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Proformat News
No: 117
November 2015

November Seminars
1: Torrens Riverbank Heritage Walk: Swans, bridges & stadium 2:00–4:00pm WEA Centre Adelaide
15: Adelaide Central East Heritage Walk: Clerics, clerks and courts 2:00–4:00pm WEA Centre Adelaide
22: Nth Adelaide Heritage Walk: The Cathedral precinct 2:00–4:00pm WEA Centre Adelaide

December Seminars
6: Port Adelaide Heritage Walk: Government precinct 2:00–4:00pm WEA Centre Adelaide

All bookings must be made with the hosting organisation.

See the seminar program for more details and bookings.

French researchers take note
The French archives have undergone a major revamp in recent weeks with the opening of the new venue at Pierrefitte on Metro Line 13.

Archives nationales
59 Rue Guynemer
93383 Pierrefitte-sur-Seine cedex, France

If you have French ancestry based in the nineteenth century then this is the place to visit. One day I will write a story about French bureaucracy, but for the time being I need to remain friendly! I will say that if you plan a visit start at least six months ahead and ensure your French is fluent!

In this issue:
November Seminars
December Seminars
French researchers take note

Feature article
Missing English registers


Graham Jaunay
Adelaide Proformat

Glandore SA 5037

Tel: +61 8 8371 4465

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Missing English registers
English and Welsh parish registers date back to 1538 when Thomas Cromwell during the reign of Henry VIII, ordered that every wedding, baptism and burial should be recorded.

With the advent of civil registration in England and Wales in mid-1837, reliance on accessing records using parish registers became significantly less significant. Prior to this the original parishes had an administrative role due to the unique position of the Church of England being an Established Church sponsored by the government. The form of government in England after the Conquest was based on a government through the local parish and its vestry meetings. The parish gained its funds through tithes and income from glebe lands especially allocated for the purpose. Certain householders had to take a turn serving in an administrative role within the parish or pay a fine. In the 19th century the central government gradually took over the civil responsibilities of the Church of England parishes. The establishment of civil registration was just one of these steps. The churches no longer maintained records of baptism, marriage and burial on behalf of the state although they continued to keep such records purely for their own purposes.

One phenomenon that was very evident at the time of transition in the period 1837 to 1838 was the massive surge in parish registrations. Some claim that in this single year the recording of baptisms in England rose by 14% and yet there was no birth bubble. Burials swelled by almost 20% and yet there was no pestilence ranging thought the country. What was going on?

Some have suggested that previously negligent parish officers were concerned that their lack of record keeping may be found out now that a new almost parallel system of recording births, deaths and marriages had been instituted. Some scholars have estimated that as many as a fifth to a third of all births and deaths were never recorded in parish registers!

There are a number of explanations for this but none are going to help today's researchers locate the details of the missing events. While this article is confined to England and Wales, there is little doubt that the same problem will be found elsewhere in the British Isles!

Firstly much of the problem has to be laid at the feet of negligent parish priests and clerks. Negligence stemmed from forgetfulness, carelessness or may have even been criminal behaviour pocketing the fees without accounting to the parish!

Image: Gentlemans Magazine July 1811 p6

A further barrier to recording occurred in 1783 when the government introduced a 3d stamp duty on birth, marriage and burials to pay for the American War of Independence. It is also likely that the requirement to be buried in a woollen (relatively expensive) shroud from 1667 to 1813 led to a failure to enter the event into the burial register. Like the tax introduced in 1783, the fee was only levied on entering the record into the parish register and there is no doubt that many parish priests oversaw the ceremony and omitted the registration to remove the tax burden from their already poor (as opposed to pauper) parishioners! This was a deeply unpopular tax and many clergymen were sympathetic to the plight of their parishioners, and as paupers were exempt from this tax, it is not uncommon to find that the number of supposed poor people within a parish increased many times above normal during these years until the act was finally repealed in 1794. Such entries in a parish register are annotated with either the letter P or Pauper. If a family could not claim exemption and their priest was not prepared to omit the register entry then it was not unusual for them simply not to bother—resulting in a number of adult or late baptisms after the repeal.

