The Genealogist’s Internet

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7. Church Records

Parish churches


Other free collections

Local resources

Commercial data services



The Roman Catholic Church

Nonconformist churches

Municipal burials and cremations

Monumental inscriptions

Before the introduction of General Registration in 1837, church records of baptisms, marriages and burials are the primary source for the major events in our ancestors’ lives. Unfortunately, there is very much less data online for parish registers than for the civil registration and census records covered in the previous chapters, and there are good reasons why this should be so.

The national records are centrally held and recorded on forms which ensure that the structure of the data is consistent and very obvious. They all date at the earliest from the 1830s, and they have generally been kept in fairly good conditions. All this makes digitizing and indexing them a manageable, if mammoth, task.

But for parish registers, there is much more variety. First, in England and Wales at least, they are not held centrally, so no one body can be approached to put them online. Second, there is a huge variation in their format and preservation, the more so because they cover the whole period since the sixteenth century. And, third, while most genealogists soon become comfortable with nineteenth-century handwriting, the same cannot be said of the writing in some of the eighteenth-century registers, never mind those from the sixteenth century. Although many parish registers have been transcribed and published in print or typescript, getting the requisite permissions simply to digitize and index these from the hundreds of individuals and groups concerned would be a substantial task. Indeed, the right to transcribe and publish parish register material seems to be legally unclear, with some clergy refusing to allow transcription. All this conspires to make the prospect of a comprehensive collection of online parish registers for England and Wales much more distant than it is for civil registration. Nevertheless, a growing body of data is available in online indexes, as well as information that will help you to identify what parish registers remain. One welcome development is that there are an increasing number of digital images of parish registers available online. But you will not be able to do all your parish register research online — a visit to record offices will remain essential.

If you are unfamiliar with parish registers, British-Genealogy has a useful set of pages on English Parish Registers at <>. These describe the information given for baptism, marriage, and burial entries at different periods and have some examples of original documents. The tutorials discussed in Chapter 2 will also have information on using parish registers. For help with the handwriting found in older registers, refer to the material on p. 289ff.

Parish churches

The most important church records, in earlier times even for Roman Catholic or Nonconformist families, are those of the Established Church. The easiest way to identify which church is most likely to have baptized, married or buried your ancestors, is Genuki’s Church Database at <> described on p. 256. The Church of England’s A Church Near You site at <> will find the nearest present-day CofE churches to a given location, shown in Figure 7-1. There is a marker for each church, with a key to the right — clicking on either brings up a brief statement about the church. Notice that the map also shows the parish boundaries.


Figure 7-1: A Church Near You: Wombourne, Staffordshire

The UK Church directory at <> provides similar facilities for the whole of the British Isles (including the Republic of Ireland) and includes other denominations, though the information about some of the churches is minimal and it is not always obvious which is the main CofE parish church.

The official websites for the Anglican churches of the British Isles also have details of their individual churches, though naturally they are orientated towards the present-day parishes. The relevant sites are:

Many individuals have placed pictures of parish churches online, and these are discussed under ‘Photographs’ on p. 306.


The major online resource for all UK parish records is the FamilySearch site at <>, discussed on p. 41ff.

When searching for parish records, either you can search one of the newer collections from the FamilySearch Indexing project, each of which covers a particular type of record for an individual city, diocese or county, or you can search one of the older collections covering a whole country. The newer collections should always be used for preference as they are likely to be more accurate, but even for the places covered, some records are provided at present solely in the form of digital images of the original documents. As of March 2012, there are indexes for Bristol, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Dorset, Essex, and Warwickshire. There are images only and no indexes for Cornwall, the Diocese of Durham, Lancashire, Norfolk, and Yorkshire.

While the new material will be preferable, given that the FamilySearch Indexing project still has a long way to go, you will still be reliant largely on the material that was on the old FamilySearch site. On the new site this is presented in the form of ‘national’ collections of births/baptism, marriages and death/burials for England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and Great Britain. These records are mostly from the IGI (see p. 42), ‘controlled extractions’ from the original parish registers, which are mostly for baptisms, with some marriages and a few burials.

Figure 7-2 shows the start of the results for a search on a name and county in the England Births and Christenings records (the search terms are shown in bold above the results table).


Figure 7-2: FamilySearch search results in England Births and Christenings

You can see more details of each entry either by clicking on the arrow at the top right of each record, which expands the record on the same screen (as in Figure 6-2), or by clicking on the name, which opens up a new window (Figure 7-3).

