England Miscellaneous Civil Records found in Parish Chests (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: Poor Law and Parish Chest Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Historical Notes

Depending on the particular interests of the incumbent one may see accounts of coronations and deaths of monarchs, military and naval victories and defeats, or threats of invasion. A few examples are offered next:

Flight of Charles II to France after Battle of Worcester 1651

14 Oct 1651    Brighton, Sussex.
The 14th day of this moneth King Charles the Second went from our towne out of Mr. Smith’s house and was taken aboard by Nic. Tetersoale and carreyed by him to Fraunce etc.
And returned home and landed at Dover againe the 29th of May 1660.

The Great Fire of London 1666

Sep 1666       Aldenham, Herts
And the 1st September 1666 at night there appeared a Sad and Lamentable fire to begin in a baker’s hop in Pudding Lane, he having a small Woodstack for his use, it was by treachery set on fire, the which fire beginning on Sunday night.

The Dutch War 1673

Oct 1673         Aldenham, Herts
Ye Gazette 27 Octo: mentions that ye Dutch resolved severall matters concerning this war shall be put upon record and among other things ........................... ......................

Lists of Parishioners

Almost any kind of list found in the parish chest is useful to the family historian, from the children attending church picnics to opponents to the established church, often papists (Roman Catholics).

Local Agriculture and Economy

The price of wheat may be noted, or of locally important crops. At Elworthy, Somerset the vicar noted that 1784 was a good year for cider! However, at Olveston in Gloucestershire an 18th century vicar wrote in his register:

A Good Year for Cider 1786—Olveston, Gloucestershire

A great cyder year generally proves to be the bane of the parish, the free use of new cyder being observed to be accompanied with loss of limbs, inflammation and paralytic strokes of a most stubborn nature, all of which may be ascribed to a volatile spirit and flying indigested Tartar contained in the said liquor, which if the people would give time to ferment and settle would be tolerably innocent to some and wholesome to others, if moderation be observed, but I fear that is to be despaired of.

Medical Notes

  • Cures

Quaint old medical recipes are occasionally preserved in parish chests. That for curing the bite of a mad dog occurs in several parish registers, for example in Axbridge, Somerset in 1754. That of Phillack, Cornwall contains a recipe for the prevention and cure of the plague. The concoction comprised wine, sage, rice, long pepper, ginger, nutmeg, treacle, mithridate, and angelica water.

  • Epidemics

Epidemics of plague or smallpox with numbers buried may have been noted.

  • Smallpox Inoculations

Prior to the vaccination procedure, inoculation was often noted as well as occasional deaths therefrom!

  • The King’s Evil

The disease of scrofula, a swelling of the lymphatic glands accompanied by a tendency to develop tuberculosis, was believed to be able to be cured by a touch from the king or queen’s hand. It isn’t known for certain when the custom started but it was well recognized by the start of written parish registers in 1538 and continued until Queen Anne’s death in 1714. Special church services were held in London, and sometimes elsewhere as the monarch travelled. During these each sufferer was touched and presented with a touch-piece, which was a golden angel pierced for hanging around the neck. The sufferer needed to first obtain a certificate from his local church testifying that his affliction was genuine and that he had not been so treated previously. The list of certificates issued was often kept in the parish chest, as shown below .

Touching for The King’s Evil

                                                      1783-8 Aldenham, Herts
A Register of such persons to whom Certificates have been given by the vicar and Churchwardens of Aldenham Parish for their being touch’d for ye Evil.
Entered according to an Order from the King and Councel given at Ye Court of Whitehall Jan 19 1683.
25 Mar 1684 Elizabeth the daughter of Philip
and Susanna Aldwin
20 Oct 1684
Ralph the son of Ralph Weeden
14 Apr 1685
Thomas and Elizabeth, ye son
and daughter of Henry Coghill Esq

15 Apr 1685
Mary the wife of Thomas Perriman
4 Apr 1686
Elizabeth the wife of Thomas Perry

Militia Lists and Musters

Militia Lists are lists of eligible men, and Musters are the lists of those who were ballotted to serve, or their substitutes. They turn up in the parish chest and elsewhere.

Records of Other Taxes

St. Margaret Westminster 1856-1873 has a record of the local Public Libraries and Museum Rates.

Relevant Acts of Parliament

Some Ministers would write up the wording, or paste in a printed copy, of recent acts of parliament that affected their callings. An example is in Staplehurst, Kent where a printed copy of An Act for repealing the Duties on the registry of Burials, Births, Marriages, and Christenings 34 Geo.III. cap. II [1st March 1794], also known as The Stamp Act has been pasted onto a fly leaf of the parish register. Other notices and proclamations of interest to the parish officials, or of especial relevance to the parish are also sometimes found.

Severe Weather

Years of heavy snow, low temperatures (severe frost), hot summers, or droughts, as well as the occasional hurricane can all be found noted in parish chests. Some incumbents seemed to regard their registers as a kind of parish diary for notable events of this kind.

Severe Weather in aldenham, Hertfordshire

                                                            Aldenham, Herts
25 Nov 1662
A Greate Frost began one Tuesday the 25th of November 1662 and ended one the Monday the 16 of Febr:. Some thawing days hapned betwene but ye frost contenewed on the ground all of the time.
9 Dec 1662
A Greate Snow fell one Sonday and Tuesday the 7 and 9 of December 1662 and desolved one fryday the 12 yet it remayned in severall places for many days and snow fell on top all the time of ye frost.
17 Dec 1713
There hapned a very Grevious tempest
Which did a great deal of mischief
With a very great wind wich blew down
A chemle in this parish and over threw
Wagons on finchly comon.

Severe Weather in Devon

Jul 1727 St. Pancras, Exeter, Devon
Between foure and five of the clocke in the morning al the houses did shake with an Earth quake that people was shaky in their beds from one side to the other, twas all over England and in some places beyound sea, but dued little damage, tis of a certain truth.

5 Dec 1929 Pinhoe, Devon
The Fabulous Mulberry Tree, over 100 years old, blown down in the vicarage Garden by a tremendous Hurricane.

The researcher will find many more types of records filmed amongst these parish papers, from notes on parish history, population figures for the parish, special census schedules (especially for 1801-1831), poetry and rosters for ladies to provide flowers in the church.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Poor Law and Parish Chest 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.