England Church Records

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Introduction

Church records are the main source for identifying people prior to 1837 when civil registration began. It is also a main source after 1837 in conjunction with civil registration. . Each local parish was responsible to register all marriages, baptisms and burials starting in 1538. . 

Although a nationwide order was given in 1538 that each parish keep a register of baptisms, marriages, and burials, many parishes did not start to keep registers until later and some early records have since been lost or destroyed. Beginning in 1598, copies of entries from many parishes were copied and sent annually to the bishop for the diocese for that area and these copies are known as Bishop’s Transcripts or BTs. For Lincolnshire and Norfolk, many Bishop's transcripts began as early as 1561. Archdeacon transcripts exist for Kent as well; some as early as 1560.

Parish.  A parish is the jurisdictional unit that governs church affairs within its boundaries. Each local parish keeps records. Small villages often do not have their own parishes but nevertheless have a chapel of ease built and are part of a parish headquartered in another town. A parish may consist of one or more chapelries, dependent district churches or chapels of ease, which often keep their own records.

Chapelry. A small parochial division of a large, populated parish. Most chapels or chapelries kept their own registers of baptisms and burials, and where authorization was granted, marriages were performed and registers kept. Occasional parishes throughout England, but especially most of Lancashire's approximately 75 parishes, and many in Cheshire, Greater London, and Yorkshire counties consisted of  numerous chapelries. For example, England's largest parish of Manchester (the Cathedral), was not the only church standing within its own boundary as it was comprised of over 150 smaller chapels many of ancient origin prior to 1880 (see Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of England for pre-1848 and, for post-1848 chapelries--see the Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales for even more). To view all those chapelries attached to and lying within England's largest parishes, see the "Comprehensive Lists of Chapelries in Its Largest Cities and Township Parishes" under the names of each of England's large city parishes.

Ecclesiastical Parish or Church. A church or chapel as part of or subdividing an ancient parish boundary, but usually standing within the same large town or township as the ancient or 'mother' parish.

Diocese. Many parishes are grouped together under the jurisdiction of a bishop. A bishop heads a diocese. Some dioceses include one or more archdeaconries administered by an archdeacon. These may be divided into rural deaneries, headed by a rural dean. Each deanery consists of several parishes.

Religions of England

  • The Church of England, or Anglican Church, was the predominant and state religion of England from 1536. The vast majority of the population adhered to it, though this proportion was decreasing by the 1700s and 1800s.
  • Various Non-Conformist groups, such as Methodists and Society of Friends (Quakers). They slowly grew in legal standing and in numbers from about 1600 onwards, experiencing at first much persecution and discrimination.
  • Roman Catholics remained present in England after the split between Rome and the Church of England. They were heavily persecuted and their records extant until laws of 1778, 1791 and 1829 lifted discrimination against them,

See Church of England Parish Registers, England Nonconformist Church Records.

Types of Records

Baptisms

Baptism records usually contain:

  • Child's name
  • Father's name, and from 1813 his occupation and residence/address
  • Mother's name, but not her maiden name
  • Baptism date, and sometimes birth date, which can often be several years before the baptism.

It is worth mentioning that it was common practice in families to use the same Christian name over and over again until a child survived with it. This means that individuals need to try and capture all of the family members listed watching for deaths and that same name being given to the next child of the same sex.

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, see Marriage Allegations, Bonds and Licences in England and Wales

  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 deceased
  • 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.

Bishop's Transcripts

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, or sometimes archdeacon transcripts. As a result, two copies of many parish registers exist from 1598 to about the mid-1800s. After civil registration began in 1837, the value of keeping bishops’ transcripts diminished, so by 1870 most parishes had stopped making them.

Bishop's transcripts should be an exact copy of the parish register but they often are not.  This may be because:

  • The minister was saving time and space by abreviating entries when copying them.
  • The minister may have added more detail to an entry when he copied it into the BTs.
  • BT's were on separate pieces of parchment and some may have been lost over the years.
  • BT's may survive where the parish registers do not.
  • Entries may have been accidently skipped or mis-transcribed when the record was copied for the BT's.

The current location of original bishop’s transcripts is given in:

Gibson, J. S. W. Bishops’ Transcripts and Marriage Licences, Bonds and Allegations. Fourth Edition. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies Publications, Limited, 1997. (FHL book 942 K23b 1997.)

Many bishop’s transcripts are on film at the Family History Library, listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalogue under:

England, [county name], [parish name] - Church records

Most films contain all the years for one parish on one film. However, some are arranged by deanery and year. Those arranged by year and then by deanery are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalogue under:

England, [county name] - Church records

Parish Chest Records

The Parish Chest.jpg
Church records were kept in a chest (or strongbox) known as the "parish chest". Because the Church of England was ordered by the Crown to keep records on all their congregants, any recorded business other than the christenings, marriages and burials of the parishioners was kept in this chest and are known as "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.

These records may include information regarding the care of the poor, settlement examinations, removal orders, apprenticeship indentures, militia certificates and workhouse accounts. And many give detailed information on individuals and families

Finding England Church Records

Images and Indexes at Major Sites

Note that collections may not be complete, and their may be very small collections that are not mentioned here, due to their partial coverage.

