The earliest English Parish Registers date from 1538 and are quite rare. A start date in the 1650's can usually be expected (or even later). At first baptisms, marriages and burials would be found in the same book, though usually separated out. Until 1732 these could also be written in Latin, although this was not usually the case. Until the 18th Century it was not common for the mother's name or fathers occupation to be mentioned in the baptism entries. Indeed in some early entries even the fathers name was omitted.

From 1754 Banns books survive in some parishes as marriages from that date took place either by Banns or Licence. The HARDWICK MARRIAGE ACT 1754 made clandestine marriages illegal. Marriage registers were separate printed books from this date. Each entry included the name of the bride and bridegroom and age if under 21, their residence, marital status, signatures of bride and groom and those of two witnesses. The Churches of the Church of England being (apart from the religious houses of Quakers and Jews) the only place where marriages could take place. From 1837 Marriage registers contain the same details as Civil Registration licences. An indication of the location of Parish Registers can be found in Phillimore's Atlas.

Age at marriage is an important factor to bear in mind. The minimum age for a marriage until 1929 was 14 for a male and 12 for a female with parents or guardians consent. From that date the age went up to 16 with the same proviso. It should be noted that in the Sixteenth Century some children were married under 12 (even 5) in the better off families.

The effect of ROSE'S ACT or the PAROCHIAL REGISTRATION ACT 1812-13 was to formalise all entries in the Parish Registers in printed books with every entry of baptism, marriage and burial giving standard information.

Subsequent to the BURIAL IN WOOL ACTS 1667 and 1678 all bodies were to be buried in wool only, unless they have died from the Plague and an affidavit sworn accordingly. The penalty for not doing so was 5. These were repealed in 1814.

LORD CHESTERFIELD'S ACT 1751-52 - Changed the calendar from Julian to Gregorian. Until this act the new Year had begun on the 25th March, Lady Day. Thus 1752 began on the 1st January 1751/2. The 2nd September 1752 was followed by the 14th September 1752 to adjust the calendar. So for example, 7th February 1666 should be written 7th February 1666/7 in our notes or presentations. But this should be carefully noted when reading Parish Registers and transcripts.

The STAMP ACT 1783 was an unpopular tax of 3d per entry in the Parish Register which was repealed in 1794.


From 1598 an annual return was made to the Bishop of a copy of all entries from the Parish Register for that year to about Easter or Lady Day. Some are less good than the originals and some more so. It is recommended that these are checked against the Registers. As they are sometimes copied by a Church Warden they can include more details that the Registers, useful for the family historian.

This page is compiled by Timothy J. Owston of York, England, March 2008.
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