An earlier attempt to fund a war with France imposed a tax on births (not baptisms), marriages and burials as well as on childless widowers and bachelors over the age of 25 in 1695. The Marriage Duty Act or Registration Tax was repealed in 1706. The cost to parishioners for registering a birth was a steep 2 shillings for a birth, 2/6d for a marriage and 4/- for a burial. Again those designated a pauper were exempt from any charges. The tax having failed to raise the sums envisaged was short-lived. The repercussions were similar to those experienced from 1783 to 1794. IIncidentally these records are at County Record Offices and can prove useful is cases where parish registers for the period are missing.

Researchers going back further in time may find gaps in parish registers from 1553 to 1558 when the Catholic, Mary Tudor was on the throne and from 1642 to 1660 during the English Civil War and Commonwealth. The former was because records were poorly kept or are now missing after being destroyed or hidden by the clergy. During the Commonwealth regime 1653–1660 the registering of births, marriages and deaths was taken over by civil officers (confusingly called Parish Registers rather than Parish Registrars) and not all were returned to the churches at the Restoration in 1660.

Prior to 1754 when Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act came into being making clandestine marriages illegal, marriage could be a rather ad hoc matter. A Fleet Marriage is the best-known example of an irregular or a clandestine marriage taking place in England before the Marriage Act 1753 came into force on 25 March 1754. These marriages took place in London's Fleet Prison and its environs during the 17th and early 18th centuries but the Fleet was just one venue where such events took place!

Technically an irregular marriage was one that occurred in a church without the calling of banns or a licence and these were largely removed by the 1695 Marriage Duty Act that penalised clergymen. Clandestine marriages were secret marriages often performed by clergymen away from churches and often in taverns, coffee shops or private homes. It is thought that such marriages number in the thousands (over 6500 per year at the Fleet alone) each year! Some priests did keep records and some of these are now held in The National Archives: RG7 is the collection of registers and notebooks of Clandestine Marriages and Baptisms in the Fleet Prison, King's Bench Prison, the Mint and the May Fair Chapel ranging from 1667 to ca1777. Readers should also note: RG4 are registers (authenticated by the Non-Parochial Registers Commissioners) of births, baptisms, deaths, burials and marriages. They cover the period 1567 to 1858. Other forms of clandestine marriage included: marriages without a priest away from a church (known as handfasting or trothplights), marriages by priests in a church without banns or licence or in churches not licensed for marriages (known as Lawless Churches), marriages in churches by priest using an irregular licence, marriage in churches other than Church of England by conscientious objectors such as Catholics and Baptists. (See RB Outhwaite, Clandestine Marriage in England 1500–1850, 1995 pp21–39.

Whether the incumbent was negligent or compassionate does not help the modern researcher! So what other avenues are open? The other material in the parish chest (now held by County or Diocesan Record Offices) may assist. In particular, look out for the following records:
  • Almshouse and charity records – such programs were operated by the parish and those elderly unable to work may have received charity from the parish. These records often indicate when the recipient died.
  • Bastardy Declarations – the parish sought such information to ensure the father paid for the upbringing of the child. Sometimes the date of birth is recorded.
  • Churchwardens/Parish Officers’ Accounts – these records will reveal payments made to cover the costs of burials.
  • Marriage Banns Register – if the parish register containing the marriages has been lost or is incomplete maybe the Banns Register has survived?
  • Mortuaries – these registers were completed if a burial was delayed or took place elsewhere.
  • Poor Relief Accounts – see Almshouse and charity records above
  • Settlement Certificates and Examinations – such records should reveal the 'home' parish of the surviving spouse.
  • Vestry Minutes – such records may note births/baptisms, marriages or deaths/burials.
  • For related articles see Newsletters 50, 97 and 110.

    Expect to see 'church' Latin in early registers even after it was decreed that English should be used. Also expect acknowledgement of the Gregorian Calendar before 1752 (marked above and in following). Do not expect a birth date—above: Aldborough NFK parish register 1722 - below Albrighton nr Wolverhampton SAL parish register 1744.
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