County(pre-1974) Index Online Images Online
Bedfordshire
Berkshire
Buckinghamshire
Cambridgeshire
Cheshire Ancestry(*), FamilySearch findmypast
Cornwall FamilySearch Ancestry(*), FamilySearch
Cumberland FamilySearch
Derbyshire FamilySearch, Ancestry(*) Family Search, Ancestry(*)
Devon FamilySearch FamilySearch, findmypast
Dorset FamilySearch, Ancestry Ancestry, FamilySearch
Durham FamilySearch
Essex FamilySearch Essex Ancestors
Gloucestershire Ancestry Ancestry
Hampshire
Herefordshire
Hertfordshire findmypast
Huntingdonshire
Kent FamilySearch Ancestry, FamilySearch, findmypast, Medway Ancestors
Lancashire FamilySearch, Ancestry FamilySearch (for Manchester), Ancestry
Leicestershire findmypast findmypast
Lincolnshire Lincs to the Past
London Ancestry Ancestry, FamilySearch, findmypast
Middlesex FamilySearch, findmypast
Norfolk FamilySearch, Ancestry FamilySearch, The Genealogist, Ancestry
Northamptonshire Ancestry Ancestry
Northumberland FamilySearch
Nottinghamshire
Oxfordshire Ancestry Ancestry
Rutland
Shropshire findmypast
Somerset Ancestry, FamilySearch (Bristol) Ancestry
Staffordshire findmypast
Suffolk
Surrey Ancestry
Sussex FamilySearch, Ancestry Ancestry
Warwickshire FamilySearch, Ancestry FamilySearch, Ancestry
Westmorland
Wiltshire
Worcestershire
Yorkshire Ancestry(West Yorkshire) Ancestry, findmypast, FamilySearch

IGI

Many years ago FamilySearch took a sample of Church records and included them in the International Genealogical Index(IGI). The IGI does not contain images, and has only a very small fraction of the records. The IGI is best used as a starting point before obtaining images for confirmation and further information. This wiki page provides links to Batch Numbers and precise details of coverage.

Other Partial Indexes


Non-Conformists

Military, Overseas and Maritime Records

FamilySearch Catalog

The FamilySearch Catalog lists many parish registers/bishop's transcripts that are available on microfilm.  These can be sent to a family history center. To search the catalog, use the Place-name search and search for a parish of interest.

Other Sites

  • www.google.com- Just try Googling the name of the ‘county’ or ‘parish’ + ‘parish registers.’ I.e. ‘Worcestershire parish registers’ or ‘Churchill parish registers.’

Offline Indexes

Indexes to church records have been published by family history societies in England. Read more in the Societies article.

  • Society of Genealogists: For about a hundred years this marvelous society has dedicatedly indexed and transcribed parish and church registers (and many other types of records) throughout England and Wales. Of the 12,800-plus parishes in England, they hold transcriptions to nearly 11,000 parishes!
  • Some county record offices hold in-house and sometimes, online indexes to their own records holdings. Contact via e-mail, mail, telephone or fax.
  • Many family history societies have published in booklet-form, or on microfiche, or on CD-ROM numerous countywide or parish church records transcriptions and indexes.

Privately held marriage indexes for most counties are available by correspondence at either of the following two sources. Many indexes are listed with the addresses of where to write in:

  • Humphery-Smith, Cecil R., The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. Second Edition. Chichester, Sussex: Phillimore & Company, 1995. (FHL book 942 E7pa 1995.)
  • Gibson, Jeremy, and Elizabeth Hampson, Editors. Marriage and Census Indexes for Family Historians. Seventh Edition. Birmingham, England: Federation of Family History Societies Publications, Limited, 1998. (FHL book 942 D27gjh.)
  • Some marriage indexes are on film at the Family History Library. To find them, use the Place-name search of the FamilySearch Catalogue and search for a county of interest and the topic of CHURCH RECORDS - INDEXES.

Index to Clergy

If your ancestor was a clergy member in the Church of England you may find them listed in The "Clergy of the Church of England Database." This is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Archives

Lambeth Palace.jpg

Lambeth Palace Library

Lambeth Palace, located in South London, is the seat of the Holy See and primate of the Church of England. It is the dwelling (palace) residence of The Most Rev and Rt Hon The Lord, Archbishop of Canterbury, and also found on its premises, the Church of England's archival collections and holdings.

Lambeth Palace Library is the historic library and record office of the Archbishops of Canterbury and the principal repository of the documentary history of the Church of England. 

Lambeth Palace Great Hall.jpg

The Library does hold some records relevant to genealogy, but it is unlikely to be the best starting point for such research. The Library holds very few parish registers, however it does hold records relating to those marriages where a licence was issued under the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Library has written a research guide on the family history records it holds, and a guide to the marriage records in its collections:

Lambeth Palace Library.org Family History Lambeth Palace Library Marriage records

For further information on the Library’s collections and services, please see its website: Lambeth Palace Library.org

County Record Offices

Most of the Church of England parish registers and Bishop's transcript copies of same, are deposited in the county record offices throughout the country. Additionally, while a majority of the nonconformist church registers have been deposited at The National Archives, some of these church registers have been deposited in the county records offices.

These record offices are open to the public and all have a web site by which you can learn more about their services, the records and their availability, and online offerings.

Locating Church Records of England

Main article: Locating Church Records of England


Calendar Changes

The Gregorian calendar, the one commonly used today, is a correction of the Julian calendar, which, because of miscalculated leap years, was 11 days behind the solar year by 1752.

England began using the new calendar in 1752. Eleven days were omitted to bring the calendar in line with the solar year. The day after Wednesday, 2 September 1752, became Thursday, 14 September 1752.

Also at that time, the first day of the year changed to 1 January. Before 1752, the first day of the year was 25 March.

Pre-1752 dates may be confusing. For example, the day after 24 March 1565 was 25 March 1566. Dates between 1 January and 24 March are often recorded using a technique called double dating. An example of double dating is 16 February 1696/7.

For more information, see Handbook of Dates for Students of English History, by C. R. Cheney.

Related Web Pages

Also, there is a Norfolk Churches site that is worthwhile looking at to see photos, etc.

Wiki articles describing these collections are found at: