England Church Records

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For information about records for non-Christian religions in England, go to the Religious Records page.

Introduction

See History of Parish Registers in England

Church records are the main source for genealogy prior to 1837 when civil registration began. It is also a useful source after 1837 in conjunction with civil registration.

Although a nationwide order was given in 1538 that each parish keep a register of baptisms, marriages, and burials, many parishes did not start to keep registers until later and some early records have since been lost or destroyed. Beginning in 1598, copies of entries from many parishes were copied and sent annually to the bishop for the diocese of that area and these copies are known as Bishop’s Transcripts or BTs.

Parish.  A parish is the jurisdictional unit that governs church affairs within its boundaries. Each local parish keeps records. Small villages often do not have their own parishes but nevertheless have a chapel of ease built and are part of a parish headquartered in another town. A parish may consist of one or more chapelries, dependent district churches or chapels of ease, which often keep their own records.

Chapelry. A small parochial division of a large, populated parish. Most chapels or chapelries kept their own registers of baptisms and burials, and where authorization was granted, marriages were performed and registers kept. Occasional parishes throughout England, but especially most of Lancashire's approximately 75 parishes, and many in Cheshire, Greater London, and Yorkshire counties consisted of  numerous chapelries. For example, England's largest parish of Manchester (the Cathedral), was not the only church standing within its own boundary as it was comprised of over 150 smaller chapels many of ancient origin prior to 1880.

Diocese. Many parishes are grouped together under the jurisdiction of a bishop. A bishop heads a diocese. Some dioceses include one or more archdeaconries administered by an archdeacon. These may be divided into rural deaneries, headed by a rural dean. Each deanery consists of several parishes.

Calender changes: The Gregorian calendar, the one commonly used today, is a correction of the Julian calendar, which, because of miscalculated leap years, was 11 days behind the solar year by 1752. England began using the new calendar in 1752. Eleven days were omitted to bring the calendar in line with the solar year. The day after Wednesday, 2 September 1752, became Thursday, 14 September 1752.Also at that time, the first day of the year changed to 1 January. Before 1752, the first day of the year was 25 March. Pre-1752 dates may be confusing. For example, the day after 24 March 1565 was 25 March 1566. Dates between 1 January and 24 March are often recorded using a technique called double dating. An example of double dating is 16 February 1696/7. For more information, see Handbook of Dates for Students of English History, by C. R. Cheney.

Religions of England

  • The Church of England, or Anglican Church, was the predominant and state religion of England from 1536. The vast majority of the population adhered to it, though this proportion was decreasing by the 1700s and 1800s.
  • Various Non-Conformist groups, such as Methodists and Society of Friends (Quakers). They slowly grew in legal standing and in numbers from about 1600 onwards, experiencing at first much persecution and discrimination.
  • Roman Catholics remained present in England after the split between Rome and the Church of England. They were heavily persecuted and their records extant until laws of 1778, 1791 and 1829 lifted discrimination against them,

See Church of England Parish Registers, England Nonconformist Church Records.

Types of Records

Baptisms

Baptism records usually contain:

  • Child's name
  • Father's name, and from 1813 his occupation and residence/address
  • Mother's name, but not her maiden name
  • Baptism date, and sometimes birth date, which can often be several years before the baptism.

It is worth mentioning that it was common practice in families to use the same Christian name over and over again until a child survived with it. This means that individuals need to try and capture all of the family members listed watching for deaths and that same name being given to the next child of the same sex.

Marriages

Couples usually married in the bride’s parish. Typically, the English married in their 20s. You may find records that show a couple’s “intent to marry” in addition to the records of the actual marriage. Sometimes, however, the couple registered their intent to marry but never married. Church of England parish register marriage records usually contain:

  • Marriage date 
  • Name of the bride and groom 
  • Residence of the bride and groom 
  • Marital status of bride and groom 
  • May list the dates that the marriage was announced (also called “banns published”). This normally took place on three separate occasions prior to the marriage and gave anyone with a valid reason a chance to object to the marriage.
  • After 1754, the full names of two witnesses 
  • After 1754, the minister's name

After 30 June 1837, marriage records also include:

  • Age of the bride and groom 
  • Name and occupation of fathers of bride and groom 

