Monthly Archives: March 2015

Wills and Probates

Our March 2015 meeting addressed the topic of wills and probates.

In English probate research, 1858 is a key date. Prior to this date, probates were handled by ecclesiastical (church) courts. The Probate Act of 1857 removed probate jurisdiction from the church courts and set up a national Court of Probate for England and Wales. After 1858,  a “union index” of all wills and administrations called the National Probate Calendar was published for each year up to the present.

Finding probates in 1858 and later

Beginning in 1858, estates and wills have been probated through the Principal Probate Registry System. See the “Principal Probate Registry” article in the FamilySearch wiki for details on the system.

Finding probates in 1858 and later is easier than finding pre-1858 probates, because of the existence of the National Probate Calendar. You can search the Calendar online at from 1858 to 1966–go to “England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966.” Ancestry has indexed the name, the date of probate–usually within one to three years of the death date, the death date, the death place, and the probate registry where the probate was filed.

Be sure to click through to the digital image of the National Probate Calendar page. Entries, about a paragraph in length, contain great identifying information not included in the index:

  • Name of the deceased
  • Size of the estate
  • Date of probate
  • Type of instrument (will, letters of administration)
  • Residence of the deceased
  • Occupation of the deceased
  • Death date and place
  • Names, residences, occupations, and relationships of executors and administrators.

TIP: Even if you don’t order the original probate documents, you can still use the National Probate Calendar entries to find exact dates of death for your late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century research subjects, and go on to order death certificates with greater certainty that you have the right individual than if you just used the GRO indexes.

You can also search post-1858 probates online, without an Ancestry subscription, and order copies of wills at (The system is currently in beta, so it will likely change from what is described here before it assumes its final form.) On the search page, you can choose to search Wills and Probate 1996 to present, Wills and Probate 1858-1996, and Soldier’s Wills. All three search tabs have an Advanced Search feature.

Results of the 1996 to present search include surname and first name of the deceased, date of probate, probate number, date of death, document type (grant of probate, will, grant and will), and probate registry handling the case.

The 1858-1996 search brings up page images from the National Probate Calendar with entries for the surname and year you specified in your search. You page through these to locate the correct probate.

The Soldier’s Wills search allows you to search for the will of a soldier who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986. Your search brings up the surname, first name, regimental number, and date of death for each soldier’s will that meets your search criteria.

You can order copies of any of these wills right on the website. Copies of wills cost 10 pounds; you can pay by debit or credit card. Wills are made available digitally within 10 working days of your order, and you are able to access the wills for 31 days.

Pre-1858 probates

Before 1858, probate was handled by ecclesiastical (church) courts. Which court handled a particular probate depends on the location of the deceased person’s property. To determine which ecclesiastical courts might have handled your ancestor’s estate, start with the lowest-level court serving the parish where your ancestor lived or died.

You can find the identity of the probate courts to check using “England & Wales Jurisdictions 1851” at to look up your ancestor’s parish. Once you click on the parish name, a map appears. Superimposed on the map is a box with three tabs: Info, Jurisdictions, and Options. The Info tab identifies the parish. The Jurisdictions tab gives the name of the lowest-level probate court for the parish, likely an archdeaconry court or a “peculiar” court with local jurisdiction. Original records of these courts, if they survive, are likely to be found in a local record office. The Options tab allows you to search the Family History library catalog, the digitized Historical Records on FamilySearch, and the FamilySearch Research Wiki articles for materials pertaining to the parish. These links will help you to find the location of original records, microfilm, indexes, and published materials.

FamilySearch Research Wiki articles for each county identify the “secondary,” or higher-level, courts that might have handled your ancestor’s probate if he or she had property in more than one jurisdiction. For estates where property was located in more than one archdeaconry, but within the same diocese, the next higher level court is the bishop’s court. Bishop’s courts might be called consistory or commissary courts; their surviving records would likely be found in a local record office.

The highest level ecclesiastical jurisdictions, above the diocesan courts, were the Prerogative Courts of York and Canterbury (abbreviated as PCY and PCC). Broadly speaking, the PCY had jurisdiction over wills and administrations in the north of England (Cheshire, Cumberland, Durham, Lancashire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Westmorland, and Yorkshire) where the testator or intestate had goods totaling five pounds or more in more than one diocese in the province of York.

The PCC had jurisdiction over the south of England and Wales (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire,  Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, London, Middlesex, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Surrey, Sussex, Suffolk, Wales, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire) and the testator or intestate had goods totaling five pounds or more in more than one diocese in the province of Canterbury.

Original records of the archdiocese of York are located at the Borthwick Institute. offers the”Prerogative & Exchequer Courts of York Probate Index, 1688-1858,” as well as the “York Medieval Probate Index, 1267-1500” and the “York Peculiars Probate Index, 1383-1883.”

