Parish Registers

When family historians reach 1837 they start to use Parish Registers. Church and religion was the focus of many peoples lives for centuries (political, social and spiritual activities)

+ What do Parish Registers tell us about our ancestors?
+ Why were Parish Registers created and by whom?
+ Where do you now find Parish Registers?
+ What do you do when you can’t find your ancestors in the Parish Registers?

Talk overview


Ely Trinity, Ely, UK


Parish registers record baptism, banns, marriage and burial – remember the difference compared to Civil Registration.

Your entry into Parish registers can be from the ‘place of birth’ column in the census.

Look for an index, this will save a lot of time. However indexes (particularly online) are far from comprehensive and can be highly inaccurate. So be careful, Parish records contain less information than certificates and you can’t always be clear you have found the right person. Use other resources to confirm links between generations; wills or monumental inscriptions


A brief history

Church and religion was the focus of many peoples lives for centuries (political, social and spiritual activities).

In 1534 Henry VIII faced the threat of Papal excommunication for divorcing first wife Catherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn. So he passed the Supremacy Act and named himself as the head of the Church of England. This lead to the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.

The requirement to keep parish registers came from Thomas Cromwell, Vicar General to Henry VIII. The first records were kept in 1538; however many of earliest have not survived.

In 1597 they are ordered to be recorded in parchment books and previous records from 1538 were to be copied into these same books. As the order included ‘especially since the beginning of the current monarchs reign (Elizabeth I) many parishes copied records from 1558 onwards.

In 1653 marriages were removed from the clergy (under Oliver Cromwell) and a civil ceremony conducted under justices of the peace.

The monarchy was restored in 1660 under Charles II.

In 1752 the calendar changed and the year begins 1 January not 25 March as in previous centuries. So the 18 March 1751 would fall in 1752 in modern times (record as 18 Mar 1751/52).

Remember until 1753 Latin was the official language of the church, so registers maybe in Latin.

In 1754 Hardwicke’s Marriage Act stipulated all marriages had to be in Church of England (except Jews and Quakers). Register books were pre printed for marriages, and separated from baptism and burial (also banns to be recorded).

George Rose’s Act of 1813 introduced pre printed forms for baptisms and burials. During the 1820’s – 1830’s with a growing population the church reformed; new dioceses, parishes and churches were established.

Finally in 1979 parishes asked to store registers at county record office, however some remain with churches or church archives.


Graveyard, St Neots

Finding Parish Records

Parish registers can be located with the Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers (examples). Other indexes to Parish Registers have been compiled by FHS’s.

Online records for the East of England include the following websites:

+ Essex ancestors (

+ OPC (



+ freereg






Book my talk to discover

+ Why research family history?
+ Principles
+ Abbreviations
+ Parish registers record
+ Using Parish registers TIPS
+ BMDs
+ A history
+ Baptism records indicate
+ Marriage records indicate
+ Burial records indicate
+ Bishops transcripts
+ Children
+ Finding Parish Records
+ Commercial organisations
+ East of England
+ Can’t find your ancestors?
+ Other sources
+ What to do/not do
+ Share your findings
+ Where to find information
+ Online sources
+ and much more


View all my talks and book me


Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

What stories might your ancestors tell?

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