Researching the Family History of your Agricultural Laborers. Hands up all those who have agricultural laborers also known as ag labs in their family tree? Yep I pretty much could have guaranteed that 95% of you would be sat reading this with your hand in the air! And for those who didn’t raise their hand don’t feel left out because you will have an ag lab or two in your genealogy – you just haven’t found them yet.
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So many genealogists find ag labs and form a picture in their minds of someone who works in the fields caring for the crops or looking after the farm animals and then moves onto “more interesting” ancestors. But the point of this post is to get you to look, and I mean really look, at your farm workers and research them properly because they almost certainly left a paper trail which is now in the archives and online.
Plus I want to point you in the direction of some books that will help you with your research and also assist you with understanding what the life of these ancestors who make up a great part of most people’s British ancestry was really like. Their blood runs in your veins, their DNA is part of your DNA and I think that alone makes it important for you to record them properly on your family tree.
Researching the Family History of your Agricultural Laborers – the records
Here is a quick list of records that you should research for your agricultural laborer families
- Civil Registration – Birth, Marriage & Death Certificates
- Parish Registers – baptism, marriage, burial records
- Cemetery Records
- Poor Law Records
- Wills & Probate Records – just because they had few belonging doesn’t mean they didn’t want to hand them onto their family
- Apprenticeship Records
- Tithe Maps & Papers
- Settlement Papers
- Bastardy Bonds
And the list could go on and on. I have placed links to posts which more fully explain the records. Some records I haven’t, as yet, written about – watch this space!! Many of these records are available online and I have noticed in the last year that the big genealogy companies, mainly Ancestry, Find My Past & FamilySearch, are digitizing a wider range of records now that they have scanned all the census and parish registers for the county for which they have the contract. The learning curve might be steep with some of these records, but very worthwhile.
Researching the Family History of your Agricultural Laborers – Books
The Village Labourer by J L & Barbara Hammond.
This set of 2 small books was first published in 1911 and has run through many re-prints as it is regarded as essential reading for genealogists, local historians and scholars of British history. My copy is of the 1948 edition and looks very tatty, but has more than earned it’s place on my bookshelf. Not only does this book cover the life and work of the village laborer, but is gives a wonderful overview of life in a village over the centuries.
Amazon has copies for sale second hand – prices starting at just $4. CLICK HERE to purchase. If you are happy to download a copy then Amazon has a Kindle edition of a 2008 edition for $4.86 CLICK HERE to purchase.
Village Records by John West
Another book that has stood the test of time and has been reprinted many times. I have a copy of the original edition of 1962, but Amazon still has copies for sale of the latest edition (1997). John West takes you through the records generated by villagers and village life from Saxon times through to the 19th century. Excellent for it’s Glossary and Terms Lists. CLICK HERE to access the book on Amazon.
Now onto two modern books.
Agricultural Labourer – from the “My Ancestor was ….” series.
Ian Waller is meticulous in his research and explanation of the various documents that the average agricultural laborer ancestor would have generated. Once you know what records are sitting in the archives waiting for you to research them you can then search Ancestry, FindMyPast and similar website to see if they have the contract to digitize the archive. If it is unclear who might have the records online then a quick email to the archive themselves will soon let you know. CLICK HERE to access the book both printed and Kindle on Amazon.
Tracing Your Pauper Ancestors by Robert Burlison.
It is almost certain that your agricultural laborer ancestors and their families will have been forced to turn to the holders of the Poor Rate for help at sometime in their lives. A poor harvest for the farmers, an accident, illness of wives and children all could result in the poorly paid ag labs to find themselves without work and without a home. Wages were so low that saving any money was an impossibility for families so the downhill slide into the workhouse could happen very quickly.
Mr Burlison’s book is very readable and gives good oversight of the systems in place for paupers and also of the paperwork, and there was always plenty of paperwork (!!), that asking for assistance generated. CLICK HERE to learn more and purchase Kindle or printed editions.
Researching the Family History of your Agricultural Laborers – Summary
I hope this post has inspired you to research more fully your agricultural laborer ancestors. You will be rewarded for your efforts and as more and more records come online a complete picture of their lives can be built. Your ancestors who worked so hard on the land deserve to be recorded and placed proudly on your family tree.
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