Posted by on 20 September 2013 in General

If you would like to trace your ancestors and expand on your family tree as far back as 1538, then parish records are a way forward for your family history research. Most people start their research with BMD certificates, census records and slowly work their way to other alternative sources from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Parish records provide amazing insight into your ancestors’ lives with information about family relations, occupations and valuable dates. The latest addition to our rich family of parish registers is from the city of Birmingham and will prove an invaluable source of information for people with roots from this area.

  • 14-Day Free Trial

As an anthropologist I have been thrilled to discover a baptismal record of Alfred Reginald Brown among our new content release set. Much of his early life was associated with Birmingham, having worked at Birmingham Library and studied at Birmingham University. His fieldwork and research relating to Andaman Islands and to Western Australia have contributed to his worldwide recognition as a pioneering social anthropologist, and facilitated the introduction of the social anthropology platform in America. Looking at his baptismal record we can learn that he was baptised on 2nd March 1881 as Alfred Reginald-Brown in Sparkbrook church, Birmingham. The record also holds details about his parents – Alfred and Hannah (maiden name Radcliffe, hence the later addition to his name).

Images 1

Another great discovery is related to the numerous Birmingham connections of writer J. R.R. Tolkien. We have a marriage record of his grandparents – music seller John Benjamin Tolkien, and Mary Jane Stowe.

Image 2

Other records associated with famous names include the baptismal record of a well-known author Barbara Cartland, the burial record of manufacturer Matthew Boulton and the baptismal record of landscape painter David Cox.

image 3

Old Smithfield Market, Birmingham, c1887 (WK/B11/327) From the Warwickshire Photographic Survey Images reproduced with courtesy of the Library of Birmingham.

Calendar of Prisoners (1880-1891) (1906-1913)

Together with the parish records we are also releasing a calendar of prisoners records from Birmingham. I have to admit that at the beginning I wasn’t sure I knew what the Quarter Sessions were. I have soon learnt that these were local courts held by the Justices of the Peace who dealt with legal, criminal and administrative matters. As the title suggests they were held on quarterly basis in the weeks following Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelms.

These records are amazing in the amount of detail they offer – not only can we find details such as name, age and occupation of each prisoner, but also a very detailed breakdown of past and present offenses committed and the official verdict of the jury followed by a court sentence. Details of offenses range from stealing biscuits, turkeys, hair brushes, pair of boots, tablecloths and purses.

  • 14-Day Free Trial

Even for the smallest offenses the sentences were quite hard and could range from 6 months’ imprisonment with hard labour (HL), to police supervision for 12-18 months, placement in the house of corrections (HC), gaol (G) or transportation (T). Quite often details of the victims and their names were also mentioned.

Finding your ancestor amongst this collection doesn’t necessarily mean that they were a hardened criminal. It could have been simply a way of making ends meet, making sure that food and clothing were provided for their children, and for various reasons they were not able to get necessary resources through employment and have resorted to theft.

To find out more about the Library of Birmingham and their archive collections click here

Click here to explore the Birmingham Parish Records

You might be aware that Library of Birmingham has recently re-opened their doors after nine months, so please make sure that you check the amazing facilities and new services either in person or via their blog

Authored by Marcela Popovicova, Content Executive for


About Emma

Emma Pulman is a Social Media and digital Marketing Executive for Based in Ancestry's London office in Hammersmith, Emma regularly tweets and posts on Ancestry's Facebook page.


Michael Fisher 

Are all the parish registers held by Birmingham Library online. I am looking for a marriage at St Stephens, Selly Hill, Selly Oak. According to the council website these are not on microfilm and do not appear on Ancestry. So I take it you have not actually scanned the registers ?

20 September 2013 at 6:18 pm
David Matthew 

The legal terms which are important to work out which term you need to look at are Hilary, Easter, Trinity and Michaelmas (not Michaelms as stated in the article) as this is how the records are normally arranged.

22 September 2013 at 10:14 pm