You can see all the records for a particular place by doing a search with the name fields left blank, selecting ‘Any’ from the ‘Add a Life Event’ filter and putting a place-name in the ‘Any’ field. The place-name needs to be spelt exactly as in the records, though you can use the asterisk as a wildcard to represent any characters.

As mentioned in Chapter 4, the new FamilySearch site does not so far provide any way of downloading data. But if you are using the older collections, you can simply repeat a search on the old site at <>, which does have a download facility: from a list of search results, you can select an individual record or a group of records to download in GEDCOM format (see p. 357), ready to be imported into your genealogy database.


Figure 7-3: An individual record in FamilySearch

Batch numbers

Although the default search of these national record sets is the whole country, you can, as discussed, narrow it down by adding a filter which includes a county or place-name. Likewise in the recently indexed county record sets.

But if you are using the older records from the IGI there is an easy way to see other records from the same source. Each set of transcriptions for a particular parish has a ‘batch number’ and when you look at an individual record (either by clicking on the person’s name, which opens a new page, or by clicking on the down-arrow to the right (which just expands the entry on the same page) this batch number is cited. On the individual page (Figure 7-3) the batch number is a link, and clicking on it will bring up a list of all the other entries. With the ‘source film number’, incidentally, you can go to a Family History Center and view the microfilm of the original parish register. Each batch is generally for an individual physical volume of the registers, so there are separate batches for baptisms and marriages where a parish kept these in separate books. The batch numbers also provide a handy way to discover exactly which records are in the batch, information which is not provided anywhere on the FamilySearch site itself — a search on the batch number with name fields blank will retrieve all the records in the batch.

A very useful tool for exploiting batch numbers is Hugh Wallis’s ‘IGI Batch Numbers — British Isles and North America’ site at <>. This gives for each county a list of parishes and the batch number for that parish, with details of the type of records covered and the dates. Less well-known but more comprehensive and up-to-date is Steve Archer’s ‘FamilySearch: a Guide to the British batches’ at <>, which also has the advantage of indicating how many entries there are in a batch. Both of these sites provide links which initiate a search on the relevant batch number in the Historical Records Collection at FamilySearch, and you can leave the surname field blank to get a complete listing of the entries.

You can also find batch numbers by doing a ‘Place Search’ in the Family History Library Catalogue and looking at the ‘Title Details’, as explained on p. 221. Genuki has step-by-step instructions on how to do this at <>.

The Global Gazette has a detailed article by Fawne Stratford-Devai, ‘The LDS FamilySearch Website: Using The Batch Numbers’, at <>, which explains what the batch numbers are and how to use them. It also provides links to batch number information for a number of countries.

Bear in mind that the batch number information on these sites is unofficial, and should not be regarded as authoritative. Also note that for many parishes there will be more than one batch number.

Other free collections

FreeReg at <> is another volunteer project, like FreeBMD and FreeCEN, which aims to put UK genealogy data online ‘to provide free internet searches of baptism, marriage, and burial records, which have been transcribed from parish and Nonconformist church registers in the UK’. At the beginning of 2012, the project had over 18 million records, around half of which are marriages. Of course, this is only a tiny percentage of the likely total number of records, but even so it will be worth checking. The ‘Counties and Parishes’ page shows the date of the earliest registers for each parish and the years which have been covered.

UK Genealogy Archives have digitized a large number of printed parish register transcriptions, all linked from <>. These include Phillimore’s marriages for over 500 parishes. Coverage is very variable with much for some counties (Lancashire, Somerset, Wiltshire) but little or nothing for others (Hertfordshire, Kent). The site does not provide an index, though some of the individual volumes do.

Local resources

Many local family history societies have created indexes to parish records for their own county or area, and a number of these are being made available via the commercial data services, discussed in the next section. But there are also projects by record offices and volunteer groups to put church records online, either as indexes or as images of the original registers.

Kent seems to be doing particularly well in this regard. Medway’s CityArk project includes images of parish registers from the Diocese of Rochester. The CityArk home page is at <> and the link to ‘Parish Registers Online’ will take you to the records. There is no single link to the image database; instead, at the bottom of this long page, is a list of parishes with a link for each. You then just page through the collection of images in search of the entry you want, exactly as you would do with microfilm. The images themselves are rather large and you may want to use your browser’s zoom-out facility (Figure 7-4).


Figure 7-4: Medway’s CityArk: a page from a marriage register (1809)

Alongside this, there are single-parish projects for two Kent villages. The Woodchurch Ancestry Group have a free index to the registers for the parish of Woodchurch at <>, with full transcriptions of the individual entries, including names of witnesses. The entries go up to the 1980s. And Penshurst has put images of all its registers up to 1812 online on the village website at <>.