Original PCC records are located in The National Archives (TNA) at Kew. The index to PCC wills from the period 1384-1858 is searchable on TNA’s website at If you find an index entry for the will you want, you can order it on the spot for three pounds thirty and download a copy. also has the index and images of PCC wills on its website.

Remember that if you don’t have your own subscription to Findmypast or Ancestry, you can use the subscriptions in the MGS library or your local Family History Center. In the case of Ancestry, you can use the Ancestry Library Edition in many local public libraries.

Resources Subscription website. Look for the National Probate Calendar, PCC wills (index and images), and calendars, indexes, transcriptions, and some images of wills and probate records from London, Gloucestershire, Kent, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Lichfield and Coventry, Worcester, Lincoln, Leicester, and Yorkshire. Check the Wills, Estates & Guardian Records category under “Tax, Criminal, Land & Wills” for Europe, United Kingdom in the “Card Catalog” under the Search tab for updated listings.

FamilySearch Research Wiki articles include
“England Probate Records”
“Principal Probate Registry”
Also check for Probate Records links in the wiki entries for individual counties–e.g., “Devon Probate Records”
( Subscription website. Look for indexes to the PCY wills here, along with indexes and some transcriptions of wills from Billingshurst, the British India Office, Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Kent, London, Northamptonshire and Rutland, Surrey, and York peculiars. Check “A-Z of record sets in United Kingdom,” under the Search tab for updated listings.

“Find a will or probate (England and Wales),”
( : accessed 28 March 2015). This is the place to search the National Probate Calendar for probates from 1858 to 1996, 1996 to the present, and wills of soldiers who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986.

Grannum, Karen, and Nigel Taylor. Wills & Probate Records: a Guide for Family Historians, 2nd ed. Kew: The National Archives, 2009. An excellent reference work, though not the most up-to-date resource for online materials.

All URLs are current as of 28 March 2015.


Calendar Change, and Quaker Dating

Originally published by Julia Mosman, 14 May 2014.
In 1752, there was an immense change in the English calendar. The two major changes were these:
1. The New Year was changed from 25 March to 1 January, shortening the year 1751, which started 25 March and ended on 31 December, leaving only 282 days.
2. There was a second change in the calendar in 1752, in which the days between  September 2 and 14 were ‘dropped’.
An explanation – In 1752, the Julian Calendar, used by England and her Colonies at that time, was changed to the Gregorian, which had been adopted by Roman Catholic countries after 1582 (to about 1600), and other Protestant countries thereafter. England was the last to adopt the “new” calendar, and chose to do so September, 1752.

Genealogists need to be careful, because this can affect many dates of events.

The year in the Julian calendar (pre 1752) started on 25 March (or Lady’s Day), and ended on 24 March. One must check various transcriptions to ensure the transcribers reflect this by looking at the original records, if possible; I’ve checked LDS transcripts for records I’ve also transcribed, and their entries did not match the original registers, which makes their record dates from 1 January to 25 March, 1582 to 24 March, 1752, incorrect. (Goes to show, every transcription needs to be checked – or elsewise not fully accepted.)

These changes affected records in many ways. Some educated persons, believing the change should have been made in 1582, recorded a ‘double date’ – for instance, 12 February, 1666/67, indicating that while it was officially 1666, they considered it should have been 1667. This ‘double dating’ only applied to the periods of 1 Jan to 25 March, as the rest of the year was not in question. This appeared for the most part in legal documents such as wills and land transfers, but as 1752 approached, double dating appeared more frequently in church registers/records as well.

Some parish registers refer to O.S.= Old Style, and/or N.S.= New Style, especially in the years 1751-1752.

Because clerics and others were inconsistent in the recording of years, it’s essential to understand which dating system was being used for any specific year.

One should also be aware that Quaker dating is unique. For religious reasons, they do not use various common names for months and days of the week. Instead, they would show, for instance, “twelfth day, third month, one thousand seventeen and fifty”. As the first month was March, that would mean the actual date was 12 May, 1750. Sunday was always the first day of the week. This can be quite confusing especially during 1751 and 1752.

A handy date converter is at

Additionally, one must be very careful to understand how any particular Meeting recorded their dates; I’ve read the Philadelphia meeting differed from the Boston meeting in dating records! i.e., third day, second week, fourth month, one thousand seven hundred and forty. (Tuesday, 6 June, 1740) Use the converter to be sure of the day date.

Another explanation for these dating changes (with charts) can be seen at

Poor Laws, Removals, Illegitimacy, & Parish Relief

Originally published by Julia Mosman, 22 January 2014.

