When you have exhausted the resources of civil registration, census, parish registers and wills it is worthwhile looking deeper into available parish sources to flesh out the bones of your ancestors lives. The parish chest, the historical resting place for parochial documents, normally kept in either the church itself or the vestry room, contains the administrative papers of the parish. These include vestry minute books, overseer’s records, churchwarden’s accounts and a variety of other records relating to the running of the parish and its inhabitants.
Vestry Minute Books
The detail included varies from parish to parish and are sometimes put aside by family historians. However they can still be very fruitful in adding to your knowledge of the running of the parish and you may well find your ancestors involved in the many office holding positions of the parish. The Vestry dates back at least to Tudor times although local records are rare before the 1700s. Prior to 19th Century changes in local government the Vestry was responsible for the church, church lands, property which may include cottages within the parish, charities, the highways, administration of the poor law including arrangements for pauper apprentices. The meetings were usually chaired by the incumbent and included two churchwardens, overseers of the poor, surveyors of the highways and constables. These positions were normally held for one year and all ratepayers were liable to be ballotted for the positions.
During the nineteenth century many of the responsibilities of parish management were removed from the Vestry. Overseers were retained until the end of the Poor Law in 1929 but the Vestry no longer controlled the Workhouse. This had become the responsibility of the Guardians of the Workhouse. The position of Parish Constable disappeared with the formation of the West Riding Constabulary in 1856 and the Parish Surveyor of the Highways work was incorporated into the Local Boards in 1864. These later formed the Urban & Rural District Councils from 1894. The responsibility of the Vestry became largely about the running and maintainence of the church and church property However many churches still retained some management and influence over the running of church schools and local charities so their records still have revelance to genealogists.
Here are some examples:
Otley Vestry Minute Books:
At a meeting held in the Vestry at the Parish Church of Otley pursuant to notice given in order to make a list of the names of the persons liable to serve the office of Surveyors of the Highways for the ensuing year held the 4th day of October 1803 the following persons were thought proper:
Wm Hartley, Wm Thompson, Wm Mounsey, Thos Stephenson, Wm Dawson, Brian Holmes, Wm Garnett, Thos Hodgson, Geo Foster, John Fox, John Blenkin.
At a meeting……………..a list of names of persons to serve the office of Overseer of the Poor for the ensuing year held 4th day of April 1804:
John Harrison, Wm Weir, John Dinsdale, Wm Maude, Wm Thompson, John Blenkin, Benj Birks, Wm Hartley, Wm Dawson, Wm Read, Wm Waddington.
Addingham Vestry Minute Book
a meeting dated 23rd September 1793 the following names were put
forward for the post of Surveyor of the Highways:
Wm Fieldhouse appointed at a salary of 8 guineas
The Addingham records also threw up a few more interesting minutes:
At a vestry meeting 9th February 1815……Thomas Kidd agreed & undertook for the sum of 10 guineas annually to use his utmost skill to destroy the moles within the parish of Addingham for the term of 14 years.
18 June 1843 it was resolved that
the following people should be excused from paying poor rate on account of
At a Vesty held on this day it was concluded that a lawyers opinion should be taken with regard to two paupers viz Stephen Jennings & Wm Whitaker by the overseers and they shall proceed in such measures as the law shall direct at the expense of the parish.
At the back of the book (somewhere I always look) is a list taken
at a vestry meeting dated 12th March 180l of all persons liable to
Thos Lister jun
I have located the following Vestry Minute Books:
Addingham 1754-1849 Bradford Archives
Burley 1865-1978 Bradford Archives
Burnsall 1704- 1947 NYRO
Giggleswick 1893-1914 NYRO
Hubberholme 1932-1954 NYRO
Ilkley 1800-1969 Bradford Archives
Otley 1797-1924 Leeds Archives
Settle 1818-1836 NYRO
Skipton 1830-1885 NYRO
Thornton in Craven 1885-1934 NYRO