• Step Four ~ Before Civil Registration

    Parish Registers began in 1538 when Thomas Cromwell, Vicar-General to King Henry VIII, instructed parish clergy to keep registers of baptisms, marriages and burials.

    Before this date there were no records, except for a few created by monks who recorded these events for prominent families. Only some of these very early records from 1538 survive today, some parishes even chose not to record these events at first, so coverage will vary from parish to parish.

    The registers were kept in the iron bound parish chest with other parish records, with yearly copies sent to the local bishop (Bishops' Transcripts).

    In England and Wales you will find Parish Registers, together with the Bishops’ Transcripts, in the relevant county or city record office (CRO).

    You may be able to look at the original registers for later dates, however it is most unlikely that you will for the earlier ones. Most have been microfilmed and transcribed which you can view at the record office. You may also find transcribed registers in a local library.

    You can do research online however this should only be used as a guide as it is always preferable to refer to the actual parish registers for accuracy reasons.

    Sites such as: Ancestry, ScotlandsPeople, Find My Past, Family Relatives, Origins hold details of parish registers. You will find other records on these sites such as the Boyd’s Marriage Index and the Pallot Marriage and Baptism Index.

    The Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) otherwise known as the Mormons, have gathered a vast amount of information which is of interest to family historians. You can view the International Genealogical Index (IGI) on their website, although this is renowned for its inaccuracies. You can look at microfilmed parish registers at one of their Family Record centres.

    For more information on the LDS go to A Guide to the LDS .

    You can buy some parish registers on microfiche or CD Rom. These are sold by family history societies and by companies online such as Parish Chest, GENfair, The Parish Register Transcription Society and Anguline Research Archives.