Parish records, primarily baptisms, marriages, and burials, are the best source of vital record information before the nineteenth century. Before Civil Registration began in 1837 key events in a person’s life were typically records by the Church rather than the State. Starting in the sixteenth century, parish records are some of the longest running records available.
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There are two major types of indexes represented here. Those collections that include a keyword like "Extracted" in the title are usually taken from compilations or indexes created by an individual or society and copied here. Because the records were originally compiled by a third party, it is difficult to absolutely verify the completeness and validity of the data. The information in this collection is as correct as it was when Ancestry received it, and has merely been reproduced in an electronic format.
Other collections have been keyed from original records and can contain many of the same spelling inconsistencies as described above. However, these collections also include a link to an image of either the original document or the microfilmed version of that document. Always check the original to verify accuracy of the transcription and to see if there is any additional information.
How were the records kept?
Some of the records may be in Latin or even a Welsh or Scottish dialect depending on location and time period. The individual files in this database may not include all dates and records for each parish/church. Use caution in assuming that any database is a complete set of records--even for the parishes and time period listed. Due to the legibility of the original sources, there may be gaps in the records, including partial sentences, cut-off words, and other omissions.
Since their beginning several laws were enacted over the course of time that changed the ways that records were kept.
Some key dates include:
- 1538 - A mandate is issued requiring that every parish was to keep a register. Many parishes ignored this order. Only about 800 registers exist from this time period.
- 1643-1659 - Registers were poorly kept during the English Civil War and the Commonwealth period which followed, or abandoned altogether.
- 1733 - The use of Latin in registers is prohibited.
- 1751 - Calendar reform. Prior to this the year commenced on 25th March, so any register entry for December 1750 would have been followed by January 1750.
- 1754 - Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act. A separate marriage register is enforced which records witnesses, signatures of all parties, occupation of groom and the residences of the couple marrying. It also enforced Banns and made clandestine marriages illegal.
- 1763 - Minimum age for marriage set at 16 (previously the Church accepted marriage of girls of 12 and boys of 14). Those under 21 still needed the consent of parents. On marriage records individuals that are over 21 often have their age listed as "full age" rather than an exact year.
- 1812 - George Rose’s Act. New pre-printed registers were to be used for separate baptism, marriage and burial registers as a way of standardizing records.