England Hertfordshire Church of England Parish Registers (FamilySearch Historical Records)

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This article describes a collection of records scheduled to become available at FamilySearch.org.
Hertfordshire,  England
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Location of Hertfordshire, England
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Record Description
Record Type Parish Registers
Collection years 1538-1974
FamilySearch Resources
Related Websites
Archive
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies


What is in the Collection?

This collection consists of church records from the county of Hertfordshire for the years 1538 through 1974.

In its most basic sense, a parish register is a record of religious ordinances performed in the Church of England. Beginning in 1538, every parish priest was required to write down certain information about every baptism (officially termed “christening” in Anglican use), marriage, and burial that took place in his parish over the course of each year. He was then supposed to bind these pages into a single volume, thereby annually producing a comprehensive history of his ministerial efforts. After 1754, a new law required that marriages be recorded in a separate book, and banns—public proclamations of a couple’s intent to marry—were to be recorded in yet another book. Starting in 1812, pre-printed registers were introduced, and separate registers were then kept for baptisms, marriages, and burials. It should also be noted that many parish records were not kept during the Interregnum, 1649-1660, due to temporary changes in the hierarchy of the Church of England.

Due to this long and relatively stable tradition, parish registers are central to English genealogical research as they are often one of the only sources for finding families and individuals in England before the start of civil registration in 1837.

Further information: Church of England Parish Registers

One of the 39 historic counties of England, Hertfordshire is an inland county located in eastern England. Much of the southern portion of the historic county is now incorporated into the Greater London metropolis. For a list of parishes which historically made up this county, see the Hertfordshire Parishes page.

Collection Content

The collection contains indexed baptismal, marriage, and burial records. Baptismal record entries are the most common in the index, followed by burial records, with marriage records constituting the smallest portion.

What Can This Collection Tell Me?

The following lists indicate potential information given in each type of record. It must be remembered that every record may not provide all the listed information, as the procedures for keeping parish records evolved considerably over the centuries after 1538. It must also be noted that individual parishes often developed record-keeping traditions unique to themselves.

Baptismal Records may contain:
Before 1812

  • Date and place of baptism
  • Full name of child
  • Sex of child
  • Date and place of birth

Included after 1812

  • Legitimacy of child
  • Full names of parents
  • Residence of parents
  • Marital status of parents
  • Occupations of parents
  • Name of minister
  • Names of other relatives

Marriage Records may contain:
Before 1754

  • Date and place of marriage
  • Full names of bride and groom
  • Residences of bride and groom

Included after 1754

  • Names, ages, and occupations of witnesses

Included after 1837

  • Previous marital statuses of bride and groom
  • Occupations of bride and groom
  • Birthplaces of bride and groom
  • Ages of bride and groom
  • Full names of parents, including maiden names
  • Names of other relatives present at the marriage

Burial Records may contain: Before 1812

  • Date and place of burial
  • Name of deceased
  • Marital status of deceased
  • Name of spouse

Included after 1812

  • Cause of death
  • Date and place of death
  • Residence of deceased
  • Age at death
  • Birthdate and place of deceased
  • Sex of deceased, esp. if infant.
  • Name of father, esp. if infant
  • Occupation of father, esp. if infant

How Do I Search the Collection?

Before beginning a search in these records, it is best to know the full name of the individual in question, as well as an approximate time range for the desired record. When entered into the search engine on the Collection Page, this information provides the quickest, most reliable path to finding the correct person. Of course, other information can be substituted as necessary.

Search by name by visiting the Collection Page:
Fill in the requested information in the initial search page to return a list of possible matches. Compare the individuals on the list with what is already known to find the correct family or person. This step may require examining multiple individuals before a match is located.

Image Visibility

Whenever possible, FamilySearch makes images of digitized records available for all users. However, the rights to view images on this website are ultimately granted by the record custodians. Due to their restrictions, many of the records in this collection are not allowed to be displayed in any electronic format, and therefore are not available for viewing online.

