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. The percentage of parish registers being kept in 1600 is around 54% and in 1555 14.8% and only 7.2% in 1538.  Other records must be used to help establish ancestry.

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 given name
  • Father's given name, and from 1813 his occupation and residence/address
  • Mother's name, and sometimes her maiden surname
  • Baptism date, and sometimes birth date, which can sometimes 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

Typically, the English married in their 20's. 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, a form was used for parish registers
  • After 1754, whether marriage was by banns or license
  • After 1754, the full names of usually 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.

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

Accessing England Church Records

Accessing Records

The first step is to find out which records survive for the parish you are researching. The following places are useful for this:

Once you know what records exist, the next step is to access those records. The easiest way to find records for a particular ancestor is to use an index or transcript of the records. If these are not available then you'll need to browse the original records manually to find records of interest. Both can often be done online, though many websites required a subscription, or can be used for free only at public libraries and Family History Centers (FHCs).

The original records are usually stored at county record offices (Anglican) or The National Archives (non-conformist). A few may remain in custody of the parish, or at local archives or museums.

Major Resources

  • The resources are prioritized from left to right, with the left column containing the most complete coverage for the county.
  • Percentages in brackets indicate the approximate percentage of the records included in that collection. Many collections will have a table or index showing the specific parishes and years they have records for.
  • OPC is an abbreviation for Online Parish Clerks, a group of websites that transcribes parish records and make them freely available online, and FHS is an abbreviation for Family History Society.
  • Many of these collections have the baptisms, marriages and burials on separate webpages. Links to the resources from all this table are always to the baptisms.
  • 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. See the next section for information about records formerly part of the IGI.

Few, if any, of these collections will be 100% complete.

signifies index only
signifies index with images attached
signifies images only

County (pre-1974) Best coverage Less Coverage Offline Records
Bedfordshire FamilySearch (98%) Bedfordshire Archives ($ or in person)
Berkshire FamilySearch(70%) FindMyPast ($) Berkshire Record Office (in person)
Buckinghamshire FamilySearch (50%) FindMyPast ($) Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies (in person)
Cambridgeshire Cambridgeshire FHS FamilySearch(70%) FindMyPast ($) Cambridgeshire FHS CDs ($). Can be accessed for free at the FHL in Salt Lake City.
Cheshire FamilySearch (70%) FindMyPast ($) Ancestry.com ($) Cheshire Parish Register Project
Cornwall Cornwall OPC FreeReg (85%, mostly marriages) FindMyPast ($)
Cumberland FamilySearch (80%)
Derbyshire FindMyPast (85%) ($) FamilySearch (75%) Ancestry.com ($)
Devon FindMyPast ($) FamilySearch (50%)
Dorset FamilySearch Ancestry.com ($) FindMyPast ($) TheGenealogist ($)
Durham FamilySearch FindMyPast ($) FreeReg (25%) Durham Records Online Durham Record Office (in person)
Essex FamilySearch TheGenealogist ($) FindMyPast ($) Essex OPC Essex Record Office ($) or in person.
Gloucestershire Ancestry.com ($) FamilySearch TheGenealogist ($) Bath and Avon FHS ($) CDs
Hampshire FamilySearch TheGenealogist ($) FindMyPast ($) Hampshire Record Office marriage index (mostly complete)
Herefordshire FamilySearch (80%) HARC (in person)
Hertfordshire FamilySearch (90%) FindMyPast ($)
Huntingdonshire FamilySearch FindMyPast ($) (burials) Huntingdonshire Archives (in person)
Kent FamilySearch FindMyPast ($) Ancestry.com ($) Kent OPC
Lancashire Ancestry.com ($)* FamilySearch Lancashire OPC FindMyPast (Manchester only) ($)
Leicestershire FamilySearch (40%) FindMyPast ($) Leicestershire and Rutland FHS (70%)
Lincolnshire FamilySearch (85%) FreeReg (82%) FindMyPast ($)
London* FamilySearch (90%) Ancestry.com ($)
Middlesex Ancestry.com (60%) ($) FindMyPast ($) FamilySearch
Norfolk FreeReg (75%) Ancestry.com ($) FamilySearch FindMyPast ($)
Northamptonshire Ancestry.com ($) FreeReg (71%) Northamptonshire FHS FHL has Northamptonshire CDs
Northumberland FamilySearch (85%) FindMyPast ($) FreeReg (80%) FamilySearch
Nottinghamshire FreeReg (90%) Ancestry.com ($) FindMyPast ($) FamilySearch Nottinghamshire Archives
Oxfordshire Ancestry.com ($) FamilySearch (85%) Oxfordshire FHS
Rutland FamilySearch (80%) FindMyPast ($)
Shropshire FindMyPast ($) FamilySearch
Somerset Ancestry.com ($) FreeReg (85%) FamilySearch (30%) FindMyPast ($)
Staffordshire FamilySearch (85%) FindMyPast ($) FreeReg (85%)
Suffolk FamilySearch (65%) FindMyPast ($) Suffolk Record Office (in person)
Surrey Ancestry.com (70%) ($) FindMyPast ($) FamilySearch
Sussex FamilySearch (65%) Sussex OPC TheGenealogist ($) FindMyPast ($) (burials)
Warwickshire Ancestry.com ($)* FamilySearch FindMyPast ($) Warwickshire OPC
Westmorland FamilySearch (70%) Kendal Archival Center (in person)
Wiltshire FindMyPast ($) FamilySearch (50%) FreeReg (80%) Ancestry.com ($)
Worcestershire FamilySearch (75%) TheGenealogist ($)
Yorkshire Ancestry.com ($) (West Yorkshire) FamilySearch (75%) FindMyPast ($)
  • Ancestry also has records for Birmingham and Manchester separate from the records for Warwickshire and Lancashire respectively.
  • What is now London was formerly Middlesex, and portions of northeast Surrey, northwest Kent, and West Ham, in Essex.

