Early baptism registers can vary significantly in the information provided. The usual form only records the name of the baptised and the date of baptism, but simpler forms do exist for example:
“1588 June 9th The childe of a poore vagrant woman bapt”
((Broughton-under-Blean) Bradbrook, W, The Parish Register, 1910, page 26)
“1556 Jan 27th A child of Robert Welshe bapt”
((Bruton) Bradbrook, W, The Parish Register, 1910, page 26)
Later registers are more likely to include the name of the father (and even later the mother) and the sex of the child for example:
“John Deene the sune of Henere Deene bap September 27 (1687)”
(Shere, St James, Surrey, England, Surrey History Centre; Woking, Surrey, England; Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: SHER/1/1 available on Ancestry.co.uk, Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812)
“[born] Feb 11 Charles Son of Mattheas and Sarah Williams March 11 [baptised]”
(St George, Bloomsbury, Camden, Middlesex, England; London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P82/GEO1/003 available on Ancestry.co.uk, London, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812)
In the 16th Century ‘sponsors’ or god parents were sometimes included in the baptism register and in fact in 1555 Carinal Pole ordered that ‘sponsors’ were to be included in every baptism entry however this was infrequently obeyed and thus disregarded after only a few years.
During these early years, because the book/register was to be completed on a Sunday, it is not difficult to understand how some incumbents may have forgotten names leaving blanks, or forgot an event completely thus there may be missing entries.
Over the years, often due to the need to be able to distinguish individuals with the same name, the occupation of the father or residence of the parents may be provided. There are also rare examples of baptism entries mentioning three generations of a family such as
“1640. Jan 5th. John S. of Jo. Hutcheson wch was ye sonne of Richard Hutcheson & Elizab. his wife
((Bishop Middleham) Bradbrook, W, The Parish Register, 1910, page 28)
The baptism register will also record if a child was “half baptised” or “privately baptised”. This often occurred where midwives were permitted to baptise babies at risk of dying before a clergyman was available. Such baptisms occasionally include mistakes as to the sex of the child where the child was baptised in haste following the birth for fear of its imminent death. For this reason, many such baptisms do not include the name of the child but refer to the child as “Creatura Christi”, essentially meaning “child of god”.
It was also the case that during the civil war period, many children were not baptised and the baptism registers are therefore full of adult baptisms in the years following 1660.
Following the Act for Tax on Marriages, Births and Burials 1694, because paupers were exempt from paying a fee, there was a noticeable increase in the baptism registers of paupers being baptised. However, there were also many children not registered or baptised as many parents wished to avoid paying the required fee, hence the reason for the further enforcement in 1696 for the registration of births.
It may be that there was an increase in baptisms following the end of the imposition of these taxes with the baptism of those children whose parents had wished to avoid paying the 2s fee.
There would usually be some comment in the baptism register if the child was illegitimate with descriptions such as ‘base-born’, ‘illegitimate’ and ‘bastard’. It was more common to find the mothers name than a father’s name in these circumstances although sometimes the fathers name may be included or may be included discreetly, in that the fathers name may be used as a middle name for the child.
If there was anything unusual about the baptism, the incumbent may include those details in the baptism register, for example where there was choir present at the ceremony
“May 26 Baptized Mrs Alice, daughter of Sir Robt. Eatan, Secretary to King Charles I. The Quire attended: the boys had £3, 16s. 8d”
(Cox, J. C., The Parish Registers of England, 1910, page 47)
or where noble men stood as ‘sponsors’ for a ‘commoners’ son “1638 May 12. John, sonne of Edwarde and Cisley Davies, of Albrighton, sawier, was baptized the 12th of May, being Whitsunday even. Sir John Corbett Knight barronett, and his kinsman Mr Thomas Riton coming from London accidentally being ye two godfathers who desired to doe good unto a poore man and so baptized his childe”
(Cox, J. C., The Parish Registers of England, 1910, page 55)
Are parish registers found in some parishes across North Yorkshire, East Lancashire and Durham from around 1765 to 1837 developed by William Dade, a Yorkshire Curate. The Archbishop of York ordered that they should be used across his diocese from 1777.
