Timeline of events concerning the keeping of records pre 1812

Up until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1535 the monks had been the principal record keepers.

In 1533 there was an Act entitled An Act concerning Peter Pence and Dispensations; of granting Special Licences to marry at any convenient Time or Place – This allowed the Archbishop of Canterbury the right to grant Special Licences.

There are about forty registers with entries pre-dating the order of Thomas Cromwell (below) these include the parishes of Perlethorpe and Carburton in Nottinghamshire which begin in 1528 and contain one or two entries per year down to 1538.

Thomas Cromwell, the Vicar General, issued the following order for keeping parish registers on 29 September 15381.

“Exhibit quinto die mensis Septebr ano dni (domini) Mie Vc XXXVIII.

In the Name of God Amen. By the authorite and comission of the excellent prince Henry by the grace of god kynge of  Englond and of frauce (France), defensor of the faithe Lorde of Irelonde and in erthe supme (supreme) hedd vndre Christ of the

of Englonde I Thomas lorde Crumwell, lorde privie seale Vice-gerent to the kynges said highnes for all his Jurisdiction eccliasticall within this realme, do for the avancement (advancement) of the trewe honor of almighty God, encrease of vertu and dis­charge of the kynges (king’s) maiestie geve and exhibite vnto yow theise Iniuctions (inlunctions) folowing to be kept obsued (observed) and fulfilled vpon the paynes hereafter declared.

Item that yow and eny (every) pson (parson) vicare or curate this dioc (diocese) shall for euery churche kepe one boke or reistre wherin ye shall write the day and yere of every weddyng christenyng and buryeng made wtin (within) yor pishe for yowr tyme, and so euy man succedyng yow lykewise. And shall there inserte euy psons (persons) name that shalbe so weddid  christened or buried, And for the sauff keping of the same boke the  pishe shalbe boude (bound) to puide (provide) of there comen charges one sure coffer with twoo lockes and keys wherof the one to remain wt (with) you, and thother with the saide wardons, wherein the saide boke shalbe laide vpp. Whiche boke ye shall every sonday take furthe and in the psence (presence) of the said wardens or one of them write and recorde in the same all the weddinges christenynges and buryenges made the hole weke before. And that done to lay vpp the boke in the said coffer as afore And for euy tyme that the same shalbe omytted the partie that shalbe in the faulte therof shall forfett to the said churche IIIs IIIId to be emploied on the repation (reparation) of the same churche.”

Edward VI in 1547 repeated Cromwell’s order  but directed that the penalty  “to be employed to the poore box of that parishe”

Cardinal Pole required the names of sponsors to be added to the register of baptisms 1555.
”Whether they do keep the Book or Register of Christeming, Burying, and Marriages, with the name of the Godfather and Godmother.”

A further order was issued in the reign of Elizabeth I that

‘Every minister, at his institution, should subscribe to this prostestation, “I shall keepe the register booke according to the Queene’s Majesties injunction.”’

It was ordained by a constitution made by the archbishops and clergy at Canterbury, 25 October 1597, that parchment register books should be purchased at the expense of each parish, and that there should be transcribed, at the same parish cost, from the paper books then in use, into the parchment registers, not only the names of those who had been baptized, married, or buried, during the reign of the then Queen (i.e. from 1558 39 years previously), but also the names of those who thenceforth should be baptized, married, or buried. Such transcripts to be examined, and their correctness certified at the bottom of each page, by the clergyman and churchwardens.
Copies of the registers were to be forwarded annually, within one month of Easter, by the respective churchwardens, to the register of the diocese, that they might be faithfully preserved in the Episcopal archives.
The constitution was approved by the Queen, under the Great Seal of England, and ordered to be observed in both provinces of Canterbury and York.

These regulations embodied in the 70th. Canon in 1603.