What Do I Do Next?

I Found the Person I Was Looking for, What Now?

  • Make sure to fully transcribe and cite the record entry for future reference; see below for assistance in citing this collection.
  • Use the information which has been discovered to find more. For instance, use the age listed in a record to estimate a year of birth, if that is yet undetermined.
  • If in the appropriate period, use the information which has been discovered to find the individual in civil records. Particularly useful for research in nineteenth-century England are the England Census and the England Civil Registration records.
  • Continue to search the index to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives. Note that family members often appear on an individual's vital records, such as in the role of witnesses to a marriage.

I Can’t Find the Person I’m Looking for, What Now?

  • When looking for a person with a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which individual is correct. Use other information, such as place of birth, age, occupation, or names of parents, to determine which candidate is the correct person. If listed, a personal title may be a clue to property ownership or occupation, either of which might be noted in other records.
  • Check for variants of given names, surnames, and place names. Transcription errors could occur in any handwritten record; also, it was not uncommon for an individual be listed under a nickname or an abbreviation of their name, especially in church records. See Abbreviations Found in Genealogy Records for examples of common abbreviations. Note that some women reverted to their maiden name when their husband died, and therefore could be buried under their maiden name.
  • Vary the search terms. For example, search by either the given name or surname to return broader list of possible candidates which can then be examined for matches. Alternatively, try expanding the date range; this is especially useful in searching baptismal records, as it was not unusual for a child to be baptized weeks or even months after birth.
  • Search the records of nearby parishes. While it was uncommon for an individual in this period to move more than about 20 miles from their place of birth, smaller relocations were not uncommon. Also, it was not uncommon for nonconformists to have to travel long distances to attend church meetings. For this particular collection, this step may require finding records in the bordering English counties of BORDERING COUNTIES Note that marriages usually took place in the parish where the bride resided.
  • Look at the actual image of the record to verify the information found in the online description, if possible.
  • The individual in question may not have records in the Church of England at all, but rather might have belonged to a nonconformist denomination. See England Nonconformist Church Records for more information.

Record History

In 1530, King Henry VIII established the Church in England, also known as the Anglican Church, the State Church, or the Episcopal Church. A law, passed in 1537, required ministers to record the baptisms, marriages, and burials that took place in their parishes. Priests recorded these events in registers and kept them at the parish level, which is the lowest level of authority in the Church of England. Within some parishes, chapelries were created to provide for the worship needs of the parishioner when the parish church was not easily accessible. Chapelries sometimes had the authority to perform baptisms, marriages, and burials, so they kept their own registers. Several parishes formed a deanery (presided over by a dean), several deaneries formed an archdeaconry (presided over by an archdeacon), and several archdeaconries formed a diocese (presided over by a bishop).

Citing this Collection

Citing sources correctly makes it easier to refer back to information that has already been discovered; proper citations are therefore indispensable to keeping track of genealogical research. Following established formulae in formatting citations also allows others to verify completed research by helping them find and examine records for themselves.

To be of use, citations must include information such as the author, custodian, publisher, and archive for the original records, if available. The following examples demonstrate how to present this information for both this particular collection as well as individual records within the collection:

Collection Citation:

"Hertfordshire Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1974." Database. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org : accessed 2016. Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies, Hertford.

Record Citation (or citation for the index entry):

The citation for a record is available with each record in this collection, at the bottom of the record screen. You can search records in this collection by visiting the search page for England Hertfordshire Church of England Parish Registers, 1538-1974.

How You Can Contribute

We welcome user additions to FamilySearch Historical Records wiki articles. We are looking for additional information that will help readers understand the topic and better use the available records. We also need translations for collection titles and images in articles about records written in languages other than English. For specific needs, please visit WikiProject FamilySearch Records.

Please follow these guidelines as you make changes. Thank you for any contributions you may provide.