Berkshire (abbreviated Berks) is a county in southeast England, located to the west of London. It has also been known as the Royal County of Berkshire since at the least the 19th century because of the presence of Windsor Castle; this was recognised by the Queen in 1957 and letters patent were issued confirming this in 1974. Berkshire is a county of historic origin and is currently both a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council. Berkshire County Council was the main county governing body from 1889 to 1998, but the County Borough of Reading was separately administered.
In 1974 the towns of Abingdon, Didcot and Wantage were transferred to Oxfordshire, and Slough (actually the Borough of Slough and Eton) was gained from Buckinghamshire. The separate administration of Reading ended. Since 1998 Berkshire has been governed by the six unitary authorities of Bracknell Forest, Reading, Slough, West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham. It borders the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Greater London, Surrey, Wiltshire and Hampshire.
The county is one of the oldest in England. It may date from the 840s, the probable period of the unification of "Sunningum" (East Berkshire) and "Ashdown" (the Berkshire Downs, probably including the Kennet Valley). The county is first mentioned by name in 860. According to Asser, it takes its name from a large forest of box trees that was called Bearroc (believed, in turn, to be a Celtic word meaning "hilly").
Berkshire has been the scene of many battles throughout history, during Alfred the Great's campaign against the Danes, including the Battle of Englefield, the Battle of Ashdown and the Battle of Reading. Newbury was the site of two Civil War battles, the First Battle of Newbury (at Wash Common) in 1643 and the Second Battle of Newbury (at Speen) in 1644. The nearby Donnington Castle was reduced to a ruin in the aftermath of the second battle. The Battle at Reading took place on 9 December 1688 in Reading. It was the only substantial military action in England during the Glorious Revolution and ended in a decisive victory for forces loyal to William of Orange. It was celebrated in Reading for hundreds of years afterwards.
Reading became the new county town in 1867, taking over from Abingdon which remained in the county. Under the Local Government Act 1888, Berkshire County Council took over functions of the Berkshire Quarter Sessions, covering an area known as the administrative county of Berkshire, which excluded the county borough of Reading. Boundary alterations in the early part of the 20th century were minor, with Caversham from Oxfordshire becoming part of the Reading county borough, and cessions in the Oxford area.
On 1 April 1974 Berkshire's boundaries changed under the Local Government Act 1972. Berkshire took over administration of Slough and Eton and part of the former Eton Rural District from Buckinghamshire. The northern part of the county became part of Oxfordshire, with Faringdon, Wantage and Abingdon and hinterland becoming the Vale of White Horse district, and Didcot and Wallingford added to South Oxfordshire district. 94 (Berkshire Yeomanry) Signal Squadron still keep the Uffington White Horse in their insignia, even though the White Horse is now in Oxfordshire. The original Local Government White Paper would have transferred Henley-on-Thames from Oxfordshire to Berkshire: this proposal did not make it into the Bill as introduced.
On 1 April 1998 Berkshire County Council was abolished under a recommendation of the Banham Commission, and the districts became unitary authorities. Unlike similar reforms elsewhere at the same time, the non-metropolitan county was not abolished. Signs saying "Welcome to the Royal County of Berkshire" have all but disappeared but may still be seen on the borders of West Berkshire District, on the east side of Virginia Water and on the M4 motorway. There are also signs at the south side of Sonning Bridge on the B478 and going north on the A33 at the start of the dual carriageway just past Stratfield Saye.
The Berkshire Record Office, 9 Coley Avenue, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 6AF, continues to be maintained by the six unitary authorities that previously made up Berkshire. The Record Office houses archives covering the nearly 900 years of Berkshire's history.
The GENUKI pages on Berkshire hold a plethora of information. A lot of this has been provided by the Berkshire Family History Society.
Refer also to WeRelate's own England research guide
English Jurisdictions 1851
Family Search maps have provided this finding aid or "app". Type a location in the search box, select Parish, County, Civil Registration District, Diocese, Rural Deanery, Poor Law Uniion, Hundred or Division from the pulldown list and you are provided with a box locating the place on a Google map. The Info tab gives the dates of creation of the parish, its predecessor(s) and the availability of Parish Records and Bishops Transcripts. The Jurisdictions tab gives the Civil Registration District, the Probate Court, the Diocese, the Rural Deanery, the Poor Law Union, the Hundred and the Ecclesiastical Province. Under options you have a choice of listing contiguous parishes, doing a radius place search, searching the Family History Catalog, the Family History Historical Records, or the FamilySearch Research Wiki, or simply moving on to another search. A layer system allows you to search under more than one category at a time. Remember that history “stops” at 1851 on this finding aid.