How to look for records of... Villages and the countryside

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a brief guide to researching records of villages and the countryside. This guide will help you to identify some key sources of information which will help you with your research.

What do I need to know before I start?

Try to find out:

  • the name of the local parish
  • if the village you are researching has been known by any other name
  • if there have been any changes to county names and boundaries in the area you are researching

A village is usually described as a centre of population with an area less than 2.5 square kilometres (1 square mile). A village will always have a church, whereas a hamlet is usually defined as a small, isolated group of houses without a church.

The National Farm Survey was instigated by the government in 1941 to provide data for post-war planning. It was perceived as a ‘Second Domesday Book’.

The National Parks Commission for England and Wales was appointed in 1949 under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of the same year.

The origins of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may be traced to a chartered society, the Board of Agriculture. This body was formed in 1793, dissolved in 1822, and then revived as the English Agricultural Society in 1838 (renamed the Royal Agricultural Society of England in 1840), and inspired the Tithe Commutation Act 1836, the Copyhold Act 1841, and the Inclosure Act 1845.

The 1919 Forestry Act gave the Forestry Commission the general duty of promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation, and the production and supply of timber in the United Kingdom.

Online records

Historical Directories (1750–1919)

Search the University of Leicester’s Historical Directories website for local and trade directories describing rural communities and their principal inhabitants.

Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

Tithe maps and apportionments from 1836

Search Discovery, our catalogue for tithe maps (IR30) and apportionments (IR 29) by place name.

National Farm Survey (1941–1943)

Search our catalogue by parish name for records of individual farms (MAF 32). Associated maps are in MAF 73.

Records of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 1386

Browse our catalogue for records created or inherited by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food in MAF.

Records of the Rural Development, National Parks, Countryside and Forestry Commissions from 1910

Browse our catalogue for records of the Rural Development Commission in D, the National Parks and Countryside Commissions in COU and the Forestry Commission in F.

Records in other archives and organisations

Local authority records

Consult records of local authorities and parishes in local archives and libraries. Use Find an archive to find their contact details.

The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.

Other resources


Visit A Vision of Britain Through Time for maps, statistical trends and historical descriptions of places in Britain between 1801 and 2001.