A parish register
is a book, normally kept in a
, in which details of
Cardinal Ximenes introduced a register of baptisms, first in
throughout western Europe.
In 1563 the
Roman Catholic Church
the general keeping of baptismal and marriage registers.
5 September 1538,
following the split with Rome, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's Vicar General, ordered
that each parish priest must keep a book, and
that the Parson, in the presence of the wardens, must enter all the
baptisms, marriages and burials of the previous week.
book was to be kept in a "sure coffer" with two locks (one key for
the vicar, the other for the wardens). A fine of 3s 4d was to be
levied for failure to comply. Many parishes ignored this order,
believing it to be the forerunner of some new tax.
The order was repeated in 1547 with the stipulation that the fine
was to go to the relief of the poor.
From 1598 records were to be kept in 'great decent books of
parchment' and copies or 'Bishop's Transcripts' of new entries were
to be sent each month to the diocesan centre. Previous records
(especially from the first year of Her Majesty's reign (1558)),
often on scraps of paper, had to be copied into the new books, but
many had deteriorated and were unreadable. The costs of the new
books were to be met by charging for entries; this was opposed by
many parishes and the act was not enforced until 1603. Finance was
to be born by the Parish, and the books were to be kept in a chest
with three locks. The week's entries were to be read out each
Sunday after evensong.
During the English Civil War
(1643–1647) and in the following Commonwealth period, records were
poorly kept and many are now missing after being destroyed or
hidden by the clergy. During 1653–1660 the registering of births,
marriages and deaths was taken over by civil officers (confusingly
called Parish Registers), but the registers were returned to the
churches following the Restoration in 1660.
In order to encourage the wool trade, an act was passed in 1678
making it compulsory for all corpses to be buried in a shroud made
of wool, an affidavit having to be made (and recorded in the
register) that this had been done.
In 1694 the costs of each entry were drastically increased in order
to finance a war against France (Marriages 12d => 1s 6d, Burials
4d => 4s, Baptisms 4d => 2s). In 1696 a tax of 6d had to be
paid for any birth not reported within five days, and vicars were
fined £2 for neglecting to record a birth; this was abandoned in
In 1711 it was ordered that the pages of registers were to be ruled
and numbered (generally ignored) and in 1733 entries had to be made
in English rather than Latin.
Prior to 1751 (when the calendar was reformed), the register year
would go from Lady Day to Lady Day (25 March) so, for example 31
December 1740 would be followed by 1 January 1740 (actually
In 1754 Lord Hardwick's Marriage Act came into being. A separate
Marriage Register was to be kept (later with pre-printed forms),
and Banns were enforced and Clandestine Marriages made
In 1763 the minimum age for marriage was fixed at 16 (earlier only
with a Licence from the Bishop) and parental consent was needed for
anyone under 21. A stamp duty
of 3d was
imposed on entries from 1783 to 1794 but was exempt for
In 1812 an "Act for the better regulating and preserving Parish and
other Registers of Birth, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, in
's Act ) was passed. It
stated that "amending the Manner and Form of keeping and of
preserving Registers of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials of His
Majesty's Subjects in the several Parishes and Places in England,
will greatly facilitate the Proof of Pedigrees of Persons claiming
to be entitled to Real or Personal Estates, and otherwise of great
public Benefit and Advantage". Separate, printed registers were to
be supplied by the King's Printer, and used for baptisms, marriages
and burials. These are more or less unchanged to this day.
In 1853 the Cemetery Act allowed for civic cemeteries, many
churchyards being full to overflowing.
In the United States, at least the parishes in the Roman Catholic
dioceses maintained a similar practice of recording baptisms,
marriages, burials, and often also confirmations and first
communions. From the earliest pioneer churches ministered by
itinerant priests, the records were written in ecclesiastical
Latin. But after the Second
and its reforms that included translating the
Mass into local languages, most register entries gradually came to
be written in English. In Protestant communions with stronger
similarities to Roman Catholicism, parish registers are also
important sources that document baptisms, marriages, and funerals.
In Protestant and Evangelical churches, individual ministers often
kept records of faith-related events among the congregation, but
under much less guidance from any central governing body.
Contents and Examples
The contents have changed over time, not being standardised in
England until the Acts of 1753 and 1812. The following are among
what you can expect to find in later registers, though in the
earlier ones it is quite common to find only names recorded. Early
entries will be in some form of Latin, often abbreviated.
