to the route taken. The information on the forms was then transcribed by this enumerator into booklets of about 20 pages, with one line per person. Subsequently all these booklets were bound up into substantial volumes (called pieces) which themselves were numbered. The pieces generally contained many booklets so the page numbers repeat over and over; to overcome this problem the pages were hand stamped with a "folio number", using a stamp which (automatically?) increased by one for each imprint. To reduce the labour, only the right-hand (odd-numbered) pages were stamped.

I have followed the usual practice of giving references for census entries by PRO class, piece, folio and schedule numbers, for example RG11 946/111 #114. However, for the 1841 census no schedule numbers are shown and they were never used by institutions such as hospitals or barracks, which listed individuals rather than households. In such cases it can be useful also to give a page number (denoted "p"); sometimes I have put "r" after the folio number to show that the entry is on the reverse of the sheet. In one case I found a piece with no folio numbers at all. It was short, so the page numbers were unambiguous. The 1841 census is also different in that the pieces are subdivided; I indicate these divisions by a decimal point.

For the 1911 census the forms returned by individual households were preserved, bound up into books (pieces) as before but without folio numbers. To find an individual household you also need the numbers for the registration district, sub-district and enumeration district, as well as the schedule number, as before. This gets rather cumbersome so to save space I have written the references in the form RG14 4808 50.1.9 #180. This census was opened slightly early, but with a small amount of personal (medical) data blanked out. At present it can only be accessed through the official website or through

The census forms were meant to be filled in on the Sunday to show who slept on the premises the previous night, so the date given is for the Sunday.

date PRO class
6 Jun 1841 HO107
30 Mar 1851 HO107
7 Apr 1861 RG9
2 Apr 1871 RG10
3 Apr 1881 RG11
5 Apr 1891 RG12
31 Mar 1901 RG13
2 Apr 1911 RG14

The information on the census varies slightly from year to year but broadly speaking can be divided into the address, names, relationships and occupations, ages and places of birth. The address is not just the registration district; in the 1841 census it is typically just the name of the village but may also include the name of a road or farm; in the later censuses the full postal address is given, with a house number. Relationships are usually "Head" (of household), wife, son or daughter, though these were not shown in 1841. There was also a column to show marital status, mostly obvious but sometimes informative, particularly when someone is widowed. I have collected all this information together with the occupation into the column headed "description". The final column, "note", I have used for the age and place of birth, information which is very useful for tracking an individual from one census to another.

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Tax records

There are several types of record but I first used the records of Land Tax which are in the Centre for Kentish Studies, for 1780-1820. These records were organised according to the ancient civil administrative system of "hundreds" and "boroughs", rather than the church parishes. The borders of these regions are rather vague as they fell out of use before modern mapping techniques came into use, though older maps show the boundaries of the hundreds. Hasted lists the boroughs in each parish, so a rough translation is possible. The boroughs were quite small compared to the large areas covered by some parishes, so where a borough can be identified it helps to narrow down the location. Smarden is divided between two hundreds, Barkley to the south-west and Calehill in the north. The records give the name of the occupant, the name of the landlord and the tax payable. As with the Poor Law rates, these records are useful for establishing continuous residence.

The hearth tax was a rather unsuccessful innovation in the reign of Charles II; the idea was to collect so much per hearth, so every household was liable to pay (except that a surprisingly large number of hearths were bricked up for the inspector's benefit). The records kept for the year 1664 thus provide a "snapshot" of the community. However, the records are organised by hundreds and boroughs which makes them harder to use. There are incomplete returns for the next couple of years but the act was swiftly repealed.

