Frequently Asked Questions about people

A series of frequently asked questions about the information held by the Parliamentary Archives on particular individuals.

The definitive list of names of Members of Parliament is published in the 'Return of Names of the Members of the Lower House of Parliament of England, Scotland and Ireland, with Name of Constituency and Date of Return, 1213-1874'. The list is by constituency and there is an index by name of MP, although party affiliations are not given. This publication can be found among the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, HC 69 (1878). You may be able to find this near you if you have access to a large reference library which holds a set of House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, or it can be consulted in our Westminster searchroom.

The National Archives holds a series of Parliamentary Election Writs and Returns in their collection of Chancery and Lord Chancellor's Office: Petty Bag Office and Crown Office papers. The series contains nearly all parliamentary writs to secure the election of Members of the House of Commons, and the returns made on them and dates from 1275. You can find more information on their online catalogue.

Comprehensive biographical details about MPs for most periods (although not all) between 1386-1832 can be found in the 'History of Parliament' which is a biographical series you may be able to find in a reference library, or can be consulted in our searchroom. The History of Parliament contains brief biographies of MPs researched in many cases in painstaking detail. Many are now also available on the History of Parliament website.

For the period 1832-1979 see M. Stenton and S. Lees, 'Who's Who of British Members of Parliament', 4 vols (The Harvester Press, 1976-1981) which contains brief biographies including constituency and party affiliation. You may be able to find these books in a library or they can be consulted in our searchroom. Very prominent dead politicians will have an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which is available in good reference libraries or online by subscription (check your local library).

For the period 1979-2010, see Members of Parliament 1979 - 2010 (House of Commons Library, 2011).

For the names of MPs and also unsuccessful candidates, plus further information such as numbers of votes, consult the following reference books available in a good reference library or in our searchroom: 'British parliamentary election results', compiled and edited by F.W.S. Craig. There are volumes covering 1832-1885, 1885-1918, 1918-1949, 1950-1970, 1974-1983 and (edited by C Rallings and M Thrasher) 1983-1997. They are organised by constituency. The same data from 1983 onwards is available online. About a third of the way down the page it says 'Election results from the general election of 1983 onwards are in these files...' and it breaks them down by area.

Details of current peers can be found in 'Who's Who' in a good reference library. In addition biographical information on the Peerage in general and deceased peers can be found in good reference libraries in directories such as 'The Complete Peerage', Debrett's, or Burke's Peerage.

There is a list of past Prime Ministers and other information about them at the 10 Downing Street official website. Biographies of dead Prime Ministers can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography available in good reference libraries. 'Who's Who' will contain details of living holders of the office.

We do not have a single photograph collection of all MPs, Peers or staff members, only assorted pictures scattered across various collections - search our online catalogue Portcullis. In particular we hold a selection of photographs of nineteenth century MPs and peers, an album of photographs of the new intake of MPs in 1945, and the photograph collection of the Parliamentary photographer Gerald Pudsey dating c1948-1983. However these are by no means comprehensive. Parliament has its own Works of Art collection which includes photographs, paintings and sculpture, contact the Curator of Works of Art Office. You could also try an organisation which specialises in portrait pictures, such as the National Portrait Gallery. The NPG has a very useful searchable website - you can search for names as sitters in pictures they hold, and for pictures by specific artists.

The Chapel of St Mary Undercroft is off Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster. Subject to conditions, Members and staff of both Houses of Parliament are eligible to get married in the Chapel. Eligibility for marriage or baptism within the Chapel is also available to direct descendants of members and current staff. The Parliamentary Archives holds three Baptism Registers for the Chapel, dating from 1904-1924 (our reference LGC/11/1/1), 1924-1955 (our reference LGC/11/1/2) and 1955-1966 (our reference LGC/11/1/3). Although the earliest of these volumes is titled as the Baptism Register for St Stephen’s Chapel, it does in fact record baptisms in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft as St Stephen’s was actually destroyed in the fire of 1834. If you're seeking a baptismal entry for these dates, contact us and you can come in to look at the registers, or order copies. The Baptismal Registers after 1966 are kept in the Chapel. Marriages held in the Chapel have always been entered in the Marriage Registers of St Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey and are in the custody of St Margaret's. Those wishing to obtain information from these registers or certificates of baptism or marriage should contact St Margaret's Church.    

Senior staff of the House of Commons and House of Lords in the 19th and 20th centuries may be listed in published Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) at the start of each session. Hansard can be found in hard copy in large reference libraries, or can be consulted here (the staff lists are not in the online digitised historic Hansard). The same lists can also be found in published annual directories such as Dod's Parliamentary Companion and the Imperial Kalendar. The Parliamentary Archives does not hold sets of these publications but they are available in The National Archives and the British Library.

