Introduction to the Parish Records of England and Wales

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/

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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/

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Family History records for Portsea Island workhouse ancestors

 

Portsmouth Library and History Centre

Last week I was in Portsmouth and took advantage of an opportunity to pop into The Portsmouth History Centre which is on the second floor of the Portsmouth Central Library near the Guildhall.

It comprises of the City Records Office Archive as well as holding the library resources on Portsmouth family, local and naval history plus the Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens collections.

My interest was in the Portsea Workhouse, an institution in which my 3 x great-grandmother, Martha Malser, had died as an inmate in February 1870 aged 70. While the History Centre have the workhouse Creed registers from 1879 to 1953, which served as admission registers, the earlier records have very sadly not survived. This being the case meant I was unable to do any personal family history research this time.

Portsea Workhouse

© Copyright Basher Eyre and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

 

I was, however, able to call up the Board of Guardians minute books for the time that my ancestor was living under their care in her old age. While not giving me any direct references to Martha it was an extremely interesting bit of research as it gave me a flavour of the organisation and an insight into its operation. For others, this could be a goldmine of family information.

These Board of Guardians minute books are a very name rich set of documents for those with ancestors who were officials, or who worked for the workhouse. Names were also recorded for suppliers to the institution of food, clothing, coal etc. This could be another opportunity for some researchers to find their family members mentioned, although often the supplier was simply noted by his surname alone. So you may see Jones £2 3s 6d, or Smith £0 4s 8d.

 

I read about the appointments made for named schoolmasters, matrons and various other officials to the workhouse. The records detail the taking of references for these people and the salaries that the Union would pay the successful candidates.

There was an interesting entry where the Board set out the duties they expected of the new clergyman. The number of days he was required to attend to the inmates spiritual needs, inside the workhouse, and the Eucharist services that he should provide for the workhouse inmates on the Sabbath.

Perhaps the most useful information for family historians, contained within these Board of Guardians minute books, was the records of people receiving “out relief”. Those who had become sick and were able to get some parish relief while not having to enter the workhouse. If your ancestor had fallen on hard times then these entries would give you both a surname and a first name, a place, the amount of out relief and also the reason for receiving the payment.

Most of the sicknesses that I read were general, such as “confinement”. I did read of some injuries such as back and leg, which would be expected of working men and women, though I did note one case of syphilis! Presumably this person was considered to be worthy of the care of the parish, so perhaps they were innocently infected with the disease.

To read more about the workhouse I recommend Peter Higginbotham’s site:
http://www.workhouses.org.uk/

There are also some modules on the workhouses and the Poor laws within the Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh Family History See the special Trial Offer running currently by clicking this link: http://www.familyhistoryresearcher.com/trialoffer.

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Add colour to family history facts to make ancestors lives interesting

 

Census 1861

I was at a function recently and on my table was an enthusiastic family historian who had been tracing his family tree for many years. Next to him was the inevitable sceptic who tried to put us both in our place by saying just how boring she thought “gathering a load of names and dates was”. I didn’t enquire what her hobby was, or even if she had one at all.

I did surprised her, however, by agreeing and saying that one of my mantras that I repeat often in my contributions to the Family History Researcher Academy course is to find out about the lives, work, environment and social conditions that existed at the time that your forebears were alive.

If you have discovered, from a search of the census, that your Great Aunt Jane was in service in a large house then I would make an effort to go and visit the below stairs of a similar property. There are quite a few National Trust houses that meet the bill. On a visit to Erdigg in North Wales, this was exactly what I did. There the upstairs and downstairs were beautifully presented to give a feel for what life was like for our ancestors living in both levels of society.

Erdigg

As a worked example of what I teach, let’s consider my ancestor Henry Thomas Thorne. From the census of 1861, accessed on TheGenealogist  I am able to discover him working in the Naval Dockyard at Portsmouth where he is employed as a rope-maker at H.M.Dockyard.

1861 Portsmouth census

 

This weekend I had the chance to visit Portsmouth and not only go to the church where he married, but also to tour the Historic Dockyard and see an exhibit explaining how men like my 2x great-grandfather and his colleagues created the cordage that the Royal Navy of the time required for its ships.

I had previously obtained a copy of my ancestors’ wedding certificate from the GRO, having found their details in the Births, Marriages and Death Indexes that are available on various websites.

St Mary's Portsea

On this visit to Portsmouth I could now walk in the footsteps of my forebears on their wedding day the 5th February 1859 at St Mary’s, Portsea Island.HMS Warrior 1860

I could go on board H.M.S. Warrior, an actual warship from the time period (1860) and see how the cordage that he made was used on this ironclad steam and sail man-of-war.

Coiled rope

And I could see the tools that Henry would have used everyday, in the exhibition piece there.

Ropemaking

This story of my weekend excursion illustrates how I use the information that I discover in the records as a springboard to go on and find social history museums, or even the actual places that my ancestors would have gone to, and so build my family’s story.

If you haven’t moved past the gathering of names and dates stage in your family tree research, then I urge you to start doing so now.

