England Parish Registers (FamilySearch Historical Records)
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|This article contains information about records in multiple collections. See the section FamilySearch Historical Record Collections for a list of published collections.|
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|England in the United Kingdom|
|Record Type||Parish Registers|
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- 1 What Are Parish Registers?
- 2 Information in Parish Registers
- 3 Related Records
- 4 FamilySearch Historical Record Collections
What Are Parish Registers?
In its most basic sense, a parish register is a record of the baptisms, marriages, and burials performed in a local congregation or parish of the Church of England. These records have been kept relatively consistently and universally across England since the mid-sixteenth century, and due to this long and stable tradition, these records are central to English genealogical research. Often, they are one of the only sources for finding families and individuals before the start of civil registration in 1837.
History and Format
Shortly after the establishment of the Church of England, a law passed which required parish priests to record all the baptisms, marriages, and burials that they officiated each year. These records, called registers, were supposed to have started in 1538, though some parishes did not start keeping them until as late as 1598.
Initially, a parish priest generally recorded the rites he performed during the year on blank sheets, which sometimes were bound into single volume. Because it was not stated how entries should be kept, early registers show a variety of content and format, depending on the whims of individual priests. In some registers, baptisms, marriages and burials appear in separate columns on the same page, in others they are grouped separately in different parts of the book, or some may have all three together in chronological order. Information supplied in these early registers also varied, though basic vital information is the general norm.
After 1754, a new law required that marriages be recorded in a separate book, and banns—public proclamations of a couple’s intent to marry—were to be recorded in yet another book. Starting in 1812, pre-printed registers were introduced for baptisms, marriages, and burials, and separate registers were then kept for all three. Pre-printed registers have the benefit of defining what information is required to appear in a record, though priests often supplied more than what was asked, as can be seen on some of the example images below.
It should be noted that many parish registers may not be available for the years 1553-1558 and 1642-1660. During the first period, the Catholic Mary Tudor sat on the throne, and the second is the Interregnum, the period of the English Civil War and the subsequent Commonwealth. In both cases, the hierarchy of the Church of England was disrupted, leading to a lapse in record-keeping in some parishes.
While the parish is the basic geographic unit of the Church of England, parishes were sometimes divided into smaller units to better serve churchgoers when the parish church was not easily accessible. These smaller units, called chapelries, had the same authority to perform rites as did their mother parishes, and they therefore had to keep registers in the same way as well. Despite originating in a chapelry, these records properly are still termed parish registers.
Baptism: Baptism, sometimes called "christening" in Anglican usage, is the initial rite by which an individual is received into the community of faith within the Church of England. This rite is normally undertaken shortly after birth, though it may follow weeks or even months later. Adult baptism is not entirely unheard of, though it is rare.
Marriage: Parish registers sometimes list these as "weddings". Between 1754 and 1837, law required couples to marry in the Church of England, no matter their actual denomination. Thus, of the three types of parish register, marriage registers present the most complete coverage of the population of England in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It should be noted that during this period, couples generally married in the bride's parish, though this was not an officially established rule.
- Banns: Banns are formal proclamations of an intent to marry, and they have been the normal prerequisite for marriage in the Church of England since 1754. Though they are not actually parish registers, banns records contain mostly the same information as marriage registers and therefore are often found in collections of parish registers.
Burial: Burial has historically occurred within a few days of death. Until the late nineteenth century, burial registers record many nonconformists, as nonconformists were often buried in Anglican churchyards when cemeteries belonging to their sects were not available.
Information in Parish Registers
What Do Parish Registers Contain?
The following lists indicate the normal information given in each type of parish register record. Many records may provide more information than is listed, as parish priests often provided additional information in their register entries, as can be seen in the examples below.
Baptismal Registers may include:
Marriage Registers may include:
Burial Registers may include:
To view a larger version of any of these images, click on the desired image.
Reading the Records
- Many parish registers are written in Latin rather than English. For help with this language, see the Latin Genealogical Word List.
- In addition, many parish registers are written in an old script that can be challenging to read. Refer to BYU’s Script Tutorial for palaeographic assistance.
Between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, calendar reforms took place in Europe which can cause difficulty when attempting to date records from that period.
From ancient times through the Middle Ages, the Julian Calendar was the standard system of keeping dates throughout Europe. By 1582, though, this calendar had come out of sync with the seasons, so Pope Gregory XIII approved a new calendar which fixed this issue by correcting the method of calculating the year and removing eleven days from the calendar. However, the new Gregorian Calendar was not accepted in England until 1752, at which point the eleven days were taken from the month of September to bring the English calendar into accordance with that of other locations in Europe. Thus, register dates for 1752 go immediately from 2 September to 14 September.