Essex Ancestors is a subscription service from Essex Record Office at <> which includes images of the county’s parish registers. The site provides detailed information about the records, sufficient to enable you to identify the right image for a particular parish and date, but the records themselves are not indexed. Subscriptions range from £5 for 24 hours up to £75 for a year.

The Norfolk Transcription Archive has a large collection of parish records for the county at <>. A surname index links to pages with all the entries for each name, which then links to the transcript for the relevant parish. Rather bizarrely, only years are given, not full dates.

Commercial data services

Although the commercial data services are better known for their national datasets, they are increasingly adding parish register indexes to their offerings. These are sometimes created by the companies themselves, particularly where they are based on scans of printed parish register indexes, but there are also indexes created by third parties, often family history societies and individual transcribers.

The Genealogist (see p. 105) has parish register indexes for over 1,700 English parishes, plus a small number for Aberdeenshire and Brecknockshire. Some are original transcriptions, others derived by indexing printed books. A very useful feature of the transcription database is that from a baptism you can get a listing of other children of the same parents, and from a marriage you get a list of potential children extracted from the baptisms for the same parish. To see the full list, go to <>. Welsh coverage is to be expanded in 2012.

British Origins, described on p. 47, has a number of parish record indexes available online, mainly for marriages:

Findmypast (see p. 53) has a parish records collection based mainly on indexes created by family history societies. In particular, it has the National Burial Index, the index of over 13 million burial records transcribed by local family history societies under the co-ordination of the FFHS. Details of the county coverage will be found at <>NBI Coverage> — the list on this page links to a detailed list of individual parishes. Among the other parish record indexes available on the site are:

Ancestry at <> (see p. 52) has parish register material in the Parish and Probate Record collection available on Ancestry UK. Details of the coverage will be found in the list of UK databases at <> under the ‘Birth, Marriage and Death, including Parish’ heading. The site generally does not give precise source information for this material, only the general statement ‘Electronic databases created from various publications of parish and probate records’. However, it seems likely that many of these records are taken from printed parish register indexes. Two important indexes available on Ancestry are Pallot’s baptism and marriage indexes for England, covering the period 1780—1837, the originals of which are held by the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. These have 200,000 baptisms and 1½ million marriages, mainly from Middlesex and the City of London, but with some material from other counties. An important component of this material are the nine million or so parish register entries from the London Metropolitan Archive, covering the period 1538 to 1812, accompanied by images of the original documents. These can be searched from <>.

Familyrelatives at <> (see p. 57) has online indexes to material from around 80 of the volumes of Phillimore’s Marriage Registers, published in the early twentieth century.

The Parish Register Transcription Society is a non-profit volunteer group with searchable indexes to a selection of parish registers for each English county. For most counties coverage is as yet quite small scale, with perhaps a dozen parishes covered, but there is substantial material for Hampshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and West Sussex. For some counties there are also books, such as trade directories. The site at <> runs a pay-per-view service with individual records costing 20p to view.


Unlike England and Wales, Scotland has collected most of its parish registers in one place, the GROS. All the births/baptisms, banns/marriages and deaths/burials dating from 1553 to 1854 (the start of general registration) are available online at ScotlandsPeople <> (see p. 50). The site has an index and page images of the Old Parish Registers, as they are called. There is general information on these registers at <>, and this page has links to a ‘List of OPRs’ which in turn links to a number of files in PDF format covering individual counties or groups of counties.

Because all the registers are held centrally and have all been digitized, you will not find the wide range of other indexes and transcriptions that is found in the case of England and Wales, though some of the commercial data services include small amounts of Scottish material among the resources discussed above. You may also find some printed indexes to Scottish parish registers in the digitized books discussed in Chapter 12.

The Anglo-Scottish Family History Society has compiled a Scottish Strays Marriage Index, i.e. an index of marriages that took place outside Scotland, where at least one of the partners was born in Scotland. The index is available free of charge as a series of PDF files at <>.


Ireland differs from the other parts of the British Isles in that the relative importance of the established church, the Church of Ireland, is much less.

The National Archives of Ireland has information about Irish church records at <> and PRONI has a guide to Northern Ireland church records at <>, covering all denominations. The National Library of Ireland has a dedicated site for Roman Catholic Parish Registers at <>.

Useful information can be found online about the location of church records. IrelandGenWeb at <> and NorthernIrelandGenWeb at <> have county pages which often include details of the parishes whose registers have been filmed by the LDS. Fianna has a convenient list of LDS microfilm numbers for Irish parishes at <>, though of course this information can also be gleaned from the Family History Library catalogue (see p. 221).

