England Catholic Church Records, Priests, Family and Estate Papers, Religious Orders (National Institute)
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 (cont.)
Chart: Particulars of Priests in England 1692
|Mr John Churcher of Valadolid on the mission about 45 yrs and hath taken great pains, is now very aged and past labour being troubled with cancer in the breast, he resides at Sir Henry Tichborne's in Hampshire|
|Mr Augustine Tayler, A Roman [educated at the English College in Rome], hath been in the mission I believe above 20 years, hath taken great pains both in the School at Silkstead and in the mission, now is much exhausted by sickness. He resides mostly in Winchester.|
|Mr Bonaventure Codrington of Doway [Douai], hath been in the mission about 14 years or upwards most of which time he hath spent in Hampshire. He is a very faithful labourer, exceeding zealous and diligent, he mostly resides at Mr Barlow at Compton near Winchester.|
|Mr Augustin Hill of the order of St. Francis of Assissium, resides constantly at Sir Henry Tichbornes.|
|Mr Theodore Lewis alias Francis Shelley, Jesuit, resides constantly with Mr Charles Wells at Brambridge near Winchester.|
|Mr Grey, actually Gilbert Talbot who became 13th Earl of Shrewsbury, Jesuit, resides with Mr Philip Caryll at North near Petersfield, Hampshire.|
In England the equivalent to the Church of England’s Crockford’s Clerical Directory is The Catholic Directory published annually by The Universe newspaper; prior to 1845 it was called The Laity’s Directory. This gives:
- Catholic dioceses and parishes and the organization in each diocese.
- Name of each diocesan archivist, if there is one, or the Bishop’s secretary to whom you write if there isn’t.
- The names of all officials and parish priests with their addresses and phone numbers.
- Religious houses, schools, and national and local Catholic societies.
- Indexes of priests, places and subjects and much else of interest.
- The diocesan archivist or Bishop’s secretary can consult the ordination book and card catalogue of priests for the diocese.
Catholic Family and Estate Papers
During the penal period those who survived as Catholics were largely gentry and their Catholic servants and estate workers. The gentry were literate and educated and there are a great many family papers in existence which detail the lower classes in the household as well as the more affluent. These may be deposited in record offices or may still be with the family. The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, now part of the National Archives, keeps a list of known ones, where they are and how they may be accessed, and this is searchable online. There are also a large number of local histories of Catholic families. Good places to start the search are: The five volumes of Gillow’s Bibliographic Dictionary of the English Catholics on FHL films 0896646-8, for which there is also an index and finding list by Bevan (Index and Finding List to Joseph Gillow’s Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics. J.W. Arrowsmith Ltd for John Bevan, Bristol, England. FHL book 942 D3giL index).
- Foley’s Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus in 8 volumes on FHL films 0599477-83.
- Kirk’s Lives of the Eighteenth Century English Catholics.
Catholic Institutions and Religious Orders
Catholic priests and men and women in religious orders are very well documented and occur in most Catholic families, even though you are unlikely to be descended from one. Some folks are, as celibacy was not a requirement until the 16th century, and a few monks, nuns etc. entered an order after having had a family life, (and perhaps a few were naughty!) However, it is worth examining the records since any ancestor is likely to have had one or more siblings in a Catholic order, and their parentage and history will offer clues to your ancestor’s. The Catholic Directory is a good place to start, and then contact the appropriate diocesan archives which probably has a biography and perhaps a lot more. The Catholic Archive Society has been active in assisting amateur archivists at various Catholic institutions and orders to sort their material. 19th century material is becoming available as each diocese now has a record office which accepts deposits of this older material. Some bishops have designated the County Archives as their Diocesan Record Office in a similar manner to Anglican churches, and the FHL is microfilming as time and resources permit.
From 1568 Catholics had set up English institutions on the continent. Boys were sent for their general education to the colleges at Dieulouard, Douai, St. Gregory and St. Omer, and older ones were trained for the priesthood in seminaries in Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Rome, and Valladolid. Convents for education of girls, some of whom would become nuns, were established starting in 1598 at such places as Bruges, Cambrai, Dunkirk, Ghent, Gravelines, Liége Louvain, Pontoise and Paris. By 1660 there were 40 English Catholic educational institutions in Europe. As they were located in safe, Catholic countries records could be kept and much of what is known about English Catholic families of the penal period derives from this source. The young people abroad were encouraged to write about their families and their experiences for the sake of Catholicism and the researcher can read these accounts today as they have been preserved. Most Catholic families will have some relatives in these annals. The continental institutions returned to England at the end of the 18th century and some of the easily accessible records published by the Catholic Record Society are shown in in the chart below.
The main male religious orders in Britain have been the Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits but there are many smaller groups as well. Their active participation in running institutions of various kinds is well documented.
