Mayflower Ancestors Tops US Genealogy Records now Online

A new Mayflower ancestors database can help connect you with your Pilgrim roots. Also, amateur US newspapers: Hill Air Force Base newspaper, Norwegian and African American Mormons, PERSI updates and collections for Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Featured: Mayflower ancestors database

An estimated 10 million living Americans and as many 35 million people worldwide have Pilgrim ancestors. So a new database of Mayflower passengers and their descendants at AmericanAncestors.org may prove helpful to a very large group of people! In fact, the new database was so newsworthy, USA Today even reported on it.

“The database contains authenticated information on more than 59,450 people in the fifth generation of the Mayflower passengers known to have descendants,” states the article. “That ‘fifth generation’ of descendants lived in the 1700s and 1800s, so the name you type in to search the database would have to be one of your ancestors who lived during that time.”

According to the New England Historic Genealogical Society, which runs subscription site AmericanAncestors.org, “The Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880 database features more than half a million searchable names….This exclusive database offers meticulous documentation for the fifth generation of Mayflower families who arrived in 1620 and left descendants….All information in the database is derived from the original printed books published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. These volumes are often referred to as the ‘Silver Books’ for their distinctive covers.”

This “largest online database of authenticated Mayflower passenger genealogies” is only available to full members of AmericanAncestors.org. You can try a 3-month all-access membership plan for $34.95.

More US genealogy records now online

Amateur newspapers from the 1800s

A new digital archive of 19th-century amateur newspapers is now available to patrons of subscribing libraries. According to a press release, these youth newspapers are “considered the social media of the 19th century and gives students and researchers a unique inside look at how teens and young adults of the period expressed themselves and their opinions to the world.” Ask a reference librarian at your favorite library or archive if they have access to this collection. Even if you can’t access it, if you like old newspapers, it’s worth reading this blog post with lots of great discoveries from the collection.

Latter-day Saint (Mormon)

Two new databases may help you discover more about your ancestors who united with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

  • African Americans comprised a tiny minority of members of this faith before 1930. According to this article in the Salt Lake Tribune, a new database seeks to recover and compile information about them. Search it at its free website, A Century of Black Mormons.
  • AmericanAncestors.org has published a new collection, Norway: Mormon Missionaries and Emigrants to America (1886-1900). According to the site, it “provides a listing of approximately 650 Mormon emigrants, who boarded ships in Christiania from 1886 to 1897, and journeyed to the British Isles and then to America. This resource gives names, gender, ages, marital status, occupations, place of residence, destinations of specific ships, European departure dates, and arrivals at U.S. ports. The work also presents biographical sketches of approximately 160 Latter-day Saints who served as missionaries in Scandinavia and some who served as leaders aboard the ships carrying Norwegian emigrants.”

Military: Hill Air Force Base

A new addition to the free website Utah Digital Newspapers is a complete run (1943-2006) of the Hill Air Force Base’s Hilltop Times newspaper. According to this Deseret News article, “The installation, which was founded shortly before the U.S. entry into World War II, went on to serve a critical maintenance and supply role during the war. The bombers that defeated the Axis powers in World War II — the B-29, B-25, B-24 and B-17 — were repaired, modified or maintained in some way at Hill Air Force Base.” The collection includes more than 61,000 digitized newspaper pages.

Periodical Source Index updates

Genealogy Giant subscription website Findmypast.com continues to update the Periodical Source Index (PERSI). This comprehensive subject index to thousands of historical and genealogical magazines, journal articles, and periodicals is strongest for U.S. sources and can help you discover mentions of your relatives (and places or organizations associated with them) in sources you may otherwise never learn about. Findmypast is the exclusive online home of PERSI and has been adding digitized article images to the indexed entries. They’ve recently added over 13,000 more article images from:

  • “Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine / American Spirit – volumes 43 to 53, 56 to 57 – this magazine offers articles on American history and historical subjects pertaining to Colonial America, as well as sections on genealogy
  • Fitchburg Historical Society Proceedings – volumes 1 to 5 – including papers relating to the history of the town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts
  • Genealogical Advertiser – volumes 1 to 4 – a quarterly magazine of family history, which includes marriage and probate records
  • Genealogical Magazine – volumes 1 to 4 – this periodical is a journal of family history, heraldry, and pedigrees
  • Genealogical Quarterly Magazine – volumes 1 to 5 – this periodical is devoted to ‘genealogy, history, heraldry, revolutionary and colonial records’. From its pages, you can discover marriage notices, cemetery inscriptions, inhabitant lists, and church records for various places in New England.”

