Church Records

Church Records will be used in this web site to mean the parish registers and bishop’s transcripts of the Established or State religion of the Church of England or Anglican Church. The records of all other churches are treated under the generic term of nonconformist records. Researchers doing demographic studies or who need to reconstitute all families in a given area for academic purposes may wish to skip down to the section entitled “Search Routines.”

Parish registers contain the baptisms or christenings, marriages, and burials performed in the Church of England. For a detailed description of the time coverage, contents, and some ideas of how to use parish registers, go to Rod Neep’s web site at British Genealogy. Other useful information is found at FamilySearch Wiki. Click on "Church Records" under Topics on the left. For even clearer examples of parish registers before and after 1813, see Progenealogists. Also see Find My Past for a detailed description of parish records and their availability online at this site.

How far back in time can the researcher using church records reasonably expect to find the ancestry of the common man in England? Three responses to this question are provided below. Generally, it depends on the known links maintained between persons/places over 2-3 generations and whether those linkages are documented in more than one source. The starting place is to determine all you can about a person’s age at different times and the potential birth place. Uncommon names and their reappearance across generations will help. See geographic location, starting point and names for further details.

The first response is about 1780. This can be achieved by combining all that is known about an individual and his/her family and associates from census records, civil registration, probates, and ages at death or burial. Those with ancestry in the parish registers that belonged to the Province of York (see Church Table) may benefit from the unusual amount of information recorded in the christening registers there between 1777-1812 in some of the parishes. For a list of such parishes go to Pontefract and District FHS Website.

The second response is about 1700. Research before 1780 is more difficult due to lack of evidence about a person’s birth date/place. This is compounded by the failure to note the mother’s maiden name in most christening registers, and the likelihood of poor persons moving more frequently. A person may not have been christened in the likely place of birth, or was christened in a nonconformist chapel instead, or was not even christened at all. (Twenty-five percent of the population may not have been christened.) If the ancestral occupation required apprenticeship, then the national tax levied on apprenticeships in the eighteenth century may supply some of the missing linkages. See the indexes to apprentices, 1710-1774. Start with findmypast.co.uk. If a likely entry is found in the on-line index, then go to the filmed collection on FHL and BYU films 477624-477633. Poor law records may help in resolving problems caused by internal migration.

The third response is about 1660. All of the problems outlined in the preceding paragraph continue. The major concern now is twofold: the disruption and loss of records caused by the civil war, and how far back in time the ancestral parish registers extend. The majority of ancient parishes have records back to 1650 but that drops to around 50% by 1598, and only some 8% of the ancient parishes have records dating back to 1538.

Searching Parish Registers

Most people married and were buried in a parish of the Church of England within 10 miles of where they were born. If an exact age and/or place of birth is lacking, but the marriage is known, assume that the groom was 26 and the bride 24 years old and search for their christenings in the known parishes of residence. Search at least 5 years either side of the estimated birth year. Before 1750, the groom is more likely to have been 28 and the bride 26. (See marriage records for a missing marriage routine.) If a likely christening entry is found, search the burial registers to make sure that the potential ancestral candidate survived infancy. If more than one likely candidate is found, then try to narrow the list down by burying or marring off each one. Monumental and tombstone inscriptions may assist in this process. See also the search strategies outlined in the introduction to probates.

If your case is built solely on the average information given in one parish register and no other supplemental records are available, then you must seek to strengthen your case by searching the surrounding parishes and nonconformist records. Start by mapping out a 10 mile radius of parishes. If you have Internet Explorer 7 or a higher version, go to England Jurisdictions 1851 at FamilySearch Maps. Type the name of your parish in the search box. A pin number will appear on the county map. Click on that pin number to see the starting dates for the parish registers and bishop's transcripts. Then click on Options to generate a list of parishes in a radius of 10 miles and see the call numbers of church records at the FHL. Search the christenings, marriages and burials of each as described in the search routines below for all entries of the surname over at least a 30 year period. Keep careful track of what you have done including the type (parish registers, bishop’s transcripts, or other copies) and any gaps in the records.

