England Catholic Church Records, Registers, Births, Baptisms, Confirmations (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 ($).
From the time of the Reformation most congregations considered it too risky to keep records. There are very few registers, really priests’ notebooks, extant before 1750 and not too many before 1791. The earliest extant provincial (outside London) register is a priest’s notebook for Baddesley Clinton, a tiny place in Warwickshire, which commences in 1657, but most places only have registers from the 1770s, and particularly after 1791, when public services became legal. Some early ones on microfilm are:
- Registers from the city of Worcester—baptisms 1685-1837, 3 marriages (1801, 1827, 1828), deaths 1774-1806, are on FHL film 1999506.
- Registers of Father Bruno Cantrill in London 1726-1755 on FHL film 0547198.
- The notebook and supplementary documents of Rev. Monox Hervey covering marriages and baptisms from 1729-1756 on FHL film 0599709.
- Registers of Fr. Joseph Alexiuc Smallwood in London 1730-1750 on FHL film 0547198.
- Registers of Fr. Arthur Pacificus Baker near Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London 1747-1773 on FHL film 0547198.
- Registers of the domestic chapel at Arundel Castle, (Duke of Norfolk and household), afterwards the public chapel at Arundel 1749-1835 with list of burials in the Fitzalan chapel at Arundel on FHL film 0599713.
A large amount of material has been filmed, for example a keyword search on the FamilySearch Catalog for YORKSHIRE CATHOLIC produces 100 titles alone. Many of those records that have been filmed have been added to the IGI and a check of the Parish and Vital Records List will ascertain which ones.
Only a few registers have been deposited, and for all others contact the nearest priest or diocesan archives whose addresses can be obtained from the Catholic Directory or by emailing the diocese.
The surviving registers of the London Royal and embassy chapels include:
- St. James Palace Catholic Chapel, later Somerset House Chapel 1671 onwards on FHL film 0599717.
- Portuguese Chapel 1696-1849 with most on FHL film 0599717.
- Sardinian Chapel, later Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and later Kingsway Chapel, 1729 onwards.
- Spanish Chapel, later St. James’ Spanish Place, 1730 onwards, indexes of which occur on FHL fiche 6903845 (1) (christenings 1730-1772) and FHL fiche 6903845 (1) (marriages 1730-1822).
- Venetian Chapel, which closed when France conquered Venice, 1744-1796.
- Bavarian Chapel, later Warwick Street (near Regent Street) 1747 onwards.
- Austrian Chapel which tended to be more restricted to foreign nationals, 1765-1820.
- Neapolitan Chapel 1772-1855.
- French Chapel 1795-1910.
In 1837 and 1858, when Non-Anglican registers were called in, few Catholic clergy chose to deposit theirs—76 mainly northern ones out of 587 churches—and they remain either with them, in their Diocesan archives, in the central Catholic Archives, or in county archives. Gandy (Catholic Missions and Registers, 1994) has analyzed all the extant registers as well as the many transcripts published by Phillimore’s and the Catholic Record Society, and this is the definitive list of what is available and where, however the FamilySearch Catalog is a useful adjunct as much has been filmed.
Catholic Births and Baptisms
Baptisms are usually done sooner than in other churches, either on the day of birth or up to a week afterwards. The registers typically give dates of birth and baptism, names of parents and godparents (a.k.a. sponsors), and usually the mother’s maiden name. Unlike Anglican registers, address and occupation for the father are not usually noted, and the entry will often be in Latin in the 18th and 19th century at least. From 1908 Catholics also had to have their place of marriage inserted with their original baptism entry, so this can affect registers in the second half of the 19th century. For adult convert baptisms there may be a note in the register to this effect, and there may be a separate note-book of converts as well. A point to bear in mind with the huge influx of Irish immigrants, most of whom were desperately poor and illiterate, is that they were unused to having a system of civil birth registration. It did not start until 1864 in Ireland and as so many came during the famine period in the late 1840s it is not surprising that the births of their children are unfindable—but they would have had them baptized.
Early records of confirmations are rare, although there are the examples of:
- 20,000 in northern England, often whole families, confirmed by Bishop Leyburn in 1687.
- Another tour by Bishop Challoner occurred in 1742-5 in southern England.
- Midland District 1768-1815.
- London and Home Counties 1826-1843.
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