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1757 – British Parliament passed the Militia Act. It stipulated that militia regiments had to be established throughout England and Wales (the Act did not apply to Scotland). This Act was driven by a fear that England could be invaded as a result of the Seven Years’ War (1754-1757 and 1762-1763). The Seven Years’ War was a global military conflict between the major European powers fighting over their colonial empires and trade routes. The main conflict was between the British Empire and the Bourbons of France and Spain.

What You Need to Know:

• The militias were a form of conscription and 1757 was the first year that a real attempt was made in England to keep proper militia records. All parishes had to make lists of adult males that were available for military service. The names of all men in the parish between the ages of 18 and 50 (later reduced to 45 in 1762) were listed on the militia ballot lists. They were called militia ballot lists because men were selected to serve in the militia by ballot from the lists.

• The 1757 militia ballot lists were a de-facto census of all adult males in a region. Thus, they can be a valuable genealogy source. Sadly, not all the lists survived so you need to check the specific region of your ancestors to see if any militia ballot lists exist.

• There were certain exclusions to the militia ballot lists. In particular peers, clergy, teachers, apprentices and peace officers were not listed. As well, the wealthy could offer money (essentially a bribe) to have someone willing to take their place in the local militia. These people would also not be listed. If your ancestor falls into one of these categories then it is probably not worth trying to track down existing militia ballot lists.

early 1800 English soldiers
Early militias were rarely as well equipped as these regular soldiers.

• Militia ballot lists eventually became what is known as muster rolls, which were continued in one form or another until 1831. Muster rolls can be a valuable genealogy source, although many muster rolls (like their predecessors the militia ballot lists) were not preserved for posterity.

1798 – Britain passed the Defense of the Realm Act, which resulted in the creation of the Posse Commitatus list in 1798 and the Levee en Masse lists in 1803/04. The intention of these lists was to organize reserves of men to evacuate the civilian population in case of an invasion by the French. The reserves were also expected to remove wildstock and crops, gather food for military and civilian populations and organize arms and equipment to fight the invaders.

What You Need to Know:

• These lists are a survey of all able-bodied men in a parish between the age of 15 and 60 who were not already serving in a military capacity.

blacksmith hitting an anvil
Blacksmiths were particularly valuable to early militias and often figured prominently in any militia lists. In addition to making many parts, blacksmiths were responsible for making horseshoes and repairing wagon wheels.

• The Levee en Masse lists are surprisingly complete and often listed occupations and age of the men in each household as well as the number of females and children who would need to be evacuated. Particular emphasis in these surveys was given to men who had occupations that would be useful to the war effort, such as bakers, millers, blacksmiths, barge owners, etc. Unfortunately, the survival of these pre-census lists is also somewhat sporadic, but they are worth checking to see if they exist in the region of your ancestors because they can be a valuable genealogy source.

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