- Date of baptism
- Date of birth (but this is often not recorded)
- Child's forename
- Child's surname (though normally omitted as father's name is
- Father's name — blank if illegitimate
- Mother's name (but this is often not recorded)
- Father's occupation or rank
- Place of birth (for large parishes)
- Baptised 21 August 1632 William son of Francis Knaggs
- Baptism 5 January 1783 Richard son of Thomas Knaggs, farmer,
and his wife Mary, born 6 December 1782
- Date of marriage
- For both man and woman
- Forename and Surname
- Whether bachelor or spinster, widower or widow
- Whether of-this-parish or of some other place
- Occupation (normally man only)
- Father's forename, surname and occupation or rank
- Whether by Banns or by Licence
- Witness(es) signature(s)
- Note: from 1837, the information contained in parish records is
the same as that on a civil marriage certificate.
- Married 2 May 1635 Francis Ducke and Anne Knaggs
- Married 16 May 1643 Leonard Huntroids yeoman of Brafferton and
Lucy Knaggs widow of this parish
- [1643 Marriages] Alexander Mackree et Anna Hancocke undecimo
die men(sis) Julii nupti fuerent Annoq(ue) predicto
- Married 11 August 1836 Richard Knaggs the younger, age 20,
bachelor, farmer of Kilham and Elizabeth Wilson, age 25, spinster
of this parish, by licence and with the consent of those whose
consent is required
- Date of burial
- Name of deceased
- Age of deceased
- Occupation, rank or relationship of deceased
- Normal place of abode of deceased
- Buried 6 January 1620 Richard Knags
- Buried 4 November 1653 stillborn daughter of Raiph Knaggs of
- Buried 25th Dec 1723 Mr George Knaggs, gent of Pollington, aged
- Buried 19 July 1762 Thomas Knaggs, son of Thomas tailor of
Byers Green and Elizabeth, age 13, drowned, double fees
Dade and Barrington Registers
Dade and Barrington Registers are detailed registers that contain
more information than standard baptism and burial registers as
required by George Rose’s 1812 Act.
Dade Registers are named after Rev. William Dade, a Yorkshire clergyman
(b.1740) who went to St. John's College, Cambridge.
From 1763 until his death in 1790, he was
curate, vicar and rector of five parishes in York and two in the
East Riding of Yorkshire.
Dade was far ahead of his time in seeing the value of including as
much information on individuals in the parish register as possible.
In 1777 Archbishop William
decided that dade's scheme should be introduced
throughout his diocese. The baptismal registers were to include
child's name, seniority (eg. first son), father's name, profession,
place of abode and descent (ie names, professions and places of
abode of the father's parents), similar information about the
mother, and mother's parents, the infant's date of birth and
baptism. Registers of this period are a gold-mine for genealogists,
but the scheme was so much work for the parish priests that it did
not last long.
In 1770 Dade wrote in the parish register of St. Helen's, York:
"This scheme if properly put in execution will afford much clearer
intelligence to the researches of posterity than the imperfect
method hitherto generally pursued." His influence spread and the
term Dade register has come to describe any parish registers that
include more detail than expected for the time.
The application of this system was somewhat haphazard and many
clergymen, particularly in more populated areas, resented the extra
work involved in making these lengthy entries. The thought of
duplicating them for the Bishop’s Transcripts put many of them off
and some refused to follow the new rules. Several letters of
complaint were printed in the York newspapers of the time, and the
scheme suffered when the Archbishop indicated there was no
punishment for vicars who failed to comply.
Institute for Archives recommends that researchers looking at Yorkshire
parishes between 1770 and 1812 should check both
From about 1783 the Rev Shute Barrington whilst Bishop of Salisbury
instigated a somewhat simpler system than Dade's, and followed this
in Durham from 1798, when he became Bishop of Durham.
Transcriptions and indices
Most registers have been deposited in diocesan archives or county
record offices. Where these have been filmed, copies are
available to scan from The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through the Family History
Microfiche copies of parish registers,
along with transcriptions, are usually available at larger local
libraries and county record offices.
Since Victorian times, amateur genealogists have transcribed and
indexed parish registers. Some societies have also produced printed
transcripts and indexes — notably the Parish Register Society, the
Harleian Society and Phillimore & Co. The Society of Genealogists, in London, has a very
large selection of such transcripts and indexes.
Library in Salt Lake
City also has a vast collection of films of original
The LDS, for its own purposes, has also produced an index (the
), of very many register entries — mostly
baptisms and marriages. The IGI is available as a searchable
database on the world-wide web at 
microform matter at local "Family History Centers". Like all
transcripts and indexes, the IGI should be used with caution, as
errors can occur in legibility of the original or microfilm of the
original, in reading the original handwriting, and in entering the
material to the transcription. "Batch entries" are generally more
reliable than "individual submissions."
- Clandestine Marriage in England, 1500-1850 By R. B. Outhwaite
- Rose's Act