Parish registers are fundamental sources of information on births, marriages and deaths prior to the introduction of civil registration in 1837. However, the information given in register entries is very variable, and it should be noted that they generally record baptisms and burials rather than births and deaths.

Baptisms in 18th-century registers were likely to be recorded simply by noting the name of the child, the name of the father and the date. Marriage entries before 1753 frequently just gave the names of the parties. Burial entries may just record the name of the deceased and the date. More information than this was sometimes given (especially in the case of gentry or clergy), but that was entirely up to the scribe who wrote the entry.