IGI

Starting in 1973, FamilySearch created a major index called the IGI (International Genealogical Index). It contained both indexed/extracted church register name entries as well as user submitted records (the forerunner to the FamilySearch's Family Tree).

The records that were extracted from original source documents were only ever a small fraction of all existing records. No original images are included. The records are arranged in batches and sometimes it is useful to know what batches correspond to a particular place. Archersoftware, while a few years out of date, provides batch information for the entire British Isles. Many, sometimes even a majority of records, were indexed for Bedfordshire, Berkshire, ... (cull list to 5-10 counties). There are still millions of records for the other counties, and every single county is included.

To do a general search of these records, see the following:

The other records in the IGI were user submitted. Like all family trees and other published genealogies, caution is required as some information may be incorrect. The user submitted records come from all over the world, with only a small portion relating to England. They can be accessed from the Genealogies.

FamilySearch Catalog

The Family History Library contains an extensive collection of English church records. The most common are:

  • Parish registers from their beginning up to the nineteenth century or later
  • Bishops’ transcripts from 1598 up to the mid- 19th century
  • Transcripts of parish registers
  • Parish chest records
  • Registers of nonconformist churches to 1837 (sometimes later)

To find church records from a particular place, use the FamilySearch Catalog. Look under "church records" and find the religion, year and record type of interest. If an index is available for the records, 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 Family History Center 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 organizations have produced transcriptions of records. One prominent groups of sites are the Online Parish Clerks (OPCs). For each county the OPC site is run by volunteers to make church records freely available online. For example, see 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.
  • 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 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 website by which you can learn more about their services, the records and their availability, and online offerings.

Besides county record offices, church records may also be deposited at the local parish, libraries, museums, or other repositories.

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:

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

Parish Boundaries

To find an ancestor in church records, you should know their religion and the parish where they lived. The Place Search on the FamilySearch Catalog usually uses the parish names as given in The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales. See England Gazetteers for this source and other help in finding a parish. Also see the England & Wales Jurisdictions 1851 map to locate the parish. Be aware that local residents sometimes referred to their parish by the name of the parish patron saint, rather than by the location of the parish. In cities where there is more than one parish, the FamilySearch Catalog uses the patron saint's name with the name of the city to identify records of different parishes.

Parish maps can help you determine which parish to search. Maps will reveal neighboring parishes to search if your ancestor is not listed in the parish where you expected him or her to be. See England Maps for more information.

Search Strategies and Tips

As you search church records, use the following strategies:

  • Search both Church of England parish registers and bishops’ transcripts, as either may contain entries missing from the other.
  • Note all entries, including burials, in the parish registers for the surname of interest unless the name is very common.
  • Note gaps or missing pages in the record. This may suggest that you should search alternative records for that time period.
  • If the church records do not contain enough information, search for hints (residence, occupation, and so on) that suggest other records to search.
  • If you find little or no mention of your family in Church of England parish records, search neighboring parishes and nonconformist records. However before 1837 non-Anglicans were supposed to marry in the Church of England, the only exception being Jews and Quakers.
  • If a marriage record indicates the marriage was by license, it can be very worthwhile to find the marriage license.
  • Remember that baptism was not always a few days after birth, and could occur when the child was several years old. When siblings are baptized together, this does not mean they were born together.
  • Older records may use handwriting styles that are difficult to read, and therefore take a lot of practice and learning to successfully decipher.
  • Naming traditions were often used to name children. The most common and best followed is that the oldest son is named after the fathers father.
  • The fathers of illegitimate children are often unknown, yet alone recorded.
  • Women will be referred to by their married surnames. Only a small proportion of baptism records will record the mother's maiden name.
  • It was traditional to marry in the residence of the bride. However Banns still had to be posted in every parish both parties had resided in recently.

Research Guidance

FamilySearch Help Center Online Lessons:

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