Church Records

Church of England

The information recorded in Parish Registers was changed by law several times.
Important dates for changes are:

Notes on the above (from what I've observed):

  1. Before 1813, the level of detail recorded was at the discretion of the Parish clerk. Exceptional or unusual events have extreme detail, the normal day-to-day stuff quite often has the absolute minimum.
    For example:
  2. The (normal) minimum age for marriage was 18 with the consent of parents, 21 without. For the majority of marriages I've checked (say 99%), the bride and groom were in their twenties or thirties. The prevalent idea that people married very young is simply not borne out by what I've seen. So if someone got married in 1760, you should consider 1715 to 1743 as the minimum date range to be checked for the person's baptism. [Many of the family history entries loaded into the IGI assume that people married at the age of 18 or 25.]
  3. Before Victorian times (1837), children were frequently named after their parents or other important members of the family. Names such as Henry, John, Thomas, William or Anne, Elizabeth, Mary were extremely common. From 1800 onwards, there was an explosion in the choice of forenames.
  4. Spelling: English isn't phonetic and even as late as Victorian times, the spelling of forenames and surnames would vary for the same individual (even in the same church). Add in the different local accents, and it's no wonder that you see all sorts of strange places recorded in the 'where born' column of a census.
  5. Movement: Be prepared to look over a wide area, especially to find marriages. It's again not generally true that people always stayed in their local parish. Some people did, but just as many have events recorded in other churches. (See the example in the non-conformity section below.)
  6. Why can't I find an entry in the Burial Register?
    The Burial register does not record the death of a person, it records their interment. So, any or more of the following could happen:
  7. Baptisms: A child was normally baptised a few days or weeks after birth. If the person was older, this is frequently noted in the registers.
  8. 'Infant' and 'child':
    The term infant seems to have been used to describe people, say, 0 to 3 years old, whereas child was used for 3 to 10. I'm not exactly sure on this point.
  9. During the 1800s, the population of England increased very quickly. The Church of England built and opened a large number of churches, especially in the Greater London and other metropolitan areas.
  10. There are several publications which identify the churches in a particular area:



There are broadly two types of non-conformity - (a) religions or churches with a strict sense of membership; and (b) those where membership was not/might not have been a requirement to attend services or have baptisms recorded there.
Examples of (a) are Quakers, Jewish, Methodists, and examples of (b) are Congregational churches.

Especially for Congregational and Baptist churches, quite often more people would attend services than were members. Membership lists, if they have survived, will also record people moving between churches so this can help you to find out where families moved from or to.

Taking Isleham Independent Church (1690-1805) as an example, membership was strictly recorded and observed, but the church also allowed non-members to participate. So Thomas Moore of Isleham was a member and quite a lot of detail about him is recorded in the (still extant) membership records, but his son-in-law and step-son [yes, that's the relationship and not a typo], John Fuller of Isleham, only attended the church (and donated a pew to it). The church's congregation travelled up to 50 miles to attend. (For those of you who are interested in the history of the Baptist church, Isleham became a Baptist church in 1806 and contributed some of the leading members of, and beliefs to, the faith.)


Did people swap between non-conformist and Church of England churches?

The answer is YES, because:


Catholic Church

This was officially illegal until 1791. There was, however, a loyal following in England and registers or records do exist from before this date (including marriages). Michael Gandy has published a series of books detailing the history of the missions [parishes]. The Catholic Family History Society has also published some of its records. Go to the Catholic Family History Society part of the GenFair site or to the Catholic Family History Society web-sites for details.

The Catholic Record Society has published numerous transcriptions of records.

FindMyPast is publishing records from various Archdiocesan Archives in England.

The Genealogist has published some Catholic records.


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