Introduction to Manx Family History

The Manks differ from their Celtic brethren in paying no regard to genealogies, arising doubtless from the obscurity of their families. Lord Teignmouth, 1836


In writing these pages I assume that you are not resident on the Island - if so then you can obtain information in a more personal way by asking at the Library in the Manx Museum or at the library of the IoM Family History Society in Peel.
I have put these pages together based on the number of questions both addressed to me and posted on the Family History Bulletin Board - a brief 'getting started' page is included.

The first question to be asked is what makes you think that you may have Manx ancestry? A name beginning with C, K or especially Q is a good start!- seriously the number of Manx names is limited and it may well be worth checking the set of pages on Manx Names.
This paucity and local concentration of names is also true of Christian names - many families and generations would share very few names. Family reconstruction from parish records can be very error prone, unlike the situation in much of England.

I also assume that you are a descendant of a Manx emigrant - though there were some emigrants earlier than the 19th Century, the majority of Manx emigration occurred post 1825 directed at America, especially the region around Cleveland and then later to Australia and New Zealand. No records, other than those concerned with transportation under the criminal code, were kept on the Island, either in the form of passenger lists or otherwise, of such emigrants, though there may be lists of immigrants into America etc. that list place of birth.

As you are probably aware the Island consists of some 220 square miles situated in the middle of the Irish sea as the, by now hackneyed, phrase has it 'midway between the two adjacent islands'. The Isle of Man is not part of England or even of the United Kingdom! However the Lordship of Man is vested in the British Crown and though some decisions affecting the Island are made in London no legislation made in the British Parliament applies to the Island unless explicitly stated to do so and approved by its own parliament Tynwald.
It is impossible to construct a full family history without some knowledge of historical and geographical aspects of the Island as these are unique and quite distinct from those of England. The history, as far as needed for genealogy, can be split into 5 (possibly 6) periods:

  1. Celtic period (strong links to what is now Ulster) pre 10th Century
  2. Norse period 10th through to 13th Century
  3. Brief Scottish control though with considerable, and ultimately successful, English harassment
  4. Feudal period, first under the Stanleys from 1406 and then the Atholls until revestment in 1765
  5. English control and general neglect until 1860's
  6. Gradual acquisition of more independence post 1860's to date.

A guide to the literature is given elsewhere; the most detailed, and so far unreplaced, is the History of the Isle of Man by A.W.Moore published in 1900.

Records giving names of significant number of people other than the main families etc. do not appear until the early 16th Century when the Manorial Records start. However it is unlikely that any reliable family history going back much beyond the mid 16th Century, can be constructed from Manx records, though some sort of outline can sometimes be traced back to the 15th Century.

The Church, Anglican (or Church of England) for the period of interest, played a significant part in Manx government for a century or so later than it did in England - in fact it was still responsible for probate of wills etc. until 1884. The Manx church under Bishop Wilson, 1698-1755, was likened to that of Charles I almost a century earlier. The Diocese of Sodor and Man is one of the oldest in the Anglican Communion, though originally affixed to Trondheim in Norway it was moved to come under York in the 15th Century, though the act of Uniformity did not apply to Mann and thus the Manx Church is still governed by its own annual convocation.

The Island was split into some 17 parishes in the mid 12th Century and these have remained the basis of both ecclesiastical and civil control until recent dates. Some knowledge of the land division of the Island is essential to any understanding of the records.
It is these parish records, started in the late 16th Century that allow family reconstruction as civil registration, though possible from 1849, did not become compulsory until 1878, some 42 years later than in England and Wales. The entries in these parish registers form the basis of the Manx entries in the International Genealogical Index.

The Island has been included in the UK decennial census since 1821, the Census Enumerators Books (CEB's) exist from 1841 onwards. The Family History Society has transcribed the 1851 census and publishes it indexed by parish and town. The 1881 census is available on-line at or on CD-ROM. The 1841, 1851, 1861,1871, 1891 and 1901 censuses are also available in indexed form. All census returns up to and including the 1891 census are available on microfilm published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints ('Mormons') - a guide to these and other LDS films is available.

Subsequent pages expand on these various topics - I must however acknowledge my debt to The Manx Family Tree 2nd edition 1994 (ISBN 0-9523963-0-0) edited by J. Narasimham, N. Crowe and P. Lewthwaite. A 3rd edition is now available.

A good summary article on how to find your Manx roots was given in Nigel Crowe's Starting your research - the first article in the Journal of the IoM Family History Society vol 1 no1 pp5-9 1979.

 [Genealogy Index]


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001