There have been various other biographical lists published of senior Parliamentary staff including the following. Brief biographical information about Clerks (the most senior administrative staff) in the House of Lords are published in 'The Parliament Office in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries' by J C Sainty (House of Lords Record Office, 1977) and 'The Parliament Office in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Biographical Notes on Clerks in the House of Lords 1800 to 1939' by J C Sainty (House of Lords Record Office, 1990). Biographical entries for Clerks in the House of Commons are published in 'Clerks in the House of Commons, 1363-1989: a biographical list' by W R McKay (HMSO, 1989).

For other staff who were employed by the House of Commons administration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Parliamentary Archives holds a few items of possible interest although recent files may be closed under the Data Protection Act 1998. They usually consist of records such as salary registers. Detailed personnel files were not preserved. They are not catalogued by name, but usually by department (e.g. Serjeant-at-Arms, Clerk of the House, Speaker's Office): search for records with the reference HC/FA/FO (Commons' Fees Office records) in our online catalogue Portcullis.

For House of Lords staff, the best source is the House of Lords Offices Committee Reports, which mention the appointment and retirement of many staff at all levels, including cleaners, doorkeepers and messengers. These are published as House of Lords Sessional papers and as such may be found in large reference libraries. The archive set can also be consulted in the Parliamentary Archives. The reports from 1933 onwards are catalogued under ref no HL/PO/DC/OF and have internal indexes. Earlier reports are under ref no HL/PO/CO/1 - you will need to visit and go through these yourself to see if there is any mention of an individual. We also have one volume of pension records (HL/PO/AC/6/7) which dates from the mid nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries. The volume, which is organised alphabetically, records the pension details of members of staff in the House of Lords, showing date of birth, address, position, salary, pension, retirement date, length of service and date of death.

We hold some records of former Clerks of both Houses, for example Thomas Erskine May (1815-1886) - search catalogue reference ERM; John Hatsell (1733-1820) - HAT; Courtenay Ilbert (1841-1924) - ILB; John Brown (1608-1691) - the Braye Manuscripts, BRY.

For journalists working in the House, see the records of the Parliamentary Press Gallery (PRG).

We do not hold information about staff (e.g. secretaries) working for MPs or peers, as these staff were privately employed by the MP or peer, and not employed by the House of Commons or House of Lords.

Although we do hold records (plans, drawings, etc) about the building of the New Houses of Parliament in the nineteenth and twentieth century, few of these records relate to the men who worked on the building. A rare example of when we may have records which will be of interest to you is if your ancestor worked as an architect or draughtsman and spent some time working in the office of Charles Barry during the building of the new Houses of Parliament in the nineteenth century. For example, we have some drawings by George Penrose Kennedy and Octavius Moulton-Barrett who both worked in Barry’s office for short periods.

We may also have some records if your ancestor ran a company which was given a contract to do some of the work on the building, for example, the stained glass work, or the ironwork. However, responsibility for the Houses of Parliament as a building lay with various incarnations of the Office of Works and Ministry of Works between 1378-1992 and their records are held at The National Archives, so you may find more there.

If you're looking for an ancestor who worked on the Clock Tower (or Big Ben), Edward John Dent was awarded the contract for building this part of the Palace and his company, Dent, still exists. The historic records of the company are held by Guildhall Library Manuscripts and administered by the London Metropolitan Archives. Back to Top

The main type of record in which individual people are likely to appear before Parliament is the Evidence on Opposed Private Bills. We have a database of names of witnesses who gave evidence to Parliament on opposed private bills (legislation for the building of railways, roads, canals and so on). Each entry shows an occasion on which they gave evidence to Parliament on a bill, for which there is a transcript of their evidence. This then enables you order up the evidence itself. The witness database can be searched online. If you want to know more about private bill witness evidence generally there is a publication about it, 'Witnesses before Parliament: A Guide to the Database of Witnesses in Committees on Opposed Private Bills 1771-1917' (1997). If you want to buy this please send us a cheque made payable to 'House of Lords Account', for £3 (which includes UK postage).

Apart from private bills, if your person gave oral or written evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons on a particular subject, this may have been published by the Committee along with its report. Recent (c1997 onwards) committee reports and evidence may be found on the Parliament website. Older committee reports and evidence are published among House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, which are available online via subscription from large libraries such as the British Library or university libraries, or contact us. Back to Top

Parliament is visited by hundreds if not thousands of people every day for many different reasons - for example, constituents seeing their MPs, tourists on tours, visitors attending banqueting functions or other events, or simply private visits to MPs, peers or the thousands of staff working in the building. Unless they were visiting for an official purpose (e.g. giving evidence to a committee - for which see above), very few of them leave any trace in records here. You can put the name of your person into our online catalogue on the offchance, but there is unlikely to be any surviving records about them.  Back to Top

