My latest addition to my genealogy library of resources has been a CD copy of”The Complete Peerage”, compiled by G.E. Cokayne. It was originally a 14-volume collection of texts with the full title “The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant & Extinct or Dormant.” It documents all the noble titles (Earls, Dukes, Barons, etc. ) through the history of Britain between the 1100s up until contemporary additions in the 1900s.
Like most antique books, the Complete Peerage CD is a collection of scanned pages from the originals. The volumes are arranged in alphabetical order so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding who you need. You do need to know that the entries are done by the name of the Barony or the Earldom, not by the actual family names of the individuals. This can be a little tough if you don’t know the names of your ancestor’s titles, but it is worth browsing through even if this is the case.
Unlike my beloved Tanguay’s Dictionary, this is not primarily a genealogy resource so you won’t find any pedigree charts or other family-oriented entries. The purpose of the Complete Peerage is to document the passing of each title through the generations, which makes the content much more legal and political than genealogical.
Even so, you can see quite a bit about family lines here. Most titles were passed through families so you can see who’s related to who in many respects. Just know that titles often went to brothers or cousins so a direct line can quickly be broken from a family tree point of view. Birth, death and marriage details are also included in many places as well as information on spouses. You just need to read closely.
Here is an excerpt from the Earldom of Hereford:
“IV 1143 2. Roger (of Gloucester or FitzMiles), Earl of Hereford, Constable of England and lord of Abergavenny, s. and h., succeeded his father in the Earldom without question, (b) and witnessed charters as such (c). He made a treaty of alliance with William, Earl of Gloucester, as his father had made with Robert, Earl of Gloucester.(d) He founded the Abbey of Flazley, co. Gloucester.(e) […..] He m., in or before May 1138, Cecily, da. of Payn FitzJohn, of Ewyas, co. Hereford, sheriff of Hereford and Salop (a)……”
It can be hard to read due to the frequent use of abbreviations and old English “legal-speak”. In the above snippet, you can see that Roger of Gloucester was the Earl of Hereford, and his father was the Earl before him. The “s. and h.” refers to son and heir. He also married Cecily, who was the daughter of Payn FitzJohn, around May 1138.
Make sure to read the long sections of footnotes. They sometimes have more information than the main text does.
So if your genealogy studies take you into British nobility, then you want to get a copy of the Complete Peerage. Getting CD copies can be hard but you can find them at ABC Publications (where I got mine) or get a print copy from Amazon. CD copies are great but the file formats can become obsolete as time goes by, and you might find that your precious discs are no longer readable. Print copies may be a bit more work, but they are more reliable.