Getting Started with Parish Records

Zoom presentation by Sue Steel 7 January 2021

Notes by Susanne Young

A good number of members joined Chairman of Bradford Family History Society Sue Steel for her introduction to the eclectic sources of information available amongst Parish records.

Apart from the expected Parish registers containing births, marriages and deaths, some collections may provide insight into historical community activities and offer valuable information about our ancestors.

Parish records of births, marriages and deaths began in 1538 under the direction of Thomas Cromwell and until 1753 were all recorded in a single book. A separate book was then introduced for marriages followed by three separate books for baptisms, marriages and deaths in 1812. Not all life events were recorded as there was a tax to pay, although paupers were exempt from payment.

Church of England parishes have amalgamated and greatly reduced in number since the Middle Ages to some 12500 in the present day. Parish records were kept in a Parish Chest, some of which still survive. Unfortunately, not all Parish records have survived but most of those that have are now deposited in local Archives and information as to what is available can be searched in their online catalogues. Should you spot something worth investigating it may well serve to take a closer look either in person or by requesting information from the Archive. Occasionally Parish records are still held by the Parish Church itself.

Parishes were controlled by the parishioners themselves until the 1894 Local Government Act. Parish officers were elected annually but it was often the case that individuals held the same post for many years. These included Church wardens, Parish constables, Overseers of the Poor, Parish clerks, Parish clerks, Sextants and Surveyors. All of these roles were voluntary and most involved the collating of records which became part of the Parish collection. Amongst the many varied items which might be available in Parish records are: Vestry meeting minutes, Rate books, Poor Relief records, Removal orders and examinations, Apprenticeship indentures and Bastardy bonds. There may well be maps, School minute books, rolls of honour, Parish magazines, Charity records and much more.

The main point is that not all records are available online and it may be invaluable to your family history research to dig a little deeper into Parish records and see what you can find.

Steve Miller gave a vote of thanks following questions and discussion.

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