Early parish registers are almost all “combined” registers, that is, they contain records of baptisms, marriages and burials, in chronological order. Some parishes, particularly the small ones, continued using a combined register until at least the mid 1700s. The information contained in these early registers is very basic.
“Charles the son of Gyles Mason Baptized the 6th day”
It is very common indeed to have no mention of the mother. That information was not considered to be important. Later, the mother’s name began to be stated, and a typical format for the entry would be:
“Francis the son of John Neep and his wife Mary was baptised”
In the case of the baptism of an illegitimate child, the mother’s full name would be stated, with either the wording “illegitimate”, “base”, “bastard” or “spurious” added, sometimes in the margin. (see below). Sometimes the clergyman’s comments were a little more descriptive! “The bastard son of that whore Mary Smith.” Baptism registers after 1813 contained more information.
In the early registers, marriage records also contain just the very basic information, for example:
“William Neep and his wyf were married the 26th day”
…but most will state the full name of the wife, for example:
“John Neep and Mary Wright were married the 26th day.”
Additional information was limited to the inclusion of information of the parish of abode of one or other of the two people if it was different from the parish where the marriage took place, for example:
“John Smith of the parish of Littledean and Mary Jones were married” or “John Smith of the parish of Littledean and Mary Jones of this parish were married.”
Both mean the same thing. Note that this does not necessarily mean that John Smith was born in the parish of Littledean, but just that it was his accepted place of settlement (abode) at the time. Marriage registers from 1754 contained more information.
Early records of burials contained only the most basic information.
“John Smith was buried the 27th day” “Charles the son of John Smith was buried the 13th day” “The wife of John Smith was buried the 10th day” “Widdow Smith was buried the 8th day”
Again, the wife’s name was often not considered important enough the be mentioned. Later registers (depending on the clergyman) began to include the wife’s name.
“Mary the wife of John Smith was buried” “Mary, the widdow of John Smith was buried” “Sarah, the daughter of John Smith and Mary [his wife] was buried”
Occasionally you may be lucky to find the occupation and/or age of the person stated. It is also sometimes possible to find a cause of death stated, particularly if it was a result of plague. Burial registers from 1813 contained more information.
“Mr.” or “Esq.” (esquire) as a title beside a name, e.g. “Mr John Smith”, denotes a person of some local importance. A gentleman or land owner. “Mrs.” likewise signifies a woman of importance, although not necessarily married. A marriage record could contain:
“Mr. John Smith of the parish of Basford and Mrs. Anne Jones of this parish were married”.
Parish registers often contain more information than just records of baptisms, marriages and burials. The front or rear leaves of the book often contain financial information relating to the parish accounts, gifts to the church, churchwardens, and even a list of parishioners and their land holdings, etc.
It is also quite common to find notes of local interest, for example descriptions of floods or heavy snow, and many registers contain records of the church spire being struck by lightning and details of fire damage to the church.
If you are able to differentiate between the combined registers, you would have gained a valuable skill that can really help you and others on their genealogical adventures. Share your new found knowledge to the British Genealogy Forum; all you have to do is sign up for free!