Sources for Medieval Research

Started by Pam Wilson (on hiatus) on Saturday, October 5, 2019
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10/5/2019 at 10:44 PM

As one of the curators working in the medieval European section of the Geni World Tree, I'd like to start a running discussion about how we are finding and can find the most historically accurate research material.

I've seen many discussions among Geni users who want to base decisions on web trees they find online. All of us who work on the historical tree before the 1600s will admit that finding good, easily digestible sources is a definite challenge! However, it's really important for us to take our research up a few notches when we are investigating such a specialized area of historical knowledge. Clearly, it's not for everyone--but some of us find quite a passion for it! You know who you are. <smile>

Let me start by saying there are several layers in this kind of research.

1. One is in finding primary sources, or those as close to the original time period as possible. Many of these are going to have been written in Latin or early forms of other European languages, so they are difficult for the layperson to read and digest. They are important, though!

a. First, you might find original records: Land taxes and feudal surveys, Inquisitions post mortem, Pipe rolls, Taxation and other lists, Common law records, Feet of fines, Chancery and other equity suits, Chancery rolls, Miscellaneous public records (See, for example). You might also find Visitations, which were a sort of census.

b. Second are the chronicles and histories written close to the time period in which they happened. An example is the writing of Orderic Vitalis (1075-c.1142), a monk who chronicled Anglo-Norman history of his time period in works such as the multi-volume "The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy."

2. NOTE: there is an intermediate category here that I want to mention about which you must be a skeptical reader and evaluator. These include the many peerages, such as Burke's Peerages and Cokayne's The Complete Peerage, which provide invaluable data for genealogists but which are not without flaw. Also, Google Books has a trove of digitized history and genealogy books published in the 1600s-early 1900s that are of mixed value. Many are great, but you really have to be discerning especially if it was a genealogy written to boost a particular family's social standing (this also leads to the many cases of fraudulent genealogies of that period).

3. But even primary sources can't always be taken at face value--medieval scholars know how to interpret them and also which are more trustworthy. For this reason, we are very dependent upon the wisdom of modern, contemporary medieval historians, so that leads us on a search for credible and authoritative secondary sources--these are books, journal articles, papers, web sites, databases even discussions on online listservs like gen-medieval (aka soc.gen.medieval) where the medieval historians share their interpretations that might lead us to better understand who was father or mother of whom, who inherited which lordship, and so on.

After doing this kind of research for Geni for ten years now, I've got to tell you that the medievalists don't always agree. What's important to realize is that there's not always a single right answer. Often--quite often--we end up with models of how particular families were *probably* structured--but those are subject to change, and they are often fiercely debated. What to do in that situation? We try to document the debate. We try to explain in the About Overview section (see Overview tab for each profile) what different experts have said, what different primary sources have said, what may be contradictory, and what is the best model for now.

We also have two different "breeds" of medieval specialists.

(a) We have the medieval genealogy folks, who don't all have advanced degrees or doctorates in medieval history but who have been doing it a long time and who are fairly well-respected, although they also feud a lot among themselves. These include (and I'm naming the ones on gen-medieval whose work has been most helpful for me in the Anglo-Norman part of the medieval tree) people like Douglas Richardson, Peter Stewart, Todd Farmerie, Rosie Bevan, Stuart Baldwin, and others. One of the medievalists of this ilk that I most respect is Charles Cawley, who runs the truly amazing Medieval Lands Database on the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy website. His efforts have made these family trees and relationships much more accessible to us all, and he includes quotes from the Latin along with voluminous footnotes. He's also been extremely gracious in responding to email questions about these families. He is a retired British lawyer, I believe.

There seems to be a running animosity (a bit harsh of a word, but at least a disrespect) between some of the American medievalists and some of the British, or perhaps it's just between the egos of various persons in the gen-medieval circle. I came across a long discussion among Wikitree users about the credibility of these specialists. I've noticed that Wikitree tends to be more Douglas Richarson-centric, while on Geni we are more Charles Cawley-centric. But you may enjoy reading it:

(b) On the other hand, there is a vast wealth of knowledge to be found in scholarly (academic) history books and articles. It's important to distinguish (in this medieval period as in all others) between books published by a reputable press that have been peer-reviewed to establish credibility versus self-published books (especially in today's online publishing environment) by people who pass themselves off as historians but who aren't really. (If in doubt, look up the author to find out his or her credentials).

