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Coroner Inquest Records (Crime & Courts)

Nature of Source

Records of inquests carried out by the coroner in England and Wales where a sudden, accidental, suspicious or unnatural death occurred, possibly involving suicides or poisoning. Deaths in prisons were also investigated as were treasure trove finds.

The records will contain the verdict and possibly witness statements or depositions. The jury originally consisted of between 12 and 24 people but was reduced to between 7 and 12 after 1926. The records held at The National Archives (TNA) relate to pre-1752 inquests which were handed over by the coroner to the assizes judges who then lodged them with the King's Bench files. TNA inquest records also include those that died in the Kings Bench and Millbank prisons, many of whom were debtors. After 1752 the coroner held onto the files and those that have survived are found in County Record Offices. Check with the local Record Office for indexes extracted from coroner's reports.

Originally the coroner was a royal officer elected by freemen but after 1888, the county council appointed the official. Verdicts before 1733 are written in Latin. Most post-1875 records were destroyed following the 1958 Public Records Act, however the event could be covered by local or national newspapers. Although pre-1875 documents are protected by law since 1921, many had already been destroyed. The 1921 ruling also advised that more recent records need only be kept for 15 years. All coroner inquest records are closed to the public for 75 years, although next of kin can apply for access.

Look for the coroner's name under the ‘cause of death’ column in a death certificate which indicates a coroner's inquest took place.

In Scotland a different system is in operation where a sudden, accidental, suspicious, in custody or unnatural death has occurred. An official called a Procurator Fiscal investigates the circumstances to determine if the death resulted from natural causes and if not whether a criminal prosecution is warranted or to initiate Fatal Accident Inquiry which have been in place since 1895. An inquiry having taken place will be indicated on the death certificate with reference to the Register of Corrected Entries where more details of the case might be found. For more information see the NAS guide Fatal Accident Inquiries.

Where Found

County Record Offices (Many offices have compiled name indexes from coroner's reports in local newspapers)
The National Archives (For information on TNA’s holdings see the guide Looking for records of a coroner's inquest)
British Library Newspapers (The aim of the collection is to acquire all newspapers published in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland. The newspapers are held in print form, as microfilm copies and as digital copies)

Period Covered

1194 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Name, age, address, and date of death of subject. Family members and relationships. Names of jurors and witnesses. Name of coroner and verdict.

Further References

Berkshire Coroners' Notebook 1775-1813: Eureka Partnership  
Carmichael, Ian HB. Sudden Deaths and Fatal Accident Inquiries: Scots Law and Practice: W. Green, 1986  
Gibson, Jeremy & Rogers, Colin. Coroners' Records in England and Wales. 3rd ed: The Family History Partnership, 2009  
Grundy, Joan. A Dictionary of Medical & Related Terms for the Family Historian: Swansong Publications, 2006  
 Hunnisett, R. F. The Medieval Coroner: Cambridge University Press, 1961  Buy Now on Amazon
Hunnisett, R. F.Wiltshire Coroners' Bills, 1752-1796: Wiltshire Record Society, 1981  
Hunnisett, R. F. Sussex Coroners' Inquests, 1485-1558: Sussex Record Society, 1985  
Hunnisett, R. F. Sussex Coroners' Inquests, 1558-1603: PRO Publications, 1996  
Hunnisett, R. F. Sussex Coroners' Inquests, 1603-1688: Public Record Office, 1998  
Hunnisett, R. F. East Sussex Coroners' Records, 1688-1838: Sussex Record Society, 2005  
Hunnisett, R. F. Calendar of Nottinghamshire Coroners' Inquests, 1485-1558: Derry and Sons, 1969  
Hunnisett, R. F. Bedfordshire Coroners' Rolls: Streatley, 1961  
Jeaffreson, John Cordy (ed). Middlesex County Records. 4 Vols: Greater London Council, 1972 (1886) (Volumes available to download and view at the Internet Archive or at British History Online)  
Raymond, Stuart. Death & Burial Records for Family Historians: Family History Partnership, 2011  

TNA Research Guide: Looking for records of a coroner's inquest

Websites (GENUKI guide to Coroners' Inquests and Reports)
(The National Archives Blog: Coroners’ inquest records) (The National Archives Podcast: Coroners’ Inquests)

Online Databases

Hertfordshire Names Online (The site provides online access to the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies indexes including Coroner inquests listed by the deceased's name. Searching the indexes is free but a charge is made for copies of a document. The indexes could also be of use for those with ancestors in the neighbouring counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Middlesex) (London Lives: City of London, Middlesex and City of Westminster Coroners' Inquests)
(Bath Record Office: Bath Ancestors Database: Coroners Inquests) (The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland Name Search: Coroners' inquest papers, 1872-1920)