A Short Overview of the Poor Laws, including Legal SettlementRemovalParish ApprenticesIllegitimacyParish Relief and After 1834 Written by J. Mosman, OPC – originally for a Cornish Interest publication)

 The unit of local government has always been the parish, usually reflecting ancient Manors or Chapelries. The concept of “parish” over the years separated into 2 categories – secular (civil government) and ecclesiastical (church). Within an ecclesiastical parish there could be more than one secular (poor law) parish. Laws were established and carried out on a parish by parish basis.

In 1572, Parliament passed a law regarding ‘The Punishment of Vagabonds and for the Relief of the Poor and Impotent’, which stated a vagabond over the age of 14 should have holes burned through the cartilage of their ears, and in 1589, it became illegal to shelter such persons. People were fined for allowing old couples to live in a barn, or a woman and her crippled child to live in their attic. (The parishes did not wish to become responsible for such people – so kept them moving on.) Therefore, it was not unusual to see people lying in streets, and dying there, without any civic concern.

Starting in 1597, everyone had a parish of Legal Settlement, and, if relief was required, it would be the responsibility of that parish to provide it. (This law established the manner in which the poor were treated for 237 years.)  The parish was required to elect each Easter two ” Overseers’ of the Poor ” who were responsible for setting the poor rate (tax), its collection, and the relief of those in need. These overseers should ideally be “substantial householders” but in small villages the only practical qualification was to be a rate payer.

In rural England , where 90% of the population lived, this was a fair and equitable system run by local people and administered by the local Justices of the Peace, who were likely to be the Rector and local landowners. Most relief given was “outdoors”; people were aided by being given small amounts to solve particular problems, such as supplies to deal with an injury or illness, payment for a burial, or money to cover the purchase of bread. Other more substantive relief could have been shelter in a workhouse, a workhouse farm, or even a tenement in which only poor elderly widows could live. (Workhouses did not have the same connotations in that period as did the Victorian ones; they were much better than the previous practice of evicting the homeless repeatedly until they were forced into felony, and probable hanging.)

Following 1834 all this changed as parliament denigrated the system bit by bit in response to the growth of the large industrial towns, with their very different problems  and societal pressures.

Legal Settlement

Legal settlement was the overlying principle of poor relief, the qualifications for which were as follows :-

  • To be born in a parish of legally settled parent(s)
  • Up to 1662, by living in a parish for 3 years.  After 1662 you could be thrown out within 40 days of arrival, and after 1691 you had to give 40 days notice before moving into a parish.
  • Renting property worth more than £10 per annum in the parish or paying taxes on such a property.
  • Holding a Parish Office. (which you could not do without owning or renting property worth more than £10 per annum.)
  • Being hired by a legally settled inhabitant for a continuous period of a year and one day. Most single labourers were hired from the end of Michaelmas week till the beginning of the next Michaelmas, thus avoiding the grant of legal settlement. By the time you were married, had proved your worth, and gained experience, then longer hirings were possible, therefore changing legal settlement status.
  • Having served a full apprenticeship to a legally settled man for the full 7 years.
  • Having previously been granted poor relief. This condition implied that you had previously been accepted as being legally settled and was usually only referred to in settlement examinations.
  • Females changed their legal settlement on marriage, adopting their husband’s legal place of settlement. If a girl married a certificate man in her own parish and he died, she would automatically be removed to his place of legal settlement along with any issue from the marriage.

If you could not satisfy these requirements you could move into a new parish using a settlement certificate, providing your home parish would issue oneThis was virtually a form of indemnity, issued by your home parish, stating that you and your family and future issue belonged to them, and they would take you all back at their expense if you became chargeable to the parish. Because of the expense of  removal, it would be unlikely your home parish would issue a certificate for a parish a large distance away. A settlement certificate was only valid if it bore the seals of the overseers of both parishes and that of the local Justices, and it was not transferable. As living conditions for the working poor did not enhance the chances of such a paper enduring, these are quite rare.


If you or your family became, or threatened to become, reliant on parish relief, and you could not satisfy the strict guidelines for legal settlement, then you were liable to be removed to the place of your last legal settlement. If you were a certificate man you would be carted back to your old parish at their expense, but if no settlement certificate was in force then a removal order was applied for from the local Justices of the Peace. This would usually involve an Examination as to Settlement carried out before the local justice, overseers, and another ratepayer, in order to ascertain your place of last legal settlement . In tenuous cases other members of the family may have had to be examined, including parents, grandparents and siblings. These examinations could run into many pages, virtually the life story of the individual’s family.

These examinations were often reported in newspapers, especially after 1830, as they were conducted during the quarterly Nisi Prius, which specify the people involved and decisions given.