There were two ways to meet the requirements to marry, see Marriage Allegations, Bonds and Licences in England and Wales

  1. By Banns. A law required couples to have the minister announce or post notice of their intent to marry for three consecutive Sundays, unless they obtained a license. This gave others the opportunity to object to the marriage. Beginning in 1754, officials recorded banns in separate registers. Banns registers contain information almost identical to marriage registers, but banns usually do not list the witnesses or marriage date.
  2. By License. A couple applied to the proper church authority, usually the bishop, for a license when:
    • Circumstances made it desirable to marry without waiting the three weeks required for the proclamation of banns.
    • The bride and groom lived in different dioceses.
    • A couple preferred not to subject themselves to publication of banns (common among upper classes and nonconformists).

Burials

A burial usually took place in the deceased’s parish a few days after the death. Church of England parish register burial records usually contain:

  • Burial date 
  • Name of the deceased. 
  • If the deceased is a child, the father’s name might be given. 
  • If the deceased is a married woman, the husband’s name might be given
  • If the deceased is a widow, that may be noted. 
  • May give the sex of the deceased

The forms introduced in 1813 also called for:

  • Age of the deceased
  • Residence of the deceased 
  • Occupation of the deceased
  • Minister's signature

Burial registers may mention infant children who were not christened, including stillbirths. Christening records never record stillbirths.

Bishop's Transcripts

Beginning in 1598, ministers were required to send copies of their registers to an archdeacon or bishop annually. These copies are referred to as bishops’ transcripts, or sometimes archdeacon transcripts. As a result, two copies of many parish registers exist from 1598 to about the mid-1800s. After civil registration began in 1837, the value of keeping bishops’ transcripts diminished, so by 1870 most parishes had stopped making them.

Bishop's transcripts should be an exact copy of the parish register but they often are not.  This may be because:

  • The minister was saving time and space by abreviating entries when copying them.
  • The minister may have added more detail to an entry when he copied it into the BTs.
  • BT's were on separate pieces of parchment and some may have been lost over the years.
  • BT's may survive where the parish registers do not.
  • Entries may have been accidently skipped or mis-transcribed when the record was copied for the BT's.

The current location of original bishop’s transcripts is given in:

Gibson, J. S. W. Bishops’ Transcripts and Marriage Licences, Bonds and Allegations. Fourth Edition. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies Publications, Limited, 1997. (FHL book 942 K23b 1997.)

Many bishop’s transcripts are on film at the Family History Library, listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalogue under:

England, [county name], [parish name] - Church records

Most films contain all the years for one parish on one film. However, some are arranged by deanery and year. Those arranged by year and then by deanery are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalogue under:

England, [county name] - Church records

Parish Chest Records

The Parish Chest
Church records were kept in a chest (or strongbox) known as the "parish chest". Because the Church of England was ordered by the Crown to keep records on all their congregants, any recorded business other than the christenings, marriages and burials of the parishioners was kept in this chest and are known as "parish chest records." Some of these records still exist from the 16th century, but many do not begin until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.

These records may include information regarding the care of the poor, settlement examinations, removal orders, apprenticeship indentures, militia certificates and workhouse accounts. And many give detailed information on individuals and families

FamilySearch Help Center online lesson: England Parish Chest Records

Accessing England Church Records

What Exists

The following sites provide information about what records exist for each parish. The problem is then to access these records.

Major Websites

The table below includes mostly Anglican and some Nonconformist church records that are online at the following major genealogy sites: FamilySearch, Ancestry ($), FindMyPast ($), The Genealogist ($) and FreeReg. For each county these websites are ranked under the "Index Online" column according to their number of entries from largest to smallest (left to right).

Ancestry, FindMyPast and TheGenealogist are all subscription websites, but can be viewed at Family History Centers (FHCs) and at many public libraries.

A free account is required to access FamilySearch, and some of the images on their websites can only be viewed at FHCs or Affiliate Libraries.

Note that records from the IGI are excluded. The IGI covers every county, see the section below for more details.

Do not expect any of these collections to be complete.