“In every Parish Church and Chapel within this Realm shall be provided one Parchment Book at the charge of the Parish, wherein shall be written the day and year of every Christening, Wedding, and Burial which have been in that Parish since the time that the Law was first made in that behalf, so far as the ancient Books thereof can be procured, but especially since the beginning of the Reign of the late Queen. And for the safe keeping of the said Book the Churchwardens at the charge of the Parish shall provide one sure Coffer with three Locks and Keys whereof the one to remain with the Minister and the other two with the Churchwardens severally so that neither the Minister without the two Churchwardens, nor the Churchwardens without the Minister shall at any time take that

Book out of the said Coffer. And henceforth upon every Sabbath Day immediately after Morning or Evening Prayer the Minister and Churchwardens shall take the said Parchment Book out of the said Coffer, and the Minister in the presence of the Churchwardens shall write and record in the said Book the names of all persons christened together with the names and surnames of their parents, and also the names of all Persons married and buried in that Parish, in the week before, and the day and year of every such Christening, Marriage and Burial. And that done they shall lay up that Book in the Coffer as before; and the Minister and Churchwardens unto every page of that Book when it shall be filled with such inscriptions shall subscribe their names. And the Churchwardens shall once every year within one month after the five and twentieth day of March, transmit unto the Bishop of the Diocese or his Chancellor a true copy of the names of all persons Christened, Married or Buried in the Parish in the year before (ended the said five and twentieth day of March) and the certain days and months in which such

Christening, Marriage and Burial was had, to be subscribed with the hands of the said Minister and Churchwardens to the end the same may faithfully be preserved in the Registry of the said Bishop, which certificate shall be received without fee. And if the Minister and Church-wardens shall be negligent in performance of anything herein contained it shall be lawful for the Bishop or his Chancellor to convent them and proceed against every of them as Contemnors of this our Constitution.”

In 1644 an ordinance was passed that
"... and it is further ordained, by the authority aforesaid, that there shall be provided, at the charge of every parish or chappelry in this realm of England and dominion of Wales a fair register-book of velim be kept by the minister and other officers of the church; and that the names of all children baptized, and of their parents, and the time of their birth and baptizing, shall be written and set down by the ministers therein ; and also the names of all persons married there and the time of their marriage ; and also the names of all persons buried in that parish, and the time of their death and burial ; and that said book shall be showed, by such as keep the same, to all persons reasonably desiring to search for the birth, baptizing, marriage, or burial of any person therein registered, and to take a copy or procure a certificate thereof."

The Commonwealth directed “parish registers” to be appointed 22 September 1653.

“…that a true and just account might always be kept, of all marriages, and also of the births of children, and deaths of all sorts of persons within the commonwealth;”

Civil marriage was instituted 29 September 1654

Civil Marriages legalised by an Act of 12 Car. II, c. 33, in 1660.
”Marriages by Justices since the 1st May, 1642, or Marriages performed according to the Direction or true intent of any Act or Ordinance or reputed Act or Ordinance of one or both Houses of Parliament, or of any Convention sitting at Westminster, under the same style, or title of Parliament.”

After the civil war period a statute of 1694 required that every clergyman should keep a register of all persons married, buried, christened or born in his parish, under a penalty of £100.

In 1695 (7th  & 8th William III., cap. 35) a similar enactment was made and also distinct registers were to be kept of children born in the parish and not christened all parents were required to give notice of a birth of a child within 5 days of the birth. A fine of 40 shillings was imposed on parents who omitted to give notice within the five days and a similar penalty was payable by the vicar. The parents were to pay the vicar sixpence to register the birth.

In 1695 there was published  - An Act for Granting to His Majesty certain Rates and Duties upon Marriages, Births and Burials, and upon Batchelors and Widowers, for the Term of Five Years, for Carrying on the War against France with Vigour.  Which imposed duties on the registration of Births Marriages and Burials for a period of five years. It also imposed charges on bachelors.

Informal or common law marriages were legally recognized in England and Wales until they were outlawed in 1754 by Lord Hardwicke’s Act.

Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act (26 George II., cap. 33) took effect 25 March 1754.
Intituled, an Act to prevent Clandestine Marriage – It directs that marriages be solemnized in churches or chapels by banns or licence. Churchwardens of every parish had to provide proper books of vellum, or good and durable paper, in which all marriages and banns of marriage respectively shall be registered.
”and all books provided as aforesaid, shall be deemed to belong to every such parish or chapelry respectively, and shall be carefully kept and preserved for public use.”

Duty of 3d. on every entry in a register imposed by 23 Geo. II, c.71, 1783. Repealed, 34 Geo. III, c.146

Rose’s Act of 1812 required printed registers and a separate registers for baptisms, marriages and burials, took effect 1813.

Civil Registration commenced 1 July 1837.

1 Regist. Cranm. Fol. 99.b. return

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First published in 2003.

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