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Church records are the main source for genealogy prior to 1837 when [[England Civil Registration|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 is around 54% and in 1555 14.8% and only 7.2% in 1538. Other records must be used to help establish ancestry.<br>
'''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.