Introduction to the Parish Records of England and Wales | The Nosey Genealogist's: Help Me With My Family Tree
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Introduction to the Parish Records of England and Wales

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on May 1st, 2016

Family History Researcher English/Welsh course

Parish Records

I was trying to explain, over the phone to a friend this weekend, what parish records were.

My friend’s understanding of family history was more or less at the beginners stage and so I found myself explaining how the parish is the smallest local administrative area in England and Wales even today.

In modern times a parish council looks after a civil parish that can range in size from a large town with a population of around 80,000 to a single village with fewer than a hundred inhabitants and is not connected to the church parish at all.

As confusion between this civil administration and the church parish had, by now, crept into our conversation I had to point there was a difference. The modern parish council was distinct from a parochial church council, which is the executive committee of a Church of England parish. This parochial church council had come out of the old parish vestry committee, which it had replaced in 1921.

Having got those two clear in his mind I then muddied the waters when I explained that this hasn’t always been the case and that at one time the church parish was also the arm of local government!

It is believed that parishes have been in existence from Saxon times (9th century) when they grew up around the Minsters.

For family historians the three most important records, at a parish level, are normally referred to collectively as the Parish Registers. They contain the names of our ancestors’ Baptismal records, Marriage records and their Burials. In England and Wales the parish register system, administered by the Church of England, had been in operation since 1538 and the reign of Henry VIII.

Nelson's birth in Church Register

Older registers will have been written in Latin and so we may need to be able to translate that language. There are various tools on the internet that may help, not the least of which is Google’s translation tool.

Even those later records, which are written in English, can vary tremendously in their readability and the amount, or lack of, information that they provide.

Sadly for family historians, many older parish records have not survived through time and so we cant expect to find full records for each parish that we are researching back to 1538.

With that proviso in place – a surprising number of parish records have endured.

Once a parish register is full it will normally find its way to be housed at the local Diocesan Office (often the County Record Office, but beware when a diocese covers more than one county). To avoid too much wear and tear, on these valuable old books, most have been microfilmed and can be viewed in the record office on microfilm readers and some have made it online at the large subscription sites.

If you want to learn more then I explain more about parish records in a lesson within the Family History Researcher course.

Many people will be aware of the Parish Registers and how useful they are, but not so many of us would be able to name all of the lesser used Parish records that would have found a place within the parish chest in our ancient parish churches.

Here are some other records that could be in the parish chest records for your ancestor’s parish and which I regaled my friend with in our telephone call:

  • The Churchwardens Accounts

  • Glebe Terriers and Tithe Records

  • Charity Accounts (possibly not of a great deal of use to family historians!)

  • Vestry Minutes

  • Petty Constables Accounts

  • Rate Books

  • Various other miscellaneous records

I had to stress to my friend that it is by no means certain that these documents will have survived the ravages of time, but that if they have then the originals should now be stored away safely at the relevant County Record Office for the church in question.

Cheekily, I suggested that he take out a subscription to my 52 weekly tutorial Family History Researcher Course to learn more – especially as he could have the first month for £1 (normal monthly subscription is £9.95 thereafter for the next 11 months. Cancel at any time, no questions asked and no hoops to jump through).

To pay in sterling: http://www.familyhistoryresearcher.com/trialoffer/

FamilyHistoryResearcher.com

I think he thought this was me offering “mates rates”, but actually it is my current offer to everyone. If you wish to pay in US dollars then I am currently offering a $1 trail for a month, consisting of four lessons, and then $14 a month for as long as you wish to remain, or until I’ve sent you lesson 52 which ever is the sooner.

To pay in U.S. Dollars: http://www.familyhistoryresearcher.com/specialoffer/

FamilyHistoryResearcher.com

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One Comment
  1. James Mac permalink

    Charity Accounts (possibly not of a great deal of use to family historians!)

    And if the charity accounts name the local poor (given that village charities existed to provide for that), or even names the trustees? All grist to the mill.

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