The very most admired person, I believe, in Anglo-French medieval genealogy and history, is a British woman and scholar named Katherine S. B. Keat-Rohan, who has specialized in the families associated with the Domesday Book. She also practices an approach called prosopography, which leads her to look at not just genetic relationships but also larger social and cultural factors that have influenced inheritances and social networks. You have to hunt for her writing, but it's the ultimate, and it has changed many family trees as she has uncovered and reinterpreted the assumptions of earlier works like the peerages. She has a French counterpart named Christian Settipani whose works are also revered.

Medieval history scholars are publishing articles and books every day on various topics, so the best thing to do is to search library databases (if you have access to sites like JSTOR, they are terrific for journal articles) as well as book catalogs (I also find an search to be a great way to find books on special topics).

I just came across a great find today that I'd like to read. It's published by Yale University Press, and it's a book written by a 12th-century Flemish chronicler named Galbert of Bruges who was an eyewitness to the events he writes about in "The Murder, Betrayal, and Slaughter of the Glorious Charles, Count of Flanders" (translated and with an Introduction by Jeff Rider, a professor of Romance languages and literature at Wesleyan University).

Our goal at Geni is to build one well-researched Master Profile for each medieval ancestor on the tree, with documentation (sources) and a historical narrative biography and information in the Overview section. A curator needs to designate a Master Profile, but we rely on non-curators to help with the research and verifying the facts and helping to build the best entry for that person that exists anywhere online. That's our goal! We also have many different projects related to families and events of the Middle Ages in Europe, and these are great for adding history that is bigger and broader than just one person or profile at a time. If you have a special, focused area of interest, you are invited to start a project and gather some collaborators.

So what I'd love is for any of you to share references to books, articles, and websites that you find especially helpful in your pre-1600 research, as well as share any helpful tips for newcomers to this area of research. Also, if curators who work in this area of the tree, as well as some of our experienced medieval researchers who aren't curators, can introduce yourselves, that would be great. We have a lot of really great people who have been helping with medieval profiles and projects over the years, but we don't all know each other. Let us know your special interest areas as well as any special skills or knowledge you might have (like languages--we always need translators to help read Latin, old French, early German, and so on). If you live in Europe and have access to local archives, that's great to know too!

We really need a lot of help with the medieval tree in all areas, so if you want to find a place where you can be very helpful to Geni and also engage in your favorite passion for reading up on medieval history, this may be the place for you!

Thanks for reading!


10/6/2019 at 5:02 AM

Thank you, Pam.

10/6/2019 at 5:41 AM

Thanks for posting this

Private User
10/6/2019 at 7:11 AM

Very nice, thank you Pam!

10/6/2019 at 8:38 AM

Here's an interesting site....

Private User
10/6/2019 at 9:48 AM

Marvin Loyd Welborn, yes and Google books too. Great old books from Harvard and other of the finest university libraries in the world. I love it!

10/6/2019 at 8:56 PM

Mike Stangel, could you please shorten the title of this Discussion to "Sources for Medieval Research"? I realized that the whole title doesn't show in the Discussions list, and I can't find a way to change the title myself. Thanks!

Private User
10/6/2019 at 9:00 PM

Just don't make the common mistake: if it is printed in a book it has to be the truth.
It's not, - it is often the opposite.

Genealogists got paid for giving the on who hired him/her royal/noble ancestors, - and it still happens. You can recognize such lines if the go through the mothers, - in a time period where you never find primary sources on who the mother was.

Private User
10/7/2019 at 8:41 PM

Pam, and others
I can add a few of the resources and methods I use to this discussion.

As you have indicated many references are in Latin or French. For French there is a solution. There is an amazing web site entitled the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, better known as BnF Gallica (Gallica’s home page: For the work I started on the Estouteville Family I came across a book titled “Dictionnaire de la noblesse”. Do this...

1. Enter "Dictionnaire de la noblesse" into Google search and hit enter.
2. Note the 2nd line item has an address that begins That’s what you're looking for. Click it. It opens the French text in Gallica.
3.On the left edge of the screen is a tool bar. The 4th icon down is for page layout. In that tool bar there is a "T". Click it and it open a text box. You will see the text in both boxes the same, in French.
4. In the text box right click and select the command "Translate to English".
5. I know from having scanned through the French text that the Estouteville entry begins on page 557. In the black box in the lower right corner enter 557 and then Enter on your keyboard. Since the entry is in the 2nd column scroll down in the text box until you come to Estouteville, where you will see the English translation.

Many books in Latin has been translated into English such as "The Historia Ecclesiastica" by Orderic Vitalis.

Another source is books that are written on a single-family history. It’s often said that those books are tilted to represent the authors preconceived notions, particularly in French when many books written in the 1800's wanted to have ancient ancestors tied to William the Conquerors invasion at Hastings in 1066. But I find these books, while frequently lacking in research detail, clear and reasonably accurate with respect to descent. For example, also available on BnF Gallicia, the "Histoire De La Maison DEstouteville En Normandie" written by Gabriel de la Morandière.

For French families there are several French language websites (which can be translated in Google) and it only a matter of finding them referenced in other websites:

Racines et Historie:

Helene and Thierry


Chronique de Vieux Marcoussy

A new website that I have found but not yet used was recommended to me by a tree owner on Geneanet, whose tree is wonderfully developed. That is the Roglo Geneaological Database in France, This website it appears synthesizes the entire Geneanet database by users. This tree owner was what Roglo calls a magician, we call them curators. I hesitate to share the name of this magician...

Remember that Google search results are based on popularity, and let’s face it, medieval research is not that popular among anyone not reading this discussion. It may be that your dream link doesn’t show up until page 15 of the search results so dig deep into Google.

Also remember that Wikipedia lists it’s sources. Read those sources, not just the article, they frequently have more information that you could use that the Wikipedia article does not.

Almost every English family needed in our tree has at least one book written by someone who claims descent from the ancients. Many in not most of these can be found on the Internet Archive Digital Library at To name but a few...
- The Booth Genealogy by Walter S. Booth
- Massey Genealogy 2000 by William W. Massey
- Genealogy of the Bramhall Family by Frank J. Bramhall
- Biographical History of the Family of Daniers by Philip Daniel has a compendium of research materials available online (a free account must be set up). There for example I have found the complete handwritten notes and pedigrees hand drawn by Sir Paddy Dunbourne of the Irish Butlers of Dunbourne, wherein he shows the complete descent of the entire Butler clan of medieval England and Ireland.

SOME NOTES ON MEDIEVAL ENGLISH GENEALOGY website has a multitude of links.
Medieval source material on the internet:

Societies and Journals:
I particularly like Journals where you find articles written by antiquarians who frequently develop a unique line of discussion not seen elsewhere, or with more detail than elsewhere. This is where I found the description of the ancient coat of arms for Totnes, one of the original feudal baronies.
- Cheshire Notes and Queries
- The Ancestor
- The Genealogist
- Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire
- many of the English counties have an archeological journal, like The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal

There is a Families section:

I've also had enlightening discoveries from Two sources:

1. (free membership required) has research papers written on very discreet subjects but covered in depth is about 25 pages. The web site notes which papers you download and then makes recommendations to other papers you might enjoy, some reprints of articles found in the Journal of Medieval History, almost to the point of distraction with 2-3 emails per day! For example:

2. St Andrews Research Repository, The University of St. Andrews, Scotland. The University requires submission of an electronic version of theses and then post these on line For example, if you are interested in the Verdun Family beginning in Normandy there is a terrific 307 page theses done by Mark Haggar for his PhD in Medieval Studies located here: (Mark now writes books on Norman/Medieval topics). There are that I have found:
• The counts of Aumale and Holderness 1086-1260
• The Political Ambitions and Influences of the Balliol Dynasty, c. 1210 – 1364
• Henry Percy, First Earl of Northumberland: Ambition, Conflict and Cooperation in Late Mediaeval England
• Llywelyn ab Iorwerth: The Making of a Welsh Prince
• The Life and Career of Stigand, last Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury

One final source, maybe my favorite out of the box thinker, Michael Stanhope and the articles he has written here:

10/9/2019 at 9:37 AM

Thanks for the rich collection of resources and related tips, Private User.

