If you have English ancestors, you know that the Parish Church Records have a wealth of information to trace your family tree. But how should you begin and watch should you watch out for?
While in some parishes, the register may take you back to the 1500s, when King Henry VIII reigns, the path to climb your tree will have some obstacles. If you proceed carefully, you may build your tree back to when Modern English conquered Middle English.
Where Can You Find Parish Records?
By decree, The Church of England required every parish to record baptisms, marriages, and burials from 1538 to 1837. In 1837, England began to maintain Civil Registration records.
However, as in America, not every parish complied fully at times. Additionally, not every curator kept the Parish chest records from damage or loss. However, there is a place I highly recommend starting your investigation.
Since Findmypast has the most extensive collection of UK parish records online with many entries linking to original digitized images of the registers rather than an index to the document, START HERE.
Furthermore, many parish records appear exclusively on Findmypast. For example, check out this graphic shared on the blog post How Findmypast's parish records can transform your family history.
Start with Baptismal Records
I discovered that baptismal records hand more generational linking information than marriage or burial records in my investigation. As such, start building your tree with baptismal records.
Begin by keying in any known details about the first answer that could appear in the baptismal records. In other words, search for an ancestor born before 1837.
Then use the filters on the search results page and click through to the original images (whenever possible) to see all pertinent information.
After you succeed in finding a record for your ancestor, then find their siblings.
To see the English Parish records on Findmypast, watch this video.
Search Baptismal Records for Siblings
Return to the search form and remove the given and surnames.
Instead, key in the father's first and last name. Also, key in a birth range of +/- 20 years spanning your ancestor's baptismal date.
Tip: Leave off the mother's name when doing the initial search. If you have too many, they add her first name only.
See if you can piece together a family structure. Often, you have to click through to the original record to find the "Abode" and the father's occupation to make the connection.
Be careful. Many people had the same name in the same place, and you don't want to tangle up the branches of similarly-named individuals.
Search Marriage Records
If your ancestor was born early enough to have their marriages recorded before 1837 in the Parish registers, begin searching for the wedding records. Otherwise, search for your ancestor's parent's marriage records.
Keep in mind. You may discover multiple dates that relate to the marriage license, bans, and ceremonies. Note all of them in your online trees, software programs, and research plans.
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Search for Burial Records
Once you have found baptism and marriage records, then you can tackle the burial records. These are the hardest to piece together as the records typically only list the barest of facts: name, burial date, residence at the time of death, and the officiant.
I recommend paring burial records with other sources regarding death (cemetery records, obituaries, and probate) to confirm relationships and death dates.
Good luck working your way through the English Parish Records.
If you struggle with the English Parish records, hire an experienced professional genealogist familiar with these collections from our friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists. Be sure to tell them Devon recommended you to them.
Tips for Searching Parish Records
Understand the Location - As I began using Parish records, I kept looking for burial records in Beeford, Yorkshire, England. However, I noticed many of the family members from Beeford appeared in the Lissett, Yorkshire, England burial records. Learn about the parish history to know whether one area handled the baptisms and another handled the funerals. Or perhaps geographic features interfered with accessing the 'closest' church. Or, maybe your ancestor was listed in the Wharram Percy, Yorkshire, England Burial Register after moving 30 miles west of Beeford shortly after they married.
The Baptism Dates Isn't Necessarily the Birth Date - Avoid the common mistakes of assuming the baptism date is your ancestor's birth date. Some records did record both dates. Yay! Others only listed one. And sometimes, the baptism dates occurred many years after the ancestor's birth.
Marriage License or Marriage Ban - In many cases, a Marriage License enables a couple to marry sooner than the Marriage Ban process. Consider the possibility that a couple that obtained a license were affluent enough to pay the license fee.
Read the Notes on Original Images - I found notes such as "received into the church in 1906" when a priest recorded a baptism in 1887. I've seen a message of "Twins" or "Private." And so forth. All of these notes had a meaning to the record keeper. Look for them and figure out what they mean. It might be a clue that you need.
Check All of the Duplicate Results - While using Findmypast, I would find two or more entries for what seemed to be the same event. However, one only contained an index entry. The other one (or more) linked through to an original image. I discovered that duplicates of original images appear to be the parish register and the Bishop's copy (or bishop's transcript). In addition, the handwriting often differs, which means that one version is often more challenging to read than the other. Thus, check all 'duplicate' results.
Handwriting Headaches - Unfortunately, I haven't seen page indexes when looking at difficult-to-read handwriting documents. SLOW down on handwritten pages. Look for names and words that you recognize and begin comparing those words to the entries you're trying to read. If you have too much difficulty with the handwriting, ask for help in English Genealogy Facebook groups. Just be sure to indicate the entry you're trying to read and share the whole page so they can compare words as well.
Use Wildcards - Not every name appears in records the way we think it should be spelled. So learn to use Wildcards in your searches. Findmypast has a great blog post about how to do just that.
Yay for LATIN! - Become familiar with Latin in the Church of England records, as you would the Roman Catholic records I've written about previously. In one region, the church records were in Latin in 1700! For a list of English/Latin forms of common names, check out this list from FamilySearch. Sometimes, You'll need to use wildcards in name searches to compensate for the Latin variations.
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