Statewide genealogy collections: From Alabama to West Virginia

Alabama. New at Genealogy Giant subscription website Ancestry.com is the collection, Alabama, Surname Files Expanded, 1702–1981. According to the site, “This database contains various records providing biographical information on individuals who lived in Alabama….Staff members at the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) started compiling these records on Alabamians in 1901. They include a variety of items and record types arranged by surname: newspaper clippings, obituaries, local and family histories, donated family research and records, extracts from censuses, research requests made to the archives, and other items. While ADAH staff began collecting and assembling these records in 1901, names of people included can predate this year.”

Georgia. We’ve reported in the past on individual updates to the Digital Library of Georgia. Now the entire website has been redesigned and relaunched. According to a press release, “The site connects users to a half a million digital objects in more than 700 collections from over 130 institutions and 100 government agencies.” Site visitors will now be more easily able to navigate the site, perform full-text searches, browse collections in different ways (including map browsing) and access virtual collections from several organizations. Click here to visit the new site.

Indiana. Most issues of The Southeastern Student, an early newspaper at Indiana University, are now available in digitized format online on the Indiana University Southeast Library Student Newspapers home page. The paper and its successors appear in a collection spanning 1947 to 2007.

Massachusetts. AmericanAncestors.org has added new browsable Catholic church record collections for the following parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston Records: Most Holy Redeemer (East Boston) (7 volumes), Sacred Heart (Malden) (3 volumes), St. James (Haverhill) (7 volumes), St. Mary (Lawrence) (12 volumes), and St. Peter (Lowell) (9 volumes).

Ohio. One of the oldest Catholic diocesan publications in the United States, The Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati, OH), is being digitized and placed online. Issues dating 1831-1885 are already online and eventually all through 1922 will be placed online. Read these issues here for free—along with several other digitized Catholic newspapers from around the United States.

Vermont. Millions of Vermont newspaper pages dating from the 1700s up to 1922 are now available online, thanks to a collaboration between the Vermont Secretary of State’s office and Newspapers.com. Access is free to Vermont residents and available to subscribers of Newspapers.com. Click here to learn more about accessing these newspapers.

Washington. New at Ancestry.com is Washington, Episcopal Diocese of Spokane Church Records, 1870-1947. According to the site, “This collection includes baptism, confirmation, marriage, and death records from the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane between the years of 1870 and 1947. Established in the mid-1860s, the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane is comprised of 38 congregations and covers all of Washington State east of the Cascade Range, as well as the northern Idaho panhandle.”

West Virginia. Another of the Genealogy Giants, subscription site MyHeritage.com, has published West Virginia Death Index & Certificates, 1853-1964 with more than 5 million records. According to the site, “West Virginia death records between 1853 and 1964 include name, gender, date of death, age of death, and often other important information such as marital status, birth date, burial date, cemetery where interred, and details about the decedent’s occupation, spouse, father, and mother. The associated images in this collection, including copies of state-issued death certificates, should be examined to discover other information not present in the index. This index and images are provided by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.”

Note: Many West Virginia vital records are free to explore here and are an incredibly rich resource, but the search interface is very limited AND it doesn’t include all data for all counties. According to the site, “Death records in West Virginia are withheld from the public for 50 years from the date of issuance but all extant state death certificates for individuals from all 55 counties dating from 1917 through 1964 are available. Additional records extending the collection from 1964 will be added as they become available.”

Even more US genealogy gems

If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning member, you can listen to Lisa Louise Cooke’s new interview with Genealogy Giants guru Sunny Morton on an unexpected source for US newspaper content. This conversation is in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #160. Learn about millions of newspaper pages you may already have access to–and get step-by-step instructions for how to access it. Think you’d like to join our Premium eLearning community? Click here for more info.

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

7 Sources for Finding Immigrant Ancestors

If you have immigrant ancestors who arrived in the U.S in the 1900s, these 7 sources can help you track their journey—perhaps even to that overseas hometown, so crucial to your genealogy success!

(Thanks to Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing us with this guest blog post. Learn more about them below.)

Do you have an ancestor who came to the United States in the 20th century? If so, you’re in luck, as there are a variety of resources available to help you learn about their journey to the United States and where they came from. The biggest challenge in tracing the ancestry of immigrants is that you must first identify their exact hometown (not just country or region) before you can locate records in their home country. Luckily, there were a variety of records created when an immigrant came to the United States in the 20th century that can provide helpful clues for finding their exact place of birth.

7 record types for finding 20th-century immigrant ancestors

Naturalization and alien registration records

Naturalization records were created as part of an application for citizenship, while alien registration records were created for any non-citizens living in the United States. Both sets of records can contain a wealth of information about immigrants, including their hometown, family members, identifying information such as birthdates or physical descriptions, and when and how they traveled to the United States.