 

 

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

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Who Do You Think You Are? Sir Derek Jacobi – Wills and more

 

Derek Jacobi from TheGenealogist

I watched the Sir Derek Jacobi episode of Who Do You think You Are? with great interest this week. The television researchers showed us that although the famous actor was born into a South London family of humble stock, he was descended from a Huguenot ancestor of status. Joseph De La Plaigne had been imprisoned in France for his protestant beliefs, before making his escape to England in his sixties.

It gave me great delight to find the TV programme showed Sir Derek a copy of his illustrious forebear’s will, as I too had discovered this very same document when looking around the Prerogative Court of Canterbury wills on TheGenealogist’s website.

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

If you want to read more about this and some of Sir Derek’s other ancestors’ last wishes, then there is an article on TheGenealogist’s website that I helped put together.

TheGenealogist Wills of ancestor of Sir Derek Jacobi

Many people from all stations of society, including some whom we would not have expected to have, made wills and so it is certainly worth taking a look to see if your ancestors left one.

Before 1858, England and Wales were divided into two provinces. The largest and most influential was Canterbury, which covered the South of England up to the Midlands and also Wales. The other was York, which covered Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Lancashire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and the Isle of Man. The two provinces of Canterbury and York each had their own Archbishop, and were divided into several dioceses. Each diocese had a minimum of two bishops, and these dioceses were also divided again into archdeaconries.

All wills, up until 12 January 1858, had to be proven in a church court to ensure that the will was legal. Wills were proven in over 250 church courts across the country, and the records of these are now stored mostly in local record offices.

For more on wills there is a module that reveals more about the subject inside the Family History Researcher Academy course on English/Welsh Family History that is available from the link below. The course takes the student from beginning researching their English/Welsh ancestor to deal with many intermediate level lessons such as wills and much more.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Paul Hollywood

Paul_Hollywood

Paul_Hollywood

Did you watch the Paul Hollywood programme in the 12th series of Who Do You Think You Are?

I thought it was a great show to start the new series off. Paul came across as a genuine normal guy who like many of us wished he had taken the time to speak more to his relatives about the past before they sadly died.

Even though one of the main lessons in my Family History course is to talk to your relatives and jot down what they tell you, as a basis for then trying to substantiate their stories with research in actual records, I too am guilty of not having done this before it was too late with some of my own family.

 

In this week’s TV show Paul Hollywood, from The Great British Bake Off, was taken back to his grandfather’s WWII experience in North Africa. It was here that his grandfather Norman Harman (1913 – 2003) had been sent as soon as he had completed his training. At Medjez el Bab in Tunisia, Norman’s Light Anti-Aircraft division were protecting the infantry from enemy air attacks at the time of the major Allied offensive to take Tunis from the German forces. With the enemy throwing bombs and missiles at them it was hard on these men.

From there Paul travelled to Italy, where he learnt about how his grandfather was part of the landing force that became trapped on the beaches at Anzio for four months, surrounded by Germans and all the while under constant aerial bombardment. Paul gets to see the landing area where his grandfather and the other men would have felt like sitting ducks, with death and devastation all around them. Norman and his comrades finally managed to land and their gun was then transported five miles inland. Unfortunately for them the regiment was soon surrounded by the enemy in a dangerously exposed area. Huge numbers of men had no choice but to dig themselves into 7ft long fox holes and spend months trapped, coming under repeated German shell attacks.

In May 1944 and thanks to Norman’s regiment’s extraordinary efforts, the stalemate at Anzio was broken. The next month the Allied armies went on to liberate Rome, but not without the loss of 14,000 lives. Paul’s grandfather brought back from this conflict a visible memento of his terrifying time. He had developed a facial tic that stayed with him until he died.

Researching his line even further back, Paul Hollywood was seen in the Who Do You Think You Are? programme to use TheGenealogist’s ‘family forename search’ to find Alexander McKenzie, a Wood Turner who had come down to Liverpool from his native Glasgow. I was very glad to see that this company’s excellent resource was used by Paul, in place of one of the other two subscription sites who normally always get a look in.

Following his Scottish family line up to Glasgow Paul then found that the next generation in the McKenzie family was a Glasgow Policeman, down from the Highlands, who had a certain amount of trouble avoiding alcohol and was eventually dismissed from the Police force, moved to Liverpool before returning to Glasgow and death in the Poorhouse.

Paul then discovered in the programme that his great, great, great, great grandfather Donald McKenzie, was a Highland postman with quite extraordinary stamina. As a crofter with little land he had to make ends meet with other employment. Donald’s was a post runner. Not having a horse, with which to cover his rounds delivering the mail to 30,000 people, Donald simply ran the 120 miles with the mail every week from one side of Scotland to the other.

 

 

With thanks to TheGenealogist for permission to use part of their article as a basis for this post. You can read the full piece, that reveals even more about Paul Hollywood’s family history, by clicking this link:

http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/affiliate/?affid=ptergx&page=808

The Genealogist - UK census, BMDs and more online

 Compensated affiliate links used in the post above http://paidforadvertising.co.uk/

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