Burke's Peerage was first published in 1826. It was an annual publication from 1847 to 1940, except for the years 1918–20. Occasional editions have appeared since 1949. Burke's Landed Gentry was first published in 1837 as A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland, Enjoying Territorial Possessions or High Official Rank; but Uninvested with Heritable Honours. Although it did not become an annual publication, many subsequent editions appeared under the title Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry. The word ‘gentry’ did not replace ‘commoners’ until the 1840s. By then, families that had acquired land through fortunes made in industry or trade were being included. The ownership of a substantial landed estate was considered a necessary condition of entry until the outbreak of the First World War, when men ‘who have never owned land, but have won their way to distinction and position in the service of the King and in other ways’ were also included. In 1877 Professor E. A. Freeman dismissed the pedigrees published in Burke's Landed Gentry as ‘much wild nonsense’.
John Burke wrote several other books on heraldry and genealogy. He was succeeded as editor of the Peerage and the Landed Gentry by his son Sir John Bernard Burke (1814–92) and his grandsons.