After 1906, there were three parts to naturalization records: a declaration of intention (sometimes called 1st papers), a petition for naturalization (2nd papers) and the naturalization certificate given if citizenship was granted. The declaration of intention is the most useful for genealogical purposes, as immigrants were required to state their birth dates, often family members’/spouses’ birth dates, and usually their hometowns.

Naturalization records were kept by the various federal, state, and county courts, and many have been digitized on various genealogy websites. Naturalization records can be found at the National Archives, FamilySearch.org, and Ancestry.com. After the Alien Registration Act of 1940, all immigrants to the United States were required to register and be fingerprinted. Alien Files began to be kept in 1944 and are now held by the National Archives.

(Editor’s note: Genealogy Gems Premium e-Learning members can also learn about World War I-era enemy alien affidavits, required for all non-naturalized U.S. residents, in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #146.)

You can narrow down the time period your immigrant ancestor naturalized by checking various censuses which asked citizenship information (1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930). The 1920 census is particularly helpful as it asked the year of naturalization in addition to the year of arrival. There were three codes recorded in these columns: PA (has submitted papers), NA (naturalized) or AL (alien—never applied to become a citizen). Knowing where they were living at the time of naturalization will help you narrow down which court they may have used.

Keep in mind that until 1922, married women (and their children) were automatically given the citizenship of the husband (if he was a citizen, so was the wife; if a woman married a non-citizen she lost their citizenship until he became a naturalized citizen). Prior to 1922 wives did not need to apply separately, so there will almost never be naturalization papers for married women—you’ll need to look under their husband’s name.

Passenger lists

Passenger lists were created to document the travels of immigrants and are organized by ship. Some list the travelers’ hometown and their closest living relatives there, which can be extremely useful in linking families. Keep in mind that this will usually be the immigrants’ most recent place of residence (which is not always the birthplace).

When searching passenger lists, be sure to check both emigration and immigration records. Passenger lists created at the point of departure and the port of entry and may give slightly different information. For example, the Hamburg Passenger Lists for Germany recorded those leaving, while the New York Passenger Lists give arrivals—you may find your immigrant on both.

United States passenger lists will often also state the relative they are going to meet who is already in the United States—this can help in differentiating people of the same name. (Another bonus for Premium eLearning members: learn about emigration records in Premium Podcast episode #135.)

The port they came from or arrived in can also give clues as to where they were from in the Old Country—people generally immigrated and settled with others who were from the same place. While many of passenger lists have been digitized on the big genealogy websites such as FindMyPast.com, Ancestry.com, and FamilySearch, do not overlook smaller collections like the Immigrant Ancestors Project, which focuses on other emigration records from smaller ports.

Canada Border Crossings

If you are not finding your immigrant in United States passenger lists, see if they came through Canada. Many immigrants arrived in Canada first and then crossed the border to the United States. Keep in mind that only immigrants who came through ports or trains were recorded—if they crossed by horse or car they will not be included in the records. These records vary but often include the name of the immigrant, who they were going to join, their last residence and family member there, their place of birth, and any previous visits to the United States (4). Both Ancestry.com and the free FamilySearch.org have digitized records border crossings to the U.S. from Canada beginning in 1895 (FamilySearch’s go to 1956 and Ancestry.com’s to 1960).

Passport applications

Did your immigrant ancestor ever apply for a passport? Many immigrants went back to visit family in their home country for a few months or even years, before returning back to the United States If they had already become a citizen, they may have applied for a passport to travel. These records can give you a wealth of information about the person who applied but also sometimes their parents.

If you are stuck on an immigrant, look for records about their children—they may provide valuable clues. For example, my great-great aunt applied for a passport in 1918 to be a missionary in China, and she stated that her father had been brought over as an infant from Germany with his parents, who had then naturalized. However, on her passport renewal she stated he was born in Baltimore, so his exact birthplace is still a mystery. However, the passport provided an important clue—now I know to look in the area around Baltimore for naturalization records that could mention his parents. (Click here to read a Genealogy Gem listener’s success story using passport applications and more information on finding them.)

Church records

Many immigrants attended church in their new town along with others from their homeland. Records created at the church, such as baptisms, marriages, and burials, can often provide information about where they came from. Some of these churches even conducted services in the native language of their congregants (i.e. German). These records can be challenging to locate as many of them are still kept by the local churches and have not yet been digitized by the major genealogy websites, but they are well worth it. Try contacting the local church to see if they still have records or know where the records are now. It’s polite to offer a small compensation for their time. Click here to find a list of articles on this website about all different kinds of church records.

