Thursday, July 7, 2011

Parish Registers

In September, 1538, Henry VIII issued an order to every parish priest. Each parish priest was to start keeping a record of all wedding, christening and burials held in that parish. Each parish was to supply their own register, and could choose their own format in organizing the records. All entries from this point were to be make in Latin, and Welsh was banned from any official record. The Welsh language could be found in place-names, personal names, and occasionally in marginal notes.

For the genealogist, it is important to recognize that the usual dates recorded in these records include the "date of baptism" not birth, the "date of burial", not death, and the "date of marriage".

A detailed account leading up to these ancient parish registers can be found in a text, "Key to The Ancient Parish Registers of England & Wales", by Arthur Meredyth Burke. He describes the social and political response of the times, including of course the worry that this would only serve as a means to "tax" the churches.

What this requirement did do is produce a large number of "clandestine marriages". This is where those who did not agree with the new church organization, or authority, sought marriage outside the parish church. The "nonconformists" they were called. Roman Catholics ("Popery"), Quakers, Jews, Methodists, and other "dissenters" would not count their marriage acceptable under this Church of England. For the genealogist, this will mean that many of these parish records may not record a marriage, even though the family records state one occurred. This may also mean that your family may have been a member of one of these "nonconformists" groups. Certainly, many of these groups came to the shores of the colonies.

The main reference is:

Burke, A.M., Key To The Ancient Parish Registers of England & Wales, Clearfield Co.,Baltimore, MD, 1989. [First published London, 1908, reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1962.]

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