Up until 1844 foreigners wishing to become British subjects (the process known as naturalisation) had to do so by private act of Parliament.  You can search our online catalogue Portcullis  for naturalisation acts (see I want...the text of an Act of Parliament).  Please note that as some acts naturalised many people at a time, not all their names are always listed in the act title, so it may be necessary to consult a separate printed index.  These indexes, published by the Huguenot Society and covering the period 1603-1800, can be consulted in the Archives searchroom.  In 1844 this procedure was simplified and the Home Office began to grant certificates of naturalisation itself.  These records are now in the National Archives:  series HO 1 covers the period 1844 to 1871 while HO 344 covers the period 1871 onwards.  Related correspondence is in HO 1, HO 45 and HO 144.  An index is also available at the National Archives.  Returns of names of aliens issued certificates of naturalisation can also be found printed among Parliamentary Papers between 1867-1962, covering the period 1854-1961 (see I want...a Parliamentary Paper).  Back to Top

Votes before the Ballot Act 1872 would have been announced by voters in public to the returning officer for each constituency and noted in the constituency poll book. These poll books were then transferred to the custody of the local Clerk of the Peace, so if they survive will now be found among the records of county or borough record offices.  Most large public libraries have published collections of poll books - the largest of these is at the Institute of Historical ResearchBack to Top

Many people believe they are descended from one of the regicides (the men who signed the Death Warrant of Charles I). However this is rarely the case, and bearing the same surname as one of the regicides does not prove a relationship. All the regicides have been researched in detail and their biographies can be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography  (subscription in libraries). Facsimiles of the Death Warrant are available for purchaseBack to Top

It is the Crown and not Parliament which makes these awards so for more details you need to write to: The Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, St James's Palace, London SW1A 1BH or search the London Gazette online. An honour does not entitle a person to sit in the House of Lords. Peerages are not honours; there is more information on the directgov websiteBack to Top

Parliament does not award Civil List Pensions; they are granted by the monarch from the Civil List upon the recommendation of the First Lord of the Treasury. However, a list of all the new civil list pensions granted each year is laid before Parliament, giving the name of each person, the amount and a brief reason for the grant. These lists may be found among the Main Papers of the House of Lords and the Unprinted Papers of the House of Commons. You can find them by searching Portcullis  for 'civil list pensions' and the appropriate year or year range. Make a note of the reference and contact us for a copying quote or to make an appointment to see the file.

The Civil List itself is a sum of money paid each year by the government to the monarch for official duties. The overall financial details (not the list of pensioners) are published through most of the 19th and 20th centuries in the annual 'Finance accounts of the United Kingdom', printed among House of Commons Parliamentary PapersBack to Top

There is a small room in the clock tower now called the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) which used to be a prison cell. It is sometimes asserted that the suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst was imprisoned there. However there is no evidence whatsoever in the Parliamentary Archives that this ever happened and it appears this is an urban myth. The Parliamentary Archives holds police reports on suffragette activity in the Palace of Westminster, and there is nothing in any of them about any suffragettes being imprisoned anywhere on the premises; suffragettes who were arrested onsite were taken to Canon Row police station to be charged, or were simply evicted from the building without being charged. One well-known occupant of the Big Ben prison cell was the atheist MP Charles Bradlaugh in the 1880s, who may have been the last person imprisoned there.

For information on women MPs, women ministers and legislation passed by women past and present, see the House of Commons Information Office factsheet Women in the House of Commons (PDF PDF 333 KB). For other lists and information about women in both the House of Commons and House of Lords, see the website of the Centre for the Advancement of Women in Politics. You may also be interested in the section on Women and the Vote  on Parliament's Living Heritage website.

The main archive in the UK for women's history is The Women's Library. However students of women's history will find relevant archive material in the Parliamentary Archives including legislative records, petitions, commitee papers and administrative records, although it may require some detailed research to identify, for example finding a relevant series and then browsing for women's names. In particular anyone interested in the suffragettes may wish to use our collections of early 20th century private papers, especially the papers of Lloyd George (LG) and Bonar Law (BL) which contain correspondence from and about the suffragettes. Search our online catalogue Portcullis for more details.  Back to Top

We hold the historic records of Parliament, meaning records created by or presented to the House of Commons and House of Lords. We therefore only have material on a particular family or individual if they came before Parliament in some way (e.g. if they gave evidence to the Commons or Lords about a bill, if they were the subject of a name change, naturalisation or divorce bill, etc) or possibly if they were members of staff. We do have some collections of personal papers, but these tend to be papers of prominent Parliamentarians or other people connected with politics. You can find more information on this website about our holdings relevant to family history. To locate family records such as birth, marriage and death certificates, wills, and the census consult The National Archives. To locate collections of personal and family papers you need to search the National Register of Archives.You might also find it worthwhile to contact local record offices in the area where your family lived.  Back to Top

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