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Church records were kept in a chest (or strongbox) known as the parish chest. Records other than the parish registers were called "parish chest records." Some of these records still exist from the 16th century, but many do not begin until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.
Many parish chest records are available at county record offices. Parish chest records include:
A vestry is a parish’s presiding council. Minutes of vestry meetings often mention individuals, appointments of parish officers, and other affairs (such as agreements for the care of illegitimate children and lists of apprentices, parish newcomers, officials, and men eligible to serve as parish officers).
Poor and Other Rates
Parishes recorded payments made to the poor and rates, or taxes, assessed to meet welfare needs. Parishes also charged rates for things such as night watch, lighting, highway, pest control, constable expenses, sewer, and victim’s or soldier’s relief. They kept records of assessment, receipt, and disbursement.
When an unmarried woman was expecting a child, parish officials pressured her to reveal the father’s name so the father, not the parish, had financial responsibility for the child’s care. A "bond of indemnification," also known as a "bastardy bond," was the father’s guarantee of responsibility for the child. Bastardy bonds or records of the mother’s examination may still exist in the parish chest records or among quarter session records. Read the Court Records article for additional information. Churchwardens (church officials) sometimes bypassed the bond with a gentlemen’s agreement, records of which are among churchwardens’ accounts or vestry minutes.
Churchwardens, generally appointed at the Easter vestry meetings, were responsible to the bishop or magistrate to present any wrongdoings at quarter sessions, including failure to provide for the poor, failure to attend church, drunkenness, or other undesirable behaviour. They were to report misbehaviour of the vicar or other vestry members as well. Churchwarden records often list men qualified to serve as churchwardens.
Settlement and Removal Records
Settlement records relate to a person’s legal place of settlement, as determined by a set of rules. The parish of settlement was responsible for the welfare and old-age care of family members. Parish officials often aggressively denied settlement. When a family sought parish welfare, officials determined the family’s legal settlement. A "removal order" was a document directing the constable to transport the family back to their parish of settlement.
These records often list the apprentice’s father, his master, the length of the apprenticeship, and the occupation. A child’s father often arranged the apprenticeship, but the parish "put out" many pauper children, since it was cheaper to pay for an apprenticeship than to raise a child. The child’s name may also be in vestry minutes when the vestry decided to put the child out as an apprentice. You may also find apprenticeships in other sources. Read more in the Occupations article.
Parish chest records are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
- England, [county name], [parish name] - Church records
- England, [county name], [parish name] - Poorhouses, Poor Law
- England, [county name], [parish name] - Taxation
For further information on parish chest material, see:
- McLaughlin, Eve. Annals of the Poor. Third Edition. Solihull, England: Federation of Family History Societies Publications, Limited, 1986. (FHL Book 942 H6mev.)
- Tate, W. E. The Parish Chest. Third Edition. Chichester, Sussex, England: Phillimore, 1969. (FHL book 942 K2t.)
- Tate, William Edward (1969). "The parish chest: a study of the records of parochial administration in England at Google Books". Cambridge University Press.