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Parishes were established as administrative districts at the English conquest of 1655. They were not based on earlier Spanish entities established after European settlement in 1510. Though the boundaries have changed over the succeeding centuries, parishes remain Jamaica’s fundamental civil administrative unit. The three counties of Cornwall, Middlesex, and Surrey have judicial but not administrative relevance. The present parishes were consolidated in 1866 with the re-division of eight now-extinct entities, none of which will have civil records. A good historical look at Jamaica's parishes as they changed over time may be found on the privately compiled Jamaican Parish Reference.
Jamaica has been divided into 14 parishes. Half of these bear names of churches, like St. Ann, St. Mary, St. Catherine etc. When Jamaica was taken over by England in 1655, their system of administration was applied to record births, marriages and deaths on the island. At some point in time Jamaica had 21 parishes. Through merging and boundary changes, 14 parishes have remained since the year 1866.
In order to search for church and vital records, it is necessary to know the exact place of an event in the life of an ancestor. The birth, marriage or place of death needs to be matched with the correct parish.
- Christina K. Schaefer, Genealogcial Encyclopedia of the Colonial Americas: a Complete Digest of the Records of All the Countries of the Western Hemisphere (Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing, 1998), 127. WorldCat 39622039; FHL Ref Book 929.11812 D26s.
- Jamaica in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 29 September 2015).