Friday, 22 April 2011

A Place in the Sun - using Fire Insurance Records for London Genealogy Research

If you have managed to trace your London ancestors back to the 1841 census and / or the start of civil registration in 1837, you have done well.  But what can you do next?

You can of course search the London Parish Records - but there are rather a large number of London Parishes and you may not find your ancestors where you expect them to be, as mobility was high around that time.  The addition of many (but not all) London Baptism, Marriage and Burial records to Ancestry UK's Premium subscription in the last few years has made this task much easier.  But the problem with using just the Parish Registers in London is that an address was not always given and if you are looking for a common name, this can sometimes lead to the wrong conclusions.  Also, if you can' find someone it doesn't mean they weren't there, as not all the London Parish Registers are on Ancestry! (See my earlier posts on London Parish Records -  Part 1 and London Parish Records Part 2 ).

There are other record sources which can be helpful at this stage - and one of those which is often overlooked is Fire Insurance records.  These typically give the date, the name of the insured, the address and often an occupation.  The Place in the Sun project, which started in 2003, has now indexed the Sun Fire Insurance registers from 1792 to 1839 (a useful period for searching pre-civil registration).  These can be searched online via The TNA's  Access to Archives website (I have already entered the terms Sun and Guildhall Library ihn this link to make things a bit easier) along with a name or an address. 

This is how I found my great great grandfather, who is listed as follows:

Charles Clifford 26 Parkers Place Dock Head saddler and harness maker (17 May 1820)

I was then able to trace the exact place he was either living or working at around the time of the record, and to map this location using old London maps, such as Greenwood's Map of London 1827.

An update on how the Place in the Sun project is progressing can be viewed here.
These Sun Fire Insurance records are just one collection among the many original Fire Insurance records which were previously held at the Guildhall library, but have recently moved to the London Metropolitan Archives.  Some of these records will actually cover properties outside London as well London itself.  A leaflet which describes the background and the variety of Fire Insurance records and where they are located can be downloaded here.

Rosemary Morgan
London Roots Research


  1. I had never heard of these records - or at least, not for London - and I will definitely check them out. Here in Queensland (at the John Oxley Library) we have an index to some fire insurance records for c.1886-1921.

  2. I'm pleased you have learnt something new, Judy. There was a bit of publicity about them a few years ago, but nobody seems to have mentioned them much recently, which is why I decided to write the post. I guess they appeal to a small minority with early London ancestors.

  3. This is really interesting. I used to love looking for fire insurance markers on old buildings, spurred on by Geoffrey Grigson's children's book "Looking and Finding" - never found many, though. As well as the useful genealogy advice, your post has reminded me to resume keeping an eye out for them.

  4. Thank you for your comments. I actually only recently found out about the fire insurance markers myself. Must remember to look for them when I'm next in London.

  5. Great post!

    There is also an index at for 1777-1786 - the policies issued by Sun and Royal Exchange. Was very pleased to find some of my Norfolk ancestors listed there - many people outside of London used the same companies as city dwellers.

    Thanks for an interesting read as always :-)

  6. Very useful, Rosemary. The fire insurance records are amongst many indexed on A2A that help locate London ancestors who are difficult to find elsewhere.

  7. Thank you Elizabeth for the useful link. I haven't used these for non Londoners yet, but it's good to know that these records are not just for Londoners.

  8. Emma, I totally agree with you about Londoners who are hard to find.

    I haven't yet found my Charles Clifford elsewhere, except for his childrens' baptisms and a possible marriage. So these records really helped me locate him, by confirming his occupation (a family story said he was a saddler).

  9. On my Queensland Genealogy blog I have nominated you for the Illuminating Blogger Award. To accept the award, just follow the steps below:

    * Visit the award site ( and leave a comment indicating that you have been nominated by (This step is important because it is the only way that they can create a blogroll of award winners).

    * Thank the person who nominated you (by posting and including a link to their blog).

    * Include a courtesy link back to the official award site ( in your blog post.

    * In your blog post, share one random fact about yourself.

    * Select five other blogs whose illuminating, informative posts you enjoy reading, and nominate them for the award.

    * Notify your nominees by leaving a comment on their blog, including a link to the award site (

    1. Judy, Apologies for the delay in responding to your very kind award. I was away when you nominated me for this award and have been gradually catching up with correspondence - and my rather neglected blog. I will definitely try and accept this award soon! Thank you again.

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  12. Your site is very interesting and informative. I wonder if you could give me an idea of why more than one Sun Fire Insurance Policy would have been issued on the same date for the same property.