There were about 7,000 nuns in England in 1900 and a central database of all those before 1914 is being compiled by the Catholic Family History Society and the Catholic Archives Society for eventual publication. The CFHS maintains an index of 14,000 English nuns from about 60 orders, out of an estimated 20,000 who have been in religious orders prior to 1914. Many of the congregations and houses of nuns have excellent records, and the database will provide a means of finding out which Order your relative joined. Nuns were usually very involved in running schools, hospitals, old people’s homes and orphanages or in foreign missions. Don’t be surprised to find plenty of French, Belgian, German and Irish as well as Anglican and Nonconformist converts working alongside them!
Chart: Some Records of English Religious Orders
in Europe and England
|Records of the English cannonesses of the Holy Sepulchre at Liége now at New Hall, Essex 1652-1793 on FHL film 0599710.|
|Registers of the English Benedictine nuns of Pontoise, now at Teignmouth, Devon 1680-1713 on FHL film 0599710.|
|English Benedictine nuns in Flanders 1598-1687, annals of their five communities on FHL film 0599467.|
|English Benedictine nuns of our Blessed Lady of Good Hope in Paris, now at St. Benedict’s Priory, Colwich, Staffordshire, notes and obituaries 1652-1861 on FHL film 0599708.|
|The Douay College diaries, 3rd, 4th and 5th, 1598-1654: with the Rheims report 1579-80, and the 7th diary 1715-1778, preceded by a summary of events 1691-1715 on FHL films 0599708-9 and FHL film 0599714.|
|Obituary notices of the English Benedictine nuns of Ghent in Flanders, and at Preston, Lancashire 1527-1811 on FHL film 0547198|
|Annals of the English College at Seville with accounts of other foundations at Vallodolid, St. Lucar, Lisbon and St. Omers on FHL film 0599709.|
|Registers of the English Poor Clare nuns at Gravelines with notes of foundations at Aire, Dunkirk and Rouen 1608-1837 on FHL film 0599709.|
|English Benedictine nuns of Brussels and Winchester 1598-1856 on FHL film 0599709.|
|Register book of St. Gregory’s College at Paris 1667-1786 on FHL film 0547198.|
In Miscellanea VII on FHL film 0599708 is an example of notes and obituaries of Catholic nuns, including a picture of the convent and facsimiles of signatures of some of the senior sisters. A sample obituary is shown below.
Chart: Excerpts from the Obituary of an English Benedictine Nun of the Convent of Our Blessed Lady of Good Hope in Paris
| 1663. Some Briefe Remarkes of ye very Religious Sister, Str Rachel Lanning juniour; departed this Life, the 19th of January in the yeare 1663.|
The very Religious Sister Rachel Lanning of Saint John Baptest, was Borne in London in England of vertus Catholike and English parents; her Father was Mr Thomas Lanning, and her Mother Mrs Catharine Bruges, And this their Daughter being of a good and solid judgment; gave herselfe much to devotion and retierment; and by the divine conduct she came to be acquainted with ye Rd Father Huge Starkey one of our holy order, who gave her the Abrigment of venble Father Augustin Baker his Instructions in print, called Sancta Sophia; and some directions for mentall prayer. ........... she was received to her holy profession the 9th October 1660 I was the second professed for the Quire. She was of an interne Contemplative Spirite, and made such great progress in ye way of perfection yt that one may truly say she accomplish’d much, in a short time; for two years after her profession she being of a tender constitution, and the Aire of Paris too sharpe for her, she fell into a consumption; with an ulcer in her liver; so that six munths before her death, she was constraned to keepe her bedd continually. ........ she happily departed this life ye 19th January 1663 about ye 23 of her age, and 2d of her holy profession; ........ she lieth in ye Royall-Abbay of Valdigrace here in Paris. ...... Requiescat in pace. Amen
Priests are well documented, at least while they were abroad, but during the penal period they are a lot harder to trace as they frequently used false names to avoid detection. However, the names used were often selected carefully to reassure believers that they were true priests rather than one of the many informers trying to gain a reward by uncovering a Catholic priest. Typically the mother’s maiden name, or some other family name was used, and this is very helpful to the genealogist, especially as this was the period when Catholic marriages tend not to have been written down. There are several standard texts on priests, including:
- Anstruther’s Seminary Priests 1558-1800.
- Bellenger’s English and Welsh Priests 1558-1800.
- Birt’s Obit Book of the English Benedictines.
- Fitzgerald-Lombards’s English and Welsh Priests 1801-1914.
- Holt’s English Jesuits 1650-1829.
Gandy (Catholic Family History: A Bibliography of General Sources. Self-published, 1996) lists many more. A fascinating history of the late 16th century missioner’s safe-house at Grosmont Priory in Yorkshire can be found in Boddy (Catholic Missioners at Grosmont Priory. North Yorkshire County Record Office. FHL book 942.74/G8 K2b). It gives great detail about the local Catholics as well as the missioners themselves.
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