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Parish Registers

‘Family history would be almost impossible without parish registers’

Parish records are the main source of information for births, marriages and deaths before the introduction of civil registration in 1837. Parish records also have their uses even after the introduction of civil registration.

In 1538 each parish was required to keep a register of baptisms, marriages and burials. The earliest register from the old county of Caernarfon is from Conwy parish and dates from 1541. The earliest register for the county of Meirionnydd is from the parish of Mallwyd, which dates from 1568. The majority of parish records for Gwynedd commence towards the end of the seventeenth century.

You need to have a good idea of where your ancestors came from in order to find information in the parish registers.

Information about the place of birth can be found on the census and can also be worked out from the details given on civil registrations. It pays to be careful, however, as the parish of birth given on the census could have been imprecisely recorded. People often mistook the first home they remembered for the parish of birth.

Information about people who didn’t worship in the established church, be they protestants (known as nonconformists or dissenters) Roman Catholics, Quakers or Jews, may not be found in the registers of the established church. That being said, prior to the early nineteenth century, only a small proportion of Welsh people belonged to a nonconformist denomination. Even in the latter years of the nineteenth century, when Nonconformists proudly proclaimed that Wales was a ‘country of Nonconformists’, most families kept some form of connection with the Anglican Church. Remember that not all Nonconformist chapels were licenced for marriages and that few chapels had burial grounds.

The information you can find in parish registers can vary considerably from parish to parish and from year to year. This often depended on the care and attention of the individual clergyman.

Tip

Remember that the parish records provide you with information about baptism, and not necessarily about the date of birth.

Information about baptism

Standard forms was introduced in England and Wales in 1812 which required that the following information be recorded

  • Date of baptism
  • Child’s Christian name
  • Family name
  • Parents' Christian names
  • Family address
  • Father's occupation
  • Name of person conducting the ceremony

Marriages

Again, the information recorded can vary considerably. Prior to 1754 it was common to record the names of the bride and groom and the date only. It’s useful to know that the names of the fathers of the bride and groom are not usually shown on the marriage record prior to 1837.

Under Hardwicke’s marriage Act (1753) all marriages had to take place within the Anglican church. In effect, only Anglican baptisms and marriages enjoyed legal status until the early nineteenth century. Only Quakers and Jews were exempt from the act, largely because they were credited with keeping accurate records. After the act of 1753, marriages had to be by banns or licence to be legitimate. Banns were called in the parishes of both parties on three successive Sundays prior to the marriage. After 1836 a marriage could be conducted in any licenced building where a registrar was present.

The marriage act of 1753 stated that the following information was compulsory from 1754 onwards:
 

  • Names of bride and groom
  • Date
  • Place – parish church (or licensed chapel after 1837) in which banns had been called
  • Whether the marriage was by banns or license
  • Signatures of the minister performing the marriage, the bride and groom and two witnesses
  • Marital status of the bride and groom
  • Names of witnesses
  • The current addresses of the bride and groom (from 1 July 1837)
  • The names and occupations of the fathers of the bride and groom (from 1 July 1837)

Informations about burials

Information can vary from parish to parish, but it’s common to find the following information:

  • Full name of the deceased
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Age (from 1866)
  • Cause of death
  • Occupation
  • Name of person conducting the ceremony


 

 

 

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