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Tracing Gamekeeper Ancestors

Advice from NGO Historian, David S Jones

The National Gamekeepers' Organisation was formed in 1997 to protect and promote the interests of working gamekeepers and others involved in the shooting industry. We are a relatively young organisation and do not hold any historical records relating to gamekeepers, gamekeeping, or sporting estates. Furthermore, as far as we are aware no national register of gamekeepers was kept at any time in the past, a popular myth which circulates amongst family and local historians.

As the NGO is primarily concerned with promoting modern day gamekeeping, we are not geared up to helping individuals with historical enquiries, however, if you are tracing an ancestor who was a gamekeeper, you may find the following general information helpful:-

1) Obvious sources of information

Before starting upon your search for a gamekeeping ancestor do not overlook basic family records e.g. Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates; Baptisimal and Burial Records; Censuses: Wills. All of these documents will mention the profession of at least one party involved and should confirm whether or not the person was a gamekeeper. They will also state the usual place of residence of the person, often naming both the house and the village.

2) Contact elderly relatives

Having established that your ancestor was a gamekeeper, try talking to elderly relatives to see if they can remember where he worked and who his employer was. Many gamekeepers changed jobs at least five times during the course of their working life, therefore do not be surprised if you are given details of a number of different employers or sporting estates.

3) Estate records

If you are able to trace the sporting estate where your ancestor worked, you may be able to find out more about his career from any estate records which may survive. Broadly speaking, estate records are held either at the local County Records Office, by the actual estate or in some instances at a university or other academic institution. Be prepared to pay an enquiry and a search fee if you seek information from any of these bodies.

4) Gamekeepers Deputations

A very small proportion of gamekeepers who worked in England between 1710 and 1900 are listed as manorial gamekeepers on Gamekeepers Deputations which were kept by the Clerk of the Peace for a county. Some of these deputations still survive and are lodged with Quarter Sessions Records at the relevant County Records Office.

5) Other sources

In times past it was not uncommon for a gamekeeper to be mentioned in a local newspaper or in the records of a nearby Magistrates Court in connection with poaching prosecutions. These documents, again, are likely to be found at the local County Records Office.

The National Gamekeepers' Organisation wishes you the best of luck with your research.