A major development in access to Irish parish records was the launch at the end of 2009 by Ireland’s Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the Irish Genealogy site at <>, which provides free access. The site represents a mammoth project, and areas covered so far are Counties Carlow, Cork, and Kerry, and Dublin City, including both Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland registers, as well as a number of Presbyterian records. There are links to detailed lists of dates and parishes included from <>. In some cases, images of the records are available on the site in PDF format.

The Irish Family History Foundation’s Roots Ireland site at <> has a large collection of indexes for both Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland registers available on a pay-per-view basis (with initial searches free). Detailed information on the dates and parishes covered can be found by following the ‘Online Sources’ link on the home page, then ‘List of Sources’ and selecting a county from the drop-down list.

FamilySearch has some Irish records: around five million births and baptisms, and 423,000 marriages. Unfortunately, there is no detailed information about the sources of these collections (though individual records are fully sourced), so it is not possible to tell in advance of searching whether you are likely to find the record of a particular event.

There are several other places to look for Irish material:

The Roman Catholic Church

The official websites for the Roman Catholic Church in the British Isles are:

The National Archives has a research guide on ‘Catholics’ at <>, which gives a guide to the relevant official records. Some of the records are grouped with Nonconformist registers in TNA’s record series RG4, which is available online at BMDregisters — see below. The Catholic Record Society at <> is the main publishing body for Catholic records, while the Catholic National Library has a guide to its collections at <>. The Catholic Archives Society has a website at <> and the Scottish Catholic Archives at <>.

Information about the Catholic Family History Society will be found at <>, and the Catholic History site at <> also hosts three regional Catholic FHS websites.

Scotland’s Catholic parish registers, as well as those for the Catholic Bishopric of the Forces, are available online at ScotlandsPeople with an introductory page at <>. Because of the varied dates of the records, it is worth checking the list of extant records at <> if you fail to find an event recorded.

For Ireland, the Fianna website has a guide to the nation’s Roman Catholic records at <> taken from Brian Mitchell’s A Guide to Irish Parish Registers.

Useful links for the British Isles will be found on the Catholic Genealogy site at <>. Cyndi’s List has almost 250 links to Catholic resources at <>.

The websites of the libraries and archives discussed in Chapter 13 are worth checking for information about local Catholic records.

Nonconformist churches

The British Isles are home to many Protestant denominations outside the Established Church. The Spartacus Internet Encyclopaedia has a brief history of the most important religious groups at <>, with links to details of individual reformers and reform movements. Wikipedia has substantial articles on the main groups both worldwide and in Britain. Its ‘Nonconformism’ page lists the main denominations and links to other relevant historical articles.

Cyndi’s List has individual pages devoted to Baptist, Huguenot, Methodist, Presbyterian and Quaker materials, and links to many other relevant resources on the ‘Religion and Churches’ pages at <>.

For details of the records for England and Wales, consult TNA’s research guide ‘Nonconformists’ at <>. The records themselves are held in four document series at TNA:

Each of these is available online, indexed and with page images, at The Genealogist p. 55). If you’re not already subscribed to The Genealogist, you can get access to these records on the dedicated BMDregisters’ pay-per-view service at <>, which is run by The Genealogist. Basic information about the content of each will be found in BMDregisters’ help pages and there is much more detail in TNA’s Discovery service (see p. 210) — simply enter the series reference in the search box. When viewing the record for an individual congregation, the ‘View this record online’ link will take you to BMDregisters.

For Scotland and Ireland, look at Sherry Irvine’s article ‘Protestant Nonconformity in Scotland’ at <>, while Fianna has guides to Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Quaker Records in Ireland linked from <>.

GenDocs has lists of London churches for a number of Nonconformist denominations on its ‘Victorian London Churches’ page at <>.

Societies which are relevant for those with Nonconformist ancestors are:

There are a number of libraries which specialize in Nonconformist material. The John Rylands University Library in Manchester has a strong Nonconformist collection, particularly for the Methodist Church. A description of the main resources will be found at <>, and the home page of the Methodist Archives and Research Centre is at <>.

Dr Williams’s Library is an essential repository for those researching English Nonconformist ancestors. Its website at <> has information about the library and its holdings, as well as a family history area with a brief introduction to Nonconformist records and an explanation of which denominations are and are not covered by the library. The ARCHON Directory at <> (see p. 205) has an entry for the Library with links to the materials catalogued in the National Register of Archives, including papers relating to around 200 clergymen. The Library’s Surman Index (not ‘surname’), which comprises 32,000 typed cards with information on the careers of Congregational and English Presbyterian (later Unitarian) ministers for England and Wales, is available free on the website of Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies, hosted by Queen Mary, University of London, at <>.