Here is an excellent database for medieval Scotland:

"This is a database of all known people of Scotland between 1093 and 1314 mentioned in over 8600 contemporary documents. It is also being extended to 1371 to include all those lands, peoples and relationships mentioned in royal charters between 1314 and 1371. The People of Medieval Scotland website is an outcome of three projects: The Paradox of Medieval Scotland (2007-2010); The Breaking of Britain (2010-2013); and The Community of the Realm in Scotland (2017-2020), all funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the Transformation of Gaelic Scotland in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (2013-2016), funded by the Leverhulme Trust."

10/9/2019 at 9:52 AM

Also, David mentioned Academia,edu, which is great as it increasingly houses the assorted hard-to-find articles by medievalists, notably the writings of

-Katherine Keats-Rohan for a list, with links)

-Rosie Bevan

10/9/2019 at 10:29 AM

Following up on the Association Roglo that David mentioned (which I hadn't seen before), it appears that it has three categories of users. The "Magicians" are the curator group who can make additions and corrections, then the "Friends of" are the users who can access the entire database (it appears these people must have contributed their own family tree to the database). In addition, they have a certain class of public profiles open to Visitors.

La base Roglo est en consultation ouverte sur un site Web. Cependant on distingue trois sortes d'Utilisateurs :
- les “Magiciens" qui disposent des droits d'accès à la base pour la compléter ou la corriger,
- les “Amis" qui ont donné leur consentement à être présents dans la base, et peuvent en contrepartie obtenir des codes d’accès leur permettant de consulter les fiches des autres personnes consentantes
- et les simples “Visiteurs".
Les simples visiteurs n’ont accès qu’aux données des personnes publiques (nées il y a plus plus de 120 ans, décédées depuis plus de 20 ans ou considérées comme notoirement publiques).

10/9/2019 at 6:57 PM

While i applaud the effort i think rather than a discussion a project would be more appropriate

10/10/2019 at 12:51 AM

Alex, how would you recommend structuring it? I started this from the Medieval Europe project, but we could create another.

10/10/2019 at 1:31 AM

Start a new project, link it to existing ones for visibility, make the name of each resource a heading/hyperlink with a brief description (ie what is being posted here) under each heading.

You could have higher level headings for grouping based on language, or country.

Part of the benefit is that projects can be edited to keep organized, discussions start and then randomly progress.

If you want me to i could probably throw something together over the weekend.

10/10/2019 at 4:21 AM

Livio Scremin Are there medieval Italy sources you recommend?

10/10/2019 at 4:39 AM

Erica Howton does this source can maybe helped and usefull for anyone: -> example: and lots of information is here, and can researching and found on this site.

10/10/2019 at 6:17 PM

Thanks, Erica! I'd forgotten about that one--it's perfect, and already started. Do you or Alex know how to link it to this discussion (and also see if it's a subproject of the Medieval Europe umbrella project)?

Private User, would you like to begin compiling some of the recommendations already on this list onto that project? It will help you learn how Projects work and also how the coding for text entry works (which is the same coding for entering About/Overviews). You can add yourself as a Collaborator to that project.

10/10/2019 at 6:31 PM

Alex Moes and Private User, it looks like it's been about 3 years since Justin added anything to the Medieval Resources Online project, so it definitely needs updating--and please feel free to reorganize/restructure it as you see fit. I like your ideas, Alex. We need general sources for Medieval Research but then we also need country-(or empire)-specific categories and can perhaps subdivide entries by language as needed.

Private User, would you be willing to contribute any of your wisdom to a good medieval source list? Also, Anne Brannen for the Welsh, Sharon Doubell for the Scottish? We have a number of French curators such as Private User and George J. Homs who might add some good French sources. We also need Spanish, Portuguese, Irish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, German, Hungarian, Croatian, Czech, Russian, Polish, Estonian, Swiss, Austrian, Greek, Romanian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian.... and the list goes on.

10/10/2019 at 6:38 PM

Many thanks to Justin Durand for laying the foundations for Medieval Resources Online project.

10/10/2019 at 6:56 PM

Pam Wilson (on hiatus) It is not possible for anyone but Geni to move discussions, and I think they would need to move this discussion from one project to another - not be in both.

