England Catholic Church Records, Deaths, Burials (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Non-Anglican Church Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Catholic Records (cont.)[edit | edit source]

Lists of candidates for confirmation become more frequent and then annual in the 19th century, and only at this time can one estimate the ages of the confirmands, usually 7-9 in the 19th century. Only their name, surname and religious name, (which has no genealogical significance), are recorded in a confirmation record, but it does at least establish that the child survived this long and was in this place on this date. When the dioceses were established in 1850 bishops started to keep their own records of confirmations, thus a duplicate of the parish record should appear here. There are other non-parochial ones as well, such as those that took place in schools and prisons, and for adult converts.

Catholic Marriages[edit | edit source]

During the period of Hardwicke’s Marriage Act 1754-1837 upper and middle class Catholics usually had two ceremonies—one Catholic to satisfy the conscience and one Anglican to satisfy the law for inheritance and legitimacy of children. This meant twice the expense, and poor couples, who didn’t need the latter, made do with just a Catholic marriage. Yates found that ten marriages were celebrated between 1790 and 1805 in the Roman Catholic Chapel of St. Nicholas, Mint Lane, Exeter, Devon. At least eight of these were legally married on the same day or later in the Church of England in Exeter, or the nearby towns of Sidmouth and Exmouth.

It is worth searching out the Catholic as well as the Anglican records since the former is likely to give more information pre-1837, and may do so after this date. Items given in Catholic pre-1837 registers, for which the Anglican edition is the Hardwicke format, could include name of former husband of a widow, notation if one is not Catholic, residences of both parties and of their parents, and any dispensation on account of consanguinity or affinity.

Even after 1837 many Catholic marriages are not to be found in either the Anglican church or the register office, since vast numbers of poor Irish emigrants could not afford the registration fee. The Catholic marriage registers are usually in Latin and there were no printed ones until 1856 except at some embassy chapels. Many of the poor Catholics could not write their names, or only in Irish characters, however there may be a surprising amount of extra information in these records. Apart from the standard date, names of parties, witnesses and minister, most give the names of the fathers and sometimes the mother’s Christian names also. Local addresses and/or the Irish county of origin may also be stated.

The IHGS (Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies) holds a Catholic Marriage Index containing 30,000 entries for 30 places in London north of the Thames plus Essex for the period 1837-1870 which they will consult for a fee.

Commencing in July 1837 duplicate marriages occur in the GRO indexes, as in the PARGETER/LOVEGROVE example noted below. The certificates show two separate marriages for the same couple on the same day, 28 August 1858. The names of the parties and their fathers were the same on both certificates, but a number of differences were apparent:

Chart 26: Duplicate Marriage by Anglican and Catholic Rites

St. George’s Catholic Church St. Mary’s Parish Church
in the District of St. George the Martyr, Southwark, Surrey Lambeth in the District of Lambeth, Surrey
Rites and Ceremonies of the Roman Catholics. Rites and Ceremonies of Established Church by Licence
George William PARGETER bachelor s/o George William PARGETER (deceased) George William PARGETER bachelor s/o George William PARGETER (dec’d)
Matilda LOVEGROVE spinster d/o Henry Churchill LOVEGROVE Matilda LOVEGROVE spinster d/o Henry Churchill LOVEGROVE
Groom was 26 and the bride 23 years old. Both ‘of full age’
Groom and his father were bedding manufacturers Groom and his father were both bedding factors
Groom lived in James Street, New Cut Groom lived in Lower Marsh
Bride lived in Cornwall Road, Lambeth Bride lived in Cornwall Road
Bride’s father was a publican Bride’s father a licensed victualler
Priest and Registrar signed. Curate signed
Two of the Pargeter family witnessed thus we can infer that the husband was a Catholic. Two of the Lovegrove family witnessed thus we can infer that the bride was an Anglican.

Where a Catholic married a non-Catholic the latter partner was sometimes required to sign a paper allowing the children to be raised in the Catholic faith, and these papers are occasionally found slipped into the registers. From the 1920s couples had to state their place of baptism on a Catholic marriage application form.

Catholic Deaths and Burials[edit | edit source]

There were a few Catholic churchyards, but the majority of Catholics were buried in Anglican ones, with some receiving large numbers of Catholics, examples in London being St. Pancras, St. Sepulchre Newgate/Holborn, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, St. Andrew Holborn, and St. James Clerkenwell. In most cases there is nothing to distinguish them in the registers, but in others the word papist may have been added, or the name of the officiating minister may be recognizably Catholic, or there might be a notation Catholic priest under his name, for example in the Formby, Lancashire registers. Likewise, some Anglican clergy just did not record the Catholics who were buried, or were not aware of who they were if they had been buried secretly at night with an illegal Catholic ceremony. Perhaps some of these were papists who had been excommunicated by the Established Church and were thus not supposed to be buried in consecrated ground. When the new borough cemeteries were built after 1853 then Catholics preferred these if within reach, or the Catholic sections of urban cemeteries. Cremation has not been popular amongst practising Catholics. In London the main Catholic cemeteries were:

  • Mortlake in the southwest opened 1852 ( before the new Burial Act).
  • Leytonstone in the east opened 1861, being transcribed by the Catholic Record Society.
  • South London Crematorium (part) opened in 1936.

There are special registers for the armed services, for example for the army the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy at Aldershot has baptisms, marriages and burials, (but not war deaths), which have been copied, and the Curragh British Army Camp Catholic parish in Kildare, Ireland has baptisms and marriages 1855-1880 on FHL film 0926111. Some Catholic priests kept death registers, but with only the name and age of the deceased, and the place of burial. Some priests kept a list of the sick they had visited, especially when the last rites were necessary. Catholic churches have lists of names of the deceased arranged by day and month so that masses may be said for them on the anniversary of their death.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Non-Anglican Church Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.