Accessing Parish Records – FamilySearch

Here is how you can access parish records in FamilySearch. It’s not the same as using the other websites, but not totally dissimilar, either. You do not need to be logged in tofs_1 search (only to view the records) but since membership is free, why not start off by signing in? Not a member? Click “Create your free account” on the landing page.

What is really exciting about using FamilySearch (FS) to look at records online is that FS is the biggest genealogical organization in the world. It has far more records than any of the commercial companies. Starting about 60 years ago, they started collecting images by photographing records (only black and white, unfortunately) and making them available on microfilm through Family History Centers worldwide. Not all organizations gave permission, of course, so there is no blanket coverage, but you may also find records not available at the commercial companies.

Although still currently available in Salt Lake City, the decision has been taken to withdraw the microfilm option. Instead, FamilySearch is in the process of turning those images into digital format and making them available online. So, eventually, all the records held by FS for the United Kingdom will be available to view. Unfortunately, they are not all indexed so you may need to do some old-fashioned searching once you get to the record set.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Go to FamilySearch. At the top of the page you will see a Search option. Hover over the word and select ‘Catalog.’
  • Make sure the option to search by place is selected.
  • I would suggest selecting ‘Any’ under availability. You can select ‘Online’ instead, butfs_2this way your search will show whether FS has films that have not yet been digitized. If you search by county, you will likely get a huge list of results, so try searching for specific place names. Click Search.
  • Look at all of the results. fs_3You will need to open up the drop-downs to see everything that was found.
  • In this case, I will click ‘Bishop’s transcripts for Brimpsfield, 1616-1812.’
  • Towards the bottom of the page, under File/Digital Notes look at the format. Whatfs_4you are looking for is the camera icon. If you can only see a film icon, then the microfilm has not yet been digitized. If that’s the case, make a note, and look again later. The magnifying glass means there is an index.
  • Click the camera icon. If you are not already signed in you will be prompted to do so.

Availability of parish records

Today, I will attempt to give a synopsis of why parish records may have been lost, and also where you may be able to locate those that have survived. For some details, I am indebted to the book Tracing Your Georgian  Ancestors 1714-1837 by John Wintrip. I did say I would explain where you might find the parish records, but I feel it is important for me to explain more about the records first.

With a few exceptions, mostly in urban areas like London, separate baptism, marriage hardwickeand burial registers were not kept.  That is, until 1754, when Hardwicke’s Marriage Act required separate marriage registers to be kept. Most parishes listed the various events separately,  meaning that all the baptisms on a page were in the same place. But if you are unlucky, you will find baptisms, marriages and burials all interspersed on the same page.

Because only minimal information was included, people sometimes had difficulty proving their identity or relationship to another person. biglandAn example would be  trying to establish a right to inherit land or property through a will or intestacy. Perhaps in part prompted by this, Ralph Bigland wrote a book in which he made recommendations for more genealogical information to be included in parish registers. No rules were changed at that time, but in quite a few parishes, the entries in the registers did start to include more information. Some bishops even recommended that course of action. Even so, this improvement was spotty, to say the least, and it would not be until 1813, just 24 years before civil registration began, that rules were introduced requiring this.

George Rose MP introduced a comprehensive bill into Parliament in 1812 which would iron chesthave required genealogical information for all baptisms, marriages and burials. Much to his disappointment, the rules were considerably watered down during the Bill’s passage through Parliament. It is ironic, therefore, that the Act is commonly called Rose’s Act. Even so, from 1813, parishes were required to keep separate registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, and to enter the information in printed forms in a bound volume to be kept in an iron parish chest. Many parishes, though, continued to use the old wooden chests.

By no means all parish records are available. Reasons include simple neglect by those having care of the records, destruction of the churches, especially during air raids in the second world war, fire, and flood. Records may also be missing between 1783 and 1794 because of a stamp duty imposed on every baptism, marriage, and burial entry in the register.

And next time I will talk about how to access the records.