Sunday, September 4, 2011

Parish Registers

So you've bought the certificates and tracked your family through the census returns back to 1841. Next stop is the parish registers.

The keeping of parish registers began in 1538 on the orders of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's Vicar-General, although you will be fortunate if you manage to trace your family back that far. Few of the earliest registers survive, subject to nearly 500 years of the ravages of mice, mould and mayhem.

If you are not living in the area where your family hails from this is where the hard work begins! Tracing ancestors in large cities involves dogged determination. My Ruthven ancestors lived in the City of Westminster, but with 11 children all born at different addresses and thirty-eight parish churches in the immediate vicinity, they took some finding.

While the Wiltshire and Swindon Archives at Cocklebury Road, Chippenham holds the parish registers for all of Wiltshire, Central Library has microfiche copies of those within the Swindon area, including not only town churches such as St. Mark's and Christ Church, but also many outlying parishes. There are also transcripts compiled by the Wiltshire Family History Society and the Nimrod Index, the work of Dr. Barbara Carter who indexed the Swindon Methodist Circuit Registers.

Online coverage of parish registers is variable and often by the courtesy of family and local history societies making their transcription of records available. Docklands Ancestors, for example, is a subscription site with a free searchable index of a number of East End parishes.

FreeReg, a companion project to FreeBMD and FreeCen aims to provide free internet access to parish registers but coverage is patchy. With 340 parishes online there are just 21,451 Wiltshire records available.

Registers are often the repositories for other fascinating parish paperwork such as the certificate found in those of Lydiard Tregoze.Dated 14th May 1798 it records that The Parish of Lidiard Tregooze raised £55.14s by Voluntary Contribution for the Defence of the Country' (£55.70 about £4,500 today). A list of parishioners who contributed is included, headed by Rev. Miles, the Rector who donated £10.10s (£10.50worth about £850 today), followed by Lady Bolingbroke who gave half that amount.

Among the other contributors is tenant farmer William Ody who gave 5s (25p worth about £20 today) and Thomas Hunt who parted with 6d (2p about £2 today). This document provides a list of rate paying parishioners and is in itself a rudimentary census.

And on a more chilling note, Giles Daubeney, Victorian Rector at the church at Lydiard Tregoze, added the following postscript concerning the circumstances surrounding Ann Collins death in November 1854 -'murdered by William Wright with whom she lived.'

Searching outside Wiltshire? The Society of Genealogists have published the National Index of Parish Registers in county volumes with an aim to locating all those that survive - check their website for more information.

Other useful websites
Catholic Family History Society
Huguenot Society
Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain
Moving Here - 200 Years of Migration in England

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze

The St John family coat of arms

Monument to Edward St John, the Golden Cavalier

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