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Printed books

Various old books record information which may otherwise be lost or inaccessible. I have used:

describing places and listing the gentry and tradesmen
  • Bagshaw's Directory of Kent (1847)
  • Pigot's Directory of Kent
Poll books
listing the voters (with addresses) in the parliamentary elections during the 19th century.
describing the places and the landed families
  • E. Hasted, History and topographical survey of the County of Kent (1797-1801)
  • Francis Haslewood, Memorials of Smarden (privately printed, 1886)
  • Camden's Britannia - Kent, ed. G. J. Copley (Hutchinson, London, 1977): a modern annotated version of the section on Kent translated from the original edition of 1586.

Modern books which I have found useful or interesting include:

Clearly, this is a short and personal selection!

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Record centres

Parish registers and many other historical records have now been deposited with county record offices and in Kent there are three separate locations coordinated by the Archives department of the County Council, which hold the original registers for their area.

All the registers have been microfilmed and these films can be viewed at each centre. The Public Record Office has a huge collection of documents including civil registration of births, marriages and deaths, census records and wills.These are now accessible through

A very full list of all the information resources is available on the GENUKI website.

Research on these national archives has been made much easier now that they are all available online at Ancestry - at a price, of course, but then there are no travel costs or charges for photocopies and the indexing makes it much easier to search for stray relatives who have moved away from their homes. However, you need to confirm all findings against the images of the original hand-written entries.

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Detective story

The starting point for my researches, as well as for my interest in family history, was the family tree given to me in 1952 by my cousin Olive Holdstock, daughter of Frederick Bridge. This started with James Bridge born in 1769, my gg-grandfather. (There were some really big generation gaps!) The information was based on family records; much later I was given the two bibles in which various people had written dates, mainly dates of birth. Around 1970 I started trying to verify the information and immediately ran into difficulty: there were no records of any baptisms and of course the earlier dates were all before the introduction of civil registration. I learned from my uncle, George Bridge, that the family had been strongly nonconformist - baptists, as it turned out. I therefore could not expect to trace the parents of James Bridge. The situation was complicated by the existence of other families of the same name who clearly had had children baptised in church. I therefore decided simply to record all data referring to Bridge (or variant spellings of the name) and try to disentangle the families. I worked fairly systematically through the parish registers for Smarden and Ashford and the surrounding area. After eliminating the other lines, this left me with some deaths and just a few marriages, in particular one for Robert Bridge and Elizabeth Fuller in 1764. Were these my ggg-grandparents?

The next step forward was to search for wills in the calendars of the church courts: at the time I did this they had not been filmed, so I was reading the original manuscripts! I found two which were directly relevant, one for James Bridge (which simply confirmed the information I had) and one about a hundred years earlier for Stephen Bridge the Elder, which named his three sons: John, Robert and Stephen. Since I had noted the marriages of three Stephens, two Roberts and a John, this was a useful pointer but not conclusive.

Then I started looking for non-conformist records, many of which have been lost. The material available through the record offices did not contain anything of use. However I discovered that the Particular Baptist chapel in Smarden (the Tilden chapel) still had posession of two old books of records. These were then in the care of two old ladies in the area who were delighted to show them to me. (The books have since passed into the keeping of the county record office.) I found many references to membership and several records of deaths, which consolidated the information I had on Stephen the Elder and his sons. It also showed that James Bridge had been a member, which helped tie things together. But there was nothing on James's parents.

The county record office had another little gem: the census notebooks for the 1801 and 1811 censuses in the parish of Smarden. These should not have survived; the first four censuses were supposed to be simply head-counts with no personal information put on record. The two notebooks contained the names of all the heads of households, along with the numbers of male and female occupants and the numbers "in trade" and "in agriculture". Here I found the name of Robert Bridge, with a household of four. Then one of the librarians suggested I search the records of the Land Tax for which they had records from 1780. This showed that Robert had lived in Smarden continuously, from 1780 to 1810. There were also several references to the preceding generation which tied in well with the dates of their deaths.