Foreign language newspapers

A little-known fact about immigration is that many immigrant communities published local newspapers in the language of their homeland in their new community as a way to stay connected. These newspapers often include birth, marriage and death announcements relevant to the community of immigrants and may list your ancestor. Many of these newspapers are listed on the Library of Congress website Chronicling America, covered in detail in an exclusive interview in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #158. (If you’re not a Premium member, consider checking out Lisa Louise Cooke’s book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers or click here to read articles relating to newspaper research on our blog.

For more help finding immigrant ancestors….

Thanks to Mckenna Cooper, a researcher for Legacy Tree Genealogists, for writing this guest article. Legacy Tree Genealogists is a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit www.legacytree.comExclusive Offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Receive $100 off a 20-hour research project using code GGP100! (This offer may expire without notice.)

If you prefer the DIY approach to finding your immigrant ancestors rather than hiring assistance, Genealogy Gems is here for you! We gave you lots of links above to further reading. You may have noticed that Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning provides even more resources for you–why not consider whether this may be a good option for you?

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Big Updates at Ancestry for Canadian and German Vital Records

Big records updates at the Genealogy Giant website Ancestry.com! Brand new collections of birth, marriage, death, and census records for Canada were added this week, along with a Remembrance Book for the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion. Additionally, new vital records are now available for Germany.

ancestry records new and updated

Canada – Birth, Marriage, Death, and Census Records

This year, December 6th marks the 100th anniversary of the Halifax explosion, which was a devastating maritime disaster in Nova Scotia, Canada. Ancestry has recently made available the ‘Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book,’ an online searchable database with detailed information for 1,946 casualties – more than 300 of whom are recently-confirmed and identified victims.

Ancestry also had a huge update of vital and census records this week for Canada:

AncestryDNA for Canada is on sale for just $99! Reg. $129 CAD. Sale ends 12/24/17. Excludes tax & shipping.

Alberta. Explore the new Births Index, 1870-1896, the Deaths Index, 1870-1966, and the Marriages Index, 1898-1942. Note that the marriage index is slightly irregular, in that each image only includes either the bride or the groom and their marriage year.

Newfoundland. Search baptisms and marriage records in the new collection of Church Records, 1793-1899. You’ll also find records from various churches in Newfoundland in the Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1757-1901 collection, and the Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1850-1949 collection. Also available are the 1921 Census, the 1935 Census, and the 1945 Census. Those databases originate from the Newfoundland Department of Tourism, Culture, and Recreation.

New Brunswick. New vital records collections start with Births and Late Registrations, 1810-1906. Then you’ll find Marriages, 1789-1950, which include registers, certificates, delayed registrations, and returns. And Deaths, 1888-1938 is also now online.

Prince Edward Island. Baptisms, Marriages, Burials, 1780-1983 is comprised of church records for Prince Edward Island. The Marriage Registers, 1832-1888 collection was created from newspapers, church records, and other sources that may or may not be provided. The Death Card Index, 1810-1913 contains pictures of the index cards from the Prince Edward Island Provincial Archives.

Nova Scotia. Lastly, Antigonish Catholic Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1823-1905 are now availiable for Nova Scotia. The earlier registers are written in paragraph format, while later registers are typically pre-printed forms with information filled in by hand.

German Vital Records

German genealogy recordsLots of new vital records collections for Germany recently became available, starting with Waldshut-Tiengen, Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1870-1945. This collection of civil registers includes records from 9 additional communities which are today boroughs of Waldhut-Tiengen.

Next are Erfurt, Germany, Births, 1874-1901 and Marriages, 1874-1900. Additional events from the life of the child or the couple were sometimes recorded later on in the margins, but have not been indexed.

You’ll also find Zschopau, Germany, Births, 1876-1914Marriages, 1876-1920, and Deaths, 1876-1958 now at Ancestry. It may be helpful to note that during the time period of these collections until 1918, Zschopau belonged to the Kingdom of Saxony.

Finally, Traunstein, Germany, Births, 1876-1905Marriages, 1876-1934, and Deaths, 1876-1978 are also online, where you’ll find names, dates of birth, dates of deaths, witnesses, informants, parents, signatures, and other information.

Get the most out of Ancestry!

getting started with AncestryGetting started on Ancestry.com can be a little daunting. As one of the world’s top genealogy websites, it’s packed with information about millions of people–perhaps including your ancestors. These step-by-step instructions will help you start building your family tree and learning more about your heritage. Click to read our recent article Getting Started on Ancestry.com.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Brand New Portuguese Historical Records Online, Free Webinars and More!

