Posted by Ancestry Team on April 11, 2014 in Research, Website

Continuing on with my previous post, civil registration and census records are usually the place I turn first when starting my research in the UK. These records can be used together to create an accurate snapshot of a family group in the mid-19th century to late 20th century. Before 1837, parish registers are most commonly used to find the baptisms, marriages, and burials of ancestors.


We will be specifically talking about parish registers created in England, but this information applies to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Parish registers were first created in England in 1538 when Henry VIII established the Church of England. By 1597, during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the earliest parish registers were rewritten on vellum, or animal skin, from 1558. This helped protect parish registers and make them available for research today. Many registers before 1558 are lost; they were often written on paper, rather than more durable materials.


Early parish registers were often written in chronological order, including baptisms, marriages, and burials in the same volume. As time went by, many parishes recorded these events in separate books, but it depended on the person writing the registers.


Parish Register Baptism; 1814 Saint Luke, Islington, Middlesex Co


The types of information written in a parish registers varied from scribe to scribe. Usually more information is included on later parish registers. Baptism entries usually listed the name of the child baptized, baptism date, and father’s name. Other information could be recorded, including date of birth, mother’s name, witnesses’ names, or godparents.

Rose’s Act was passed in 1812, which required parish baptisms to be recorded on pre-printed forms. These forms included the parish of birth, county of birth, date of baptism, the child’s name, parents’ names (sometimes maiden name of mother), residence of the family, father’s occupation, and the name of the person who performed the ceremony. Sometimes the date of birth was written in the margins; especially if the child was baptized years after the birth.



Early marriage entries usually only included the groom’s name, the bride’s name, and the date of marriage. By 1754, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act required all individuals (excluding Jews and Quakers) to be married through the Church of England. Before this, some ancestors may not be listed in the parish registers due a clandestine marriage (think Fleet Prison).

A lot more information is recorded on marriage entries after 1754, including the couples’ names, date of marriage, residences of both parties, marital status, how the marriage was performed (banns or licence), signatures of the bride and groom, as well as two witnesses of the marriage.

In 1837, printed forms were institutionalized, which new information: ages of the couple, and names of the bride and groom’s fathers.



Burial records usually do not have as much information as baptism and marriage entries. Sometimes only the name and date of burial are listed. If a young child died, you may find a father’s name. Because of Rose’s Act in 1813, the name date of burial, name of deceased, and age were required in the register.


How to Use Parish Registers

As parish registers are a very useful genealogical resource, many of them have been indexed, digitized, or transcribed. The originals can be found in county record offices across the UK. To know what records are available for each parish and where they are stored, you can use The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers.

From the census and civil registration, you will most likely know at least a good idea which parish and county an event took place for your ancestor. You can use the International Genealogical Index, or IGI, which is a large database of indexed parish baptisms and burials in the UK, created by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. also has many parish registers indexed available for research. Most notably, the England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 Collection is a great place to start, similar to the IGI. Ancestry also has large collections of parish registers for LondonYorkshire, Dorset, and Warwickshire, just to name a few.


If you can’t find your ancestor in the parish registers, you can look in the bishop’s transcripts, which are records first started in 1598, which required annual copies of parish registers to be created and sent to the bishop of the parish. These records can usually be found from 1598-1837. When used in conjunction with parish registers, an ancestor could be found, as well as extra information written on either of the documents.


Now that you have found census records and have ordered civil registration documents for your ancestors, start looking through parish registers to see what you find!


Happy hunting!


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  1. Deborah Hart Stock

    This is generally good information about England and Wales, but there are really significant differences for Irish and Scottish church records, in terms of date, format, data included, survival, and accessibility.
    I think it would be helpful to people researching ancestors from those countries if you were more explicit about the differences.

  2. RM

    We are a cranky bunch, eh? I am a long time member with a probably-silly-comment/question re. surnames spelling in parish registers. Most of the time, we can make a pretty good guess at the original family name, but I ALWAYS waffle on how to indicate and carry that original name through the generations. I use altername names, AKA facts, comments, facts description notes, sources notes and comments, (etc.), but… it drives me batty. I wonder how the pros indicate and format surname spellings and changes across the board, trees, graphs, charts and if there might be a tidy rule of thumb.

  3. TC

    I continue to hope that I will find something that proves my 2x g’gma (Marguerette King – father John mother Catherine (Katherine?) Dunn both from Ireland alledgedly) was born where she claims in her husbands obituary (Reading, Berkshire, England – all estimated records found put her at birth year of MAR 1836)

    If the family I found IS her parents (and of course, her siblings too) than they were in Hutton Cranswick, Yorkshire during 1841 census and I found a birth record for her sister. But all guesswork at this point!

  4. Betty Faries Clifton

    Hooray, very clear instructions you laid down and NOW and I can use it to tell my many many relatives where to locate the facts (as I did using the Parish Registers)and they can correct all their erroneous trees…wrong kids, wrong counties, wrong centuries. Thank you
    Betty Clifton

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