Category Archives: Records

Touring TNA’s Website

At our January 2017 meeting, Lois Abromitis Mackin, Ph.D., gave a tour of the website of The National Archives, the official archive and publisher for the U.K. government–

The tour highlighted the website’s extensive educational resources and online records of interest to family history researchers.

The educational resources available on the website include

Like many archives, TNA is digitizing record collections. Some online collections are available on TNA’s own website, and others are available on the websites of TNA partners, including Ancestry and findmypast. The Online Collections page provides a portal for locating and searching these records. Collections available include many military records; wills; passenger lists; nonconformist and non-parish births, marriages, and deaths; railway records, merchant seamen registers, and more. TNA has also digitized many of their microfilm records covering military and naval records, Foreign Office correspondence, and Home Office correspondence. See their guide to digital microfilm at

Time spent exploring TNA’s website offers enormous payoff–improving your knowledge of British records, enhancing your research skills, and finding online and archival records to move your research forward.


The Poor Laws of England and Wales

Here is Julia Mosman’s handout for our meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday 27 February 2016 at Mounds View Library, posted here with Julia’s kind permission. Thank you, Julia!

Between 1601 and 1833, various sorts of poor relief existed. Some are more valuable to genealogists than others, but research into all may prove fruitful.


  • The primary unit of local government is the parish.
  • Before the Reformation, poor relief was handled by the Church and individuals.
  • After the establishment of the Church of England, local gentry often left endowed tenements & charities for the aged or indigent administered by local clergy.

Elizabethan Poor Laws (aka 43rd Elizabeth)

First set into law in 1601. These principles formed the basis of Poor Law for 200+ years.

  • Everyone had a parish of Legal Settlement.
  • Parents and children were responsible for each other.
  • There were 2 classes of people in need of assistance; the “deserving” poor, and the “idle” poor.
  • Parishes were responsible for locally funding their efforts.
  • Parishes were required to elect two “Overseers’ of the Poor” every Easter, who set poor rates, collected them, and authorized disbursements.
  • Poor rates were based on property, so landholders chiefly bore the expense.
  • There were 2 types of parish relief: “Outside” relief provided assistance in money, food, clothing, or goods, with recipient living on their own, and “indoor” relief, providing shelter and services.
  • As the population remained stable, and most people were known, the system worked well.  No major adjustments were made to the system until the early 1720’s.

Legal Settlement

  • Legal settlement was the overlying principle of poor relief; qualifications for which were:
    • To be born in a parish of legally settled parent(s).
    • Renting property worth more than £10 per annum or paying taxes on such a property
    • Holding a Parish office.
    • Being hired by a legally settled inhabitant for a continuous period at least of a year and one day.
    • Having served a full apprenticeship (7 years) to a legally settled man.
    • Having previously been granted poor relief.
    • Females changed their legal settlement on marriage, assuming their husband’s legal place of settlement.
  • If you could not satisfy these requirements, you could move into a new parish using a settlement certificate. It had to bear the seals of the overseers of both parishes and the local Justices, and it was not transferable. A very few rare copies of these survived the years.


  • If you or your family became or threatened to become reliant on parish relief, and could not satisfy the strict guidelines for legal settlement, you were liable to be removed to the place of your last legal settlement.
  • If no settlement certificate was in force, then a removal order was applied for from the local Justices.
    • An Examination as to Settlement was carried out before the local justice, overseers, and another ratepayer, (usually the church Vicar) to ascertain the last place of legal settlement.
    • Parishes often sued each other over assignments of legal settlement.
    • In 1795, a law was passed that no person could be removed unless or until they requested parish aid.

Parish Apprentices

  • Children of poor families, orphans, and widows’ children were often apprenticed at parish expense to masters, as much as possible in other parishes.
    • Masters were legally required to take apprentices.
    • Masters had a legal obligation to feed, clothe, house, and impart “the mysteries of their trade” to the apprentice.
    • Once the apprentice served their full term (7 years), they would assume their master’s place of legal settlement.
    • Girls apprenticed until they turned 21 or they married.
    • Boys often were apprenticed to age 24, giving the master 3 extra years of service.
  • Apprenticeships were recorded in Parish Indentures, sworn before the local Justice by the overseers and the churchwardens.


  • Illegitimacy was accepted in society.
  • Only became a problem for poorer classes of labourers without financial resources. Girls of this class would be placed at age 13 (or younger) in service. If she became pregnant, she would invariably lose her job and be removed to her parish of record immediately. If the child was born in the new parish, she could claim relief while the child was “at nurse”, defined as up to the age of 3 years.
  • The responsible parish would try to find the father to financially maintain the family.
  • Bastardy bonds and Filiation orders were applied for from local Justices.
  • A maintenance order could be for a lump sum of  £40 paid to the parish or a fixed sum for the lying in, and a weekly allowance until the child was 14 yrs. A labourer would have a smaller sum fixed, about 2s per week, and a master or farmer up to 3s.6d.


   Before 1834

  • First established in southern Midlands and Essex circa 1715.
  • By 1797, 1,927 workhouses existed throughout Britain and Wales, which were locally funded and controlled. They were neither punitive or harsh.
  • Workhouses evolved to combine the functions of day care, night shelter, geriatric ward and orphanage.
  • Hospitals for the ill and insane were established during this period as well.

