In Evidence Explained on page 35-36, Elizabeth Shown Mills talks about the analysis of public records, e.g. events which are recorded in register books. She gives an an example a church register book which appears to be an original, but might be an administrative copy. One of the clues might be that the book is all in the same penmanship where we might expect a variation in handwriting. Another is that records from an earlier date may have been copied into a form book that was not available at the time the events took place.

Are the entries recorded in a form-type book for a period in which such books were not the rule? Preprinted registers discreetly carry printing dates that may reveal their creation long after the original events occurred.

How much is known about the form books for parish registers that are used for recording baptisms, births, and deaths in England and Wales? When did they come into widespread use? Is there evidence on the pages themselves that might provide clues about when the book itself was printed? Are there different styles, and if so, how many exist?

(I have image copies of parish register pages from Devon, but I did not scroll back to the beginning of the books while I had access to the collection on Find My Past.)

2 Answers 2

  1. Baptisms and burials moved to pre-printed books in 1813 as a result of Rose's "Act for better regulating and preserving Parish and other Registers of Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials in England [28th June 1812]" of 1812

  2. Marriages had been pre-printed from 1754, as a result of Hardwicke's "Act for the better preventing of clandestine Marriages. (1753)"

About June 1837 (it's probably not wise to be precise about these dates) the format of the marriage form changed again when Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths came in. The old page had multiple entries in "portrait" form - the new was two entries in height and more like landscape. The same form was used whether the marriage took place in a (civil) registrar's office or a church / chapel and under the English & Welsh system, the religious ceremony included the civil element so there was no separate civil registration of a marriage.

There are variants of the 1754-1837 marriage form - some have room for the banns but I have never tried to date them. So far as I know those variants were not legislation driven, so old books continued until filled up.

There are also pre-printed baptism registers pre-1813 - however, their use is intermittent. For instance, the Stamp Act of 1783 (repealed 1794) granted to the Crown a stamp duty of threepence per entry in parish registers, 10% being allowed to the minister who collected the duty. So one of my local chapels (Haslington) used a printed and stamped format over that period - however, it's the only one known to do so in Cheshire.

Bishop's Transcripts seem a law unto themselves - some are plain paper at a time when the registers are printed, some use the same format. Diocesan preferences may apply.

The front pages of the registers should give printing details - however, FindMypast seem poor at including these extra pages whereas Ancestry often do.

Ah - major warning - the above applies to the Church of England (and Wales). Non-conformist registers will be totally different....

Thanks to Guy Etchells for the copies of the Acts.

  • Boy, that's quick, Adrian! You beat me to it AND gave a much better answer (no surprise there).
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 23:11
  • 1
    As an incidental, holding physical copies of PRs is a very rare experience given that the vast majority in record offices have been microfilmed. I once held a post-1813 baptism register in Gloucester Record Office - and was surprised how big the thing was. In default of experience, my automatic and unconsidered impression was they must be about the size of my computer screen (told you it wasn't thought thru). In fact they are quite tall - more like A3 than A4 (if that means anything to you).
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 9:58
  • I have the most experience with A4; for anything else I have to look them up. Still, a useful reference.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 15:40
  • For others in the USA: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_size -- A3 is 297 × 420 mm or (rounded) 11.69 × 16.54 inches.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 15:48
  • Re: Adrian's comments on the size of the registers -- FindMyPast has a channel on YouTube, and if they are introducing a new record collection, they may show a bit of the process of the records being scanned, so you can get a good look at the size of the original records.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 19:53

Family Search Research Wiki: Church of England Parish Registers says:

Baptisms (christenings), marriages, and burials

These events were recorded on blank pages in a bound register. The events of baptism, marriage, and burial were all recorded in one volume until 1754, when a law required that marriages be recorded in a separate book. Banns, or proclamations of “an intent” to marry, were recorded in yet another book. Starting in 1812, preprinted registers were introduced, and from then on, separate registers were kept for baptisms, marriages, and burials.

The Research Wiki refers the reader to the Wikipedia article Parish register for more information.

A more extensive timeline can be found in the Family Search Research Wiki's article History of Parish Registers in England.

A transcript of Rose's Act can be found on RootsWeb: A transcript of the 1812 Act for the regulating and preserving Parish and other Registers in England with the required forms appended at the end.

Examples of register books from different periods can be found at the FamilySearch Research Wiki article Jamaica Church of England Parish Register Transcripts (FamilySearch Historical Records).

The Society of Genealogists has a downloadable guide: Guide Five: Anglican Parish Registers and their Finding Aids.

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