County(pre-1974) Index Online Images linked to Index
Bedfordshire FamilySearch
Berkshire FindMyPast, FamilySearch
Buckinghamshire FindMyPast, FamilySearch
Cambridgeshire FamilySearch, FindMyPast FamilySearch
Cheshire FamilySearch, FindMyPast, Ancestry FindMyPast
Cornwall FamilySearch, FindMyPast FamilySearch
Cumberland FamilySearch
Derbyshire Ancestry, FindMyPast, FamilySearch FamilySearch
Devon FindMyPast, FamilySearch FamilySearch, FindMyPast
Dorset FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast, The Genealogist FamilySearch, Ancestry
Durham FamilySearch, FindMyPast, The Genealogist, FreeReg, Durham Records online FamilySearch
Essex FamilySearch, The Genealogist, Ancestry FamilySearch (BTs)
Gloucestershire Ancestry, FindMyPast, The Genealogist, FamilySearch Ancestry
Hampshire FamilySearch The Genealogist, FindMyPast FamilySearch
Herefordshire FamilySearch
Hertfordshire FindMyPast, FamilySearch FindMyPast
Huntingdonshire FindMyPast, FamilySearch
Kent FamilySearch, FindMyPast, Ancestry Ancestry, FamilySearch, FindMyPast,
Lancashire FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast (Manchester) Ancestry, FamilySearch (for Manchester)
Leicestershire FindMyPast, FamilySearch FindMyPast
Lincolnshire FindMyPast, FamilySearch, FreeReg FindMyPast
London* Ancestry, FamilySearch Ancestry, FamilySearch (see Middlesex below), FindMyPast
Middlesex Ancestry, FamilySearch, FindMyPast, Ancestry, FamilySearch (Westminster, Middlesex), FindMyPast
Norfolk Ancestry, FamilySearch, FindMyPast, The Genealogist FamilySearch, The Genealogist, Ancestry, FindMyPast
Northamptonshire Ancestry, FreeReg Ancestry
Northumberland FindMyPast, FamilySearch, FreeReg, The Genealogist FamilySearch
Nottinghamshire Ancestry, FindMyPast, FreeReg, The Genealogist, FamilySearch
Oxfordshire Ancestry Ancestry
Rutland FindMyPast, FamilySearch FindMyPast
Shropshire FamilySearch, FindMyPast FindMyPast
Somerset Ancestry, FindMyPast, FamilySearch (Bristol) Ancestry
Staffordshire FamilySearch, FindMyPast FamilySearch. FindMyPast
Suffolk FamilySearch, FindMyPast
Surrey FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast Ancestry
Sussex FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast Ancestry
Warwickshire FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast FamilySearch, Ancestry, FindMyPast
Westmorland FamilySearch
Wiltshire Ancestry, FindMyPast, FreeReg, FamilySearch, Nimrod Marr. Index Ancestry
Worcestershire FamilySearch, The Genealogist
Yorkshire Ancestry(West Yorkshire), FindMyPast, FamilySearch Ancestry (West Yorkshire), FindMyPast
  • What is now London was formerly Middlesex, and portions of northeast Surrey, northwest Kent, and West Ham, in Essex.

IGI and FamilySearch Catalog

Many years ago FamilySearch created a major index called the International Genealogical Index (IGI). It contained at the time, both indexed/extracted church register name entries as well as patron submitted names of their ancestors. The records extracted from church records cover only a small fraction of what is presently available in the current FamilySearch.org search page, which now renders the old IGI as an antequated data-file. No images are included as the IGI was designed to help genealogists find the right original records to pursue. Batch numbers are still used by FamilySearch (to track indexing), and a key website, Archersoftware, has created an online search utility for each batch number created by FamilySearch. In most cases, the information is about 3-4 years outdated, yet is quite helpful. Pick a British Isles country, then choose a county and parish to find links to batches for numerous England counties. Once you click on a batch number it interfaces with and takes you directly to the FamilySearch.org website's search engine with all indexed name entries for that batch. Note: The old term IGI, as it currently exists at FamilySearch.org, no longer includes the valued parish register portion containing extracted/indexed data, and is now a misnomer. The old IGI's with its indexed christenings, baptisms, marriages (and some burials) were several years ago, separated and migrated into the current databases at the Familysearch.org's search engine page. The current "IGI" is merely a database containing 892 million entries which were considered to be less-reliable names-submissions to FamilySearch.org of decades past. The IGI (researcher submissions only), while less trustworthy, is still worth searching and for the same reason that searching Ancestry.com's Public Member Trees, or MyHeritage.com's FamilyTree, etc.

