The series of books known as the Victoria County Histories are a goldmine for family historians and those interested in local history. The series started in 1899 and the project was dedicated to Queen Victoria hence the name. It was a massive undertaking to write a complete history of the land, places and prominent people of each English county, but the Victorian were ambitious people and obviously the founders of the VCH thought it could be completed. I think they would be surprised to find that the project is still being worked on and completion is a little way off.
The model for each county was that the topography, geology, flora, fauna and history would be covered, each area was to be written by a eminent specialist and the books were to be scholarly. Each set of county books ran into several volumes and most large libraries subscribed and still subscribe to the series.
What is in Victoria County Histories for the genealogist?
The volumes of interest are the ones in which the county is broken down into parishes. Each parish contains a history dating back as far as it is possible to go, even back to the Domesday Book of 1086 if it was recorded. There is mention made of prominent buildings such as the vicarage or rectory, the manor house and other landowners homes.
The history and lists of the inhabitants of the manor or manors within the parish, and the history and incumbents of the church. Mention is also made of any chapels attached to the parish church and also any non conformist meeting houses or chapels. Descriptions of charities set up to administer monies and properties left, often for the relief of the poor of the parish, in the wills of parishioners are recorded. Mention might also be made of any mills and fisheries within the parish.
There are also often sketch drawings of the church, manor house, coats of arms etc.
Where can Victoria County Histories be found?
Most major libraries will have the histories for their county and some may have a complete run of all counties published so far. County Record Offices will almost certainly also have copies. Copies of the histories can be purchased from the Institute of Historical Research who now run the project. However the cost per volume can be as much as £100.
The British History Online website offers copies of the volumes on the internet free of charge and this is the main source that most genealogists use. Simply put the name of the parish you are interested in the search box on the front page of the web site, click and then scroll down the list of hits and chose the one that says “A History of the County of …..”. This will take you to the relevant page.
These histories will give you much valuable background information on the parishes in which your ancestors lived and worked. Occasionally you may even find your ancestors named and if they were holders of manorial rights then a line of succession to those rights will be listed. Take a look at these parish histories and I am sure you will soon be including them in your files for all your families.