There are terms in this document (Parish/Parish Church, Banns/Licence, Established Church, Rect.[or]) that aren't familiar to everyone in a genealogical context (even in the English speaking world)

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How best to explain them to somebody encountering the intricacies of the Anglican Church for the first time?

  • I had to explain them yesterday in an email to an American Jewish cousin, but would like to know how it could have been done better -- and to have a place to point future enquirers.
    – user104
    Apr 27, 2015 at 10:47
  • I think it would help to show how you tried to explain them to your cousin included in your question. A potential answerer seeing confusing places in your explanation may have ideas for re-phrasing and/or reference suggestions triggered.
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 27, 2015 at 21:13
  • For Banns, this Q&A looks useful: genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/162/… - perhaps in time the best explanation might be a series of G&FH SE links.
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 27, 2015 at 21:26
  • @PolyGeo I'd rather save my answer to do a self-answer in a couple of weeks time if necessary -- I really want to see other complete answers in preference.
    – user104
    Apr 28, 2015 at 6:46
  • Another thought is whether this question may be better asked as several questions e.g. What is difference between Parish and Parish Church? What are Marriage Banns? What are Marriage Licensing options? What is Established Church? What is a Rector? - all in relation to this document and the Church of England at that time. I think this may be an opportunity to help our beta stats and involve more potential answerers who may not have answers to all the questions currently included in this one.
    – PolyGeo
    Apr 28, 2015 at 7:26

1 Answer 1


Great question. Anglican Church structure is ancient and bewildering. A lot is shared with Catholic structure. It's important for genealogists because many personal records (birth, death, marriage) were kept by the parish church and not the state prior to the 19th C, unless legal actions (land, tax, crime) were involved.

Parish is geographical territory, like a county but smaller. Each parish has a Rector, who may be assisted by a Curate. The parish has a church and graveyard. The rector and curate (and possibly a deacon) do the marrying and baptizing and burying, and write it all down in the parish register.

Parish records may or may not get recorded in central locations, such as a Diocese (CEO is a bishop, assisted by archdeacons).

Genealogists must be careful with terminology. Baptism is not the same as birth. Burial is not the same as death. Marriage banns were read from the pulpit several weeks prior to the wedding, to flush out any potential objectors to the proposed union. A special license, a beloved device of regency romance writers, was granted by the bishop as a runaround of the banns.

The Anglican Church is the Established Church in England. Anyone wishing to hold public office had to join, whether Scottish Presbyterians, West County Methodists, Old line Catholics, or Jewish. This is a big deal for U.S. readers of English novels and history to grasp, institutionalize do discrimination by religion. For the genealogist, the religion of your family will be a key to finding early records.

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