Prior to 1 July 1838, when civil registration of birth, marriages and deaths began in England and Wales, the Church of England was required to record the life events of baptism, marriage and burial. Even if your ancestors were non-conformists, their marriages had to be performed in the established church in order to be legal. Baptisms, marriages and burials were recorded in the Parish Register and a copy called the Bishops Transcript was sent to London every year. When researching your ancestors prior to 1838, try to find the Parish Register (PRs) as this is the original. Bishop Transcripts (BTs) often contain transcription errors. Sometimes the BTs are the only copy that have survived in some parishes.
Take the time to scroll through the microfilm and look at the information before and after the baptisms, marriages and burials in the register. You might be pleasantly surprised.
A good example of what a parish register might contain is found in the register of Stamford Rivers, Essex, England. What a treasure trove of information these records hold.
This Register of St Margret Stanford Rivers begins in the year 1538 being the date of the first public Registrations in England and must be included in the list of parish Registers, of that early date, which have survived to our time. The apparent age of Vol 1 with some other facts induced me to conclude that it was actually the original paper book or Register which was directed to be kept in every parish church. But a closer inspection proved that this could not be the case as the whole of the entries down to about 1583 are in one handwriting which proves almost conclusively that it is the work of one man, and as Chris Atkinson was Rector at the time, we may fairly ascribe it to him and if so it is a memorial of his care and industry in preserving this early part from destruction. We may safely conclude that the old paper book had become much worn and damaged during fifty years service hence the necessity of making a new copy.
Further, the new Rector included all sorts of interesting notes, opinions and tidbits of information in his trancriptions such the Civil War of 1641 and the Restoration, the Great Fire of London, the plague, the change to the Julian calendar.
1641 Outbreak of the Civil War but there is neither mention of this or any other political event throughout the Register
1648/9 Jany Murder of Chas I
1660 The "Restoration"
1665 Third Plague Year. Twelve burials as in 1625. George Minshall son of Sir Richard
1666 The Great Fire of London. The sight must have been awfully grand from Toot Hill but the Rector does not mention it nor anything else of real interest. This parish was certainly not blessed or cursed by chatty Rectors.
I find these comments priceless. Yes, this parish may not have originally had chatty Rectors, but this fellow certainly makes up for it!
Further, lists of Constables, Surveyors, Churchwardens and Overseers were included. This would be of interest if you had a ancestor who held such a position in the parish.
Sometimes information about the lives of the people who lived in the parish were also included in the Register.
1720 An "accidental child" buried. This is very funny and a new way of describing an unpleasant fact. "Bastard" is an awkward word but is good English not withstanding.
1737 John Boltwood was killed by a deer at Waldegrove by which I suppose is meant Navestock Park or Dudbrook. If John had bolted out of the wood sooner he might have saved his life.
Not all parish registers contain such detailed information. Sometimes you are lucky just to find the baptism, marriage or burial of your ancestors. Nonetheless, I encourage you to take a peek at the parish registers; you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
Copyright by Kathryn Lake, 2008-2010.