Locating Ancestors in Audley and Surrounding Areas

Stan Brassington & Pat Spode

            Until the early 1800s, Audley was basically an agricultural area with some industry but during the nineteenth century the balance shifted to make it mainly an industrial centre, the key factor being the deeper mining of the local coal.

            In 1800 the population was just over 2000, with a steady increase to 6,500 in 1861 and a more rapid rise to 13,000 in 1901.  Newcomers came from Wolstanton, Chesterton, Knutton and Silverdale, probably bringing mining skills, but in even greater numbers from the more rural areas of Barthomley, Betley, Wybunbury, Madeley and Keele.

            The main township growth was in Talke, Halmer End and Bignall End around existing and new collieries, whilst Eardley End, Knowle End and Park End saw little change.

            By 1861 the occupational structure was roughly 40% mining, 20% farming and 40% other occupations.  The latter figure includes all those whose services were required to house, clothe and provide food and drink for a growing township, plus a surprisingly large number of domestic servants.

            Basically, if you have family links with Audley then you will find that your research leads you down one of two paths, either tracing families that have been in the parish for up to 400 years or following a family line  in Victorian times.  Luckily for the researcher, “foreigners” to Audley rarely travelled more than 10 miles to take up residence in the village and even as late as 1861 accounted for less than 10% of the population.  However, you may still be one of the unlucky ones whose ancestors came from Malpass, Tarvin, Liverpool or Ireland.

            Incidentally, many tradesmen or professional people came from further afield, especially with regard to police officers, schoolmasters, doctors and excise officers.

            The ecclesiastical centre of the area was the parish church of St James, with a chapel of ease at Talke, which became the centre of its own parish in 1859.  The earlier Talke records are included in the records of Audley church, the later ones are deposited at the County Records Office.

            The records of Audley church are fairly complete from 1538 onwards, with the exception of the Commonwealth era (1649-1660).  The original records before 1860 are at the County Records Office and are available on film for general viewing.  For the period after 1860 the records are still held at the church.  The Audley & District FHS has indexed and transcribed copies of the church records to 1910.

            From 1800 Nonconformist chapels were founded throughout the parish, eventually totalling over 15 in number.  Records relating to these chapels are to be found in a variety of locations, depending upon the branch of Nonconformity and the circuit to which a particular chapel belonged, which can mean a trip to Chester, Stafford, Newcastle  library, Hanley library, or even a person’s home.

            Newspapers covering the Audley area were, first, the Staffordshire Advertiser, which can be seen in Keele University library, and later the Evening and Weekly Sentinel, the latter being more useful as it tended to give more coverage to rural areas.  The Evening Sentinel, on film, can be studied in Newcastle and other main libraries.

            So if you are beginning the life-long task of tracing your family tree, knowing that most of your ancestors were linked with Audley and the neighbouring parishes, how do you tackle the problem?

            First, gather all the information that you can from elderly relatives, family friends, family literature such as bibles, funeral cards and all the collections gathered over that years that all too often end up in the dustbin with the death of the owner.  (Watch out for “cheating”, often for reasons of respectability - or honest mistakes - such as wrong dates on gravestones.)

            If you can trace an ancestor back to 1891 then your problems are on the way to being solved.  This is the date of the last census to be published, being the final one of a series compiled every 10 years back to 1841.  Each census, on film, is available at Newcastle library, the County Record Office and various other locations.  The easiest way, however, is to use our society transcriptions, which are also indexed.

            The census returns show who was living in a particular house when the return was made, their relationship to the head of the household, age, occupation and place of birth.  There are omissions, mistakes and falsehoods, but basically it is a very valuable source of information.

            From 1837 onwards, births, deaths and marriages had to be registered.  This sounds like the answer to all problems, but there are pitfalls.  Audley registrations can be checked and certificates obtained from the Rural District Registrars at Sidmouth Avenue, Newcastle, but some Audley people may have been born, buried or married outside the area.  The Family History Centre at the Mormon church in the Brampton can help here because they have the index to all the registrations in England and Wales and, once you have discovered your particular relative, will send off for a certificate on your behalf.  You could travel to London, join the scrum at St Catherine’s House, and obtain your certificate, with some delay, from there - at much greater cost!

            From 1837 back, you are basically dependent on the parish church records, which I mentioned earlier.  There are a few problems: missing entries due to fading ink, a forgetful vicar, or, in the time of the Commonwealth, a refusal to accept the minister appointed by the government and the type of service he was ordered to use, especially for marriages.  A 45% mortality rate amongst young children means a careful check in the deaths register, with a wary eye watching for the naming of a later child with the same Christian name as a previous child who died very young.

            Also included in ecclesiastical records are wills, which had to be sent to and administered by the church authorities at Lichfield.  These can be viewed at the Lichfield Records Office, or they will send a photocopy of the relevant will.  Puzzles concerning families, feuds and disinheritance can often be solved in this way.

            Two special helps for the local researcher are probably unique to the area.  The first is Richard Parrot’s survey of the parishes of Audley and Talke, written in 1733.  It is a summary of the houses and people going back over a period of about 200 years, with beautiful snippets of information about the characters he is portraying.  There is a copy in Audley library.  The second is William Kelsall’s pedigrees, an antiquarian exercise, drawing up many family trees in North Staffordshire and South Cheshire.  The earliest pedigrees start about 1530 and may go up to 1760.  The original book of about 800 or so pages is in the Staffordshire County Record Office, but gradually members of our society are copying and transcribing some of the longer entries.

            The final aid to discovering your ancestors is a world-wide one.  It is the International Genealogical Index (IGI) and contains, on microfiche, a summary of all the entries for the British Isles taken from parish records and the same, wherever possible, from all over the world.  For the United Kingdom it is still not complete, although Staffordshire is fairly well covered.  The national version is available at the Family History Centre in the Brampton and Newcastle library, and the Staffordshire part at Audley library.

            If your ancestors strayed over the border into a neighbouring parish, then transcription of their registers, up to about 1800, can be found in Newcastle library, or in our society records for several of these parishes.

            If, having read this article and spoken to your oldest relatives, you want help in making the next step, we will be pleased to see you at a meeting of the society.  See the Introduction for details.

Audley Family History Society - List of Records Held Sept 1995

Audley census:

            1841-1861 - Transcribed and also stored on computer

            1881 - Transcribed

            1891 - Fiche

Audley Parish Registers:

            1538-1910 marriages

            1538-1909 baptisms

            1538-1914 burials

Audley and Betley Wills:

            List of those held at Lichfield

Barthomley Census: 1851 & 1871

Betley Census: 1851-1881

References to Betley in Collections for a History of Staffs & Calendar of        Charter Rolls, in date order.  1227-1640

Betley Parish Registers 1538-1802

Chesterton census:

           1841 - transcribed

           1851 on: forthcoming

Keele Parish Registers:

            1543-1812 marriages

            1540-1712 burials and baptisms

Madeley Parish Registers:

            1567-1812 marriages

            1567-1775 burials and baptisms

Talke Census:

            1891 (fiche only at present)

Monumental Inscriptions:

            Central Methodist Cemetery, Bignall End

            Independent/Congregational Chapel, Halmerend

            St John's Church, Alsagers Bank

            Audley Church

            Talke Church

Selection of family trees from the Kelsall Pedigrees + list of names to be      found in the Pedigrees

Thesis: "The Nailmaking Industry in Audley..., c1550-1750" by L.Williams.          Univ. Keele, MA in Local History, 1993

Books containing a varied assortment of lists of names concerning Audley and district, including:

            "Strays" in surrounding parish registers/censuses


            Seat holders in parish church

            Fatalities in local colliery disasters

            Rates 1701 and various volumes of rate books from 1880s

Next - Audley customs and celebrations