Bishop's Transcripts (BTs)

Starting in 1598, the parish minister was required to send annually a copy or transcript of all the christenings, marriages and burials performed during each year to his bishop. The bishop’s transcripts diminish after 1837 and cease around 1870. The BTs at the diocesan level may have been filed by rural deanery. The BTs of jurisdictions exempt from the bishop may have been filed with the probate records. In the case of Suffolk, the transcripts were sent to the archdeacons (ATs) and some of those are misfiled among the probates for that county, which see. Norfolk has both BTs and ATs.

The advantage of BTs is twofold. Since they were filed separately from the parish registers, they may survive when the parish registers are missing. More importantly, the BTs may contain more or different information from that found in the parish register. A lesser point is that those filed by rural deanery would be useful for a radius search. The name of the rural deanery is given at FamilySearch Maps under the Jurisdictions tab on the Information bubble. It can also be gleaned from the tools listed under Geographic Location.

The disadvantage of BTs is the fact that they are notorious for missing years and even gaps within a year. In turn, those filed by rural deanery can be tedious to search.

It was estimated in 1998 by staff members of the FHL that microfilms had been acquired for about 85% of the BTs, but only 45% of the parish registers. The disparity can be explained by the fact that when microfilming began the BTs were available in central locations whereas the same was not the case with parish registers until the 1970s. The IGI will reflect this disparity. Fortunately, the percentage of filmed parish registers is rising; hence, the need to search the FHL catalog and both the IGI and the British Vital Records Index (BVRI). (See the Search Routines listed under Church Records for further details.)

Start by searching the FHL catalog for the parish name and the subject of church records. If the BTs were filed by parish they will be cataloged there along with any filmed parish registers. BTs filed by rural deanery at the time of the microfilming will be found in the catalog under the name of the county to which the parish belonged and the same subject. Automatically search under the county if no BTs are listed under the name of the parish.

Ideally, both the parish register and any of its bishop’s transcripts should be searched. This becomes even more important if church records are the sole source of one’s family history. It is essential to compare any entries found in the IGI and BVRI with the extracted source. Not only might there be copying errors but additional information for which there was no room in the index. If either the parish register or the bishop’s transcripts has not been microfilmed, it will be necessary to have searches made in England. The National Index of Parish Registers can assist in determining any gaps in the parish registers. The BTs are typically filed at the county archives. The exact whereabouts of all of the BTs are listed in Jeremy Gibson’s Bishops’ Transcripts and Marriage Licences (FHL Reference 942 K23b 2001 with an older edition at BYU under Religion & Family History Reference CS412 .G52x 1983)

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