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Parish registers

  1. Introduction
  2. Information given in parish registers
  3. Reading and interpreting registers

Information given in parish registers

Baptism, marriage and burial entries were usually in a single volume from the 16th to the 18th century.
No rules were issued as to how entries were to be set out in the registers or the amount of detail to be included, so the information tends to be limited.
There may be gaps in the registers, particularly during the Civil War and Commonwealth period, 1645-60.

Baptism registers pre-1813

There is no standard format for the entries. The following information is usually recorded:

  • Baptism date
  • Child’s name
  • Parents’ names (in early registers only the father’s name may appear)

The mother’s maiden name and child’s date of birth is sometimes recorded and, very occasionally, the father’s occupation.

Baptism registers post-181

Baptisms were entered into pre-printed standard registers. Columns were included for:

  • Baptism date
  • Child’s name
  • Parents’ names
  • Parish of residence
  • Father’s trade or occupation
  • The name of the officiating minister
  • Clergymen sometimes also added the date of birth and mother's maiden name

Marriage registers pre-1754

The early registers usually give:

  • Marriage date
  • Names of the bride and groom

Often the bride and groom’s parishes of residence and marital status – bachelor, spinster, widower or widow – is also given

Marriage registers 1754-1837

Marriages were entered into pre-printed standard registers. All couples had to marry in an Anglican church for their marriage to be legally valid in this period.

The marriages of Nonconformists should therefore be recorded in parish registers during this period. Only Quakers and Jews were exempt from this rule.

In addition, all marriages had to be by either banns or by licence to prevent clandestine marriages. The information recorded includes:

  • Marriage date
  • Names of the bride and groom
  • Parish of residence of both parties
  • Whether the marriage was by banns or licence
  • The parties’ marital status
  • Signatures of bride and groom, the officiating minister and two or more witnesses: those unable to write would make a mark

Banns registers 1754 onwards

These were also kept from this date; they are normally in the back of the marriage registers up to 1823 and then in separate registers. They give:

  • Names of the bride and groom
  • The three dates when the banns were read out in church

Often the bride and groom’s parish of residence and marital status were recorded too.

Marriage registers post-1837

Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in England began on 1 July 1837.
Church marriage registers took on the same format as civil marriage certificates. These give:

  • Marriage date
  • Names of the bride and groom
  • Parish of residence of both parties
  • Occupations (however, the bride's occupation is not always given)
  • Ages (‘of full age’ usually indicates 21 years or over)
  • The parties’ marital status
  • Name and occupation of both fathers
  • Whether the marriage took place by banns or licence
  • Signatures of the bride and groom, two or more witnesses and the officiating minister: those unable to write would make a mark

Burial Registers pre-1813

These were very brief, giving:

  • Date of burial
  • Name of person buried (family relationships may be given, such as wife of, widow of, son/daughter of, but rarely for the male head of the household)

Sometimes details such as age at death, occupation and whether a person was a pauper or from the workhouse is also given. Very occasionally a cause of death was noted.

Burial registers post-1812

Burials were entered into pre-printed standard registers. Columns were included for:

  • Date of burial
  • Deceased’s name
  • Parish of residence
  • Age at death
  • Officiating clergy

Sometimes a family relationship is given. Very occasionally, the cause of death may be included.