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Beginning Your Family History

Part Three: Church Records

User Avatar Penelope Lovesy 07/05/2020 17:17:25

Did you have any success searching for births, marriages and deaths? Hopefully you were able to add some names, dates and locations to your family tree and gain some confidence searching. Now it’s time to discover how to find ancestors before 1837 and add more information to the names and dates you found after 1837.

Church records, also known as Parish records, are a way to discover the great “life events” of your ancestors before civil registration became compulsory in 1837. They are also invaluable for expanding the information uncovered through the Births, Marriages, and Deaths index.

In 1538, Thomas Cromwell, Vicar General to King Henry VIII, ordered that all baptisms, marriages and burials should be recorded in every parish. Records are scarce for the 1500s but have been kept since then. Dorset History Centre has produced an excellent guide to Parish Records and what you can expect to find in them. Click the link and then open Guide to Parish Records: https://www.dorsetcouncil.gov.uk/libraries-history-culture/dorset-history-centre/collections/parish-registers.aspx

There are several free online resources where you can find transcriptions of Parish Records and sometimes the original images. Coverage differs over the country, depending on whether the registers have been transcribed and or digitised. This website shows a list of the registers you can search through – The Genealogist: https://parishregister.co.uk/online/

It offers a simple search form: https://parishregister.co.uk/search/ and you can achieve a list of results. I tried searching for my great grandmother, Annie Buttrick, born 1910. I found that she was baptised in The West Riding of Yorkshire in 1910 and that her middle name was Lilian, however, I would have to subscribe to find any more information.

One website which I regularly use is Family Search: https://www.familysearch.org/en/ You do have to create an account but this is quick and free. See below for how they describe their approach:

About Family Search

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the primary benefactor for FamilySearch services. Our commitment to helping people connect with their ancestors is rooted in our beliefs—that families are meant to be central to our lives and that family relationships are intended to continue beyond this life. We hold that all family members—those living, those past, and those future—share an enduring bond that reaches across the generations. To us this means that families are forever, and an important part of acting on this belief is doing family history.”  Because of this belief, the Church has worked for years with partners to make records freely available online. Find out more here: https://www.familysearch.org/en/home/about

From the homepage of FamilySearch I selected Search and Records, next I conducted a search for the baptism of Dora Grace Wilson. 

  • I entered her name - Dora Grace Wilson.
  • Birthplace - Poole.
  • Birth year - 1895.
  • Restrict records by country - England (this is important as the records are worldwide)

The results showed me a transcription of her baptism, on 1st Sept. 1895 and, better still, allowed me to look at the page in the baptism register. This gave me a piece of extra information, her father’s occupation. I can now add to this family tree the fact that John Henry Wilson was a bricklayer. Try this search yourself for practice.

Have a go and search for your ancestors on FamilySearch. Remember the records are vast but not comprehensive. You may not always be successful.

There are subscription sites which contain a huge amount of family history resources. One of these, Ancestry, can often be accessed for free through your local library. During lockdown some libraries are making the website free to library members in their homes. If you are a member of BCP Libraries and login to LibrariesWest you will be able to click on the Ancestry link. (We will have a look at subscription sites in a future blog.) If you are not local to the Poole area it is worth checking your local library’s website as they may offer something similar.

If you can log on to Ancestry you will find that some parish records are available to search. From the homepage:

  • Click on search (the search on the top bar).
  • Scroll down to by location.
  • Select England.
  • Click see more about England.
  • On the right-hand side of the page you will see a list of counties. I selected Dorset, to see if I could find any more Parish Records for the Wilsons.

I wanted to find the wedding record for Dora’s parents. 

Recreate this search to practice using the website.

  • From the list of counties select Dorset.
  • Select Dorset, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1921.
  • Name - Sarah Vallance.
  • Location - Poole.
  • Click Search.
  • View the top record.
  • Click on the image to view the original Parish Record.

Here you can see the record from the St. Peter’s Parkstone register. This gives you as much information as the marriage certificate. You can see ages, addresses, fathers’ names, occupations and witnesses.

This is fantastic and adds lots of extra context to the names and dates on the family tree. Here you can see that John’s father has an unusual middle name- it looks like Tyril. 

If you cannot access Ancestry, the marriage record is the image accompanying this post.

Have a go at searching for your own ancestors.

The final online resource to mention is Online Parish Clerks. Volunteers transcribe local Parish Records and make them available online. Here is a list of Online Parish Clerks: https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/OPC

I will show you an example using the Dorset Online Parish Clerks: http://www.opcdorset.org/

I wondered if I could find the baptism of John Henry Wilson, Dora’s father.

  • Click on Parkstone – this initial page describes the Parish and lists the resources that you can look at. Luckily, I can access St. Peter’s baptisms 1847-1877.
  • Select St. Peter’s baptisms 1847-1877.
  • Scroll down and look for Wilson.
  • In 1862 is the entry: 9 Mar Henry John son of John Turle & Mary Ann WILSON of Parkstone – Bricklayer I think this is very likely to be him as the father’s middle name Turle is very close to the tricky middle name on the marriage record, which looked like Tyril but could have been spelt as it sounded and Tyril and Turle are very similar. The marriage record also shows that one of the witnesses has the middle name Turle.

We have explored a selection of websites which can be useful for accessing parish records. Have a go, search and add more people and information to your tree. Let us know how it goes and if you have any questions please get in touch localhistory@bcpcouncil.gov.uk

Next time we will learn all about my favourite family history resource - The Census.


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