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Research your house's history

Precise addresses are a modern development and names for houses have often changed over the years. In some towns, street numbering may also have changed.

The sources in the Essex Record Office are most likely to help you find the names of house owners and occupiers, but it is not usually possible to find when the house or any part of it was built.

Most of the documents useful for house history are catalogued and can be found and ordered on this site. You may find that a search for the name of a property finds only a few references or none at all. The catalogue description is a brief guide to the contents and not necessarily a complete list, e.g. a map may show your house, but the description does not mention or any other houses on the map. It is advisable to search for the name of the parish to see what other sources may be helpful to your research.

  1. Ordnance Survey maps
  2. Tithe (D/CT) and enclosure (Q/RDc) maps and awards
  3. Other maps
  4. Census
  5. Electoral registers
  6. Sale catalogues
  7. Other records
  8. Copying documents

1. Ordnance Survey maps

House searches generally start with Ordnance Survey sheets. From the 1870s to the 1930s there are sheets at a scale of 6 inches and 25 inches to 1 mile. For some town centres there are first edition sheets at a scale of 120 inches to one mile. You should be able to identify your house or the land where it stands. These are a good place to start as an area can appear very different on a map without the later housing development shown and it can be easier to go from this to earlier maps. We do not hold complete sets of Ordnance Survey sheets. Some more recent Ordnance Survey maps may be available at local libraries in Essex. Please ask a member of staff for assistance with maps when you visit.

2. Tithe (D/CT) and enclosure (Q/RDc) maps and awards

The Tithe Act of 1836 led to the conversion of tithes (literally the tenth part of the produce of land and stock given to support the clergy) payable to the parish church to a rent charge on the property. Most of the parishes in Essex were surveyed in the 1830s and 1840s and in many cases the first complete map of a parish was produced.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was a move to enclose land. Where this happened the tithes would often be commuted at the same time and if there is an enclosure map, there will not always be a tithe map. In many counties there are as many or more enclosure maps than tithe maps. In Essex enclosure mostly only affected the north-west of the county.

Each field and property on a tithe or enclosure map has a number and this matches a number in the award. Having identified the property or piece of land, the award has the name and description of the property, cultivation (e.g. arable, pasture), the acreage and the names of the owners and occupiers.

The original tithe and enclosure maps have been photographed to save damage to the original documents and it is not normally possible to view the original of a map. The awards can be found by searching for tithe or enclosure, award and the name of a parish. Many of the tithe awards have been transcribed and these can be easier to use than the originals.

Digital images of many of the enclosure maps have been added to Essex Archives Online and CD copies of these maps can be seen at the Saffron Walden Access Point.

Before the Tithe Act some landowners reached private agreements with parishes to commute tithes and this land may not be shown on the map. Land that belonged to the parish did not pay tithes and this land may also not be shown.

3. Other maps

Chapman and André's map of dates from 1777 and is on a scale of 2½ inches to the mile. Larger buildings will be shown on this. Copies of this can be seen in the Essex Record Office Searchroom.

Estate maps were commissioned by landowners to show their lands and date from the late 16th to the 19th century. As landowners were interested in their own lands, maps can often cover parts of several adjoining parishes rather than the whole of one parish. A search for map and the name of a parish will locate all the older estate maps deposited here. The description should state that the areas covered include the east of one parish or the north of another and this should give enough information to identify maps covering the area of interest. Digital images and photographic copies may be used instead of the original map but this information will appear in the description on Essex Archives Online or when you try to order the original.

Deposited plans (Q/RUm) are plans of railways, canals, turnpikes and other utilities. Deposited plans of railways may show some of the adjoining properties and the accompanying awards give brief details of the landowners. These can be found by a search for deposited plan and the name of a parish.

4. Census

The first census in Britain was in 1801 and has been held every ten years since, with the exception of 1941. All census records are closed to public access for 100 years. Until 1841 the census recorded only totals of populations in different areas. The first to record names, ages, addresses and occupations of individuals was in 1841. From 1851 the census also included family relationships within a household and a place of birth.

Census returns are indexed and can be searched on Ancestry or FindMyPast - both of which can be searched for free if you visit the Essex Record Office or any library in Essex. We also have microfilm copies of the Essex returns for 1841-1901. For 1851 no returns survive for the Dunmow registration area.

