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Protestation Returns for Family History

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide if you can trace your ancestors back to 1642, and you know which country and parish they live in.

You might also find this guide useful is you’re interested in a locality generally.

2. What are the records?

The Protestation Returns are the closest record we have to a census from 1642. By order of the House of Commons, all adult men were asked to swear an oath of allegiance to the Protestant religion in 1642. Their names were duly inscribed in a list in each parish, and the list sent back to Parliament. In a few areas such as Cornwall, people wrote their own names, and women were included. But usually a local official wrote out all the names. The Protestation Returns survive for about a third of English counties.

3. What information do the records contain?

The Returns are a list of adult male residents’ names for a specific parish. Occasionally other information such as names of recusants (ie. those who refused to attend Church of England services), churchwardens and local government officials are given.

4. How to get started?

The Returns are organised by country, then town or parish. To find a Return, search our online catalogue using the search box at the top of this page. Enter the parish or county your ancestor lived in.

Then use the left-hand toolbar to narrow your results. Select ‘Protestation Returns’ from under the subheading ‘Category’.

Alternatively, you can also use our online Map Search to browse a geographical area.

The online catalogue also has a map view. Enter the word ‘protestation’ into the search box at the top of this page. Then, use the left-hand toolbar to change the view to ‘Map’.

5. How to access the records?

We have digitised all the Protestation Returns we hold. These images have been attached to the relevant catalogue record on our online catalogue. To access the images, use the instructions above.

You can access the documents in our search room, but first you will need to identify the document(s) of interest to you and made a note of their catalogue reference. Use the instructions above to get started, then visit our Plan Your Visit page.

We can produce copies of most documents in our care. For more information please see our Ordering Copies page.

6. Records online?

We have digitised all the Protestation Returns we hold. See sections four and five for how to access the records.

7. What records are held elsewhere?

If the Parliamentary Archives does not hold any protestation returns for your county, you could try your local county record office in case any were kept locally. Also, it may be worth contacting your local history society, as some have transcribed and published their own Protestation Returns. The following very useful publication describes all surviving Protestation Returns and their location: ’The Protestation Returns, 1641-1642, and Other Contemporary Listings‘, compiled by Jeremy Gibson and Alan Dell (Federation of Family History Societies, 1995.