The Militia Ballot List Index
The Society’s project was to transcribe and edit to a standard the militia ballot lists of Hertfordshire, dating from 1758 to 1786 and, exceptionally, until 1801. They are the closest thing we have to a census for the period.
Hertfordshire has an exceptionally complete collection of these lists. They have been now fully transcribed and edited. Initially, each ballot area was issued in booklet form, 112 booklets containing over 280,000 records, but are now available on CD and fully searchable (see Publications). A ballot area usually equated to a ward of a large town or to a rural parish.
In order to create an index and make the lists usable, those registered on the lists are presented in alphabetical surname order.
The Records as Indexed
The standard of the original lists varies considerably in the amount of information given and in the standard of literacy of the Constable. The names listed, being in a series, are susceptible of editing to a standard and, since the main users of this work are expected to be family historians, this has been done, using so far as practicable, without making undue assumptions, the generally accepted local spelling throughout but giving an indication of original variations in spelling where appropriate.
Occupations have been listed as given, even though some are usually regarded as being synonymous. To do otherwise would have meant making assumptions as to a person’s position in the community (Had a perukemaker a better class of trade than a wigmaker? Similarly for a cordwainer with a shoemaker or cobbler?). The Constables were often not concerned with the technicalities of trade descriptions. Apparent changes of occupation (farmer to labourer to yeoman) probably indicate changes in relative social standing of that person and the Constable for the year.
Generally speaking, any names deleted from the list and still legible are noted and all details likely to be of use to the family, local or social historian are included. It should be noted that a servant is not necessarily a domestic servant (who are usually noted in greater detail): he is far more likely to be a farm servant, unmarried and “living in”. When married and “living out” he became a labourer.
Caveats: It is not always possible to ensure that all entries under one name do actually relate to the same person. After several years of exemption a man might again become liable as his children grew up or died, or the name reappearing may be that of his son or other relative with the same Christian name. Given the varying standards of compilation of the original lists, it cannot be assumed that the absence of a name in any particular year necessarily meant that the person concerned had left the parish. These must be points for the historian using these transcripts to determine. Farm servants, particularly, hired for a year, would regularly move from parish to parish. Hiring fairs were commonly held at Michaelmas when many a young, unmarried man, or woman, for that matter, would move on to somewhere else.