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Taking It Further

Burialentry2The day will come when you will find your first ancestor born before the beginning of civil registration in 1837. Now is the time to venture into the world of parish registers. These are the records of baptisms (christenings), marriages and burials at local parish churches. In theory parish registers go back to 1538, but in practice, few survive from before 1600.

The amount of information held in a parish register for each entry depends on how informative the vicar was feeling at the time. For a baptism you may find as little as, the child’s name and the date of the ceremony, or as much as, all of the above, the father’s name, the mother’s name, the birth date, the father’s occupation and abode, and even, although admittedly very rarely, some interesting biographical snippets such as ‘useless oaf’ against the father’s name.

A marriage entry will probably give you the name of the bride and groom, their home parish, if they are single or widowed, the date of the ceremony, the names of the witnesses and whether the marriage was by banns or licence. If they were minors, you may also find that the name of the parent who gave consent.

A burial entry will tell you when they were buried, who performed the ceremony and perhaps their age at death. There is sometimes additional information such as their marital status, abode, occupation, cause of death if it was unusual (for instance, murder), whether they were buried in a vault and the name of a husband or a father.

Many parish registers went missing or were badly damaged in the days when they were kept in the church, but contemporary copies of the registers known as “Bishops’ transcripts” were kept and sent to the diocesan authorities. These transcripts can be very useful when the corresponding parish registers no longer exist or are illegible. You may sometimes find information in the Bishops’ Transcripts which is not in the parish registers, such as an alternative spelling for the surname.

Parish registers and Bishops’ Transcripts are kept at County Record Offices. The Society of Genealogists in London also holds a large, nationwide collection of copies.

Online access to parish registers is improving. A good place to start is the IGI, which has details from all over the British Isles, although coverage is not complete. The IGI is run by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS). They have copied a great deal of information which is useful to family historians and have made it available through their Family History Centres.

Another interesting online source for parish records is FreeReg. Once again coverage is not complete, but new records are being added all the time.

The two major family history websites, Ancestry and FindMyPast, also have some parish records which are searchable online.

When using online resources be sure to differentiate between transcribed information and copies of the original documents. It is always best to check transcribed information against the original documents to make sure that no mistakes were made by the transcriber and that they have not missed additional information.