The official Quaker website has information about the collections in the Library at Friends House at <>, which includes a guide to the Library’s genealogical sources.

Municipal burials and cremations

Originally, all burial records were parish records, and will be found among online parish registers. However, with the rise of urban cemeteries in the Victorian era, this has increasingly not been the case, and burial records are now more often municipal than ecclesiastical. Lists of cemeteries and crematoria in an area should be available on the website of the relevant local authority along with information on how to access the records.

Deceased Online at <> was launched in 2008 to provide a central database of burial and cremation records for the whole of the British Isles, though so far there is no material for Wales or Ireland. The free search provides basic details: name, date of burial or cremation, and the name of the cemetery or crematorium. If you subscribe or purchase pay-per-view credits you can see fuller details, including the deceased’s date of birth, address and occupation, as well as the location of any grave. While the monumental inscription records discussed in the next section are based on volunteers inspecting individual gravestones, which in many cases are not easy to read, the data for Deceased Online is submitted directly by participating cemeteries and crematoria and should therefore be highly accurate. As of March 2012, the site has around 3 million entries from two dozen authorities, with another 1.7 million records from 18 further authorities in preparation.

There is quite a lot of relevant material online for London. GenDocs has a list of Victorian London Cemeteries at <>, with addresses and dates. The London Burial Grounds site at <> has details of many London burial grounds. For the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium, there is no online index but scans of all the pages of the original records are available online at <>.

Manchester has its own free searchable database at <>, though there is a charge for images of the records. The Sheffield General Cemetery Trust has indexed the first 6,000 burials and details of plot owners in the city’s principal Victorian cemetery at <>.

Two of the largest cemeteries on the island of Ireland have online databases. The Glasnevin Trust, which runs Dublin’s main cemetery and several others in the city, has an online database of around 1½ million records at <> on a pay-per-view basis, priced at €3 for a standard entry. The extended search at €8 gives details of all other burials in the same grave. Belfast City Council has an online database with around 360,000 records for three of the city’s cemeteries going back to 1869 at <>. Access to the records is free.

Alongside these official sites, there are, of course, volunteer projects for particular cemeteries. For example, Toxteth Park Cemetery Indexes at <> covers two Liverpool cemeteries.

The British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia cares for and records European cemeteries wherever the East India Company set foot. Its website at <> gives details of the published records.

Monumental inscriptions

While monumental or memorial inscriptions (MIs) are not official records, their close connection with the deceased means that they can provide family information not given by a death certificate, and can make up for a missing entry in a burial register. Similar information can come from obituaries, which are covered on p. 203.

The best starting point for cemeteries and MIs is Guy Etchells’s Tombstones & Monumental Inscriptions site at <>. This aims to ‘provide a photographic record of the various churches, churchyards and cemeteries for the benefit of those genealogists who live some distance away’, but it also has a comprehensive collection of links to related sites for the UK and other English-speaking countries, as well as links for war memorials. Cyndi’s List has a ‘Cemeteries & Funeral Homes’ page at <> with a number of links for UK sites and many general resources for cemeteries.

There are countless small volunteer transcriptions. For example, the England Tombstone Project at <> has transcriptions for a number of cemeteries including four from London. at <> has collections of MI transcriptions for some UK cemeteries. These are individual user-submitted records, and only some of the materials represent complete transcriptions for a cemetery or churchyard. Cornish Cemeteries at <> has material for around a dozen cemeteries and churchyards in Cornwall. Norfolk Epitaphs at <> has transcriptions for around 70 parishes in the county.

A large collection of Scottish MIs (90,000 records from 150 cemeteries) is available on Deceased Online, discussed above. The material was compiled by volunteers and includes photographs of headstones.

Apart from the general resources mentioned above, good ways to see if there is anything for a particular place or church is to look at the relevant Genuki parish page if there is one, or simply use a search engine to find pages with the place-name and the phrase “monumental inscriptions”.

British-Genealogy has pages on recording and publishing memorial inscriptions at <>. For help with Latin inscriptions, see p. 291.

There are many mailing lists relating to cemeteries and monumental inscriptions. Those most relevant to the British Isles are:

War memorials are discussed in Chapter 10.

Next chapter: 8 Property, Taxation and the Law