Parish Registers in England and Wales

Parish Registers became mandatory on 5 September 1538 when Thomas Cromwell, Vicar General to Henry VIII, ordered clergy to keep details of baptisms, marriages and burials.

Unfortunately, not all registers survive from that period. Church registers can be used to discover more about your ancestors before Civil Registration was introduced in 1837 as they contain details of baptisms, marriages and burials for the area.

Example of Courteenhall Burial Register pre 181

The above image is produced with permission from Northamptonshire Archives

There were many inconsistencies in the way baptisms, marriages and burials were recorded in a register, so Rose's Act came into force in 1813. This meant that separate registers were now required for the registration of baptisms, marriages and burials.

Baptisms and Burials had to be written into registers within seven days of the event. Marriages had to be written into the appropriate book and signed at the time of the marriage.  Marriage Records changed substantially in 1754, when Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into force.  A marriage register has remained substantially unaltered since 1837, when it was amended in order to correspond with marriage certificates after the implementation of civil registration.  This format of recording a baptism, marriage or burial is still in use today.

If your ancestors did not move away from their place of origin, you may find it's possible to trace several generations of one family just by using a Church register and this can help family history research.

In church registers for an urban area, such as Bethnal Green, you may find several baptisms, marriages and burials all took place on the same day. This was vastly different in a rural area where the population was smaller.

To discover more about the recording of a baptism, marriage or burial in the registers, please view my guides on what information can be found in baptism recordsmarriage records and burial records.  You could also discover a lot of information is contained on memorial inscriptions.

Where to find Parish Registers

An older church register is normally held by the local Record Office but more recent books are more often than not still held by the church as they could still be in use today.

You can look at some Records on-line at Find My Past, The Genealogist and Ancestry. A subscription is required for all of these companies.

You are also able to search through some parish records on-line if you are tracing Docklands, Thames and Watermen and Lightermen ancestors.

Have not found the entry you're looking for? Try Bishop's Transcripts

If you find a gap in a Parish Register, Bishop's Transcripts may be able to help as they are simultaneous copies of the Register. A law passed in 1598 meant some parishes had to send the Registers to the local bishop.

These only contain the basic details and do not include additional information the clergyman may have included in the original register. It is also possible however that the clergyman might use the opportunity to insert an event omitted from the original record, so it is still best to check these as well.

If you cannot find your ancestor in a Parish Register or Bishop's Transcripts, it is a possibility your ancestors were nonconformists. There is also a possibility your ancestors were Roman Catholic.  Another reason your ancestor cannot be found in the registers is because they may have been illegitimate.

> Parish Registers


Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.