Parish Apprentices

Children of poor families, orphans and widow’s children were often apprenticed  at the parishes’ expense to masters in other parishes. This was a way of disposing of possible future problems by altering their legal settlement status. If they served their full term of seven years, then their legal settlement would be at the place of their master’s settlement. Girls were usually apprenticed until they attained 21 or got married, and boys till they were 24, which gave an extra three years of their labour as an incentive for the masters. Although many of these apprenticeships were just an excuse for cheap labour, some were meaningful. Many a parish apprentice prospered at his new home and in fact took apprentices from his old parish later on. The Parish Indentures were important documents and sworn before the local Justice by the overseers and the churchwardens, Two copies were made – one for the master and one for the parish. The master had a legal obligation to feed, clothe, and impart the mysteries of his trade for the duration of the contract.


Illegitimacy during this period was accepted, and did not appear to be any bar to future marriage to the girl in question. It only became a problem for the poorer class of labourer, who lived on the brink of poverty.  When a girl from this class reached 13, or even earlier, she would be placed in service somewhere, so decreasing the financial burden on the household.

If she became pregnant, she would invariably lose her job and be thrown back on her family for support. The home parish would naturally become concerned that this would force the family into relief and if she died in childbirth, a real risk, there would be an orphan to support. If she was working away from her own parish, at the first sign of her pregnancy she would be removed, as if the child was born there (in the new parish), she could claim relief  whilst the child was “at nurse“, defined as up to the age of 3 years.

With this in mind there was a necessity to try to find out who the father was. The girl would be examined, and if the father could be identified then an order for both maintenance and the cost of delivering the child would  be obtained. Issued by the church wardens and overseers of the poor, this order would be implemented by the parish constable, and in default a warrant was frequently issued, and the father’s possessions could be sold towards the debt. These orders were commonly called filiation orders or bastardy bonds. The maintenance order could be a lump sum paid to the parish, a minimum of £40, usually out of the question for most fathers, or a fixed sum for the lying in and a weekly allowance until the child was 14 years. A labourer would have a smaller sum fixed, say 2s a week, and a master or farmer up to 3s 6d.

These orders and bonds are often found at the National Archives database, also called A2A, (Access to Archives).

Parish Relief

The forms parish relief would take are varied. Where they survive, the overseers account books give a remarkable insight into village life, listing not only the rate payers but the recipients and the reasons for their relief. Money was not the only form of out relief – most parishes had houses set aside for the old or destitute. These could be either owned by the village, given as a charitable donation, (alms houses), or rented specifically for the purpose. Most charity almshouses were administered by the church and would appear in the church wardens account books. Those specially purchased, built, or rented by the poor rate, were administered by the overseers. Orphans could be boarded out to local families, and clothes or material to make clothes were provided, as was the provision of medical care, either by the local nurse or, in some cases, doctor.

The money came from the poor rate, set annually by the overseers, and various and sundry charities. The Poor Rates were based on real property, not moveable – therefore, landholders primarily bore the expense, while merchants did not. As sources of wealth evolved, this became a point of contention, leading to the 1834 reforms.

Almshouses often were built by the largesse of individual, such as in Fowey, Cornwall, where Mr. Rashleigh built and funded just such a building for 20 deserving widows, who received a mite each Christmas in addition to the accommodations. Frequently large amounts of money were left by pious, prosperous congregants for the perpetual maintenance of Charities for the poor. The charities could be quite ancient, and were often held and administered by the Rector. These were frequently the source of litigation, and to that end many churches had charity boards administering them.

Other forms of charity might be land left by someone for the benefit of the poor; many villages had their poor’s piece, which was tendered for annually. Many other charities specified bread or ale on certain days, or bibles for the poor children. Sources of income would come from ratepayers who were pressured into accepting those on relief as temporary labourers, and the income from letting the lanes of the village for grazing and hay making. The poor would often be put to work by the parish surveyor repairing the roads and lanes. Details of these activities are usually found in the parish constable’s accounts book.

Rarely found but often intriguing are pauper’s inventories. These list the property and possessions of someone receiving parish relief with a view to ascertaining his wealth.

The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have filmed many of the parish wardens’ account books; check their Library Resources for a list.

After 1834

The poor law was radically changed following the great reform act of 1834. Relief of the poor was changed from a local responsibility into a group one. Groups of parishes were consolidated into Poor Law Unions, so removing the local community responsibility. Out relief – giving aid to persons on an individual basis, according to need – was discouraged, and the workhouses became the primary source of relief.

While 1,912 parish and corporation workhouses existed in England and Wales by 1776, workhouses did not exist before 1836 in Cornwall . They were seen as an efficient, but fair way to deal with the increase in paupers which were encountered after the Napoleonic wars, and caused by the burgeoning population. For instance, in 1804 the population of St. Austell, Cornwall, was estimated by the Diocease of Exeter as being 1,400; by 1841, it was just over 11,000. Workhouses were clearly seen as a way in which expenses to ratepayers could be reduced. . ‘Deterrent workhouses’ were purposefully designed to discourage the ‘idle poor’, with conditions such that people would do almost anything to avoid going there – including, the reformers theorized, working. In many areas, their establishment was considered an effective method of encouraging rural populations to migrate to population centres, where jobs were available and there was a need for willing workers.

