Other gems from the Parish Chest

Since Pope Innocent III Parishes have kept a Parish Chest, coffer ark or hutch in which to secure Parish Registers along with any other important church records and documents.For the genealogist of today, these can provide a really useful insight into characters in the Parish along with clues as to what ancestors were up to.


Each Parish had to raise rates to pay for the repair and upkeep of the church, highways and byways plus charitable support for the poor and education.How much was due by each parishioner was generally determined by the value of their property. Rate books or lists of ratepayers generally contained a list of the householders or house owners, an assessment of the value of the property and the rate that was therefore due. This could not only place certain ancestors in a Parish at a given time but also give an indication of their relative wealth within the community.

Poor records

From the 16th century the Parish supported the poor, funded by charitable donations and the rates. Any records that survive can show who contributed to the poor fund (indicating they were comfortably off) and those in receipt of it.

Settlement and removal

Settlement and removal records dealt with the poor who had not originated from the parish. From 1662-1834 the parish Justices of the Peace would interrogate the poor who entered the parish within 40 days and had no means of supporting themselves to determine their last place of settlement with a view to returning them to that parish (or a neighbouring parish to pass on the responsibility to another parish closer to their home parish) and thereby only providing poor relief to those who really belonged in the parish. This does not necessarily mean that people could not move from their parish of birth, they could gain a settlement certificate under various circumstances such as a woman marrying a man in that parish. The parish records contain the ‘examination’ of the person, removal or settlement details and other supporting evidence which is useful for genealogists.

Workhouse records

From the late 19th century Parishes were encouraged to build a workhouse within each union of the Parish. A number of records survive in the Parish chest such as admission and discharge registers.

Bastardy bonds

With many women finding themselves pregnant out of wedlock and the potential burden this could make on the parish coffers great efforts were made to determine who the father was and ensure that they paid towards the raising of the child. The woman would undergo a bastardy examination which could be quite detailed and explicit as the justices of the peace tried to identify the father. A commitment to pay was laid out in a bond. Failure to pay by the identified father would be taken very seriously and they could find themselves in gaol.


Apprenticeships were originally maintained by the guilds for all skilled trades but by 1562 the statue of apprentices was enforced to ensure that a uniform 7 years should be served as a condition of the right to practice any manual trade.  This was rigidly enforced well into the 18 century. Registers were kept which included the apprentice’s name, the father’s name (and sometimes their occupation and residence), the name of the master or mistress, the parish they were from, trades and birthdate.

By contrast pauper children were put into apprenticeships in different circumstances: they were forcibly apprenticed against the will of the child and the family and got paid less and it often lasted longer than the 7 years. Some children were apprenticed from the age of 7 as agricultural labour or domestic servants to parishioners by the overseer of the poor. These indentures were recorded and usually kept in the parish chests.

Records of the above, plus some other information such as general admin records, can be found in the Parish Chest. Today any surviving records of this type are generally held by the local County Record Office or Diocesan archive. Well worth a visit to see what you can find!

Who Do You Think You Are? to return to BBC One — Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter

The genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are?, will return to BBC One screens this autumn for its thirteenth series. EastEnders actor Danny Dyer, Britain’s Got Talent judge Amanda Holden, star of film and stage Sir Ian McKellen, news presenter Sophie Raworth, The Royle Family actor Ricky Tomlinson, Star Wars and Harry Potter actor […]

via Who Do You Think You Are? to return to BBC One — Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter

Parish registers revisited

St marys parish register page

As part of the preparation for a beginners course that I have been working on I have completed the lesson on Parish Registers. It was interesting to sit down and look objectively as to what was vital to include and what I could safely leave out in the interests of time and complexity.

Parish Registers are a staple for genealogists and you use them almost without thinking. The likes of Ancestry, FindMyPast, Family Search and freegen (amongst many others) have made us further removed from the actual documents themselves and in many cases, made us a little lazy in checking the originals.

When reading the actual handwriting on a parish register that could date back to the early 16th century if you pause for a moment and think what that document could really tell you if it had the ability to capture it’s physical journey over time and all the conversations it has overheard. It’s incredible that we still can use these documents (usually transcribed or on fiche) today when in the past they were merely a short record that may have been considered an inconvenience when they were introduced by Thomas Cromwell. Imagine the grumblings when this was imposed…and the parish church also had to provide a sure coffer with two locks, the parson having the custody of one key, the wardens the others to house the registers.

Tracking down where the registers are deposited can be done using various resources but the main one I use is the Phillimore’s Atlas and Index of Parish Registers by CR Humphrey-Smith. I recently used this to prepare a research plan for someone who had lived in Hambleton in Rutland. By using the Atlas to identify surrounding parishes and the index to see if indeed the registers had survived for the period I was researching it struck me that they are not an ‘ordinary’ resource at all but totally extraordinary! We should be thankful that we have such an amazing set of records….albeit light in anything comprehensive in the early days in the way of genealogical use.

As for this lesson in the course, I chose to concentrate on a brief history, the formats of the registers, Bishops’ Transcripts, non-conformists and advice on how to use the registers backed up with plenty of handouts for delegates’ own further reserach and guidance in their own time.