Parish register
A parish register is a handwritten volume, normally kept in a parish church
Parish church
A parish church , in Christianity, is the church which acts as the religious centre of a parish, the basic administrative unit of episcopal churches....

 or deposited within a county record office
County record office
In the United Kingdom the term county record office usually refers to a local authority repository, also called a County Archives. Such repositories employ specialist staff to administer and conserve the historic and the semi-current records of the parent body...

 or alternative archive
An archive is a collection of historical records, or the physical place they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of an organization...

 repository, in which details of baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

s, marriage
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

s and burial
Burial is the act of placing a person or object into the ground. This is accomplished by excavating a pit or trench, placing an object in it, and covering it over.-History:...

s are recorded.


In 1497 Cardinal Ximenes introduced a register of baptisms, first in Toledo
Toledo, Spain
Toledo's Alcázar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces.-Economy:...

, then throughout western Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. In 1563 the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 ordered the general keeping of baptismal and marriage registers.

On 5 September 1538, following the split with Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

's Vicar General, ordered that each parish
A parish is a territorial unit historically under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of one parish priest, who might be assisted in his pastoral duties by a curate or curates - also priests but not the parish priest - from a more or less central parish church with its associated organization...

 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. The 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
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

 (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 1706.

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 1741).

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 illegal.

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
Stamp duty
Stamp duty is a tax that is levied on documents. Historically, this included the majority of legal documents such as cheques, receipts, military commissions, marriage licences and land transactions. A physical stamp had to be attached to or impressed upon the document to denote that stamp duty...

 of 3d was imposed on entries from 1783 to 1794 but was exempt for paupers.

In 1812 an "Act for the better regulating and preserving Parish and other Registers of Birth, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, in England" (Rose
George Rose
The Right Honourable George Rose was a British politician.Born at Woodside near Brechin, Scotland, Rose was the son of the Reverend David Rose of Lethnot, by Margaret, daughter of Donald Rose of Wester Clune...

'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 Vatican Council
Second Vatican Council
The Second Vatican Council addressed relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the modern world. It was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and the second to be held at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed...

 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 assumed)
  • 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)
  • Examples:
  1. Baptised 21 August 1632 William son of Francis Knaggs
  2. 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
    • Age
    • Whether of-this-parish or of some other place
    • Occupation (normally man only)
    • Father's forename, surname and occupation or rank
    • Signature
  • 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.
  • Examples:
  1. Married 2 May 1635 Francis Ducke and Anne Knaggs
  2. Married 16 May 1643 Leonard Huntroids yeoman of Brafferton and Lucy Knaggs widow of this parish
  3. [1643 Marriages] Alexander Mackree et Anna Hancocke undecimo die men(sis) Julii nupti fuerent Annoq(ue) predicto
  4. 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
  • Examples:
  1. Buried 6 January 1620 Richard Knags
  2. Buried 4 November 1653 stillborn daughter of Raiph Knaggs of Ugthorpe
  3. Buried 25th Dec 1723 Mr George Knaggs, gent of Pollington, aged 74
  4. 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 contemporary baptism and burial registers. They usually commence in the late eighteenth century, but come to an end in 1812, when they were superseded by the requirements of George Rose’s 1812 Act, which required more information to be recorded than in normal registers, but actually required less information to be recorded than in Dade and Barrington Registers. There are examples of a few parishes continuing to keep Dade or Barrington Registers after 1813. In some cases, two registers were kept, for example in the Co Durham parish of Whickham
Whickham is a town in North East England, four miles south west of Newcastle upon Tyne and four and a half miles west of Gateshead. Whickham is part of the Metropolitan Borough of Gateshead. Its postal address is Whickham, Newcastle upon Tyne. Whickham is situated on high ground overlooking the...

 both Barrington and Rose Registers were kept for the period 1813-1819, after which the former were discontinued.

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 Markham
William Markham (archbishop)
William Markham , English divine and archbishop of York, was educated at Westminster and at Christ Church, Oxford.He was one of the best scholars of his day, and attained to the headship of his old school and college in 1753 and 1767 respectively...

 decided that Dade's scheme should be introduced throughout his diocese. The baptismal registers were to include child's name, seniority (e.g. first son), father's name, profession, place of abode and descent (i.e. 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.

The Borthwick Institute for Archives
Borthwick Institute for Archives
The Borthwick Institute for Archives is the specialist archive service of the University of York, York, England. It is one of the biggest archive repositories outside London. The Borthwick was founded in 1953 as The Borthwick Institute for Historical Research. It was originally based at St...

 recommends that researchers looking at Yorkshire parishes between 1770 and 1812 should check both sources.

Barrington Registers

From about 1783 the Rev Shute Barrington whilst Bishop of Salisbury instigated a somewhat simpler system than Dade's, and followed this in Northumberland and 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 Library
Family History Library
The Family History Library is a genealogical research facility in downtown Salt Lake City. The library is open to the public free of charge and is operated by FamilySearch, the genealogical arm of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints .-History:The origins of 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
Society of Genealogists
The Society of Genealogists is a UK-based educational charity, founded in 1911 to "promote, encourage and foster the study, science and knowledge of genealogy". The Society's Library is the largest specialist genealogical library outside North America. Membership is open to any adult who agrees to...

, in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, has a very large selection of such transcripts and indexes. The LDS Library in Salt Lake City also has a vast collection of films of original registers.

The LDS, for its own purposes, has also produced an index (the IGI
IGI may refer to:* Le Igi is a traditional Samoan guitar tuning style* Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi* Interconnector Greece – Italy, a planned natural gas pipeline* International Genealogical Index* Indian Gemmological Institute...

), of very many register entries — mostly baptisms and marriages. The IGI is available as a searchable database on the World Wide Web at and on 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."
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