Before the introduction of Civil Registration in 1837, the only records to the key events in people's lives were recorded in the registers of parish churches and some non-conformist places of worship.
In 1538 Thomas Cromwell, the Vicar General to King Henry VIII, declared that all marriages, baptisms and burials should be recorded; normally these are kept at the Parish Church, and are known as 'Parish Records'. In 1598 an Act was also passed that meant these records should be copied and sent to the bishop, these are known as Bishop's Transcripts.
Although most parish registers usually date to around the mid-16th Century, when Elizabeth I declared that accurate registers should be maintained, some are also available from 1538. Elizabeth I had instructed that they should be preserved in bound books and not on any old scrap of writing material. Even after her efforts, many registers have been lost over the years and those surviving today are now usually safely deposited in the local record office, not the church they are associated with.
Parish registers can contain large gaps, such as for the Commonwealth period, which can leave the mid-1600s looking sparse. You also get volumes which have gone missing over the years leaving frustratingly large gaps. Small gaps are not as bad unless they happen to coincide with the event you are looking for. These are usually due to negligence, often occurring where the clerk didn't enter them at the time and forgot to do it later. If you are lucky, some of the larger gaps in Parish Records caused by lost volumes may be covered by the Bishop's or Archdeacon's Transcripts. These are copies of the events copied from the Parish registers which were sent to the Diocese each year. BT's may themselves be incomplete, especially at the beginning or end of the periods.
Unlike the Census or the Civil registration material, Parish Records are scattered all across the country, so it will be well into the future, if ever, that we will be able to search them online in the same way. Most churches have deposited records over 100 years old at their local record office, but some still retain burial registers for example, that were started in the last century and still are not full yet. Chapel records are not as well preserved, some are in private hands and many have been lost. However, there are many parish register transcripts published by various parish record societies, historical groups and individuals and these lend themselves to being made accessible online.
Using the Parish Registers:
Most people are tracing a surname line, but the tradition of marrying in the bride's parish can make marriages before 1837 difficult to trace. When a man marries out of the parish there are often no clues as to where he went, thus requiring extensive searching of an ever widening circle of surrounding parishes in the hope of finding him.
You may strike it lucky if they were married by Banns and the Banns register still exists, though not many do. Early genealogists, for whom record access was more difficult than today, recognised the difficulties of tracing marriages and this led to several of them creating manuscript indexes. The best known are Boyd's and Pallot's, however Phillimore set about it in a different way, transcribing and publishing marriages from many churches. The parish records currently available on TheGenealogist are taken from various published transcripts, and include many from the Phillimore series of transcripts of marriage registers.
How To: Searching Parish Register Transcripts Online
The Genealogist has now put online thousands of parishes. These have two main formats, database (Transcripts) and searchable book images (Printed Books). Both the transcripts and books are searchable from the Master Search the transcribed Parish Records will come up under Births & Baptisms, Marriages or Deaths and Burials and the Books are listed under Parish Record Books:
The database records consist of easily searched transcripts of the original records which allow you to search them on various fields and may also have linked images of the original registers. This feature depends on the local archive giving permission to publish the images.
How To: Searching Parish Register Printed Books Online
Step 1 - Select 'Parish Records (Printed Books)' section on your Search page.
You'll then be taken to the first part of the brand new interface, where you can select which county you wish to search.
After selecting a county, a list of available parishes will be displayed:
Step 2 - Click on your preferred parish to open up the image viewer window, which will immediately locate the parish on the bookmarks and take you straight to the relevant page. You can then browse the book page by page or the new interface provides the image and search facility in one window, a unique feature on TheGenealogist to help you save time locating your ancestors. Searching Printed Books can often be time consuming on other sites, but with our new interface you'll get accurate results faster. The books are still easily browsed page by page, either using the bookmarks or the navigation icons on the left.The search tool has also been integrated into the image viewer, to limit the amount of time spent changing between different windows.
Step 3 - Enter a surname into the box provided, and a forename if preferred, and all instances of the name within the book will instantly be located and you can click to view each result from here:
Searching multiple parishes
Another great feature of the new interface is being able to search across all of the parishes in one county at once.
From the list of counties, use the forename and surname boxes to search. You will be taken to your results of your search.
We have recently released the following Catholic Records, which are exclusive to Diamond subscribers and have been added to the Parish Registers section of the website:
- Catholic Mission Registers:
- St Peter's, Winchester 1731-1826
- Cowdray, Easebourne and Midhurst 1745-1837
- Pethir 1758-1818
- Bellingham, Northumberland 1794-1837
- Catholic Registers of Cheam, Surrey 1755-1788
- Catholic Registers of Wootton Wawen, Warwickshire 1786-1843
- Catholic Registers of Holywell, Flintshire 1698-1829
- Catholic Registers of Nidd Hall, N.R. of York 1780-1823
- Catholic Registers of Llanarth, Monmouthshire 1781-1838
- Catholic Registers of St. Joseph's Chapel, Trenchard Street, Bristol 1777-1808
- Catholic Registers of Robert Hall and Hornby, Co. Lancaster 1757-1851
- The Catholic Registers of York Bar Convent Chapel 1771-1826
- Catholic Registers of Courtfield in the Parish of Welsh Bicknor, Monmouthshire 1773-1832
- Catholic Registers of Britwell-Prior, Oxfordshire 1765-1788
- Catholic Registers of Isleworth, Middlesex 1746-1835
- Catholic Registers of Newport, Shropshire 1785-1846
- Catholic Registers of Culcheth, Lancashire 1791-1825
- Catholic Registers of Southworth Hall, Lancashire 1795-1827
- Catholic Registers of Danby, West Witton and Leyburn, Yorkshire 1742-1880
- Registers of Fr. Thomas Worthington, Kept in Lancashire 1713-17
- Registers of the Rev. Pierce Parry at Claxby, Lincolnshire, and Oscott, Warwickshire 1755-1766