Find your ancestors in Britain, Registers of licences to pass beyond the seas, 1573-1677

What can these records tell me?

This collection comprises TNA series E 157 entitled Registers of licences to pass beyond the seas, 1573-1677. There are two main register types in this collection:

  • Statutory oath of allegiance taken under the Act of 1609 by soldiers before leaving to serve in the ‘Low Countries’ (1613-1633)
  • Licences for individuals travelling to Europe (1573-1677)

Additionally, there are included some registers pertaining to individuals travelling to Barbados, New England, and other colonies from 1634 to 1639 (and one register from 1677).

Each result will provide you with a transcript and an image of the original documents. Details included in the transcripts generally include the following:

  • First name(s)
  • Last name
  • Age
  • Birth year
  • Residence town and county
  • Departure year
  • Departure date
  • Departure port
  • Ship name
  • Destination
  • Regional destination
  • Archive
  • Archive reference
  • Description
  • Year range
  • Folio

Common destinations include Maryland, Virginia, Barbados, St Christopher’s, Austria, Holland, and Scotland.

The original records

All the surviving documents within this collection are written in the so-called secretary hand current at the time. This may seem unfamiliar at first but a little practice will make the text increasingly legible to you as you become familiar with the shapes of the different letters in both upper and lower case. However, some of the papers are damaged or faded, which adds to the difficulty in interpretation.

Secretary hand features abbreviation and elision (the omission of certain letters, usually signalled by a bar mark or suspension bar – a horizontal line – placed above the part of the word where letters have been missed out). Forenames are subject to abbreviation and, in most cases, we have expanded these, e.g. 'Jno' to John, 'Ric' and 'Ricd' to Richard, and 'Willm' to William. However, the abbreviation 'Jo', which will usually refer to John, has been left abbreviated in case some instances refer to Joseph (which, however, is normally abbreviated as “Jos”).

Spelling at the time these records were created had not settled, and was still relatively fluid and phonetic. The same forename can be spelt several ways – e.g. Henerie, Henrie, and Henry are all the same name, as are Gregorie, Gregory, Grigorie, and Grigory. In many cases, we have silently standardised such forenames (i.e. to Henry and Gregory), for ease of searching. You may expect to see the variants when viewing the images.

We have not normalised the spelling of surnames, because of the high risk of error in so doing. Thus, for example, 'Haieward' is the usual spelling of Hayward in these records, while the surname Harris may also appear as Harrice, Harries, and Harriss. Please exercise care when searching; you may wish to use name variants and/or wildcards to optimise searching.

Many words were pronounced differently in the 17th century, and this is reflected in spelling. For example, 'au' was often used where today we have the single vowel 'a' – for example, 'Frauncis' for Francis, 'Launcelot' for Lancelot, and 'Fraunce' for France. 'Souldier' was the common spelling of soldier and appears frequently in E 157 spelt that way. Where we were able to do so confidently, we have silently modernised such spellings.