Genealogy Help

Parish Records

Church records for your research

Parish records were there to record the three major events in a person's life, according to the church. Birth is not so important to the church, compared to the baptism of the infant. Then there is marriage, and finally, after death, there is a burial. These were all recorded by the local church officers, long before the state got interested.

Most parish records go back to the 1600's, but a few survive from the 1500's. Henry VIII's helped set up the register through his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell - an ancestor of Oliver Cromwell. It was primarily for taxation purposes (isn't it always?), as the later intervention of the state undoubtedly was too.

Nowadays, you will usually find the parish registers at the local County Record office and maybe at the library of a major town. Now with the Internet, you could also try looking for parish registers at the nearest Genealogical library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or on their website

The English Civil War led to many of the registers being poorly maintained or damaged, and with a purge of the clergy, many records were lost. Civil marriages were allowed and recorded in civil registers. It is also important to understand that the vicar and his 'clerk' (depending on the parish) would make note of all the baptisms and burials, often placing the notes on a spike. Once or twice a year, and often just before the visit of the bishop's representative, they would write them all into the register (sometimes with a glass or two of wine, so the handwriting can sometimes deteriorate!). Errors can therefore occur.

Marriages, however, were recorded on the day as the witnesses had to sign the register.

Parish records will often also contain additional information (especially the baptism and burial records). These were added by the vicar as a 'note to St. Peter', to help or hinder the passage of the person through the Pearly Gates of heaven! These can be informative, and at times amusing!

Entry into the registers cost money, and some families waited until the church did a special deal on baptisms, for example - so many children could be baptised on the same day! The fees charged in the middle 1600's were as follows:

  • Baptism - 4d
  • Marriage - 12d
  • Burial - 4d

The registers that had survived were returned to many churches on the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

These registrations were then taxed thirty years later to help fund the war against France.

  • Baptism - 2s (or 24d)
  • Marriage - 4s (or 48d)
  • Burial - 2s (or 24d)

There were also fines for not reporting the birth of a child, and for not christening children. Registers until 1733 were often written in Latin, but a law then prohibited Latin.

If you have trouble finding the parish records, try looking for the Bishop's transcripts - these are transcribed from the parish records (so can add errors), hence the need to complete the records of baptisms and burials.

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