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British Parliamentary Papers and the Local Historian & Genealogist

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 18, 2002


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by Dr William Roulston

"THE PAPERS GENERATED by the Westminster Houses of Parliament form a vast and relatively untapped source of information of immense value to local historians and genealogists. This article seeks to present a selection of those papers from the implementation of the Act of Union in 1801 to 1845, the eve of the Great Famine, and to draw attention to the sort of information they contain.

A fully comprehensive definition of parliamentary papers would include everything to do with the machinery of government, even the somewhat tedious procedures of day to day business. However, to the researcher three groups of material are of primary importance.

First, there are the journals which record the things done in parliament. Second, there are the debates which record the things said in parliament. These are better known as Hansard which began as a private venture supported by a public subsidy and only later became an official publication. Third, there are the papers arising in or presented to parliament which deal with the formulation, development and execution of policy. This collection of papers has come to be known as the ‘Blue Books’ because of the blue paper with which most of the volumes were covered.

It is with this last group that the term, ‘parliamentary papers’ has come to be most closely associated."