England Church History
Effective research in church records requires some understanding of your ancestor’s religion and the events that led to the creation of church records.
The Church of England began in the 1530s, when King Henry VIII declared himself to be the supreme head of the Church of England. The Church of England, which is also known as the Established, Anglican, or Episcopal Church, became the state religion. Individual church units, called parishes, were also used as civil parishes to help the government control poor relief, military conscription, some law enforcement, and taxation.
Until the late 18th century, there were few non-Church of England religions. Members of other churches were denied privileges or were otherwise persecuted.
The following major events affected church history and the records. The "History" section of this outline mentions other specific events.
1531: Henry VIII recognized as head of the newly created Church of England. All ties with the Pope and the church in Rome are severed.
1538: Thomas Cromwell ordered all parish ministers to keep a record of christenings, marriages, and burials. This record became known as the "parish register."
1563: The Test Act excluded Roman Catholics from governmental offices and fined them for not attending Church of England services.
1568: Some Puritans ordained their own ministers and tried unsuccessfully to separate from the Church of England. The Puritan movement split in two: the Presbyterians and the Separatists.
1580: Robert Browne, a separatist, and his followers became known as Independents or Congregationalists.
1598: Parish registers were required to be kept on parchment and previous registers copied onto parchment.
Ministers were required to send copies of their parish registers to the bishop of the diocese. These became known as "bishops’ transcripts."
1606: A law required Roman Catholics to be baptized and married by Church of England clergy and to be buried in the churchyard. A fine was imposed for not complying. Many people obeyed regarding burials, but baptisms and marriages continued in secret.
1612: The first General Baptist Church was organized.
1620: A group of Independents sailed on the Mayflower to the New World.
1630: Puritans seeking Church reform left for New England.
1642–1660: The Commonwealth period during which civil war caused political and religious upheaval. Parish registers were poorly kept.
1644: Presbyterian and Independent records began, but many of these early records no longer exist.
1653–1660: During this time, records of birth, marriage, or death were kept by a registrar or preacher appointed by the government or sometimes by the regular minister.
1656: Society of Friends (Quakers) records began. These records are unique among English religious records because they are so detailed.
1685: England witnesses a considerable increase in the immigration of Huguenot refugees mainly from France.
1695–1706: A tax was assessed on parish register entries. To avoid the tax, some people did not register events.
1733: English replaced Latin in many registers.
1735: The Wesleyan Methodist group was started by John Wesley and others.
1752: The first day of the year changed from March 25 (Lady’s Day) to
1754: Lord Hardwicke’s Act outlawed marriage outside the Church of England (except for Quakers and Jews) and required that separate registers for marriages be kept. Common law marriages were also outlawed.
1778: Laws against Roman Catholics were repealed, and many priests started to keep records.
1812: The George Rose Act required Church of England christening, marriage, and burial records to be kept in separate registers starting 1 January 1813. Printed forms were used.
1837: Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths began. However, religious events were still recorded in parish registers. Bishops’ transcripts were kept less frequently.
1837: The first missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began preaching in the Preston, Lancashire, area.
The Family History Library has several histories about various religious groups. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND - CHURCH HISTORY
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - CHURCH HISTORY