Now What? A Noble Query

By Paul Milner Premium

Q. Are Debrett’s Illustrated Baronetage and Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage considered reliable references? How about ones that are no longer printed, such as Burke’s Extinct & Dormant Baronetcies (1811, 1985) or Lodge’s Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage el Companionage of the British Empire for 1911? And if these are not reliable, is there a way of getting access to records that are verifiable?

A. To be able to tie your family line in to the titled families of Great Britain is a genealogist’s dream. Let’s first address who will be in these types of books, and then how to use these volumes.

Noble titles descend in rank in the following order: royalty (king, queen, prince, princess), archbishops, peers (duke, marquis, earl, viscount, bishop-lords spiritual, baron) and gentry (baronet, knight, esquire, gentleman). The most reliable source for titled families is The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom: Extant, Extinct or Dormant by George E. Cokayne, published in 13 volumes between 1910 and 1959. An addition, The Complete Peerage: Volume XIV Addenda and Corrigenda edited by Peter W. Hammond, was published in 1998. But this volume isn’t in many collections. This series focuses on the titleholder, not the family. A transfer in title is common if the holder died without children.

Depending upon the time period you’re researching, focus on the probate records: They generally reconstruct the living family. You can go from there into church records and civil registration to confirm birth and christening, marriage, death or burial dates. The majority of these records are available on microfilm through your local Family History Center (see <>). It’s important to document each link in the family tree thoroughly. Do not assume that because you have proven one link that it all must be correct.

The content of the books for titled families will vary as the family changed throughout time, so check multiple editions. The majority of these books contain errors such as missing generations, women married to the wrong men, children omitted and incorrect dates. A family line didn’t have to be proven before inclusion. So use these books as a road map for your research — if the information is correct, it will be easy to document.

From the February 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine.