There’s nothing like the thrill of a new untapped source of records with the potential of finding hitherto unknown information or, even better, some new family members to add to the tree. So when I came across a little known online collection today for the County of Devon I felt it was worth sharing.
It contains 25,000 names from the Devon and Exeter Oath Rolls in 1723.
The Oath Rolls list the people across the county who swore their allegiance to King George I before the Justices of the Peace.
The Friends of Devon’s Archives (FoDA) transcribed the records and published them online with funding from the UK's Heritage Lottery Fund. According to the FoDA website, the Oaths were found among Devon’s Quarter Sessions records stored in the County’s Record Office in Exeter.
Indexes and transcripts
There is no search function for the Oaths, however, it very easy to determine whether ancestors signed the documents as the DoFA has created three indexes, namely:
Transcripts of Documents – a listing of the Oath documents by their official record number in the Devon Record Office.
Surnames Index – An alphabetical list of family names with hot links to names from A-Z
Parishes index – An alphabetical list of parishes where Devonians signed the Oaths before the Justices of the Peace.
The Oaths have been transcribed and indexed according to the actual spelling used in the original documents so checking for variant spellings is recommended.
Given many people had to travel to take their Oath, it is possible, perhaps even likely, that an ancestor’s parish is not listed in the index. It is therefore worth looking beyond an ancestor’s own parish to those nearby where Oaths were taken.
Following is an example of the information transcribed from the Oaths Rolls signed at The Dockyard in Stoke Dameral parish where my own ancestors lived:
Richard Edgcombe, clerk of Kelly [Signed]
William Salmon, clerk of Milton Abbot [Signed]
Elizabeth Salmon, wife of William Salmon clerk of Milton Abbot [Signed]
The website provides an excellent analysis of the data extracted from the Oaths and it reports, among other things, that signatories came from a broad spectrum of the social classes.
Viewing original Oath Rolls
The online collection does not include images of the original documents. Viewing the originals requires a visit to the Devon Record Office in Exeter. However, if you find an ancestor in the indexes and transcripts, you will have the correct file number to order when you visit the Archives.
If contemplating a visit to Exeter, it is worth noting that the original documents have been assessed as “large, cumbersome, and occasionally difficult to read due to centuries of wear and numerous corrections and crossings out”. According to FoDA, the original records also lack any systematic order and have numerous corrections and crossings out.
25,000 records might not seem many when we have become accustomed to the big commercial database companies publishing hundreds of thousands or even millions of new online records at a time. Nevertheless, this collection represents approximately one in five of Devon’s population at the time they were created and is well worth a look.
I was delighted to find two definite direct ancestors in the Oaths and half a dozen probable relatives that require further research to prove or disprove a family connection.
If you found an ancestor or two in the Oath Rolls, I would love to hear about it in the Comments Section below.
Your Family Genealogist
Pictures : courtesy of Pixabay