From articles in the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser newspaper, workhouses in Cornwall (1839) were proposed as a modern, efficient, humane way of caring for “those less fortunate”.

There were riots in Cornwall, and neighbouring Counties, protesting the establishment of the Union houses, and limited out-relief was continued for a time, but people were pressured to resort to the Union houses in the belief this would be a more efficient use of resources. Committees were established to provide an overview function, and reports were made at the Quarterly Sessions by the Boards of Guardians, who supervised management of the houses.

In comparison to the living conditions of the most abject poor, the workhouse was considered an improvement, but there were cases in the Quarter Sessions where defendants stated they’d committed the crime specifically to go to  gaol, where conditions were better. (Often, as winter set in, bricks were thrown through shop windows; the standard sentence was 3 months.) This immediately caused Magistrates to examine expenditures at the gaol, in an effort to curb extravagance. In the 1840’s, persons living in the workhouse could come and go almost at will, but by the 1850’s they were called “inmates”, wore “uniforms”, and were charged with escape.

One factor affecting the increase of paupers in Cornwall had to do with emigration policy. Persons between the ages of 15-35 were given free passage to Australia , and later New Zealand ; others took advantage of offers for ‘free land’. Healthy young adults departed the county, leaving babies and older adults behind. Passages to the United States and South Africa were relatively inexpensive, too; the cost was something a working man could meet, if he were careful with his money. Many took advantage of the opportunity. Then, as mines started closing [commencing 1846, culminating in 1866], more young adults migrated to other parts of the U.K. and the world in search of jobs. Many of those left behind were self-sufficient for a time, but as they aged they could not maintain their status, and reverted to parish charity. At the same time, businessmen and rate payers found their customer base shrinking; there weren’t as many people to rent their houses, buy their products, etc., and they sought relief in part by reducing the poor rates. It became a vicious cycle of fewer people to support an ever-expanding need.**

Some workhouse records still exist, but the value to genealogists may be negligible, as often they do not mention individual ‘inmates’, but detail such things as expenditures for soap. Records for inmates’ births and deaths were included in the regional Registrar’s records after July 1, 1837.

Throughout the remainder of the 19th century the laws were tightened, reformed, and modified until the administration was transferred to the Ministry of Health in 1918. From 1906-14, several provisions to provide social services without the stigma of the Poor Laws were instituted. However, it was not until 1930 that the poor laws were finally abolished.


(from the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, 6 April, 1849)

“This very extensive parish represents within itself a portion of most, if not all, of our principal industrial county interests, mining and mineral, agricultural and commercial, maritime and manufacturing (principally foundries). The present population range is about twelve thousand, and its parish valuation rental about £ 23,000 per annum.”

“The aggregate of the different parish rates collected in the past years was between £ 5,000 and £6,000, being an increase of about fifty per cent since the introduction of the new poor law into this district. This enormous increase is now felt as an intolerable burden by many of the rate-payers, and a rapid and serious depreciation in the sale of all [field?] property has been the consequent result.”

“The new system has most signally failed in this locality in its paramount professed object – a reduction of parochial expenditure – and the system of “union and centralisation” works wretchedly, from the great expense of its complicated machinery in costly erections, staff of officials, system of contracts, etc. In addition to its other heavy burdens the parish of St. Austell has been saddled with a church-rate within the last two years. Attempts were made by some of the well-disposed parishioners to substitute a voluntary assessment, instead of a direct rate. This, however, was contemptuously rejected by the church party. The vast majority of the inhabitants of the parish are dissenters, and from twenty to thirty places of religious worship apart from the establishment are supported by the various Christian sects. The enforcement of the payment of church-rates leads, in this parish as in many other parts of the kingdom, to scenes alike disgraceful to our common Christianity and to the legislation of the nineteenth century.”

Money, money, money

Originally published by Julia Mosman, 21 January 2014.

The most recognized English monetary system (which ended in 1971, technically) was based on the penny, shilling, and the pound. A penny was a large copper coin; its written symbol is d. The plural of penny is pence. The shilling was a silver coin worth 12 pence; the written symbol was s. The pound was equal to 20 shillings, or 240 pence; its written symbol is £.

The pound coin, made of gold, was referred to as a sovereign. There were other coins for the following amounts:

  • Farthing, one-fourth of a penny
  • Halfpenny
  • Twopence
  • Threepence
  • Groat or 4 pence
  • Sixpence
  • Florin, or 2 shillings
  • Double florin or 4 shillings
  • Half crown or 2 shillings and sixpence
  • Crown, 5 shillings
  • Half sovereign, 10 shillings, or one-half of a pound.

