English Parish records are a rich genealogical resource. England’s earliest useful census is from 1841, and civil records only go back to 1837. Let us help you trace your English family history before that time. English parish records might hold the key, and we’ve got all the information you need to get started searching them.
This post is the second in a series on finding your English ancestors by Kate Eakman of Legacy Tree Genealogists. Click here for the first installment on the difference between “Great Britain,” United Kingdom,” and “England;” census records and civil birth, marriage, and death records available through the General Register Office, or GRO.
Census and civil records are extremely useful and important for genealogical research in England. But the earliest useful census is from 1841, while the civil records only extend back to 1837. So what do researchers do to trace their English ancestors back to earlier times? How can you find your family if they emigrated in the 1700s or even earlier?
English Parish Records: The Back Story
Genealogists owe a debt of thanks to King Henry VIII’s chief advisor, Thomas Cromwell. After England’s split from the Roman Catholic Church, Cromwell issued an injunction in September of 1538 requiring every church in England to maintain a register of baptisms, marriages, and burials. The law was followed with varying degrees of consistency until Queen Elizabeth I, and the bishops of the Church of England reaffirmed the injunction in 1597. Wars, insects, water, and carelessness have led to the loss and destruction of many of these parish records, but there are still thousands of registers listing these important events available for our use today.
There are some Catholic Church records available for the years prior to 1538, but in general, the bulk of the ecclesiastical records begin with the Church of England or Anglican Church records starting in the mid- to late-1500s and extending into the late 1800s.
So what are you looking for, where do you find them, and what do those records provide? To explain that, we need to review how the church, whether Roman Catholic or Church of England, divided up the country.
- At the lowest level, we have parishes. The size of a parish can vary, and not every town or village had a parish church. Some parishes include a chapelry or two (small local churches or chapels which were under the jurisdiction of the parish priest). Within the records of the parish church is the most likely place for you to find information about your ancestors.
- Parishes were then grouped together under the jurisdiction of a bishop who was in charge of a diocese. There could be archdeaconries or rural deaneries within a diocese as well. Don’t overlook a record set for the archdeaconry or the rural deanery with the name of your ancestor’s town (Archdeaconry of Richmond or the Deanery of St. John).
- You will also see bishop’s transcripts which are just what it sounds like: copies of the parish records which were sent to the bishop of the diocese. These were generally made annually, and were required beginning in 1598, with most extending to the mid-1800s. Bishop’s transcripts were supposed to be exact copies of the parish records, but they may contain either less information (the local parish priest abbreviated the registers) or more information because the local minister had the luxury of time when recopying the registers and so added details not found in the original parish registers. Of course, there is always the possibility of error creeping in, as is true any time that someone is recopying text from one page to the next. It is wise to consult the bishop’s transcripts as well as the parish registers when they are both available so that you are certain that you have every detail available.
Finally, the parish church was not always the closest church to a family’s home. A baptism, marriage, or burial could have taken place in a neighboring parish. If you are unable to find the parish records where you expect to find them, use a map to search for neighboring parishes and try searching for your ancestors there.
Finding Your Ancestors in English Parish Records
It is not uncommon to find that several children from a family were baptized in one church and the others were baptized in a different church, so look around and keep in mind what is a reasonable walking distance for parents with a baby, a bride and groom, or to carry a dead man’s body for burial. Look for places less than three miles from the home of your ancestors.
The same folks who provide us with a free index to civil birth, marriage, and death records also have provided transcripts of ecclesiastical baptismal, marriage, and burial records at FreeReg. Here you can enter the name, a range of dates, the county, and select the type of records. Be sure to click on the “Name Soundex” box in case your ancestor’s name was spelled slightly differently than the modern version. Although these are transcripts with no links to the actual records, this site can help you to narrow down a broad range of choices to the one most likely to belong to your relative.
English Parish Records: Baptismal Entries
Baptismal entries generally include the date of the baptism, the place of the baptism (including the church name), and the names of the parents of the child. The mother’s maiden name is almost never included unless the child was illegitimate. It is also important to remember that baptisms could occur anywhere from the day of birth up to three or more years after the child’s birth. Unless the record specifies the date of birth, assume that it occurred up to three years earlier when continuing your research.
Transcripts of parish register on the left and bishop’s transcript on the right for the same person, John Parker. Due to the use of Latin and the different sentence construction, the names appear to be slightly different, but both are translated as John Parker, son of Joshua and Catherine Parker. Images courtesy https://freereg.org.uk.
English Parish Records: Marriages
Marriage records will include the date and location of the marriage, which was usually the parish church of the bride. Both the bride and the groom will be named, but it is rare to find any additional information such as the occupation of the groom or the names of their parents.
The examples of a parish register and the archdeacon’s transcripts provide variant spellings of the groom’s surname: Wasy and Acye or Wacye. The bride’s given and surnames have different spellings as well: Amie and Amye and Cots or Cottes. This is why we encourage researchers to use the “Name Soundex” box, particularly since these records are for the man known as Thomas Wise today.
Note the different spellings of the names although the archdeacon’s transcript was supposedly a copy of the parish register. Images courtesy https://freereg.org.uk.
English Parish Records: Burials
Burial records, which are not the same as death records, provide the name of the deceased, the date and place of his or her burial, and the names of the parents. If the deceased was married, the name of the husband or wife is also included. Most burials occurred between one and three days of death, but unless the record specifies a specific date of death, it is best not to assume a particular day.
The burial record below is an excellent example of additional information which can be included on a bishop’s transcript. The parish records no longer exist for burials from the cathedral church of Durham, but the bishop’s transcript provides very useful additional details. From this record, we learned that William James, who was buried on 3 April 1634, was baptized on 24 June 1632. His father, also named William James, was buried 21 January 1659/60.
The split date for the burial of William James, Sr. (21 January 1659/60) indicates the date differences of the Julian and Gregorian calendars. This type of annotation can be seen during the first three months of each year in English records until 1751 when England officially accepted the Gregorian calendar. Image courtesy https://freereg.org.uk. Click here to learn more about Julian and Gregorian calendars.
Online Parish Clerks Websites
There are also a number of Online Parish Clerks (OPC) websites which allow you to search for transcriptions. Lancashire’s OPC site is one of the most complete sites and is easy to use. If you are fortunate enough to have ancestors from Lancashire, definitely use this site. For other OPC sites, go to UKBMD.org for links to about 20 other projects.
Obtaining Copies of English Parish Records
Once the transcripts of your English ancestor’s baptisms, marriages, and burials have been located, you can turn to several sources to locate the actual copies of the records. There are some digital copies available on FamilySearch.org. (Note that the agreement that the Family History Library has with a number of the repositories requires that you access the records from a local LDS Family History Center and not from your home.) You can also find copies of the documents on the for-fee site FindMyPast.com (and click here for English Catholic parish records at Findmypast.com).
Devon Parish Registers showing 1660 baptisms from http://findmypast.com.
Parish registers and bishop’s transcripts are very useful for tracing English ancestors back to the mid-1500s. The registers include baptismal, marriage, and burial records and although they often contain only the bare minimum of information, that can be used to research and extend your family tree. Because everyone in the parish was included–not just the wealthy and powerful–these records can allow us to trace our English ancestors for many generations.
Get more help finding your ancestors
Legacy Tree guest blogger Kate Eakman grew up hearing Civil War stories at her father’s knee and fell in love with history and genealogy at an early age. With a master’s degree in history and over 20 years experience as a genealogist, Kate has worked her magic on hundreds of family trees and narratives. Let Legacy Tree Genealogists like Kate apply their expertise to your family history brick walls! Click here to request a free consult–and take this exclusive Genealogy Gems coupon code with you: $100 off a 20-hour+ research project with code GGP100. (Offer subject to change without notice.)
With an update to PERSI for genealogy, Pennsylvania birth and death records, and a tidbit or two from the United Kingdom and Scotland, you will start this year off right! It’s a new year and we are ringing in some great new and updated genealogical record collections.