The projects related to can be done by anyone, and the full list can be seen from “Related Projects.”

10/11/2019 at 7:15 AM

Pam Wilson (on hiatus): see and check site on the link in my previous comment. On the right, you have a menu of all countries what you mentioned, and lots of other informations, how I understood.

10/11/2019 at 12:35 PM

The most important site for Norwegian medieval sources is Diplomatarium Norvegicum. 23 books with about 20000 documents. 22 of the books are transcribed which include 18000 documents from the period 1050 to 1590. The site is also in English.

10/11/2019 at 12:39 PM

For Denmark: Diplomatarium Danicum:

For Sweden: Diplomatarium Suecanum:

10/11/2019 at 1:56 PM

Hi, Ozren! Thanks for the link--that is the site I referred to as one of my go-to sites in my original post, but I see I forgot to post a link to Charles Cawley's Medieval Lands Database ( What I said earlier was:

One of the medievalists of this ilk that I most respect is Charles Cawley, who runs the truly amazing Medieval Lands Database on the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy website. His efforts have made these family trees and relationships much more accessible to us all, and he includes quotes from the Latin along with voluminous footnotes.

10/11/2019 at 1:57 PM

Thanks, Remi. Those databases sound awesome for the northern countries.

10/11/2019 at 5:23 PM

Erica Howton wow what I can answer after @Ozren!
You ask me about medieval italian sources.. Let's start by telling you that there is nothing organized in just one ENG site like MedLands: every municipality, every city, every ancient family jealously manages its knowledge.
-This is why for absurd Wiki[ITA] remains a pretty well of suggestions in reading under the small notes that bring to the sources.. *but sources that must be able to assess the degree of authority! (a bit like when you surf the internet you have to understand that you are not the one who has just won a million dollars:)
-so very often look through google if the character has been studied by the TRECCANI encyclopedia helps a lot:
Even if its purpose is not genealogical, their historians always begin to identify it within their closest relatives, they report the homonyms, weddings, testaments, income, incorrect historical information (perhaps even considered primary) short having access to all cards that not everyone can access.. (I don't say style of the Vatican library of "Angels & Demons, Ron Howard movie".. but you don't have access to it anyway:) ..TRECCANI is a good basis of reliability, which however is not 100% (but no one has the gift of absolute knowledge).
Now there is a problem: not even every native Italian can read it and understand what is written at first sight. They use a erudite language, with phrases so long that they can last a chapter, and punctuation can change the meaning.
This is because I shudder to send tourists with the automatic translator to compile Italian genealogies XD

Yes, I know it may seem absurd to you, but we still live inside the Middle Ages*, walls, castles coats of arms, from me it's still everything open sky every day and it's all true & original, even when you come to our big metropolitan city with skyscrapers, you can make a quick jump to make you forgive your sins in a Basilica, and while you wait you can read the inscriptions of the deeds of that hero you are studying .. only that inside that slab of marble all worked is inside him, and most likely, around even his whole family :D I know I know .. we're not normal XD

10/12/2019 at 11:38 AM

Livio, I love your explanation in your last paragraph! What a wonderful privilege you have.

Ozren, thank you for the wonderfully thorough list! Can you maybe provide a brief summary/description of each of these links and add them to the Medieval Resources Project?

10/13/2019 at 12:13 AM

Pam Wilson (on hiatus)

I think, a Justin Durand or someone other can do it this (brief summary/description of previous links) on better way, what You asked, and also check a previous links/pages. (how I saw in the "Medieval Resources Project Online", were added a only a main links of source/page, not with a details or example where can do researching of manuscripts like in example for: or "A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges" , but for this source is a main link of source/page and for research is: "Early Manuscripts at Oxford University" ( link of source/website in the project, what already You have), how I understood.

Also I forgot to say, for the previous link of this page: - seems some are links in content not working, but how I understood, also a same (similar) manuscripts can be found here, on the offiical website of "Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma" -> -> and -> ->
Livio Scremin and others, also on this source can researching and found some informations.

Pam, hope for your understanding, but I can only provide a sources of links, what I think can maybe a useful (if I found something new, I will post here in the discussion how can be visible for anyone). Later, Justin or someone other can add them on the right place in the description of project "Medieval Resources Online".

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