The guinea coin, worth 21 shillings, was not minted after 1813. The word remained in use – especially when involved with the sale of luxury goods. A rich person would not care if something were priced at 20 guineas, although that would make the price 21 pounds.

Almost all money circulated in the form of coins. The government did not print paper money. Paper ‘bank notes’ were issued by individual banks. If the bank failed – and many did – its bank notes became worthless. Five-pound notes were the smallest ones issued. Careful people insisted on using gold coins even for very large amounts. Checks were not commonly accepted. (When accepted, they were most often discounted, based on the reliability of the issuer.) Merchants used other complicated means of transferring large sums of money. There were newspaper reports in the 1840s where the thieves did not know what the slips of paper in the bags they stole represented, and they were caught when they gave the pretty papers to various ladies, who then asked more educated people what they might be. Inevitably, the police (which were newly formed) heard of the matter.

The amount of money families had did not, for the most part, determine social class, but a “certain income” was needed to maintain a particular style of living. Should a middle-class man wish to marry and live an appropriate life (educating his children, maintaining a home, etc.) he would need an income of approximately £ 300 pounds a year during the Victorian period. It would have enabled his household to employ a nurse, and one all-purpose maid. Had the income been £ 500, the family could afford to add a cook; at £ 750, there would be a cook and a boy added; the woman of the house wouldn’t be expected to do household work, but would supervise. At £ 1,000 a year, the family would be expected to employ four women (a cook,2  housemaids, and a nursemaid), plus a coachman and stable boy – which meant they would keep one or two horses and a carriage, and not depend on public transport.

In contrast, miners during the 1840’s earned 12s a week. Children who worked in the mines, starting at age 8 or 9, earned 8s a week, but could earn less, depending on the nature of the work. They worked sunup to sundown – about 12 hours a day. (Then they had to climb handmade ladders to exit the mine, and walk to their homes.) Many children fell to their deaths climbing the ladders.

Miners, for the most part, earned more than agricultural labourers. Most had small plots of land in which they raised crops; they could also fish, or obtain ‘rough’ fish inexpensively – which meant they lived a more comfortable life than urban poor. Soldiers averaged £ 25 a year, while sailors made £ 45. Shop Assistants, domestic servants, and needleworkers (all women) earned £ 12 to 20. 

According to Stephen Budiansky,  “Equating the value of money between two very different eras is strictly speaking impossible, since along with overall inflation the relative worth of different items alters considerably from one era to another.  In 16th century England, for instance, a printed book like Foxe’s “Acts and Monuments” could cost as much as a good horse.”

In Elizabethan times, a “farm labourer earned £5 per year; a school headmaster or a shipmaster £20; and large landholding lord, or a lawyer at the pinnacle of his profession, £1,000. A pound could buy a cow, a plain cloth coat, or a gun; £150 kept the young Earl of Oxford, and extravagant fop, supplied with clothing for a year; £10,000 bought a great London mansion.”

“A crown was an English silver coin worth a quarter of a pound; more loosely, the term could refer to any of a number of similar continental coins that had about the same value as an English crown. A mark was a unit of account equal to two-thirds of a pound.”

For more on the topic, see “Daily Life In Victorian England”, Sally Mitchell, 1996,ISBN 0-313-29467-4; Greenwood Press  –   $46.36 at EBay//sections available on Google books for free viewing
“Her Majesty’s Spymaster” by Stephen Budiansky, 2005, Plume Publishing
ISBN 978-0-452-28747-1//available on Library e-books

Parish Records: Church Registers–Part 1

Originally presented 3 May 2014 by Julia Mosman

Background Information

Parishes were based on areas surrounding a church, a town, or even a castle – or a manorial court – originally. There are more than 15,000 parishes in Britain.

They evolved over the years; many have been through multiple territorial changes, even into the present day.

The term “Parish” may be divided into 2 meanings; a governmental (civil) unit, and a church (ecclesiastical) unit. They are not synonymous! This first part of parish records deals with the church records.

The only church allowed was the Roman Catholic Church until King Henry VIII – circa 1500 – when the Church of England was formed.

No matter what religion people followed, almost all (including Jews and Non-Conformists) were baptised and married in the Church of England (aka Anglican Church)

  • People could not hold certain jobs/positions in counties/towns/villages, or inherit under legal wills, unless they were baptized in the Church.
  • After about 1837, people were offered “free” transportation to settle Australia and New Zealand, with age restrictions; many people immediately were baptised in the C. of E., as that was accepted as proof of age.
  • If a marriage was not performed in the C of E, children were considered legally “illegitimate”.

