The 15 best websites for 18th century family history

Jonathan Scott delves into the online resources for researchers tracing their family tree back to the 1700s

View along a residential street in Westminster, central London.

The 18th century was bookended by taxation.


The window tax was first introduced at the very end of the 1600s.

It was essentially an income tax that consisted of a flat-rate house tax of 2s per house, and a variable tax imposed on dwellings with 10 or more windows.

The century drew to a close with the first proper income tax of 2d per £1 on incomes over £60.

Read the full version of this article and much more expert family history advice in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine January 2020

Records of taxation represent a sliver of the wide variety of resources out there for family historians who have worked back to the 18th century.

There are all kinds of local-level census substitutes, from parish chest records and muster lists, to documents generated by the electoral system and local courts.

Remember that you may need to familiarise yourself with some of the tricky abbreviated Latin terms that were in use.

It’s also a good idea to read online guides to deciphering old handwriting.

1. London Lives

London lives

London Lives brings together 15 datasets formed from all kinds of documents housed in eight London archives.

Click the ‘Lives’ page to explore case studies of ordinary, poverty-stricken or pauper Londoners whose lives have been reconstructed, such as Charlotte Dionis (born 1761), a disabled foundling named after the parish in which she was abandoned.

The searchable records include parish-level and Poor Law material, alongside records of hospitals and guilds, plus various court and coroners’ records for the City of London, Middlesex and Westminster.

Even if you can’t find your ancestor, the site provides insight into life in Western Europe’s first million-person city.

2. ScotlandsPlaces

Scotlands Places

ScotlandsPlaces represents a gateway to the 1700s north of the border.

You’ll find house plans held by the National Records of Scotland, town and county maps from the National Library of Scotland, and a collection of drawings held by Historic Environment Scotland.

Perhaps the most useful of the various tax records here are the land tax rolls spanning 1645–1831.

Also called cess or valuation rolls, these were compiled for each county, listing landowners and assessing the rental values.

Other tax rolls include the carriage tax (1785–1798), clock and watch (1797–1798), female servant (1785–1792), male servant (1777–1798), window (1748–1798) and dog (1797–1798).

You can explore the records by place name, map or postcode.
3. Apprentices’ Indentures

Apprentices' Indentures

This is just one example of the 18th-century datasets available through Ancestry.

The records in the collection ‘UK, Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710–1811’ were kept by the Inland Revenue, noting the duty levied each time a master took on an apprentice.

Until around the mid-18th century the apprentice’s parents’ names were included, as well as the name and address of the master, the trade and of course the name of the apprentice.

Masters did not have to pay stamp duty on Poor Law apprentices, and records of these normally survive at local archives.
4. The Cause Papers Database

The Cause Papers Database

This is a searchable catalogue of more than 14,000 cause papers relating to cases heard between 1300 and 1858 in the church courts of the diocese of York.

Right up until the 19th century, church courts had jurisdiction over cases involving matrimony, defamation, tithe, probate, breach of faith and church rights.

This database allows you to live and breathe the more ordinary, day-to-day trouble and strife that our ancestors endured – from slander and legal disputes, to drunkenness and adultery.

A search by my own surname led to a case of brawling parishioners from 1702, witnessed by a 30-year-old namesake from Whenby.
5. Old Maps Online

Old Maps Online

This is a portal to digitised historic maps from the British Library, Oxford University’s Bodleian Library and the National Library of Scotland, alongside smaller archives.

Click the ‘Browse the old maps’ button, then move the red square over the part of the UK that interests you.

The sidebar will automatically list all of the maps that cover your chosen area.

There’s also a date slider if you want to narrow your search to within the 1700s.
6. Expert’s choice: Old Bailey Online

Experts choice Old Bailey Online

The Justice Hall of the Old Bailey, 1794 (Credit: Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/ Heritage Images/ Getty Images)

Chosen by Anthony Adolph, editor of Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors:

“While the 18th century might conjure up images of balls, pump-room fashionistas, scarlet-uniformed soldiers and elaborate courtships, there is no better place to go for an un-romanticised window on life at the time than Old Bailey Online.

“This database of digitised trial transcripts contains such a vast body of detailed accounts of crimes that it remains endlessly fascinating.

“The transcripts originally ranged from 1674 to 1834, but were later expanded up to 1913.

“They now number 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.

“Although the website is old, it still works well and there are many ways to explore the data.

“You can search by name, which will lead not only to defendants, but also to victims, witnesses and officers of the law. You can search by single and combined keywords, or narrow the results by offence, verdict or sentence.

“For example, selecting ‘Transportation’ from the drop-down menu allows you to explore the thousands of cases that ended in transportation to America, and later Australia.

“You can also discover the different punishments meted out for various types of criminality over time.

“While many of the cases are harrowing, bloody or scandalous, there are also hundreds of examples of petty crime.

“The homepage includes an ‘On this Day’ box, which, on the day of writing, included a case from 1793 when ‘William and Elizabeth Hitchins allegedly stole all the furniture from their rented lodgings, while their landlady, Hannah Fisher, was ill in bed.

“That would be an interesting addition to any family tree!”

Go further

7. Arley Hall Archives

Sample the detailed archives from a thriving 18th-century Cheshire estate.

8. British History Online

The ‘Search’ page lets you narrow the primary and secondary sources available here by period.

9. Digital Panopticon

Explore records from about 50 datasets relating to the lives of convicts, 1780-1925.

10. FamilySearch

Filter this list by place and date to see the 18th-century resources available in a particular area.

11. TheGenealogist

Highlights include 58,000 militia muster records from England and Wales.

12. Historical Directories

Explore city, town and county directories on the University of Leicester’s website.

13. Monumental Inscriptions

Antique volumes of memorial inscriptions will contain 18th-century inscriptions that have long-since faded. These examples come from the Kent Archaeology Society’s website.

14. The National Archives

TNA’s helpful guides are particularly good for getting to grips with military resources.

15. Welsh Wills


Search wills proved in Welsh Ecclesiastical courts prior to 1858.