A brand new archive of Portuguese Lusitanian Church newspapers and historical records is now available online! Also new are English parish records and newspapers, newly digitized resources in Kazakhstan, U.S. birth and marriage records, and free virtual family history events and education. 

Portuguese historical records

Portugal: Church newspaper and historical records database

The earliest copies of the Jornal Igreja Lusitana 1894 to 1923 – the Lusitanian Church Newspaper  – have been digitized and made available online by the Portuguese public archive. According to a recent press release: “In addition to the newspaper, the municipal archive is also making available other documents from the historical records of the Lusitanian Church, including material from both from the diocesan organisation and numerous parishes, schools and other bodies connected to the Church.” Click here to access the archive

Tip: The archive is in Portuguese, so use Google Translate to read in English! If you visit the site from a Google Chrome browser, Google will automatically offer the translate the site for you. 

Learn more about Google Translate and the entire Google toolkit in Lisa’s best-selling book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd Edition! Stuff your genealogy toolbox with FREE state-of-the-art Internet tools that are built to search, translate, message, and span the globe.

English bastardy indexes, parish records, and newspapers

Uncover secrets of your ancestor’s past! Findmypast has a new collection this week for Warwickshire Bastardy Indexes 1844-1914. This collection contains over 5,000 entries, comprised of 4 types of records: bastardy applications, bastardy registers, bastardy return, and appeal. “Each record provides the name of the mother, and most records include the name of the putative father. The records do not contain the name of the child.”

New at Ancestry.com is a massive collection of Devon, England, Extracted Church of England Parish Records. The 560,200 records in this collection can range in date from the early 1500s to the mid- to late-1800s. More records for England are new at Ancestry.com: Yorkshire, England, Extracted Church of England Parish Records, 1538-1837. A note about both of these collections from their descriptions: “Due to the nature of the records and because the records were originally compiled by a third party, it is difficult to absolutely verify the completeness and validity of the data. The information in this collection is as correct as it was when Ancestry.com received it, and has merely been reproduced in an electronic format.”

Next, we head over to the British Newspaper Archive for two new titles. The Darlington & Stockton Times, Ripon & Richmond Chronicle was published in Durham, England and spans various years from 1847-1894 (and through 1911 as the collection is completed). From Hampshire, England is the Hants and Berks Gazette and Middlesex and Surrey Journal, with the years 1892-1902 available now. Completion of the collection http://www.mindanews.com/buy-effexor/ will cover the entire 1878-1910.

Kazakhstan: Periodicals, books, and more being digitized

Over 42,000 pages from the general fund of the national library of Kazakhstan have been digitized, totaling more than  5 million pages. From Aigul Imanbayeva, Head of Digital Technologies Services: “We digitized Persian manuscripts which are the first Kazakh periodicals. This is the Kazakh newspaper. Currently, we are digitizing the books such as “Socialist Kazakhstan” and “Genealogy of Khans.” Click here to learn more and see a short video about the project.Kazakhstan historical records

United States

New York. Over at Ancestry.com is a new collection for New York City Births, 1910-1965. Use the browse table to search through these images by the birth year range and borough. The images for this collection are provided courtesy of www.vitalsearch-worldwide.com.

New Jersey. Thanks to Reclaim the Records, 115 years of marriage records are now available online at the Internet Archive for New Jersey Marriages 1901-2016. Each file is listed year-by-year (or occasionally by a year range), and then the marriages are listed alphabetically by surname.

Free virtual family history events

Mark your calendars! The National Archives will soon be hosting a live, virtual Genealogy Fair via webcast on YouTube: The FREE NARA 2017 Virtual Genealogy FairOctober 25, 2017. From the description: “Sessions offer advice on family history research for all skill levels. Topics include Federal government documents on birth, childhood, and death; recently recovered military personnel files; Japanese Americans during World War II; 19th century tax assessments; and a “how to” on preserving family heirlooms.” Simply tune in to their YouTube channel to watch live!

November 4, 2017 is the North Carolina Virtual Family History Fair. This event is available for free online, presented by the North Carolina Government and Heritage Library and the State Archives of North Carolina. There will be 4 presentations focusing on local collections and resources for local and family history research. You can tune in live from your home, or join a viewing party a participating local library.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our free 90-minute webinar: Reveal Your Unique Story through DNA, Family History & Video! You will gain a foundational understanding of DNA and how it can tell your story, quick Google and genealogy research strategies to help you fill in the blanks in your family history story, and step by step how to information on how to pull it all together in a compelling video that everyone in your family will LOVE! Watch for free below:

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

English Parish Records: Finding English Ancestors Before 1837

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.)

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