In an earlier blog on researching Victorian MPs online, we considered various countries’ online dictionaries of national biography and how their content helped shed light on MPs’ interests across the British empire. In this post, we highlight some of the useful but perhaps less well known online historical databases that we use in our research.
Although our biographies of Victorian MPs focus mainly on their parliamentary careers, we also address their life before entering Parliament. For those who served in the armed forces, the Sandhurst Collection and a database of Royal Navy Officers can be useful starting points. Cambridge University was a popular destination for many of our MPs and a comprehensive alumni database provides helpful details about their studies. Many MPs also had a legal education, so the Inner Temple Admissions database is a great resource.
A significant historical trend between 1832 and 1868 was the rise in the number of MPs from a commercial background. The Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History database provides a wealth of information about Victorian industry and business leaders. Local trade directories from the 19th century can also be found at the Historical Directories website. Of course, many Victorian MPs came from aristocratic backgrounds and prior to being elected to the Commons were simply young and relatively inactive county squires, but sometimes important information about their family estates can be gleaned from this useful online database of Lost Country Houses. Currently under development, the Landed Families of Britain and Ireland site also looks at the connections between landed families and their country houses. A number of MPs’ families also had formal ties to the Established Church, so we regularly make use of the Clergy of the Church of England database. The Masonic Periodicals website is a helpful source of information on MPs’ connections with freemasonry.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the excellent Legacies of British Slave-Ownership database, created by University College, London. A significant number of MPs were former slave-owners who received compensation following the abolition of slavery and this database contains full details of their claims.
All the databases mentioned above are entirely free to use; no subscription or university affiliation is required. Moreover, as many are specialist databases, they provide an excellent resource to help build a more detailed picture of MPs’ backgrounds before they entered the Victorian Commons.
For more information about our project, and how to access our preview site, please see here.