Tracing your family tree

Parish registers

Church registers have been kept since 1538, but not all churches have surviving records which stretch back this far.

There can also be gaps in their records, particularly during the Civil War and Commonwealth period, 1640-60.

Registers before 1754 usually combine baptisms, marriages and burials in one volume. Early entries are sometimes in Latin.

The amount of information given and the way it is arranged in the register varies according to the parish and the person making the entries.

Churches used registers with a pro forma from 1754 (for marriages) and 1813 (for baptisms and burials), requiring the inclusion of particular information.

Most registers after these dates do not give more information than that required, but occasionally you will find:

  • Dates of birth
  • Mothers’ maiden names
  • Names of reputed fathers of illegitimate children
  • Causes of death
  • Other comments listed alongside the entries

Most Norfolk parishes have deposited their registers with us and we also hold registers of about 20 Suffolk parishes in the deanery of Lothingland (the area around Lowestoft).

Many of the registers have been microfilmed to help preserve them for the future. You can see the microfilms and fiche at the NRO and most of them are also available at the NHC.

It is not usually possible to see the original document if it has been microfilmed, unless the microfilm or fiche is illegible. If you do have a problem reading a film or fiche, ask a member of staff for help.

Some registers are still held by the churches themselves, so always check before you visit that the registers you want to see are available.

See our Summary of Church of England Parish Registers and Transcripts for a list of parish registers held by us. The summary also shows if we have printed or typed transcripts of parish registers.

You need to know where to start your search, as there are more than 700 ancient parishes in Norfolk (more than 30 in Norwich alone). If you know where your family lived, you can look through the registers for that parish. 

There is no name index covering all Norfolk registers, but some indexes, transcripts and images of parish registers are available online: