There is a large amount of information for family history researchers, tracing their English or Welsh family tree, for the years as far back as 1837 on the web and then nothing! I know that many people, that are researching their Family tree for ancestors from the British Isles, find that they have this problem. As I wrote about, in a previous article on tracing and English family tree before 1837, it seems to become harder for us. 1837 is when civil registration started in England & Wales and the state took over from the established church the registering the citizen’s vital records.
You possibly have been amazed at the ease you had finding those later records of your forebears by using the usual subscription websites. For example the likes of ancestry, or TheGenealogist.co.uk for these dates. Then, however, when you come to trying to get back well before the census records and the government run Births, Deaths and Marriages data, you’ll no doubt have found that it is only a very small number of the total genealogical records, that there are, will have actually make it on to the internet.
So you need to go looking for the old Parish Records and they are usually to be found securely in the relevant County Record office. In a very few cases, however, the incumbent minister of the parish may still have kept hold of them at the parish church. A problem that you need to address from the outset is how do you decide which parish your ancestors would have fallen into? This leads me on to the value of getting hold of Parish maps for the counties that your ancestors lived in. The maps will be of use in not only showing the boundaries of each parish, but also in giving you those of the adjacent parishes as well. Think how useful this may be for tracking those ancestors who tended to move about somewhat!
Gaps can occur in the parish registers because of changes in political regime. One such important example is the English Civil War. Think also about how the politics of raising a tax can be a reason for missing parish records. An example of this was that in 1783 a stamp duty of 3 pence on every entry in the parish registers was imposed by the government of the day on its citizens – although an exemption was if a person was a pauper. As with all taxes people seek ways to evade them and so you won’t be surprised that your ancestors did this as well. What is more they did it with the collusion of many church ministers! You will discover that there is a decline in the number of middle and working class entries of baptisms, marriages and burials at this time. On the other hand there is a corresponding increase in the number of pauper’s entries! The Act, itself, was repealed in 1794 as it had been found to be largely unsuccessful in its aim.
Another Act of Parliament (Rose’s Act) in 1812, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be entered in separate and specially printed books. These books provided for only eight entries per page and required more information to be gathered on the individuals than had been the common practice.
Baptismal entries now had to include the occupation of the child’s Father and the Mother’s maiden name. Marriages, from now on, included the parish of origin of both parties to the wedding, also recorded were their names, if they were a bachelor, spinster, widow, etc., their ages, the parties signatures or marks, and also the marks or signatures of two witnesses.
Entries for burials now included the age, occupation and abode of the departed and between 1678 and 1814 an affidavit had to be sworn that the deceased was buried in wool to help the economy or a fine of Â£5 was payable.
When looking for marriages you should be aware that they can be solemnised in the Church either by banns, or by licence. Family historians, searching for ancestors will find that banns are recorded in the parish register. The reading of banns is the process where the couple’s intention to marry would be read out on three occasions in the parish churches of both parties and it is this which is recorded for us to find. So if you know the place where the bride-groom lived just prior to his marriage, this record will also give you the information as to the parish of his bride. Normally the wedding is likely to take place a few weeks later and so this gives you a time period to search. Marriage Licences themselves will probably not have survived the years as they were sometimes handed to the couple intending to marry. But fear not, because a search can be made for the marriage licence’s bond, or allegation. This is a document that can give up some useful information for family historians as names of those who stood surety, along with the names of the bride and groom, place of marriage and in some cases the occupations of the sureties and groom are recorded.
These are just some of the documents that you can use to help you get your family tree back beyond 1837 in England & Wales. I have released a useful Audio CD on the subject called Getting Back Before 1837 in England & Wales, have a look at the page on my main website http://www.NoseyGenealogist.com