Ancestors from immigrant communities

Many Dutch and French-speaking residents of the Low Countries fled to England in the 16th century to escape religious persecution.

Norwich welcomed these incomers (who became known as the ‘Strangers’) and at one time they may have made up a third of the population of the city. 

This page mainly describes records held by the Norfolk Record Office (NRO) and the Norfolk Heritage Centre (NHC) relating to these ‘Strangers’, as well as immigration earlier and later.

Immigration in the Middle Ages

Lists of people who came to England with King William in 1066 are printed in A J Camp, My Ancestors came over with the Conqueror (NHC).

Information relating to the medieval Jewish community, including transcripts of known documents, is given in V D Lipman, The Jews of Medieval Norwich (NRO and NHC).

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 in a royal decree issued by Edward I, which was not overturned until 1657.

Records relating to aliens resident in England are held at The National Archives (TNA). These include references in the Chancery Miscellanea from the 13th century.

From about 1400, acts of naturalisation can be found in the Parliament Rolls and the Patent Rolls. These have been printed by the HMSO and are available in good reference libraries.

The names for the period, 1509-1603, have been indexed by W Page, Denizations and Naturalisations of Aliens 1509-1603 (Huguenot Society volume 8, 1893).

Lay subsidy rolls of the 15th and 16th century, also available at TNA, list aliens among the taxpayers in each roll.

The only references to immigrants likely to be found in the NRO are incidental mentions of aliens in the records of the City of Norwich and of the boroughs of Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn (the latter are held in King’s Lynn Borough Archives).

Some of the references in the City of Norwich archives are printed in Hudson and Tingey, Records of the City of Norwich, volumes one and two (NRO and NHC).

They include a return of Frenchmen and Scotsmen in Norwich made on the outbreak of war with these countries in 1542 (volume two, page 170).

The Strangers in Norwich

Registers of the Dutch church

  • A register of baptisms, 1598-1619 is held by the British Library. A transcript is printed in East Anglian Notes and Queries, volume 12 (NHC). A photocopy is available at the NRO; see MC 619/36, 783X2.
  • A register of baptisms, marriages and burials, 1676-1879 is at the Guildhall Library, London. A photocopy is available at the NRO; see MS 21490.

Registers of the French (Walloon) church

Baptisms and marriages, 1595-1752 are held by TNA and have been transcribed in W J C Moens, The Walloons and their Church at Norwich (NRO and NHC).

Other records in the NRO

  • Books of Aliens among the Norwich City records including the Dutch and Walloon Book; see NCR Case 17d.
  • Militia and Muster Rolls, 1511-1630. Later ones include separate lists of Dutch and Walloons, see NCR Case 13a.
  • Strangers’ Book, 1583-1600; see list MC 189
  • Records (not registers) of the Norwich French church; see list FC 29.

Other records transcribed by W J C Moens

Moens’ book (above) transcribes many other records relating to the ‘Strangers’ including:

  • Return of members of the Dutch church, 1568
  • Return of Strangers in Norwich, 1622
  • Names of aliens in lay subsidy rolls at TNA

Later records of immigration

W A Shaw, Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalisation for Aliens in England 1603-1800 (Huguenot Society) lists the names from Patent Rolls for this period.

A number of Protestant families left France at the time of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. 

They include well-known Norfolk families such as the Boileaus, the Columbines and the Martineaus. 

The pedigrees of these families are recorded in W Rye, Norfolk Families (NRO and NHC).

Large numbers of people also fled to England from France at the time of the Revolution there in 1789. 

Regulation of aliens became a responsibility of the Home Secretary in 1793 and records of this department are held at TNA. They include:

  • Entry Books, 1794-1909
  • Denizations and Naturalisations, 1786-1801
  • Returns of Alien Passengers on Ships, 1836-69.

Records of the Board of Trade, also at TNA, include Passenger Lists on incoming ships, 1878-1960.

During the First and Second World Wars citizens of enemy countries were interned. There are files relating to Second World War internees at TNA.

As immigrants tended to merge with the local population fairly quickly, information about later generations can be found in standard genealogical sources described in our guide Tracing your Family Tree.