Search Routines

Start your research in church records with the numerous indexes to parish registers that now exist. These indexes can be used to determine possible ancestral origins and likely entries of individuals that should be double checked against the original records. In turn such indexes make it easier to do a radius search

  1. International Genealogical Index (IGI). Marriages and christenings were extracted from many of the parish registers and bishop’s transcripts at the FHL by their trained staff. For some idea of the coverage of the IGI, see the second column in the county index of the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers

    There are two approaches to tap into information in the IGI, by person and by place. Both approaches are extremely useful to those doing demographic research or to anyone interested in family reconstitution. Both searches employ the technique of a batch number search that allows one to call up all entries of a first name or surname from the extracted record.

    1. PERSON. Go to Family Search. Check just the box for the "Community Indexed IGI" to search for an individual's christening. If a likely entry is found, note at the bottom of the screen the "indexing project (batch) number" and "source film number." Click on the batch number and search for all entries of that surname for possible siblings and an idea of when their parents married. Then go back to the search screen and search for that marriage.

    2. PLACE. This approach lends itself well to radius searches and academic research. Go to RootsWeb. Read “What is a batch?” Then from the country selection menu under British Isles, select England and the county of interest. There you will find the parishes in that county in alphabetical order that have been extracted with the years covered and their batch numbers. Click on the batches that apply to your research.

  2. British Vital Records Index. A large amount of information was also extracted for the FHL by volunteers. This data was compiled on CDs by the FHL in two editions. This information may or may not be in the IGI. Some idea of the value of the second edition of the BVRI can be gleaned from Genoot. Choose a county and click on the numbers to the right to see how many entries were added for a given parish. The index is available at ancestry.co.uk at the bottom of "More Collections" click on "See all databases." Then type in England & Wales Christening Records, 1530-1906 or England & Wales Marriages, 1538-1940

  3. Continuing Volunteer Indexing Projects for the FHL. Go to the main search screen of familysearch and select under "Browse by Location" the entry for the "United Kingdom and Ireland." Search under all of the following:

    • England, Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991
    • England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975
    • England, Marriages, 1538-1973
    • Great Britian, Deaths and Burials, 1778-1988
    • Great Britain, Marriages, 1797-1988
    • Great Britain, Births and Baptisms, 1571-1977

    CAUTION: All of the sources listed so far in this search routine are based on the interpretation of others who extracted the data. Some information may be incorrect or have been left out. Always recheck the sources from which the data was extracted.

  4. Other On-Line Sites. A useful way to stay up to date on this topic is to check a current edition of Stuart A. Raymond’s Births, Marriages and Deaths on the Web (FHL 942 D24rsa 2005, parts 1-2). The following on-line guides/searches may assist your research.

    • Ancestry.co.uk - (This is a subscription site but the public has free access when searching at the FHL or using the computers in the Family History section of the BYU library.) Click on “all databases” and fill in the box marked “Title” with the word "parish," and the box “Keywords” with the name of the county.
    • Cyndi's List Start with England. Click on "Countries" and then the country of interest for "Birth, Marriage, Death."
    • The Federation of Family History Societies sponsors various projects such as the National Burial Index (NBI). For details on the latest version of the NBI, click here. The results of their projects can be found at the FHL and online at findmypast. This is a fee site but is free to those using the computers at the FHL, and the computers in the family history section of the BYU library
    • http://fhs-online.co.uk This site includes databases for many parishes in Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.
    • http://www.freereg.org.uk/parishes"
    • GenealogyLinks
    • GENUKI - Click on the map of England and choose a county.
    • Price and Associates
    • http://www.sog.org.uk/index.shtml
    • UK BMD - Do a county search.
  5. County Record Offices (CRO). If the desired church records or transcriptons of them are not at the FHL, or online then you must seek out the originals. Most of the original parish registers and bishop’s transcripts are located at the respective county record office. Some CRO catalogs are on line with the National Archives. A brief description of the parish registers held at each office will be found in the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers (FHL 942 E7pa 2003). More detailed information on both parish registers and bishop’s transcripts is available in the National Index of Parish Registers (FHL 942 D27ste and BYU Religion & Family History Reference CD1068 .A2 S8). The record offices can be contacted on line via the genuki web site listed above under each county and the subject, “Archives and Libraries.”

© 2012 Center for Family History and Genealogy at Brigham Young University. All rights reserved.