Some early census returns for individual parishes have survived and have been deposited in the Essex Record Office and a search for census and a date or a place would locate any entries.

5. Electoral registers

Electoral registers can be used to find further details of the owners or occupiers of a property. The earliest registers date from 1832. It is important to remember that the right to vote has not always been universal and individuals may not appear because of this.

Electoral registers can be found by searching for the phrase electoral register and the place name. You can specify a date or date range to refine your search.

6. Sale catalogues

We have an extensive collection of sale catalogues from the late 19th century onwards. These can include catalogues for particular properties, and also the sale of land for building or the sale of particular developments.

7. Other records


Your own house deeds may tell you more information about previous owners and it may be helpful to look at these before you start your research. Deeds have also been deposited and can be located by a search. Remember that your house may have changed its name and even address so try searching for alternative names or even generally for deeds in a parish.

Manorial records

Properties until 1925 could be held either as freehold, leasehold or copyhold. Copyhold properties were held from the lord of the manor by copy of the court roll. Land could be bought and sold or bequeathed as normal, but the transfer of ‘ownership' occurred when the land was surrendered to the lord of the manor and the new ‘owner' was admitted. Deeds can include these surrenders and admissions. The manorial court rolls and later books would record these details and it is possible to trace individuals in court rolls and also the ownership of property. Manorial surveys will list all the copyholders of the manor and rentals the rent paid. Before 1733 all court records, including manorial court records, were kept in Latin. A search for manor and the name of the parish, with, if necessary, a date range will locate any relevant documents.

Estate records

A property may originally have been part of a large estate. In these cases it is possible that records of the estate, including rentals, surveys, maps and leases, may contain references to the property. Histories of the parish or other local information will help to identify large houses in the area. If the records of an estate have been deposited you can use the Browse Catalogue feature to look for records.


Rate books were kept listing all those paying rates. From the late 19th century these can be found as part of local authority records. Before this individual parishes were responsible for collecting poor, church and highway rates. These rate books are in parish collections (D/P). A search for rates and a parish name or local authority area name should locate any rate books.


Land Tax assessments (Q/RPl) have been deposited and are available on microfiche in the Essex Record Office and at Colchester and Southend Libraries. These cover the years c.1780-1832 and list owners or occupiers, with a brief description of the property and the tax payable. The records of the hearth tax (Q/RTh), 1662-1673 have also been deposited, with copies available. These list the name of each owner or occupier and the number of hearths in the house. Both the land tax and hearth tax are arranged by hundred (ancient divisions of the county).

Building plans

From the late 19th century building plans for a property may survive. These were submitted to the local authority for approval under their bye-laws. A search for the street or house name should locate any building plans.


If you are able to trace the owners of a property it may be worthwhile checking to see whether there are any wills for that surname as these often contain details of bequests of land and property. A search for a name and will should locate these. All original wills [those with a W in the reference] and registered wills (those with an R in the reference] have been deposited. Microfiche copies of registered wills are to be used in the Essex Record Office, with copies of the microfiche available at Colchester and Southend Libraries and at Saffron Walden Access Point.

Some may have digital images attached. The printed volumes Wills at Chelmsford list the wills alphabetically by surname and can be seen at any of the offices and in many reference libraries.

Licensed victuallers

If you are trying to trace the history of a public house, or a house that was formerly a public house, the licensed victuallers' records can be helpful. From the 16th century to 1828 these were part of the records of Quarter Sessions. The returns from 1769 to 1828 (Q/RLv) have been digitised and can be seen on Essex Archives Online. In 1872 licensing was resumed and applications were then made to local magistrates. Magistrates court records (P/) have been deposited and may include registers of licences. An Advanced Search for licences and alehouse beerhouse should locate all registers of licences.


These can be useful for tracing the owners of larger properties or tradesmen, although they do not list all inhabitants in a place and give only brief details of addresses. We do not have a complete series but directories for a number of years from 1823 are available. The Local Studies Library, Colchester Library, Trinity Square, Colchester CO1 1JB also has a good series. Websites can include transcribed directories. Sometimes these may be complete for a year or for a particular town.

8. Copying documents

It is possible to provide photocopies from documents where the original will not be damaged by the process. Where documents, especially maps, are too large or fragile to be photocopied, we can produce digital images. Contact the Essex Record Office Reprographics Service at for further information about copying.