The original copies of most English parish registers, recording baptisms, marriages and burials, are stored in the relevant County Record Office, which also doubles as the Diocesan Record Office.
Individuals and local family history societies have made transcripts of some parish registers, but these are often not as easily accessible as we would like them to be. Some family history societies, whilst holding transcriptions, only make a name index available to researchers. They may be available to local people, but not to the vast majority who are not in the same county, or even the same country.
Where to find the originals, transcripts and indexes
The County Record Office (sometimes called the County Archives Office) is an establishment in each county of England where the old parish registers are stored. Some counties have the old registers stored in several different places within the county, for example, in Lancashire and Yorkshire, where some are stored at local libraries. Most parish registers have now been deposited for safe keeping in an archives office or library, but in a few cases (unfortunately) they still remain at individual churches.
At a County Record Office it is possible to view the original registers on request, but most registers have been microfilmed, and film/fiche readers are available to look at them. This saves considerable wear and tear on the original registers
The County Record Office
see: GENUKI web pages – English Counties for details of each County Record Office
Family History Societies
Very few baptism, marriage and burial registers have been indexed or transcribed. It is therefore usually necessary to search the microfiche/films line by line to search for a particular record. It is a long and tedious task. If you are really fortunate, then a local (county) family history society may have made some transcripts and/or indexes, and in some counties, for example Oxfordshire, these are virtually complete, but this is rare.
Some of the family history societies make their transcripts and indexes easily available for purchase in either CD, booklet or microfiche form, some only make simple surname indexes available, and then make a charge for doing “lookups” of the data.
One of the very best places to go to to locate indexes and transcriptions of parish registers is the family history society that covers the area of your research.
The International Genealogical Index (IGI)
The International Genealogical Index (IGI) is an index created by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). The index is available for viewing at all LDS Family History Centres, on microfiche or CD ROM, and now also available for searching on the Internet on the LDS web pages. It is possible to purchase the IGI on microfiche or CD ROM, and also on the internet on the LDS web pages.
The IGI is certainly the most comprehensive available index of English parish baptisms and marriages available. (Burials are not in the index, except for a few isolated examples).
- The IGI does not cover every parish in England. A very great number are not included.
- For those parishes which it does cover, there may be whole periods missing.
- For those which it does cover, there may be omissions of individual records even in the covered periods.
- Some entries in the IGI are from the Bishop’s Transcripts and not the original registers, and the BTs themselves are prone to errors and omissions. (Having said that, even the original registers may have entries missing which are in the BTs and vice versa).
- You may find more than one entry in the index for the same event with conflicting information.
- Bear in mind that the IGI is primarily an index of ordinances carried out by LDS members as part of their religion, rather than an index of parish registers.
- Some entries in the IGI are from submissions by individual LDS members rather than from parish registers, and many of these are very prone to errors. Be very wary of entries which have an “@” symbol beside them or which state a date as being “about”, or describe a person as being “of” somwhere.
The golden rule with the IGI is to treat it for what it is. An index. If you find an entry in the IGI, always look at the films/fiche of the original parish registers.
Used in this way, it is a great tool to help you with your research.
The LDS Family History Centres
Most New Zealand, South Africa, most countries of Europe (and many others) have a local Family History Centre. If you are unsure where your nearest one is, then simply look in your local phone book under Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, and phone your nearest church to ask them. Do not be concerned that people there will attempt to convert you to their religion. They will not. But they will be incredibly helpful in obtaining microfiche of English parish registers for you, and helping you search the IGI.
The LDS hold copies (on microfiche or film) of a great number of English parish registers. They don’t have all of them though.
In most cases, the local Family History Centre will have to order the films for you, (at a very nominal charge), and they can then be viewed at the Centre for a limited period.
The Vital Records Index
The Vital Records Index (VRI) for the British Isles is a set of CDs which can be purchased from the LDS. It contains some 5 million records of births, baptisms and marriages from a partial collection of records in the British Isles from 1538 to 1888. Generally speaking, it contains records which are *not* in the IGI, and therefore it is an invaluable supplement to the IGI. However, like the IGI, the Vital Records Index can also be somewhat inaccurate in places.
Transcripts and indexes
on the Internet
The FreeREG Project’s objective is to provide free Internet searches of baptism, marriage, and burial records, which have been transcribed from English parish registers. The recording of baptisms, marriages and burials in parish registers began in 1538.
This is a companion project to the FreeBMD project, which is a database of the GRO birth, marriage and death indexes from 1837 that you can search on line on the internet. This is a superb resource!
Parish Register entries will be made freely available through a search engine only. For complete transcriptions, where available, refer to the local County Records Offices, Family History Societies or to the microfilm/fiche holdings of the Church of the Latter Day Saints.
FreeREG stands for Free REGisters.