Church of England Parish Registers
In 1534, King Henry VIII established the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, the State Church, or the Episcopal Church.A law passed in 1537 that required ministers to record the baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place in their parishes by the following year (1538). Priests recorded these events in registers and kept them at the parish level, which is the lowest level of authority in the Church of England.
Within some parishes, chapelries were created to provide for the worship needs of the parishioner when the parish church was not easily accessible. Chapelries sometimes had the authority to perform baptisms, marriages, and burials, so they kept their own registers.
Several parishes formed a deanery (presided over by a dean), several deaneries formed an archdeaconry (presided over by an archdeacon), and one or more archdeaconries were subject to the diocese (presided over by a bishop).
- Further information: History of Parish Registers in England
Baptisms (christenings), marriages, and burials
These events were recorded on blank pages in a bound register. The events of baptism, marriage, and burial were all recorded in one volume until 1754, when a law required that marriages be recorded in a separate book. Banns, or proclamations of “an intent” to marry, were recorded in yet another book. Starting in 1812, preprinted registers were introduced, and from then on, separate registers were kept for baptisms, marriages, and burials.
Banns are proclamations of an intent to marry. After 1754, these banns were required to be read for three consecutive Sundays before a marriage so that anyone with reasons against the marriage could oppose it. Banns were read in both the bride’s parish and the groom’s parish.
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 (BTs), or sometimes archdeacon transcripts. As a result, two copies of many parish registers exist from 1598 to about the mid-1800s.
Before 1812, BTs were usually recorded on loose pieces of paper. After 1812, the transcripts were recorded on the same preprinted forms as parish registers.
After civil registration began in 1837, the value of keeping BTs diminished, so by 1870 most parishes had stopped making them.
In 1598 ministers were required to copy their registers onto parchment. If the minister failed to make such a copy, the register for that parish and its records do not survive.
Most bishops’ transcripts of Church of England parish registers have been preserved. Many have also been copied to microfilm or microfiche. The condition of the records is relatively good considering their age and their storage conditions over the centuries.
There may be gaps in Parish Registers between 1553-1558 when the Catholic Mary Tudor was on the throne, and between 1642-1660 during the English Civil War and Commonwealth, as many parish registers disappeared and many transcripts were not kept because ministers were deposed from their parishes.
- Main article: England Calendar Changes
Starting in 1582 the old style Julian calendar, which started each year on March 25th, began to be replaced throughout Europe by the new style Gregorian calendar. However England and Wales did not make the change until 1751. This was 170 years after most other European countries had made the change. For countries in the British Empire (except Scotland) the year 1751 began on March 25th and ended on December 31st, meaning the year was only nine months long. The following year 1752 saw an adjustment of 11 days to realign the calendar to the seasons. Wednesday, 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday, 14 September 1752.
As a result many register entries during this period (1582-1751), made between January 1st and March 24th, are shown using dual entry (e.g. Jan 1st 1740 may be shown as Jan 1st 1740/41). This format (dual entry) is also used in modern citations for this period.