PARISH REG­IS­TERS ON­LINE

With mil­lions of church records go­ing on­line each year, Sarah Wil­liams takes a tour around the UK high­light­ing the main col­lec­tions that are on of­fer as well as un­cov­er­ing some lit­tle-known gems

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For as long as the Church has been around it has played a cen­tral role in bap­tisms, mar­riages and buri­als, but it was not un­til 1538 that the need for this to be doc­u­mented was de­creed and parish reg­is­ters re­ally be­gan.

Since then they’ve evolved, record­ing more in­for­ma­tion in a stan­dard­ised way, but they still present chal­lenges.

Be­fore parish reg­is­ters started ap­pear­ing on­line, fam­ily his­to­ri­ans had to have an idea of which parish their an­ces­tor’s life event was likely to have been recorded in. This could be very suc­cess­ful and the reg­is­ters from one parish might take you back hun­dreds of years. How­ever, miss­ing an­ces­tors were harder to solve. Once your kin left a parish, find­ing where they had moved to could be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble.

Scat­tered over the coun­try in their mil­lions, the task of digi­tis­ing parish reg­is­ters is too big for any one or­gan­i­sa­tion, and so this ar­ti­cle aims to help you track down the best place to start your search.

First of all, it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise that only a small pro­por­tion of parish reg­is­ters have been digitised. Even big re­gional col­lec­tions, like An­ces­try’s Lon­don col­lec­tion, will not be com­plete. If you are ex­pect­ing to find some­one in the Dorset col­lec­tion on Find­my­past and they’re not there, that doesn’t mean they weren’t in Dorset. You need to try to as­cer­tain which parish they are most likely to have at­tended and check the ac­tual hold­ings of the web­site. A good web­site should tell you the names of the parishes and the years that are in­cluded.

As well as sub­scrip­tion web­sites, there are also a few ma­jor free col­lec­tions to be con­sid­ered. The big­gest one is fam­il­y­search.org. If you find a po­ten­tial re­sult here, it is im­por­tant to note where the in­for­ma­tion has come from. Some en­tries are just taken from peo­ple’s per­sonal re­search, so you need to be sure that it has come from a parish reg­is­ter and re­mem­ber that, apart from a few ex­cep­tions where images are in­cluded, you are just look­ing at a tran­scrip­tion. You can of­ten or­der a copy of the ac­tual mi­cro­film to view at an LDS Fam­ily His­tory Cen­tre, or re­quest a pho­to­copy of the page from the rel­e­vant lo­cal record of­fice to check the orig­i­nal.

It is also im­por­tant not to as­sume that the first per­son you come across with the same name as your an­ces­tor is nec­es­sar­ily your fore­bear. Check that the place and dates all add up. Even some­one with an un­usual name can have a name­sake (pos­si­bly a rel­a­tive) that can send you on a wild goose chase. If your an­ces­tor has a com­mon name, then this is even more likely.

Some tran­scrip­tions are based on the work of Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian an­ti­quar­i­ans who tran­scribed old parish reg­is­ters and pub­lished them in book form (if you know this hap­pened for a parish you are in­ter­ested in, see if the book has been up­loaded to ar­chive.

org for free), some are based on tran­scrip­tion projects car­ried out by fam­ily his­tory so­ci­eties or keen vol­un­teers such as the On­line Parish Clerks (OPC) and some come from large digi­ti­sa­tion projects where images of parish reg­is­ters are out­sourced to tran­scribers. The in­dexes you find on a sub­scrip­tion site will not nec­es­sar­ily be more ac­cu­rate than the ones done by vol­un­teers on free web­sites, but you may at least see the orig­i­nal page of the reg­is­ter.

Bishop’s Tran­scrip­tions (or BTs) are ab­bre­vi­ated copies of parish reg­is­ters that were sent an­nu­ally to the lo­cal bishop for his records. They are par­tic­u­larly use­ful where the parish reg­is­ter it­self does not ex­ist any­more and can also be found on some sites.

We’ve di­vided the UK up into re­gions us­ing mod­ern county bound­aries. It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that bound­aries have changed over time and some parish reg­is­ters in a county col­lec­tion may re­late to a dif­fer­ent county now.

The fol­low­ing list of web­sites is not de­fin­i­tive ( genuki.org.uk is a good site for lo­cat­ing records for the area that you are in­ter­ested in) and although all the main sub­scrip­tion sites, as well as fam­il­y­search.org, have some records for all the re­gions, we have con­cen­trated on their ma­jor col­lec­tions.

ONLY A SMALL PRO­POR­TION OF THE UK’S PARISH REG­IS­TERS HAVE BEEN DIGITISED

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