Locating Church Records of England
To find an ancestor in church records, you should know their religion and the parish where they lived. The Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalogue usually uses the parish names as given in The Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales. See the England Gazetteers in the Wiki for this source and for other help in finding a parish.
Local residents sometimes referred to their parish by the name of the parish patron saint (such as St. John) rather than by the location of the parish. In cities where there is more than one parish, the Family History Library Catalogue uses the patron saint’s name with the name of the city to identify records of different parishes.
Many parishes had "chapelries" that served a small area within the boundaries of the more populated parishes. Chapelries kept separate registers. Their records are usually listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalogue under both the chapelry name and by the parish with which the chapelry is associated. See also the 1851 Jurisdictions map.
Copies of parish registers may be available in manuscript or published form. These copies include transcripts and abstracts that may have errors or omissions. Compare the transcript to the original parish register, if available.
Individuals and societies collect and compile copies of parish registers. The Society of Genealogists in London has a most outstanding and extensive collection of transcribed registers (copied from parish registers and Bishop's transcripts), and the Family History Library has major collections of microfilmed and digitized copies of original parish registers and Bishop's transcripts.
Some sources that describe the location or survival of most church records are:
Lists of Non-parochial Registers and Records in the Custody of the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages. London, England: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1859. (FHL film 355544.) This volume from the Public Record Office series, Lists and Indexes, series tells which pre-1837 nonconformist parish registers are in the Public Record Office. See the Archives and Libraries article in the Wiki for the address.
Humphery-Smith, Cecil R., The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. Second Edition. Chichester, Sussex, England: Phillimore & Co., 1995. (FHL book 942 E7pa 1995.) This gives the location and repository address for each parish register.
Steel, Donald J., et al. National Index of Parish Registers. 13 Volumes. Chichester, England: Phillimore & Company, Limited, 1968–. (FHL book 942 V26ste.) This index helps identify church records and congregations. Not all counties are published yet.
Youngs, Frederic A., Jr. Guide to the Local Administrative Units. London, England: Royal Historical Society, 1979, 1991. (FHL 942 C4rg no. 10, 17.) This guide helps identify Church of England ecclesiastical jurisdictions and gives an outline history of changes to the parishes.
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has many church records. The most common are:
- Parish registers from their beginning up to the nineteenth century or later
- Bishops’ transcripts from 1598 up to the mid- 19th century
- Transcripts of parish registers
- Parish chest records
- Registers of nonconformist churches to 1837 (sometimes later)
You can determine whether the library has records, denominational histories, or religious society journals from your ancestor’s parish by looking in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalogue under:
ENGLAND, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH RECORDS
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - CHURCH RECORDS
ENGLAND, [COUNTY] - CHURCH HISTORY
ENGLAND- CHURCH HISTORY
The Family History Library is always adding records to its collection. The catalo is updated periodically. If you need a record that is not at the library, you may write to the minister or to a repository to request a search.
Records Not at the Family History Library
Since England has no single repository of church records, the current location of records depends on several factors. Some counties have more than one approved repository. A few records remain with the parish minister. To determine the location of the original parish registers, use The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers. See the Locating Church Records section in this article.
The following types of repositories often answer mail requests for information:
County record office. Contact the county record office to determine the procedure for searching records.
Local parish. Parishes will generally answer correspondence when a small donation is enclosed. Ask that your request be forwarded if the records are now in a repository. To find parish addresses, consult a church directory. See the Church Directories article in the Wiki.
Other archives. Some church records are in libraries, museums, or other repositories.
When writing to England for genealogical information, be as concise as possible. Do not add unnecessary history about the family you are researching. If staff members at the archive cannot look up the requested information, ask them to send you a list of recommended researchers. Send the following with your request:
- An international money order for the search fee and postage or a donation to the church
- The full name and sex of the person sought
- The names of the parents, if known
- The event you are looking for, with approximate date and place
- Request for a complete copy (or photocopy) of the original record
If your request is not answered, write to the local family history society and ask if one of their members would do the search for you. See the Societies article in the Wiki.
Another way to access some church records and indexes is through the Internet. On the Internet there are lists of people who volunteer to search various types of records for certain areas free of charge. You can locate these lists through the GENUKI. On this site,
- Click the county of your choice.
- Click the topic Genealogy.
- Click Look-up Exchange.
As you search church records, use the following strategies:
- Search indexes, first (where available; see "Indexes" section above)
- Search parish registers, bishops’ transcripts, and all other available records for the time period.
- Note all entries, including burials, in the parish registers for the surname unless the name is very common.
- Note gaps or missing pages in the record. This may suggest that you should search alternative records for that time period.
- If the church records do not contain enough information, search for hints (residence, occupation, and so on) that suggest other records to search.
- If you find little or no mention of your family in Church of England parish records, search neighbouring parishes and nonconformist records.
- Search both Church of England parish registers and bishops’ transcripts, as either may contain entries missing from the other.
Some parish records have been indexed on www.familysearch.org. For a list of most of these, see http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~hughwallis/IGIBatchNumbers.htm. Please read the introduction to this site to learn more.
Some church records have been destroyed by fire, lost, stolen, defaced, or damaged by dampness or aging. To protect their records, most parishes have deposited their early registers in county record offices. Addresses of the county record offices are given 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.)
Parish maps can help you determine which parish to search. Maps will reveal neighbouring parishes to search if your ancestor is not listed in the parish where you expected him or her to be. See England Maps for more information.