England Catholic Church Records, Schools, Orphanages, Status Animarum, Wills (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 Parish Records[edit | edit source]

Sometimes there are parish Catholic censuses, often variously annotated later. Small parishes often kept lists of Easter communicants, which was the minimal requirement of attendance. At the parish level, church notice books are the equivalent of a parish diary, and there will be parish magazines, annual reports and magazines from local Catholic organizations. There will usually be a parish history which will include several generations of families, and the church account books are fruitful sources of local Catholic builders and suppliers. Records of local Catholic homes for the elderly may also be found, either with the home if it still exists, or with the archivist for the religious order that ran it.

Catholic Schools and Orphanages[edit | edit source]

Once the national hierarchy had been re-established in 1850 Catholic schools and orphanages were set up and their records are often available. In a similar way to the Anglican system some schools were private and fee-paying while others were funded by charity for the poor. Where records survive they will be interesting to the family historian. When looking for records of orphanages and schools try the institution itself, if it still exists, the local archives and the appropriate Catholic archives. Don’t be put off by an institution employee’s indication that ‘there are no records’; they may have been safely deposited in an archives many years before that person joined the staff. For records of children who have been in care there is also a central agency called the Catholic Child Welfare Council that can forward your letter to the appropriate organization.

School Admission books will usually give the previous school attended, a typical register appears in the chart below. This is the entry for my grandfather; his family were not Catholic but his mother thought the Catholic school was ‘nicer’. From it I learned that he had attended the infants department, (ages 5-7), of the local Servite School, and had transferred to St. Joseph’s a month after his 8th birthday.

Chart: Admission Register, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School, Cadogan St, Chelsea, Middlesex February 1897

Admission Number 596
Date of Admission 15.2.97
NAME, Christian and Surname THOM, Dashwood
Date of Birth 15.1.89
Name and Address of Parent or Guardian -----, 6 Cheyne Row
School Last Attended Servite

Catholics were naturally concerned over the religious education of poor Catholic children who were placed in the workhouse, which was very Anglican. They managed to get Creed Registers kept in the workhouses giving the religious affiliation of all children and some of these survive. The principle was established that Catholic children should be transferred to Catholic institutions, however this didn’t always happen owing to obstruction or apathy by the authorities. A Catholic Poor Law Board was set up to process the paperwork as most poor parents were illiterate. Where these records survive they can be a mine of genealogical information.

Catholic Industrial (reform) Schools list the name of each child and the court sentencing them, as well as the names, address, occupation and situation of the parents. There was a Catholic Emigration Society which sent children to Canada, as well as the Westminster Diocesan Education Fund which supported orphans and handicapped children, who are named together with their teachers and pupil teachers. There were a few Catholic teacher training colleges, the most important being Notre Dame, Liverpool for women and Brook Green, Hammersmith, London for men.

Status Animarum[edit | edit source]

From the 1850s each priest had to send a regular account of his congregation, called the Status Animarum, to his Bishop. Many survive, and earlier ones contain much personal detail, although later ones tend to contain just numbers of baptisms, Easter communicants and so forth. Some of these accounts can be quite detailed, especially for families with such problems as attendance, or mixed marriages, and a number have been published with the old mission registers by the CRS.

Catholic Wills[edit | edit source]

Prior to 1858 Catholic wills were probated in normal (Anglican) ecclesiastical courts and are usually indistinguishable from others, as it was illegal to bequeath money for superstitious uses (meaning Catholic causes). The government kept tabs on Catholic inheritance and bequests after the Jacobite Rising of 1715 by requiring that all their wills be enrolled in the Close Rolls. Catholics got around this by having a separate spiritual will used for supporting chapels, priests or daughters in convents, or to have prayers said. These wills were not officially registered, of-course, but may survive in the receiving institutions. They contain cryptic wording such as for purposes he knows of or to X who knows my mind, and the recipients are often found to be a senior Catholic official, or Mr Dowey, which refers to the college of Douai, France.

Wills of notable Catholics, which may well mention household members, may have been microfilmed, thus that for Christopher Stonehouse (c1564-1631) of Dunsley, in the parish of Whitby, Yorkshire is on film 0,599,467. The CFHS maintains an index to beneficiaries of Lancashire wills, with 23,000 names at present.


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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.