    After 1834

  • The “Great Reforms” of 1834 moved parish relief from local control to regional districts, controlled by governmental groups.
  • Regional (Union) workhouses were established.
  • Combined 2 or more parishes into a “Union”.
  • They were intentionally designed to discourage people from resorting to them.
  • The principle of “less eligibility” was applied.
  • Segregation of ages, and of sexes, was rigid.
  • Relocation to manufacturing areas was “encouraged”
  • Outdoor relief was outlawed
  • Within 5 years, workhouses were proven to be much more expensive than promised, because of overhead.  Due to economic problems, outdoor relief was retained/reinstated in most places.
  • In the early 1900’s a series of laws were passed which eliminated much of the need for workhouses, in effect reinstating outdoor relief.
  • Workhouses existed in law until 1930.

Workhouse records

  • Some workhouse records still exist, and are valuable to researchers. However, just as many did not retain records of inmates.
  • Inmates were reported in the regular Census returns; births and deaths were recorded in local Church records, and after July 1, 1837, the local Registrar’s records.


What records exist:

  • Overseer’s Account and Parish Relief Books, found under various names/titles
  • Parish Chest – village constable, parish register, wardens (see above)
  • Filiation orders and/or Bastardy bonds
  • Apprenticeship bonds
  • Poor house (Workhouse) records
  • Court cases, in various Court levels; i.e., Quarter Sessions, Nisi Prius, Petty sessions, and Lawyers’ records
  • Newspaper accounts

Where records are maintained:

  • County record offices, regional museums, and libraries
  • Legal document repositories, such as National Archives
  • Newspaper archives
  • LDS films of county records

How a long-distance genealogist might find information:

  • Access
  • LDS film catalog at
  • visit the County website for local records
  • Check the National Archives for County and National records
  • Visit the 19th century (Gale) British Newspaper Digital Archive, & the Newspaper Archive (1607-2013), free through the LDS Family History Centers
  • Check Find My Past (paid service), limited free at Family History Centers
  • Check (paid service), or limited free at County libraries, MNGS, and Family History Centers
  • Discover fellow researchers in particular areas (Facebook, message boards, mailing lists)

Further Information

English Poor Laws

Victorian Web, a History website  =

Workhouses of Britain

E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, full text available at –

National Archives Guide to the Poor & Poor Laws:

Finding Your Relatives in British Newspapers

This outline was created and presented by Julia Mosman at the English-Welsh group meeting Thursday April 23, 2015 and is published here with Julia’s permission.



  • Fill in gaps – essential knowledge, such as suicides, sudden deaths, children who didn’t survive long, etc.
  • Adds knowledge AND understanding
  • May make family connections clear
  • Can open new avenues for research – may discover unknown relations, and surprises.


  • Newspaper availability
  • Cost of db access – Find My Past/British Library access is NOT covered in LDS deal, not available in “library” version (which MNGS, county libraries, and LDS have)
  • Condition of newspapers/indexing – error rate may be significant. Newspapers themselves contained errors – same last name in one article can be spelled three different ways.



  • Cyndi’s List
  • British Library Online [aka The British Newspaper Archive]
  • Individual & regional efforts, e. g., Birmingham Library website, West Briton Newspaper, 1836 to 1862, etc.


  • Microfilmed copies
  • Local repositories – libraries, record offices, etc.
    2 places in Cornwall – the Royal Cornwall Library, and the CRO


Newspaper Availability

  • Some available from 1620; more variety in 1700s; ballooned in 1800s – many localized papers were created and disappeared in short time spans.
  • Newspapers of record (Gazettes) existed.
  • Bankruptcies by law had to be printed – but many were sent to smaller publications, probably to alert local businesses to possible problems.
  • Taxes were collected on each paper
  • Postal regulations changed – at one time (1800s), papers mailed to subscribers could be forwarded without another fee, so papers were sent to the U.S., N.Z., Australia, and other British possessions, besides within counties
  • Literacy levels were not high in various levels of society, but papers were in the possession of many “lower class” people (such as tinkers, carters, fishermen) – and notices, news, etc. were sent in by clergy and correspondents, so it’s possible for relatives to be mentioned, no matter their circumstance