At this stage I had the marriage of Robert and Elizabeth in 1764 and James's birth in 1769. The gap was filled when I followed up another line. There are a number of printed poll books recording the names of voters in elections from 1832 on: these showed a Robert Bridge in Sandhurst. The 1851 census showed him to be living with his married daughter, Sarah Munn. It also gave his place of birth as Smarden and his age as 84, so that he was born in 1866/7, neatly in between the other two dates. Later I found that Sandhurst also has a Particular Baptist chapel and that there are unusually full and well preserved records. These gave the details of Robert's three children. His marriage was recorded in the parish register, but nothing else. There were a number of baptisms for the children of James and Ann, and one birth in the Baptist records, but since James died before 1851 I could not find his place of birth.

About this stage I started looking in the news groups and as a result exchanged e-mails with Roger Bredin, who gave me a lot of information about his ancestor Richard Bridge, coming from Wittersham. Roger believed that Richard was the son of Simon but there was no record of an infant baptism. There were however three adult baptisms, for Richard and James and later for yet another Robert. All three had been baptised in the year before being married; maybe the vicar had insisted on this as a condition of conducting the marriages. For all three their ages were recorded. For James and Richard it was noted in the margin that they had been brought up as "Anabaptists", which means literally "no baptism". (In fact the Baptists practised adult baptism and so did not follow the normal practice of baptising their infant children.) For Robert it was simply noted that he was the son of Simon and Anne. Since I had already found the marriage of Simon and Anne in Smarden, and also found Simon in the 1801 census, it became clear that the families were linked. The 1851 census showed that Simon had been born in Smarden about 1773. So now we had three births following the marriage of Robert and Elizabeth: pretty clear evidence of a family, especially with the evidence for adherence to the Baptist faith in each case. It was also clear that the youthful James in Wittersham was the same one I had previously found in Sandhurst. Maybe he went to work for his uncle.

The youngest son of Robert, Joseph, was born in 1787, 22 years after Robert and Elizabeth were married. Such a large gap means that one must find good supporting evidence for the relationship. As for the other sons, there was abundant evidence that Joseph was a Baptist; he and his first son appear in the Smarden Baptist records. The proof was provided by a signed photograph in my grandfather's album which gave both name and address (in Lancashire); the 1871 census immediately identified Mary Anne in the picture as the daughter of William who had been born in Omerden, Kent, the son of Joseph. There is no such parish! However, Omerden (or Omenden, or Ummerden) is a real place: there is an Omenden farm in Smarden and Omenden was the name of a borough in the hundred of Barkley, which overlaps the southern part of Smarden. (The organisation of the country into "hundreds", subdivided into "boroughs", goes back to Anglo-Saxon times and the system was used for the civil administration well into the 19th century: I had seen it used in the Land Tax records where both Robert and his son James were listed as tenants in "Omenden".) So Mary Anne was the grand-daughter of Joseph and also evidently a relation of my grandfather, Walter; the simplest explanation is that they were first cousins, Joseph being the youngest brother of Robert.

My most recent researches have been into the Poor Law records, starting with Smarden and working forward from the start in 1630. I had not realised how useful these could be, but even if I had, I would not have expected that they would provide the answer to a seemingly impossible problem: who was the father of Stephen Bridge the Elder? I had not been able to find any record of baptism and the situation was made much more difficult by the large number of Bridge families then living in the area - Stephen had too many possible parents, rather than too few. Poor law records do not show family ties so I could not expect them to answer this question. I just hoped to find some reference to Stephen which would show how much land he held, if any. In fact, he turned out to own a small plot (about 6 acres), with a tenant Ralph Dawkins, paying a rent of £3. Previous entries for Ralph showed that he had occupied this same plot for several years, but with a change of landlord: Stephen Bridge was preceded by "John Bridge's heirs"! Presumably he came into his inheritance on reaching the age of 21; he married a couple of years later. JB's heirs feature in the records for the previous 12 years, so it seems that there are other heirs to find and there ought to be records of the "administration" of the estate, even if there is no will. So that is next on the list of things to do...

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