What information can I find in Church of England records?

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The information recorded in church and nonconformist records varies by time period, location, and denomination.

Christenings

Children were usually christened within a few weeks of birth, though some denominations such as Baptists, Anabaptists, and Mormons did not allow infant baptisms. Even in the Church of England, christenings of some older children or adults were recorded. The Church of England parish registers give at least the infant’s name and the christening (baptismal) date. Additional information may include:

  • Sex of the child
  • Name of the father and often mother’s given name
  • Legitimacy of the child
  • Marital status of the parents
  • Occupation or social class of the father
  • May list the residence of the parents, especially after 1812 (street address in big cities)
  • The birth date was sometimes added--often in the margin of the pre-printed form after 1812.

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:

  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 person
  • 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.