UK Parish Records

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What's all this?

This is a work very much just in progress. The aim is to provide information about parish records in the UK, what they are, how to search them and to give a breakdown, county by county, of websites providing free access to transcriptions of these records.

All contributions are gratefully received, but it would help if they could be broadly in line with these objectives.

A brief history

The present system of civil registration of births, marriages and deaths in the UK began when Acts of Parliament came in to force in 1837. Before then such records had been kept by the church, with each one keeping its own parish records. These registers are an invaluable source for researchers today.

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Although time has taken is toll and many of the records have been lost or damaged there are still many other which date back as far as 5 September 1538, when Thomas Cromwell, the Lord Privy Seal and the king's viceregent, ordered that every parson, vicar or curate enter in a book every wedding, christening and burial in his parish, with the names of the parties. The entries were to be made each Sunday after the service, in the presence of one of the churchwardens.

These earliest registers were generally made of paper, sometimes even loose sheets. On 25 October 1597 a provincial constitution of Canterbury, approved by the Queen in 1598, ordered that parchment registers should be purchased by each parish, and that all names from the earlier registers should be copied therein.

The records can contain an absolute wealth of information about various members of the family involved, frequently with comment by whoever was responsible for writing the registers.

How do I get at this information?

UK parish records sample.jpg
Well before the arrival on the scene of computers and dedicated individuals began transcribing these records for their own benefit and to aid other researchers. Many of these transcriptions have now been placed on the internet and can be access via dedicated free site or via individual websites. The aim of this pages is to build a comprehensive list of those websites.

A word of warning

Please bear in mind that these sites are transcriptions of the original register, they can and do contain errors. Some of the earlier records were written in Latin, many entries are difficult to read and well all make mistakes in copying. Some of the transcripts are themselves taken from Bishop's Transcripts. Once a year abbreviated copies of all records had to be made and sent to the bishop for the diocese. So we are now looking at two sets of transcriptions for these records and double the opportunity to make mistakes. Transcriptions should be used as a pointer to the original records which should be consulted whenever possible.

Where do I find the original records?

The original registers are generally, but not always, held by the county council for whichever county includes the church which created the records. Most county councils publish online lists of the parishes and dates for which they hold records. Most of these records have now been filmed and can be consulted at the county council offices on microfiche or computer. Some councils insist you make an appointment in advance, others are quite happy for you to just turn up during office hours. However, you are advised to check with the council before setting off on any journey. Trawling through records can take a considerable time so, if possible, go armed with information (particularly dates) from transcripts you've discovered online. Random 'fishing trips' are seldom fruitful.

For where are transcripts available?

This very much depends on two factors... whether anyone has bothered to transcribe and make available the records and the policy of the county council towards making the information available. Many council refuse to release the information for transcription, often hiding behind mistake copyright restrictions. Others are much more enlightened. Somerset, for example, allows the transcription and posting on the web of its records provided they are made freely available to all. No charge may be made for access to the information.

So far the following counties have records added, click on the country name to view them:










A little extra help

There is a growing Online Parish Clerks movement which can provide help to researchers. These volunteer OPCs and their websites either provide access to transcribed records, or in many cases hold copies of the registers and are able to provided a look-up service. Please remember these people are volunteers and the service is free. Be as specific as possible and keep you requests to a minimum. More details on OPCs.