Everyone had to pay “rates” (or taxes) for church maintenance – originally, 10% of earnings, but later adjusted – regardless of religious preference.

Parish Church registers started to be kept officially in 1535; many of the earliest did not survive.

Vicars, curates, and various vestries had older books recopied – what’s available today might be recopies of copies.

The Bishops received copies of these records – they’re known as Bishop’s transcripts (or BTs). Entries may vary from the “official” registers.

BTs and Church registers were kept (stored) separately; in case of loss, “backup” was then possible.

Non-Conformist Churches (Wesleyan Methodist, Bible Christian, Primitive Methodist, etc.)

Jewish and Quaker churches were allowed to conduct ceremonies in the 1700’s. If other denominations did, the ceremonies were not recognized as legal, so people could have had 2 marriages and baptisms.

“Non-conformist” churches – such as Baptist, Methodist, and Congregational – were not recognized until 1 July, 1837– a date to remember – when Governmental registrars started recording BMDs. Many are online as Registrar Indexes (see FamilySearch, at bottom of article) and/or, which has many Registrar entries (and all of Cornwall, BTW).

Non-conformist records were collected in 1837 and in 1857; they are kept at the National Archives in London. They are available online – ; see for a wonderful free guide to locating and understanding non-conformist records.

Non-conformist records were kept by circuit, not by parish. Some entries were made after the preacher completed his circuit. Circuits might cover several parishes, and even ‘overlap’ Counties, as many circuits were designed for the preacher to cover it once a month, so entries might not be current, and were made from various notes the preacher made.

Clergy were assigned from other counties in some denominations (especially Wesleyan Methodist), while others used “local preachers”. People from other counties might not be conversant with local spellings and pronunciations of names, leading to misspellings, etc.

Extra-Parochial Areas

There were some small areas often noted as “ex.par.”, or extra-parochial. An extra-parochial area was land uninhabited in Anglo-Saxon times, and outside the jurisdiction of any civil or ecclestiastical parish. No poor or church rates were paid, though tithes in theory went to the Crown. A resident could choose the nearest convenient parish for baptisms, etc.  (nunnaries were at times ex. par., for instance).


Normally conducted within 2-3 months of birth BUT you cannot accept a baptism as a birth – see BMDs with Civil Registration below, and these reasons:

  • Many families waited until child was 1 year old, because so many babies died
  • Clergy often waived fees on Parish festival days (once a year)
  • “Special” days when baptismal fees were waived, or when clergy visited villages in the parish
  • Waited until there was a ‘group’ baptism – 3 or 5 children at once
  • Some churches practice adult baptism

Entries were standardized by law in 1813; before that, entries were at the discretion of the vicar/curate


Banns or license –

  • Banns were read (announced in church) 3 weeks in a row, most frequently in the parish of the bride.
  • Licenses allowed immediate marriages, but were significantly more expensive.
  • Banns were recorded separately from marriages in a separate register – not everyone who had banns read were married, but the majority were.
  • Required entries changed over time.
  • Earliest records might give only the groom’s full name; the bride would be shown only by first name, and was sometimes omitted entirely.
  • Witnesses were not recorded until the late 1700s
  • After 1836, fathers names and occupations were shown

Before the 1840s (approximately) most people married within 30 kilometers
of their home (abode); after that, as people moved for work into cities, there
was more intermingling, and determining parishes of birth therefore harder to decipher. However, after 1851 the Census showed parish of birth.

Clandestine marriages and baptisms before 1754 –

  • An irregular or clandestine marriage was a marriage conducted by an ordained clergyman, but without banns or licence. Although they breached canon law, these marriages might still be legally valid, and could be recognised as such in English Common Law.
  • The marriages were normally performed outside the home parishes of the bride and groom.
  • Clandestine venues and ceremonies allowed the couple to avoid the trouble and expense of an ecclesiastical licence and afforded them some degree of privacy.
  • Originally, “Fleet Marriages” in London took place in prison chapels, though they were not necessarily disreputable in any way. (the Fleet prison was for debtors, for instance.)
  • The most notorious of these venues was an area in the vicinity of the Fleet prison in London known as the Liberty of the Fleet, and the registers are collectively referred to as the Fleet Registers.
  • It has been estimated that in the 1740s, nearly 15% of all marriages in England were celebrated in the Fleet. Most of the parties, not surprisingly, came from London and neighbouring counties. Therefore, if a marriage cannot be found in ‘regular’ church registers, be sure to check the Fleet Registers.

Because of their irregular nature, the registers and notebooks in the Fleet Registers series need to be used with care. The information in them is not always reliable, with some duplicated entries and others that are known to be forged.” (National Archives website)

In 1754, a law was passed that ALL marriages in England had to be conducted by the Anglican church, ending the Fleet marriages (and at the same time, a standardized form for recording marriages was instituted).

