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.



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