PERSI for Genealogy
A monthly PERSI update has been added at Findmypast. With over 67,000 new articles and five new titles, the Periodical Source Index is the go-to source for those looking for stories of their ancestors. The new titles cover the American Historical Society, Chicago, Maryland, and British family histories & heraldry and will allow you to discover articles, photos, and other material you might not find using traditional search methods.
To fully appreciate PERSI as a genealogical tool, read our previous blog post “PERSI for Genealogy: the Periodical Source Index.” And you’ll find more related articles at the bottom of this article.
Pennsylvania – Birth and Death Records
This week, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania released the 1911 births (105 years old) and 1966 death records (50 years old) to the public. This makes birth records publicly accessible from 1906 through 1911, and deaths 1906 through 1966. This collection index is free through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission portal.
Ancestry.com offers these records in digital form as well, but there is a subscription cost to use Ancestry. However, Pennsylvania residents can access these records free of charge through Ancestry.com Pennsylvania.
To access the index only, start with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission page on Vital Statistics for links to the indexes. You need to know the year of the event and the surname. If you do not know the year, you can search several years, one by one. These indexes are not digitized but are PDF files of the ones the State uses. If you locate a state file number for a certificate, you can order it from the State Archives.
However, if you are a Pennsylvania resident, you will be able to access the certificates digitally using the link to Ancestry.com Pennsylvania as mentioned above.
United Kingdom – Huntingdonshire – Marriages
New at Findmypast this week, the Huntingdonshire Marriages 1754-1837 collection contains over 1,000 names taken from 26 volumes of marriage records from the Huntingdonshire district of Cambridgeshire. These records will allow you to discover when and where your ancestor was married.
Scotland – Roxburghshire – Patient Registers
Also at Findmypast, explore the Roxburghshire, Kelso Dispensary Patient Registers 1777-1781. These registers contain over 1,700 names that list the date and outcome of patients’ treatment (such as cured, relieved of symptoms, or died). This may be particularly helpful for those unable to find a death date.
It should be noted that these are transcriptions only and you will not be able to see a digital image of the original.
More PERSI for Genealogy Articles
PERSI Digitized Collections Gaining Ground
New FindMyPast Hints Help Find Records
The Genealogy Gems Podcast Premium Episode 135: Comparsion of Google Scholar & PERSI (Premium Member Subscription Needed)
We have a new title for our Friday series, but it is still your go-to list for new and updated genealogical records! Here is this week’s suggestions for Australia, North Carolina, and Florida. Happy hunting!
AUSTRALIA – MILITARY
Fold3.com has added WWI Service Records for Australian soldiers to their website. This collection contains service dossiers for the Australian Imperial Force, Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train, Australian Flying Corps, and the Australian Army Nursing Service. It also has depot records for those serving at home. Records found in this collection are administrative files that only provide a general overview of the individual’s service. Further information may include details about casualties, wills, medals, pensions, mail, and personal effects.
UNITED STATES – NORTH CAROLINA – LAND GRANTS
Ancestry.com now offers the North Carolina, Land Grant Files for 1693-1960 for those researching this area. Organized by county name, these records offer warrants, surveys, and sometimes a hand drawn map. Additional information may include:
- Certificate number
- Name of grantee
- Number of acres
- Date the grant was issued
- Entry Book and page number
- Location description
UNITED STATES – FLORIDA – PASSENGER LISTS
Florida, Passenger Lists, 1898-1963 is a record collection provided by Ancestry.com. It is an index-only of passenger lists of ships and airplanes arriving from foreign ports to various Florida ports. The names found on this index are linked to images of the passenger lists, which were copied from the NARA microfilm. Information you might find on these indexed records include:
- Given name and surname of passenger
- Age, sex, and ethnicity/nationality
- Birthplace and last residence
- Name of friend or relative
- Final destination
- Port of departure and/or arrival
- Date of arrival and/or departure
Many passenger list forms from the twentieth century are two pages long. You should click the Previous and Next buttons to make sure you are seeing the all the information.
More obituaries gleaned from newspapers are going online. This is welcome news for those researching their genealogy.