1752 also saw the official transition of the beginning of the calendar year from 25 March to 1 January, which also had been mandated by Pope Gregory XIII. Some parish priests had recognized the new calendar before the official transition, and as a result, some register entries from 1582-1751 show dual entries for dates between 1 January and 24 March (e.g., 2 February 1740 may be shown as 2 February 1740/41). Dual entry format is also used in most modern citations for this period to help avoid confusion.
- Further information: Julian and Gregorian Calendars
Beginning in 1598, every parish priest of the Church of England was supposed to make a copy of his parish register and send it to send to the archdeacon or bishop every year. Termed either archdeacon’s or bishop’s transcripts, these copies were generally produced in the same form as a regular parish transcript. Many priests stopped producing these transcripts with the beginning of civil registration in 1837, but they did not fully disappear until after 1870.
As bishop’s transcripts generally contain more or less the same information as parish registers, they are an invaluable resource when parish records have been damaged, destroyed, or otherwise lost. Bishop's transcripts are often of value even when parish registers exist, as priests often recorded either additional or different information in their transcripts than they did in the original registers.
- Further information: England Bishop's Transcripts (FamilySearch Historical Records)
Parish Chest Records
By the eighteenth century, the parish had become the basic unit of civil as well as ecclesiastical administration. As such, records dealing with civil or legal matters were often kept at parish churches, generally in a strongbox or chest—hence the term "parish chest" records. The other types of records kept by a parish could include:
- Vestry Minutes
- Church Rate Books
- Bastardy Bonds
- Churchwarden Accounts
- Settlement and Removal Records
- Apprenticeship Records
Given the variety of records held within the parish chest, parish records are not always easy to search. To make parish chest research easier, FamilySearch has separated most parish chest holdings from each county or city into multiple collections according to the type of records present. Thus, to search for parish chest records, do not look for collections labelled as "parish chest" collections. Rather, look for collections of a specific type of record from the correct location.
- Further information: Parish Chest Records
From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, English or Welsh Christians who belonged to a denomination other than the Church of England were referred to as “nonconformists”. By 1850, many different groups fell into the nonconformist category, including Reformed Christians (Presbyterians and Congregationalists), Baptists, and Methodists. Indeed, by the end of the nineteenth century, approximately fifteen percent of the population of England and eighty percent of the population of Wales were considered nonconformists.
While not the most universal source for English genealogical research, nonconformist church registers are often the most informative and accurate source available for English family history until the start of civil registration in 1837. Nonconformist birth and baptismal registers are fairly common, and they generally contain more information than those of the Church of England. Except for the Quakers and Jews, nonconformist denominations generally did not keep marriage records, especially after 1754. Nonconformist burial records are also less common, as nonconformist individuals were buried in Anglican churchyards if a churchyard belonging to their sect was not locally available.
- Further information: England Nonconformist Church Records
FamilySearch Historical Record Collections
Parish Register Collections
These articles describe collections of parish registers held by FamilySearch:
- Bristol Parish Registers
- Canterbury Parish Registers
- Cheshire Parish Registers
- Cornwall Parish Registers
- Derbyshire Parish Registers
- Devon Parish Registers
- Diocese of Manchester Parish Registers
- Dorset Parish Registers
- Essex Parish Registers
- Hampshire Parish Registers
- Hertfordshire Parish Registers
- Kent Parish Registers
- Lancashire Parish Registers
- Northumberland Parish Registers
- Surrey Parish Registers
- Sussex Parish Registers
- Warwickshire Parish Registers
- Yorkshire Parish Registers
Bishop's Transcript Collections
Due to the relationship of bishop's transcripts to parish registers, many collections of bishop's transcripts may contain some parish registers. For a list of articles describing collections of bishop's transcripts on FamilySearch, see the bishop's transcripts page.
These articles describe other collections which may contain parish registers:
- England Births and Christenings
- England Deaths and Burials
- England Marriages
- Great Britain Deaths and Burials
- Great Britain Marriages
- Great Britain Births and Baptisms
- Allertonshire Marriage Bonds and Allegations
- Cheshire Marriage Bonds and Allegations
- Devon and Cornwall Marriages
- Durham Marriage Bonds and Allegations
- Durham Miscellaneous Records
- Manchester Miscellaneous Records
- Norfolk Marriage Bonds
- Northampton Church Records
- Staffordshire Church and School Records