Clandestine marriages and baptisms after 1754 –

  • Since age limits were different in Scotland, (14 being the legal age) many people “eloped” to Gretna Green, and adjacent villages, to be married. There were similar churches in Wales. Not all churches willing conduct ‘clandestine’ marriages and baptisms  outside of England’s borders. Cornish couples crossed the Tamar River to a specific church in Devon, which did not question ages, etc, and that may be true of other Counties. One famous example of an elopement to Gretna Green is the younger sister, Lidia, in “Pride and Prejudice”.


  • Many burial plots do not have a memorial stone.
  • Different cemeteries had unique rules; many remains were removed routinely, so space could be reused.
  • Even bodies buried in the church walls and floors could be and were removed.
  • Fees varied; some people were buried in neighbouring parish churches, because the fees were lower.
  • Records most often did not contain details – just names, and dates, unless the person was a child.

BMD records – Civil Registration

Adopted 1 July 1837, throughout England and Wales

  • 27 regions were established; 618 districts were defined
  • Many (most) districts carry the name of the most prominent parish in that district. This leads to confusion, as people interpret the District as the Parish.
  • There was no penalty for not reporting a marriage until 1875; therefore, approximately 15% of those events were never reported to authorities. So checking parish church records becomes essential to crosscheck.
  • Baptisms were supposed to be recorded within 6 weeks, or a fine would be imposed, so when some parents did report the birth outside the 6 week period, they ‘adjusted’ the age so they didn’t have to pay a fine. Once again, be sure to check the parish register.
  • Burials were not allowed without a burial certificate; if they took place without a certificate, the Vicar was fined. Most burials were reported promptly.

See the FamilySearch section below for ordering copies of certificates.

Finding Parish Records

Verify what records are available, and where they’re kept.

  • First stop should always be GenUKI, as it contains full information on every county; where records have been deposited, years covered, etc., and MUCH more
  • County Record Offices hold most registers, as churches were required to deposit them for safe-keeping circa 1975. All have websites, and catalogues.
  • You can also check the National Archives at A2A, to find other County records – and lots of wonderful items with descriptions. (I found land sales from 1456 made by members of my family. They were also listed as witnesses to various documents.) Be sure to enter the region you’re searching.
  • LDS has filmed approximately 80% of available registers in Britain; not all are accessible on the internet, so check their Catalog for films and books.
  • Transcriptions of registers have been done for many Counties:
    Phillimore’s Transcriptions (in books)    Family History Societies
    Individual’s websites                              Books, many printed in 1800’s
  •  Check Google Books and other free book sites for historical books, and transcriptions of records. This is an under-utilized resource, which may be very, very helpful.
  • Visit websites you find through links or Google searches, and be sure to check quoted resources – you’ll find interesting links to further sites with relevant information.
  • The British Broadcasting Company has helpful guides to genealogy – they’re excellent, and specific to the U.K.

1. Go to the “Search” page, toward the bottom left, below the basic ‘search’ fields on top.

2. Click on “United Kingdom and Ireland”

3. Scroll through the various records available

(These choices reflect the old IGI – be sure to use these entries as
suggestions or clues, not as facts, as they’re known to contain MANY
errors, coming from many sources with little or no documentation.)

  • England Births & Christenings 1538-1975 68,947,926 entries
  • England Deaths & Burials
  • England Marriages

(These choices reflect the Registrar’s Indexes, which are highly accurate)

  • England & Wales Birth Registrations Index
  • England & Wales Marriage Registrations Index
  • England & Wales Death Registrations Index

The government can only provide certificates AFTER 1 July, 1837, because that’s when they started keeping records. You need to email GRO (General Records Office) the volume and page number associated with the name(s) (and the names, of course) to obtain a copy of the certificate. Be sure to verify the certificate, as people have been known to receive incorrect information – human error always can creep in. (It’s my opinion the GRO provides the certificates for the least expense; if you use other services or people, they may add a charge.)

  • Items with a camera on the left have images of the original filmed books – to browse or search. Indexed resources may not be available for browsing.
  • It is not difficult to browse through these; for instance, the Cornish records are divided into parishes, then by type of record & date – although many books contain baptisms, marriages, and burials together, so one has to go back and forth to locate the needed pages/information.
  • The LDS resources are not limited to BMD. They include a wide range of subjects; i.e.

                           Land Tax Records –
Parish Registers –
Poor Law Commissions

Calendar of Marriage Bonds & Allegations                                                                                 School Records 1796-1950
Register of Electors  –
Bishop’s Transcripts Probate Records
Cheshire Non-Conformist Records 1691-1900

PART TWO will cover these, and other, parish records.