New Catholic data­base launched

The records in­clude lists of Catholics that were com­piled by Par­lia­ment

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - ON THE RECORD -

A new data­base list­ing over a quar­ter of a mil­lion English Ro­man Catholics has been cre­ated by the Catholic Fam­ily His­tory So­ci­ety (CFHS).

The Mar­garet Hig­gins Data­base, com­piled by an Aus­tralian monk, Brother Rory Hig­gins FSC, holds in­dexed records of 275,000 peo­ple liv­ing be­tween 1607 and 1840. The data­base brings to­gether orig­i­nal, printed and pub­lished ma­te­rial for the first time, and was launched at a CFHS sem­i­nar in Lon­don on 7 Oc­to­ber.

Af­ter Angli­can­ism be­came the of­fi­cial reli­gion of Bri­tain dur­ing the Re­for­ma­tion, Catholics faced sur­veil­lance and per­se­cu­tion. At var­i­ous times they were for­bid­den from vot­ing, join­ing the army or stand­ing for Par­lia­ment, and their rights to own prop­erty were severely lim­ited. How­ever, be­tween 1778 and 1829 a se­ries of Ro­man Catholic Re­lief Acts in­tro­duced greater civil rights.

This year marks the 250th an­niver­sary of the sub­mis­sion of the most com­plete records of Catholics in Eng­land, which were cre­ated be­cause of these re­li­gious di­vi­sions.

In 1767 the House of Lords be­gan an en­quiry be­cause the Angli­can bish­ops were ac­cused of not do­ing enough to stop the spread of Catholi­cism. On 22 May the House voted an ad­dress to the king ask­ing that the bish­ops of Eng­land and Wales di­rect their par­ish clergy to “cor­rect and com­plete lists as can be ob­tained of the pa­pists or re­puted pa­pists, dis­tin­guish­ing their parishes, sexes, ages and oc­cu­pa­tions and how long they have been there res­i­dent”.

The clergy took the in­struc­tions to mean that they were also re­quired to in­clude the names of Catholics and sus­pected Catholics in the sub­se­quent records. Over half of the Catholics res­i­dent in Eng­land at the time are thought to be in­cluded in the Re­turns of Pa­pists which were sub­mit­ted to Par­lia­ment. The re­turns from the dio­ce­ses of Ox­ford, Nor­folk, Sal­is­bury and Worces­ter, which were not sent to Par­lia­ment, are also in­cluded in the Mar­garet Hig­gins Data­base.

Pre­vi­ously, in 1745, the gov­ern­ment com­piled a list of Catholics and non-ju­rors (those who re­fused to swear an oath of al­le­giance to the Protes­tant monar­chy) to iden­tify those who might sup­port the Ja­co­bite Up­ris­ing. They are also in the data­base, as are sus­pected Catholics for 1705–6, 1711, 1735 and 1780, and those who took and re­fused to take Oaths of Supremacy, Al­le­giance and Ab­ju­ra­tion. There are also bap­tism, con­fir­ma­tion and mar­riage records, which are par­tic­u­larly use­ful be­cause they of­ten con­tain names of par­ents, sib­lings, god­par­ents, aunts and un­cles, and lists of Easter com­mu­ni­cants and the Rosary Con­fra­ter­nity.

As well as English Catholics, the records cover French, Dutch, Ital­ian, Span­ish, Por­tuguese, Welsh, Scot­tish and Ir­ish Catholics who were liv­ing in Eng­land. Non-Catholics also ap­pear on the records, for in­stance as wit­nesses to mar­riages or wills.

The data­base is search­able by sur­name, first name, oc­cu­pa­tion, age and other de­tails. It will be avail­able to pur­chase for £10+P&P later this year, and will even­tu­ally be pub­lished on­line. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to

catholicfhs.on­line or email cfh­

The data­base holds in­dexed records of 275,000 peo­ple liv­ing be­tween 1607 and 1840

A mob protest­ing the 1778 Ro­man Catholic Re­lief Act, which im­proved the rights of Ro­man Catholics, sets fire to New­gate Prison, Lon­don, in 1780

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