THOSE who have ever been engaged in historical or biographical research; those who have endeavoured to trace their descent, and to rescue their ancestry from oblivion; those who have laboriously established their claims to titles or estates: all have had occasion to lament the fact that although there exist in scattered quarters masses of record information, absolutely priceless for their purpose, they have remained buried in manuscript, difficult of access, troublesome to consult, and, in short, practically useless. First in importance among these records are the registers of our two great Universities, of the Inns of Court, and of our Public Schools. From them proceeded the scholars, the divines, the lawyers, and the statesmen of England. It is not, therefore, too much to assert that these records are of national interest. They possess, moreover, the special value which attaches to contemporary and original evidence, based as they are on the actual attestations made at each admission. In this respect they are distinctly superior to the Heralds' Visitations themselves; for in them the pedigree for several descents rests upon a single attestation, whereas in these each step is attested at first hand. They are thus, with the single exception of Wills, the most trustworthy sources of information of this character in existence.
These being the facts, it would be passing strange that little or nothing has been done to give these records to the world, were it not that the printing and publication of such vast masses of material involve immense labour, and an almost prohibitory outlay. The purchasers of such works of reference being obviously limited in number, it cannot be wondered that no individual has as yet approached the task, though it might fairly have been hoped that the learned bodies to whom these records belong, would not have rested content with mere ownership, but would have taken corporate action themselves ere now in the matter.
The pressing need for printing this valuable class of Register attracted my attention with renewed force shortly after the issue of the official return of Members of Parliament ('Parliaments of England,' 1213–1874), in consequence of an error it contained. Wishing to identify a knight who figures in that return, I had recourse, at length, in despair, to the wills at Somerset House, where fortunately I found his 'admon.,' from which I learned that he was not a knight, but that he was a member of Lincoln's Inn. To Lincoln's Inn I straightway went, and there I was shown the admission entry of the man of whom I was in search. I was thus forcibly reminded that these registers, imperfectly indexed and indeed illegible to all but the trained student, were a mine as yet unworked, though rich with the choicest genealogical ore, and contained material of a character to revolutionize the study of family history. From that moment I did not rest until, by the courtesy of the Masters of the Bench of the Four Inns of Court, I had made a transcript of each of their registers, to which I added a complete list of barristers, ancients, benchers, readers, and treasurers. No one, I discovered, had gone through these records since the great Sir William Dugdale, more than two centuries ago, made use of them for his well known work, 'Origines Juridiciales' (1666). I have since had copies of these transcripts arranged in alphabetical order, so that these hitherto sealed records are now at my own disposal in the most convenient form for reference, and are among the most valued contents of my private genealogical collections.
To a similar accident, so to speak, was due the inception of Colonel Chester's transcript of the Oxford Matriculation Register. That distinguished genealogist had visited Oxford with the intention of obtaining the entries relating to the name of Lloyd for his friend Mr.