There are two ways to access the IGI.

  1. Go to the FamilySearch.org "search" page and click "Genealogies" at the top. Type the name of the ancestor and this search facility will return entries from the IGI submitted name entries (non-index/extracted entries), which there are 897 million entries
  2. Search in the entire collection of IGI records for England. These are listed below:England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, index, incomplete. Also at Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, ($)

3. Another is to find the parish in the FamilySearch Catalog. Look under "church records" and find the religion, year and record type of interest. If an IGI or FamilySearch index is available for the parish, a magnifying glass symbol will appear. If a camera symbol also appears, the images are also accessible from any computer. A camera symbol with a key indicates the image is only accessible from a FHC or Affiliate Library. A microfilm symbol means that the images are not yet available online, and can only be viewed on microfilm at the FHL in Salt Lake City.

Regional and Local Websites

Various genealogical societies and organisations have produced transcriptions of records. One prominent groups of sites are Online Parish Clerks(OPCs) For each county an OPC site is run by volunteers to make church records freely available online. See for example the Lancashire OPC

For more detail about resources for a particular county or parish, see the wiki page for that area. For example, Bedfordshire Church Records, or Ashbourne

Other useful sites are DustyDocs and UKBMD, both providing information about websites specific to the area or parish.

Extracted Records

Similiar to the IGI, other individuals and organisations made transcriptions of a small subset of England church records to aid researchers. While mostly superseded by the large databases of the major websites, they may still be useful in some circumstances.

Non-Conformists

Military, Overseas and Maritime Records

Other Sites

  • www.google.com- Just try Googling the name of the ‘county’ or ‘parish’ + ‘parish registers.’ I.e. ‘Worcestershire parish registers’ or ‘Churchill parish registers.’

Offline Indexes

Indexes to church records have been published by family history societies in England. Read more in the Societies article.

  • Some county record offices hold in-house and sometimes, online indexes to their own records holdings. Contact via e-mail, mail, telephone or fax.
  • Many family history societies have published in booklet-form, or on microfiche, or on CD-ROM numerous countywide or parish church records transcriptions and indexes.

Privately held marriage indexes for most counties are available by correspondence at either of the following two sources. Many indexes are listed with the addresses of where to write in:

  • Humphery-Smith, Cecil R., The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. Second Edition. Chichester, Sussex: Phillimore & Company, 1995. (FHL book 942 E7pa 1995.)
  • Gibson, Jeremy, and Elizabeth Hampson, Editors. Marriage and Census Indexes for Family Historians. Seventh Edition. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies Publications, Limited, 1998. (FHL book 942 D27gjh.)
  • Some marriage indexes are on film at the Family History Library. To find them, use the Place-name search of the FamilySearch Catalogue and search for a county of interest and the topic of CHURCH RECORDS - INDEXES.

Archives

Lambeth Palace

County Record Offices

Most of the Church of England parish registers and Bishop's transcript copies of same, are deposited in the county record offices throughout the country. Additionally, while a majority of the nonconformist church registers have been deposited at The National Archives, some of these church registers have been deposited in the county records offices.

These record offices are open to the public and all have a web site by which you can learn more about their services, the records and their availability, and online offerings.

Lambeth Palace Library

Lambeth Palace Library is the historic library and record office of the Archbishops of Canterbury and the principal repository of the documentary history of the Church of England. 

Lambeth Palace Great Hall

The Library does hold some records relevant to genealogy, but it is unlikely to be the best starting point for such research. The Library holds very few parish registers, however it does hold records relating to those marriages where a licence was issued under the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Library has written a research guide on the family history records it holds, and a guide to the marriage records in its collections:

Lambeth Palace Library.org Family History Lambeth Palace Library Marriage records

For further information on the Library’s collections and services, please see its website: Lambeth Palace Library.org

Locating Church Records of England

Main article: Locating Church Records of England


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