London was unique, being not just the political and administrative centre of the British Isles, but also for many years England’s primary port. Until the 19th century it was also a major manufacturing centre.
London has always been noted for its cultural diversity, attracting immigrants from distant lands in a way that no other British city could equal. Even in the middle ages, London attracted people of every rank and occupation from all over the British Isles and continental Europe in large numbers.
London grew rapidly during the early modern period from an estimated population of 120,000 in 1550 to 490,000 in 1700 and 900,000 in 1800.
At the beginning of Elizabeth I’s reign (1558–1603) less than 4% of the population of England and Wales were Londoners; by 1700 this proportion had risen to nearly 10%. By 1750 London was the largest city in Europe and for most of the 19th century the largest city in the world. It is estimated that during this time migration into London was at least 10,000 people per year. Not everyone stayed many moved on to other places or returned from whence they came.
Victorian London sprawled miles beyond the old limits of the medieval city. ‘Greater London’ a collective term for those suburbs that lay beyond the old county boundary, incorporated areas that were traditionally thought of as part of Essex, Middlesex, Surrey and Kent.
While the city grew wealthy as Britain's Empire expanded, 19th century London was also a city of poverty, where millions lived in overcrowded and unsanitary slums.
By 1800, 20% of the British population spent part of their lives in London. Two thirds of London residents were born outside the city, a trend that continues to present times.
At the time of the 2011 census London’s population was recorded as over 8,000,000, making it the most populous municipality in the European Union, and accounting for 12.5% of the UK population. Currently London has a diverse range of peoples and cultures, with over 300 different languages spoken within its boundaries.
Researching any 'urban' ancestors can be a challenge but London has its own special problems due to its incredible size and number of parishes it contained. Additionally most people lived in rented accommodation and moved fairly frequently.
British Origins London collections
Origins have a large diverse selection of millions of records and aids for those researching people in Greater London.
- London Apprenticeship Abstracts 1442-1850: Children from all over Britain became apprenticed to the London Livery Companies. These abstracts (summaries) contain a plethora of genealogical information relating to these individuals.
- Poor Law Abstracts (for the City of London) 1742-1868: Among the most valuable of all sources for genealogists, Poor Law records can contain a mass of biographical detail (including place of origin) oftimes unavailable anywhere else.
- London & Middlesex Marriages 1538-1837: This is an ongoing project to index marriages for the City of London and Middlesex. Jewish, Roman Catholic and Huguenot marriages are included in this dataset.
- Surrey Marriage Index 1500–1846: Index to all the parishes in West and rural East Surrey. There are also a substantial number of entries from Middlesex parishes for the period 1813-1837.
- Middlesex & London Baptisms Index 1538-1882: The Middlesex Baptisms dataset records over 140,000 baptisms (over 399,700 names) in Middlesex and London which are not included at Familysearch.org as part of their former International Genealogical Index.
- Greater London Burials 1545-1909: These indexes cover the City of London, Middlesex and South London (metropolitan Surrey) parishes, and include well over half a million burials. The indexes are covered by two searches:
Middlesex & City of London Burials Index 1560-1909 and South London Burials Index 1545-1905.
- London Consistory Court Depositions Index 1700-1713: The Consistory Court of London was one of numerous Church Courts, which dealt with among other ecclesiastical matters, with matters of morals. It had jurisdiction over the whole of the bishopric of London – which included London, Middlesex plus parts of Hertfordshire and Essex. People from all walks of life appeared as witnesses in these cases and are included in this dataset.
- Association Oath Rolls 1695-1696: After an attempt on the life of King William III, an Act of Association required all office holders to take an oath, vowing to help preserve King William’s person and government. This dataset covers the City of London Livery Companies 1696 plus Association Oath Rolls for Surrey 1695.
- To discover more about the places where your ancestor resided, Origins - Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, originally published in 1895 includes over 25,000 individual entries and articles plus historical information, county maps and plans of major cities including London and its environs. Of particular interest is the information given about churches and other ecclesiastical establishments in the various parishes; providing invaluable help in identifying the locations of original records for places associated with your ancestors.
- Wonderful London: Published in 1926 this browsable volume contains over 1200 original photographs taken of London by photographers of the day.
National Wills Index London collections
- Archdeaconry Court of London Wills Index 1700-1800: The Archdeaconry Court of London was one of the London church courts that dealt with testamentary matters. The index of over 5,000 records, mainly from the first half of the 18th century, also contains numerous records of mariners.
- British Record Society Probate Collection 1320-1858: The indexes in this collection show the names and dates of several million wills and other probate documents. Spanning more than five centuries across Britain, the indexes show you where to go to find the original documents.
- Court of Husting Will Abstracts 1258-1688: Indexed abstracts (summaries) to wills proved in the Court of Husting 1258–1688. This was a civil court, which had probate jurisdiction within the ancient City of London from medieval times through most of the 17th century when it became obsolete.
- London & Middlesex Will Abstracts 1700-1704: A complete summary of all details contained within each will. They are all taken from original wills and cover the following courts: Archdeaconry Court of Middlesex, Archdeaconry Court of London, Commissary Court of London, Consistory Court of London and Peculiar Court of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral.
- Surrey & South London Will Abstracts 1470-1858: Fully indexed abstracts of every Surrey will known to still exist, over 29,800 abstracts. The index includes names of over a half a million people mentioned in these wills. Free text search of the abstracts.
- Surrey PCC Will Abstracts 1736-1794: Transcripts of original manuscript abstracts to wills for Surrey testators proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) 1736-1794. The PCC was the senior and most important of the pre 1858 ecclesiastical courts claiming over-riding jurisdiction over the whole of England and Wales. Wills of those dying overseas were also usually proved in the PPC.
- Surrey Peculiars Probate Index 1660-1751: An index to Wills, Administrations and inventories in the Peculiar Court of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Deanery of Croydon (Surrey) 1660-1751, which included the Surrey parishes of Barnes, Burstow, Charlwood, Cheam, Croydon, East Horsley, Merstham, Mortlake, Church Newington, Putney, Roehampton, Walworth St Peter and Wimbledon.
To search or discover more about these datasets visit www.origins.net
offers subscription access to a wealth of unique and hard to find datasets, dating back to the 1200s from Britain and Ireland.
Collections include: Marriages, Burials, Baptisms, Electoral Registers, Census records, Apprentice records, Poor Law Abstracts, Passenger Lists, Griffith's Valuation, Court records, Militia records, Directories PLUS the National Wills Index
– the principle online resource for pre-1858 English probate material.