Research

Parish Registers

Dates of UK Parish Registers

UK Parish Registers go from 1538 to the present day. Not all records survive.

A useful source of information is "The Phillimore Atlas and Index to Parish Registers" by Cecil Humphrey-Smith which contains parish maps and a list of registers (and dates) available.

Background

One of the chief sources of research prior to the start of Civil Registration, after one has exhausted seven decades of the Census, are the Church of England Parish Registers.

Originally held by the respective parishes, many have now been placed in the custody of local Record Offices although more recent volumes can still be with the parish in question. Under a ruling made in 1978 by the Church of England’s Synod (its Parliament), the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials over 100 years old were required to be deposited as indicated above and a fresh volume started; strict conditions were imposed as to their storage etc. if the relative Parochial Church Council wished to retain the earlier ones. In many small rural parishes, however, where there are few baptisms, marriages and burials in a year, the old volumes are still in use; the costs involved in purchasing new books for baptisms and burials is considerable. The records of marriage are covered by a different set of rules which the civil authorities administer.

Introduction of Parish Registers

Whilst before the Reformation some monasteries made a note of the birth dates of local important families, there was no universal system of record until 1538 when it was ordered that registers were to be maintained and written up every week; only a small proportion of the earliest events survived as they were often kept on loose sheets of paper. In 1598 an order was made that the registers were to be kept in parchment books and that all old entries be copied into the books. From this date copies of all entries were to be sent annually at Easter to the Bishop’s Registry (These are now referred to as the Bishops Transcripts).

Civil War period

During the Commonwealth Period, the duty of registration was transferred from the clergy to a Parish Register official or Registrar and a fee of one shilling levied. This disincentive meant that many events remained unrecorded. Following the Restoration many un-christened children were baptism, some as old as fifteen. Researchers of this period must bear this fact in mind.

Non-Conformity

With the growth of non-conformity, many children were baptism by local ministers, often at home and consequently not officially registered. From 1694, until the order was revoked about twelve years later, notification of such baptisms had to be made to the Anglican incumbent and a tax charged on the registration plus a sixpenny fee.

Stamp Duty Act

Between 1783 and 1794 a tax of three pence (3d) was levied on each parish register entry of baptism, marriage and burial. This again proved a deterrent to baptism particularly to poor families. Paupers were exempt and many declared themselves as such to avoid the duty. Consequently, pauper numbers seemingly rose. Many clergy resented acting as tax collectors. Many avoided duty by not baptising children. A "P" against and entry denotes "Pauper", "Pd 3d" indicates payment of duty. Some children were baptised after 1794 when the tax stopped. A similar situation occurred from 1695 to 1706.

(Source "Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History" by Mark D. Herber)

Regulation of Marriages

There have been numerous Statutes relating to baptism, marriage and burial over the years, apart from those mentioned above, that have governed the way in which the events were recorded and administered; the most important of these was a tightening-up of the rules relating to marriage.

Early Years

Until the middle of the seventeenth century, there were certain times of the year when few marriages took place. These included six weeks between Advent and 13th January, ten weeks between Septuagesima and Low Sunday and three weeks between Rogation and Trinity Sunday. Marriage was, and still is, likely to take place in the parish of the bride but as banns are called on three consecutive Sunday in the parish of residence of both parties, a banns (if it has survived) is an important additional source of research. If performed by marriage, a specific church is often mentioned.

Hardwick Marriage Act

Until 1754 a marriage as statement of intent before witnesses, but without religious rites and unregistered, was valid in the eyes of the law. The Church ruled that clergy only could perform such a ceremony after a marriage licence had been obtained or by the calling of banns. In practice, however, the breaking of this rule did not invalidate the marriage and led merely to the couple concerned being censured. The parson was seldom prosecuted and this apparent ambiguity had led to many abuses in the form of clandestine marriages. Indeed a market arose to deal with such events and certain churches and clergy became known for providing such a service. Prison chapels became known as the venue for these ceremonies and in particular the Fleet Marriages in London became tarnished. Unscrupulous prison chaplains soon established themselves in rooms outside the Fleet prison, sometimes in a nearby inn set up as a chapel. On the day before the Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act (for the Better Preventing of [[Clandestine Marriages]) came into force (25 March 1754), 217 so-called Fleet marriages took place. Several hundred registers recording clandestine marriages can be found in the National Archives under reference RG7.

The act referred to laid down the rules pertaining to and affecting the administration of marriage in England and Wales for the next eighty or so years. In brief, all marriages apart from those of Quakers and Jews were to be performed in the licensed churches and chapels of the Church of England. In addition separate marriage registers were to be kept, the entries of which may hitherto have been mixed with those of baptism and burial. The printed form gave marital status and parishes of residence together with the signatures of both parties and the witnesses to the event. Between 1783 and 1794 a Stamp Act levied a three-penny duty on all registrations and this sadly restricted parochial registration.

Rose Act

In 1813 Rose’s Act introduced a new form of record with set columns; this discouraged the incumbent from making unofficial comments of his own, pertinent at the time and now useful to researchers. The act also required the groom’s occupation, the marital status of both parties and their places of residence as well as their respective signatures to be recorded. As far as burials were concerned, new books of record were introduced containing abode and age at death.

To present day

Marriage registers were kept in duplicate, the second copy being sent at the end of each quarter to the local District Superintendent Registrar who sent a copy to the Registrar General. This is the basic method of administration that has continued up to the present time. Since about 1994 marriage can be performed in buildings duly licensed other than churches and register offices; indeed there is a growing tendency in these secular days, for ceremonies to be performed in exotic overseas locations.