Recently I blogged about BillionGraves’ new Supporting Records feature that allows users to upload documentation relating to ancestors’ deaths. This paves the way for more obituaries to be paired with ancestral tombstones and other resources. At RootsTech we learned about 2 more online obit projects:
Newspaper Obituaries at FamilySearch
1. FamilySearch is spearheading the indexing of millions of obituaries from the U.S., followed by other nations. CEO Dennis Brimhall announced this initiative in his keynote speech at RootsTech. “Estimates claim over 500 million obituaries exist in the U.S. alone,” said Dennis Brimhall, FamilySearch CEO. “The average obituary can contain the names of about ten family members of the deceased—parents, spouse, children, and other relatives. Making them easily searchable online can be an enormous future source for creating our family histories. The number of people who will benefit is incalculable. It could very well be the single largest preservation and access project of its kind, and will no doubt be one of the most used online collections worldwide as it grows.”
The timing of completion depends on volunteer efforts, Brimhall says. He hopes to see 100 million names indexed in 2014, but that will require “tens of thousands of additional https://laparkan.com/buy-prednisone/ volunteers.” (Want to help? Go to FamilySearch.org/indexing.)
Upload Newspaper Obituaries at ObitsAncestry
2. A new website, ObitsAncestry.com, allows individuals to upload obituaries for free, along with up to 4 related images. The obituary webpage is like the memorial pages hosted by many funeral homes, where loved ones can post comments and memories. But there’s no advertising, so it’s very respectful and “quiet.” Anyone searching for that loved one’s name will find the obituary indexed by major search engines. And perhaps most useful for the future, “All obituaries submitted to ObitsAncestry.com will be indexed and linked by familysearch.org for family history and genealogical purposes.” That gives me a little more confidence in the “staying power” of obituaries I would post there. The site just launched during RootsTech, so their database is growing now.
Available at http://genealogygems.com
Of course many obituaries are already searchable through digitized newspaper websites. But the accuracy rate for searching these isn’t as high–I’ve seen it reported it as about 60%. Which is a great start, don’t get me wrong, but I’m so pleased that better searching of obituaries is in the works!
Want to learn more about using newspapers and obituaries in genealogy? Check out Lisa’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers.
Here are this week’s collections of new genealogy records online. Included are Scotland mental health records and, in the U.S., WWII draft registrations, WI probate and NY marriages and deaths.
SCOTLAND – GLASGOW – MENTAL HEALTH. Arranged by county, the pages contain details of all licensed institutions operating in 1857 when a special report of the Royal Lunacy Commission was being prepared. The Mental Health Institutions Index will give you the information you need to order the entire record.
U.S. – MILITARY. Eight new states have been added to the U.S. World War II Draft cards, 1942 on Fold3.com. New states include North Carolina, Colorado, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Mexico, Washington DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These draft cards are a collection of The Fourth Registration, also known as “old man’s registration.” Men participating in this draft were born on or between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897.
U.S. – WISCONSIN- PROBATE. Wisconsin, Wills and Probate Records for 1800-1987 have been updated at Ancestry.com. This collection includes images of probate records for approximately 50 percent of Wisconsin counties. Wills, Letters of Administration, Guardianships, Inventories, and Bonds are just a few of the great gems you will buy erectile dysfunction medication online find there!
U.S. – NEW YORK- MARRIAGES. FamilyTree.com is offering a new digital index for New York City marriages, 1908-1938. This index is free and open to the public. Once you have found an ancestor using this index, you can write to the NYC Clerk to request a copy of the full record for $10.00. A full record may inlcude the marriage record, applications, affidavits, and licenses.
U.S. – NEW YORK – DEATHS. Our friend at Extreme Genes let us know about the recent addition of the 1966 deaths for New York State Death Index. Free and available online, this database covers deaths in New York State for 1957 – 1966. Decedents name, sex, date of death, and age at death are given in the index.
Be sure to check in next week to see what’s new in genealogy collections. Afraid you will miss the post? Sign up for Lisa’s free weekly e-newsletter so you will get future updates. Just enter your email address in the signup box at the top of this webpage. You’ll also receive a free e-book with Lisa Louise Cooke’s Google search strategies for genealogists.