Shropshire Routes to Roots
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2. Political and economic sources
What types of political and economic sources are available?
In running the economy, governments and companies have always created lots of official documents, ranging from censuses to court records to official maps and plans. These give basic factual information, such as when roads were built or the names of people in a place. Just as politicians use facts to justify their policies, so historians use specific factual sources like these to build up a more general historical picture and to prove their arguments.
A few types of factual-based sources are given below. Underneath each heading there are links to those parts of the Shropshire Routes to Roots website which explain in more detail how to interpret a source and how to extract historical evidence from it.
All these sorts of sources can be found in Shropshire Archives, whilst some can also be found in your local library. This list is only a broad overview. There are many more categories of sources not mentioned here. Visit the Shropshire Archives website (opens in a new window) to find out more.
For guides to using official records to get historical information, see:
Today, most people go through school, college and university to gain the skills they need to do a job. In the past, however, the more common and, under The Statute of Apprentices 1563-1814, almost the only way of learning a trade was to become apprenticed to a skilled labourer. An indenture was signed, binding the young person into the care of a person or family for whom they worked for a certain period of time, usually until they were 21.
There are two types of indenture: those issued to poor children, sent to work in order to get them off Parish support, and those issued by guilds. Shropshire Archives holds Poor Law and Parish records (as explained under 'Official documents'), as well as the records for various companies. There is no central register of indentures or apprenticeship agreements - apart from 1710 to 1811 when the Inland Revenue imposed stamp duty on all indentures - so do not think that if you can't find a document for a particular person that this definitely means they were never apprenticed.
Since 1801, a census has been carried out every ten years in the United Kingdom. The census attempts to count every person in the country and collect information from every household such as the number and names of people in a house and the jobs they did.
For historians, a census is an important piece of evidence because comparing censuses allows them to find out how an area has changed over time and who used to live there. However, no census is completely accurate. In the early censuses, the enumerators were not always totally literate and meticulous. Some people may want to give false information, for example, if they are evading the law. Even in the 2001 census about 1 million men went 'missing' or uncounted, whilst the results showed 'Jedi' was apparently a religion practised by 390 127 people. Imagine what a historian in 200 years time would make of that!
Shropshire Archives holds microfiche copies of all the census enumerators' books for Shropshire for the seven censuses between 1841 and 1901. However, you may also find some census data for the area in which you live at your local library.
For an example of how to use a census to get information about a place, see:
Maps and plans
Maps have got increasingly complex and detailed over the years. The earliest map of Shropshire was Saxton's map of 1577. This early map was very small scale and it is hard to get any useful topographical (landscape) information from it.
Following the establishment of the Ordnance Survey, from 1814 the systematic mapping of much smaller areas of Shropshire was begun. Shropshire Archives holds paper or aperture card copies of geographical maps and other types of maps and plans at various scales, from 1:50 000 right down to 1:500.
For information on studying maps, visit the themes:
For guidance on how to 'read' a trade directory and the drawbacks and benefits of using one as a source, see the theme:
ContinueFind out about social history and commentary sources: Next
Page created April 2004 and last updated 13 July 2007