Before civil registration religious records such as Parish Records are the main source of information on key events in people’s lives such as marriages and deaths.
6.1 Parish Records
In 1538 the Anglican Church began keeping records of baptisms, marriages and burials for England and Wales, and in 1634 in Ireland. However many of the earliest registers did not survive. In Scotland the pre-reformation Catholic Church began keeping baptism and marriage registers from 1553 (when the earliest surviving registers begin) and these became more widespread, with registers of burials, under the reformed Church of Scotland after 1560.
The information you can find in parish registers is very variable. Names may have been spelled phonetically and entries prior to 1733, when English became the official language, might have been written in Latin.
6.2 Bishops Transcripts
These are copies of the Parish Registers, made in the parish in the same year as the original parish register entries. Under an Order made in 1598 it was stipulated that within one month of Easter each year, the churchwardens were to send to the Diocesan Registry (that is, to the Bishop) a copy of all the register entries for the preceding year. Note that these copies may not be an exact copy of a register entry. Some transcripts were made first, and copied up into the register before being sent to the bishop, and some do not contain all the information found in the register, while some contain more.
Bishops transcripts are useful in cases where a parish register is missing, or where there are gaps or difficulties in reading existing ones. These transcripts are now stored in the Diocesan Record Office. This is usually, but not always, the County Record Office. If a diocese includes more than one county, the transcripts for that diocese may be split by archdeaconry, and stored in the relevant County Record Office, instead of together as a complete group with all the other diocesan records.
6.3 Nonconformist Records
Nonconformists were those who did not conform – in other words, did not belong to the established church. They were, for example, in England and Wales; Baptists, Presbyterians or Methodists. In Scotland, they would include those outside the Church of Scotland, such as Episcopalians (after 1690), and members of the Free, or United Presbyterian churches.
After civil registration started in 1837, two Parliamentary commissions were set up to collect registers of chapels outside the Established Church. Most Protestant nonconformists complied with the Act, but many Roman Catholic churches withheld their records, and the Jews did not send in any records.
The National Archives Easysearch: (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/familyhistory/bmd/step1.htm) can help you find out what records are available in The National Archives.
Some Protestant Nonconformist and Roman Catholic registers and other records are described in the A2A database – a good way to look for these is to search A2A http://www.a2a.org.uk/search/index.asp) on the name of the place where a chapel or church was located.
The National Library of Wales holds a database, Capeli-Chapels, listing the availability and location of Nonconformist registers of Wales. See the National Library of Wales (http://www.llgc.org.uk/ht/ht_s009.htm ) for more details.
6.3.1 Roman Catholic registers
After civil registration started in 1837, two Parliamentary commissions were set up to collect registers of chapels outside the Established Church. Many Roman Catholic churches withheld their records.
The National Archives Easysearch (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/familyhistory/bmd/step1.htm) can help you find out what records are available in The National Archives.
Some Roman Catholic registers and other records are described in the A2A database – a good way to look for these is to search A2A (http://www.a2a.org.uk/search/index.asp) on the name of the place where a chapel or church was located.
At present the National Library of Wales (http://www.llgc.org.uk/ht/ht_s004.htm) holds some Roman Catholic registers.
6.3.2 Jewish records
After civil registration started in 1837, two Parliamentary commissions were set up to collect registers of places of worship outside the Established Church. Most Jewish communities refused to submit their registers.
Most are still held by synagogues, Jewish institutions or Jewish burial societies. The London Metropolitan Archive (LMA) holds some records from the Federation Synagogues. For information on how to visit the London Metropolitan Archives see the LMA page on the Historical Manuscripts Commission website (http://www.hmc.gov.uk/archon/searches/locresult.asp?LR=74).
You can also find records by using the National Register of Archives (http://www.hmc.gov.uk/nra/searches/subcomq.asp) which is maintained by the Historical Manuscripts Commission. The National Register of Archives contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history.