The Bailiwick of Guernsey - part of the Channel Islands - is a British Crown Dependency located off the coast of France. The Bailiwick of Guernsey comprises the islands of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou & Brecqhou.
Before the Norman Conquest of 1066, the islands used to form part of the Duchy of Normandy. When the English Crown returned mainland Normandy to the French in 1204, the Channel Islands remained loyal to the King subject to the grant of certain rights and priveleges - setting the context for their tax-free status to this day.
Many of the islanders are descended from Norman stock, which is testified by many of the Norman surnames in the island to this day such as Le Page, Le Lievre, De Garis, Mauger, Priaulx, Ozanne.
The native tongue, Dgèrnésiais, is a dialect of ancient Norman French, which is still spoken in the island today - but only by a small minority of the population. Increasingly close links with the British mainland, combined with the tourist and finance industries have contributed to English becoming increasingly the dominant language in island homes since the early 20th century. French was the official language used in many newspapers, legal documents and parish registers up to the end of the 19th century.
Both civil and ecclesiastical registers for births, marriages and deaths are retained in Guernsey. Although the islands were included in the United Kingdom for census purposes, and so these records are available through the Family Records Centre in London as for other parts of England & Wales.
The Family History Society for Guernsey is the Family History Section of La Société Guernesiaise and the centre for family history research in the Bailiwick is the Priaulx Library. The Island Archives also holds the records of Guernsey's government, the States of Guernsey, and the Royal Court.
Contracts relating to property (Date & Lire) can be found in the States of Guernsey Greffe. Records of the Fiefs of Guernsey, known as Livres de Perchage, also record holders and tenants of property.
Wills are rare, as up until recently it was only possible to leave personal effects, not real estate, as the laws concerning inheritance of real estate left little to the discretion of individuals. Those wills that do exist, are held in the Greffe on behalf of the Ecclesiastical Court. Some wills were also registered with the Prerogative Court of Canterbury - and can now be found online at DocumentsOnline. Where a group of heirs agreed to divide property between them this was documented in a contract called a Partage. These can also be found in the Greffe.
The late 17th century saw a wave of French Protestant refugees or Huguenots arrive in the island, attracted by the fact that the islanders were protestants, but the church services were held in French.
In the late 18th century, the threat of a Napoleonic invasion led to an expansion of the British Army garrison in the islands, this in turn attracted many English tradesmen to follow. This migration trend continued during the 19th century spurred on by the growth in the economy and a number of major construction projects.
During the 19th century, many native islanders emigrated to the USA - notably Guernsey County in Ohio; Canada - in particular Prince Edward Island; and later Australia & New Zealand.
There are an increasing range of resources for Guernsey family history research available on the internet. Highlights include:
- 1841 Census
- 1881 Census included in British Census at familysearch.org
- 1901 Census included in British Census at nationalarchives.gov.uk
- IGI Batch Numbers for Guernsey
- Channel Islanders New Zealand Bound
- Index to Stranger's Cemetery in St Peter Port
- Guernsey Genealogy
- The Guernsey Society
- History of Guernsey Butchers
- Timeline of Guernsey History