England Catholic Church Records, Archives, Charities, Organizations, Clergy (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Non-Anglican Church Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Other Catholic Records[edit | edit source]

Catholic Archives[edit | edit source]

All dioceses have an archives with good collections, and there are other specialist Catholic archives in Catholic schools and religious orders which can be visited by appointment. A number have put their registers into the county record offices, and many have them filmed as well. At the diocesan level there will be a card index as well as the ordination book of all priests who have served in the diocese. There should also be a complete set of the Diocesan Year Book back to the its founding—similar to a Catholic Directory but on a diocesan scale. Large diocesan archives include:

ŸWestminster—a very large one containing:

  • Correspondence of the Vicars Apostolic.
  • Much 16th century material.
  • Registers of Missions and embassy chapels.
  • Diaries.
  • Account books.
  • Private papers.
  • List of over 20,000 confirmations in morthern counties in 1687
  • Southwark
  • Northern Vicariate are held by the Bishop of Leeds, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, and Liverpool Record Office.
  • Midland Vicariate are at Birmingham.
  • Western Vicariate are held by the Bishop of Clifton.

Archives for the religious orders are variously held with much still in foreign hands:

  • Jesuits who have an archive in London and one at Stonyhurst School in Lancashire.
  • Benedictines archives at Downside Abbey near Bath with a fine Catholic topographical library, and at Ampleforth.
  • Franciscans have an archive at Forest Gate, West Ham, London

Much of the relevant 16th-18th century research material is in the PRO and some in the Parliamentary Archives.

Catholic Charities and Organizations[edit | edit source]

Many charity lists of both donors and recipients exist, and membership and activities of the various parish and national organizations have left many records. The Catholic Church was unique in England in that because of its history the members were divided largely into two disparate groups—the poor Irish, and the rich who were either old established gentry or converts. As an example of what is available on film, the Catholic Philanthropic Society of Warrington, Lancashire has on films 1,701,196-7:

  • Roll of members 1823-1897.
  • List of those receiving aid 1823-1872.
  • Memorandum 1821, 1831-1843.
  • Meeting minutes 1840-1861.

The Catholic parish often served all the social needs of many parishioners, so there were groups for all kinds of activities, some local like dances and football clubs, and others part of national organizations like scouts and guides. The parish magazines, if they survive, can be mines of information about your ancestors’ activities and some events will have rated the local or regional newspaper. Purely Catholic national organizations whose local records are likely to be with the parish priest include:

  • Bona Mors (The Confraternity of a Happy Death)—This was a monthly get-together and saying of mass for deceased members, and lists of members may survive.
  • Catenians
  • Knights of Columbus—A men’s benevolent association founded - 1882.
  • Rosary Confraternities—These were similar to the Bona Mors.
  • Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP)—An organization that assisted the poor in various ways, with records including details of baptism, marriage, sickness, income, work history and schools attended for the families that were assisted.

Catholic Clergy Records[edit | edit source]

Types of clergy include regulars who were priests or clergy living under vows, following a rule of life and belonging to an order such as Benedictines or Jesuits; and secular or seminary priests ministered to English congregations but did not belong to a religious order. A vicar apostolic was a Catholic bishop in a country without an ecclesiastical hierarchy, so equivalent to a diocesan bishop. The Catholic Record Society’s Miscellanea VII contains a fascinating article on priests in England and Wales in 1692. The chart below gives examples from the section on the Archdeaconry of Hampshire and Somerset.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Non-Anglican Church Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.