This past year I had the opportunity to take an online course from BYU, “English History to 1689”. As a genealogist I knew that anything I could learn and retain from this course would be valuable in understanding the records and my ancestors’ place in those records. But I didn’t anticipate getting so emotionally involved!
In 1066 A.D., William the Conqueror entered England and established the tradition of a royal monarch at the head of the nation. Even for centuries after, the country was fragmented into geographical areas, with some kings being popular while others were ignored. But slowly England became a cohesive unit because of the efforts of the kings, resulting in one ruler and one law.
It was fascinating to read about each king and learn about their personalities and talents. Some of them were very intelligent, introducing government processes that still hold today. Others were fearless, proud of their physical strength and willing to fight anyone to protect the country. And then there were others who were weak or lazy or just evil.
One of the significant centuries, as I see it, is the 1500’s, when King Henry VIII severed ties with the Catholic Church and the Pope, and his daughter Queen Elizabeth I ruled for 45 years, during what was called the Golden Age. After the separation from Rome and the creation of the Church of England, Henry’s vice regent ordered each parish to record christenings, marriages, and burials for their congregation. And then, fifty years later, during Elizabeth’s rule, it was discovered that these same records were decaying because they were written on paper. It was decreed that these records were to be kept on parchment and that each parish would send a copy into their diocese once a year.
This was a turning point in England for records. What a blessing for any of us searching the parish registers and bishop’s transcripts in England! And because the parish was the governing body over its congregants, the parishes not only recorded their events but also managed the business affairs of the community. Roads were repaired, bell ringers were paid, and the poor were taken care of. And because of that responsibility, other records exist today that give us more details on our ancestors. I will be ever grateful for those faithful record keepers of past centuries and their desire to be obedient servants to their monarch.