There were no universal changes to baptism or burial registers during this period however from about 1765 Dade Registers, as they became known, began to be used in some parishes in the northern counties of East Lancashire, North Yorkshire and Durham. These were the result of a growing recognition that parish register entries were inadequate and William Dade began more comprehensive parish registers for baptisms and births. Baptism registers included:
• Date of birth
• Date of baptism
• Position of the child in the family
• Occupation of father
• Place of origin of father and mother
• Often details of the grandfather (provide details of three generations)
Thus such registers record more information than other registers of the period. In particular baptism registers can be full of genealogical information such as mother’s maiden name in baptism registers; parentage of both the father and mother of the child being baptised (thus providing details of three generations of the family) along with their occupations, place of birth or residence; the child’s date of birth as well as the date of baptism; the position of the child in the family.
A burial entry often may record an age; cause of death; occupation; information on parentage of children; for a married woman, the name of her husband may be given.
The use of such registers however was somewhat haphazard and many clergymen, particularly in more populated areas, resented the extra work involved in making these lengthy entries. The thought of duplicating them for the Bishop’s Transcripts put many of them off and some refused to follow the new rule, so when the Archbishop indicated there was no punishment for vicars who failed to comply the scheme began to flounder.
The next significant change to parish registers came in 1812 when Rose’s Act was introduced. From 1813 separate parish registers where to be printed and bound in a standard form for baptisms, marriages and burials. Of course separate marriage registers were already in existence and the Act concentrated on baptism and burial registers.
Bishops’ transcripts continued, with the Act ordering that copies of the entries be sent to the registrars of each diocese each year with existing ‘old style’ parish registers to be sent to the Bishop of each diocese.
Rose’s original proposals were more detailed than the final Act which was ‘watered down’ by “the more conservative elements of Parliament”. Rose had included allowing non-conformists to send their registers to clergymen.
The Act was badly drafted, particularly in relation to penalties for those making false entries or altering or damaging or destroying registers. The Act states that anyone who informed of such acts should receive half of the fine or penalty imposed (with the poor of the parish or other charitable purpose as the Bishop chose, receiving the other half), yet the Act did not provide for any fine being imposed, the only penalty was fourteen years transportation!
Because the registers were now in standard form providing sections for the information required, there was little or no space for extra information which may previously have been found in parish registers (as discussed earlier). However the standard form has the advantage that in many parishes more information (particularly that which is of use to the genealogist) had to be provided than had previously been the case.
Baptism registers were now set out in columns, with a column for each of the following:
- Forename of Child
- Forename and surname of parents
- Where the family lived (usually only the village in rural areas whereas the street name may be provided in a town)
- Occupation of the father
- Name of the officiating clergy
Dates of birth were sometimes entered by the most diligent incumbents and particularly if there were multiple baptisms in a family simultaneously to show that the children were of different ages, or possibly to show they were the same age and thus twins.
An illegitimate child’s baptism record most often only includes the name of the mother, but may include the name of the alleged father.
Parish registers did not ‘die out’ with the introduction of civil registration in 1836, and Rose-style registers are still used today for baptism and burial registers although are no longer the “official” records of a person’s existence, those now being the birth and death records introduced by the General Registration Act 1836 and maintained by the Registrar General. Baptism and burial records have therefore largely remained unchanged since 1812.
As a consequence of this, Bishops Transcripts ceased with the introduction of civil registration, in that clergy were no longer required to send copies of parish records to the bishop of the diocese, although some did continue until into the 20th century.
Where are parish registers now? Under the Parochial Register and Records Act 1978 (which came into force in 1979) clergy were encouraged to transfer their parish registers to the county records office for safe storage. Where clergy did not wish to do so, strict conditions were set for their safe storage.
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