Discover what publications existed for the area of interest during various time periods:
1. GENUKI – by county, depending on the county coordinator
2. Google – by county
3. Cyndi’s List (these are links to subjects, which have links to various websites)
 British Library Newspaper Collections
Concise History of the British Newspaper Since 1620
Early Indian Newspapers
Early Newspapers
English and Welsh Newspapers on the Internet
Irish Newspapers on the Internet
London National Papers on the Internet
Scottish Newspapers on the Internet
Victorian Illustrated Newspapers and Journals: Select list
Cyndi’s List also has links to non-commercial sources, e.g., the Birmingham Iron Age newspaper accessible in Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections.
4. Gazette Gateway –searchable online database for the London, Edinburgh, and Belfast Gazettes, the official newspapers of record in the United Kingdom.
5. Newspaper Archive–(a free database at LDS family history centers, you can create a “free” account).
a. Choose a Place (United State, Algeria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Jamaica, Japan,United Kingdom, (some nations omitted)
b. Under United Kingdom, check counties – they’re limited and do not cover all regions
c. Can also search by Country, State, City, and Publication
d. There’s a very good Help section, which includes tutorials covering techniques, PDF searching, using filing cabinets, and using search alerts; can also contact them via email, telephone, or writing
e. When I tested the site for The Cornishman, in the 1890s, images were not available
6. British Newspaper Archive–a joint project of the British Library and FindMyPast. 408 titles online as of 15 April 2015. “Searching the site is free, but to view the newspapers you have to pay a fee…” Can purchase a one month (GBP 9.95) or 12 month subscription (GBP 79.95). Can also use “Pay-as-you-go” – 40 pages, GBP 19.95, valid for 365 days. A one-off payment
 Monthly is valuable for people researching a number of locations. Pay-as-you-go is good if you’re not researching a number of subjects
. Yearly is mandatory if you’re researching a large number of persons. Remember, you can use the Free version at your local library, or LDS FHC as an alternative to a personal subscription. The site also occasionally offers free access days–watch for announcements of these.
Using the site:

  • Start with a broad search, then add filters; start with a name or keyword, then add information, such as a location. Filters are shown on the left side of the screen (Archive type, Historical records, Newspapers, books, & directories).
  • Choose from our collections (be careful of “default” entries)–British newspapers, Irish newspapers, PERiodical Source Index (Persi), US & World newspapers, Australia & New Zealand resources
  • Narrow your search results by County, Place, Newspaper, Article type, Date – from 1700 through 2000.
  • To search newspaper articles for an ancestor, topic, or person from history: 1. Enter the name of the person you’re looking for in the search bar at the top of the homepage. Put a double quote mark on each side of the name and click the “search” button. The quote marks will make your search results more relevant because they tell the website that you’re looking for a phrase. This means your results will only include articles in which these words appear next to one another. 2. You may need to try alternative names to find the person. You may need a middle name, or a different spelling. Many were referred to as “Mr. R. A. Smithers”, Mr. Smithers, or Raymond Smithers, rather than Raymond Alfred Smithers. If looking for a woman, she may have been recorded as the wife or daughter of somebody, rather than by her own name. Often, “the wife of Mr. R.A. Smithers” was used. Once widowed, she could then be referred to as “Caroline Smithers, relict of Raymond Arthur.” 3. You can also use extra information you know about the person to focus your results. For instance, Raymond Smithers was a chimney sweep, so enter that in the search bar too. Putting a + mark before the name you’re searching for will tell the website that while we’re interested in reports about chimney sweeps, they must always include the name “Raymond Smithers”.
  • Search by dates – example: 1720 – 1750, the site has these newspapers (not all that existed): Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), Newcastle Courant (Newcastle upon Tyne, England), Stamford Mercury (Stamford, Lincolnshire, England), Ipswich Journal (Ipswich, Suffolk, England), Derby Mercury (Derby, Derbyshire, England).
  • Problems I encountered using Find My Past, British Newspaper Archive, in March 2015: 1. Several “repeats” of posts, some less than well identified, some better. 2. The thumb-nail images give an idea of which is most reliable. 3. From approximately 20 “returns”, there were 5 articles in all, some unreadable. 4. Edges were cut off – the first or last letter[s] in a column. 5. Had to use “shortened” or partial surnames because they were misspelled in their index, not in the newspaper itself.

7. Fold 3 (available from Hennepin County Library’s website using your library card) has the London Times, 1785 – 1820
8. Historic Newspapers is NOT the same service as the British Newspaper Archive; it offers copies of entire newspapers, on a specific date after 1 Jan 1900, for purchase. However, it’s shown on Cyndi’s List as “England’s largest private newspaper archive with over 7 million originals dating back to the 1600s. A dedicated research team is in place for special projects and requests.”

The West Briton births, marriages, and deaths are regularly posted to a Cornish list on Rootsweb; almost every column has resulted in people noting misspellings, or mis-identified people. (Wrong groom married to a lady, middle names shown as surname, and so on.)

Newspaper images are indexed using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR has  drawbacks, which one encounters more frequently the further back one searches in newspapers. Papers in 1836 often have tears, “off-line” print, blops of ink, and irregular borders – all of which cause problems even with good OCR technology. Then, if the paper is printing words in Cornish, or Welsh, translation becomes a problem; the OCR assumes an English spelling/meaning, and tries to force the word into the nearest approximation of what was on the page. This leads to very, very odd results at times.

That may be why the British Newspaper Archive only has the West Briton from 1862. The paper was microfilmed in the 1950s-60s, and copies of those films reside at St. Thomas in their special collections, courtesy of the St. Piran Society. (The society intended to index the paper, but the project didn’t get off the ground until the West Briton indexing group took it on in 2003.) The films go from 1836 to 1888, I believe, but the paper started in 1810, and films from 1810 to 1836 exist in Cornwall. Copies of the films are not available, nor will they ever be as the firm which did the work is no longer in existance.

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.

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.