Sunday, 15 November 2009

Of this Parish...

In England and Wales, Parish Registrations of births, marriages and deaths started in 1538, prior to that date details were kept on sheets of paper, and 13 years later in 1531 for Scotland. Civil Registrations were not introduced in England and Wales until 1837 and 1854 in Scotland.

Prior to the above dates Wales was using the patronymic system of naming, eg. Evan Ab Evan (Evan the son of Evan, or "vench" meaning daughter of). Whilst the lowlands of Scotland used recognisable surnames before the 16c, it was not until the 16c - 17c that most highlanders adopted the name of their clan chief. However, it would be quite wrong to think that we have a guaranteed way of tracing or ancestors back to the 16c, I wish!

Unfortunately, the Scottish showed their admirable resistance to "government interference" and most of their 900 parishes kept, at best, only partial records until just before 1854. These may be found at Scotlands People. In England between 1653 and 1660 the keeping of records was transferred from the churches to a civil office, confusingly, also know as the "Parish Register". Suffice to say that few of these records exist - who said that governments losing data is a new thing :-). The full timeline for registration law can be found on my website.

It is only since 1992 that all birth and baptism records over 150 years old have had to be kept safe, usually in County Record Offices, so many of the older registers are damaged and difficult to read, and before the 17c - 18c are often in Latin! The parish priests were, from 1598, obliged to compile records to send to their bishop, known as "Bishops Transcripts", but these are incomplete and transcription errors common.

In the south of England the ecclesiastic parishes are usually coterminous with the civil parishes, but this is much less true in the north where the former could encompass a number of townships, each of which, or a combination of them, were later to become civil parishes. If an entry cannot be found where expected, do look in adjacent parishes since there was quite a high, but local, migration.

All transcriptions, whilst welcome, cannot beat reading the original. Apart from transcription errors, much is often omitted; names of putative fathers; occupations; and especially odd comments from the vicar immediately come to mind. Finally, do not ignore the records post 1837 in England and Wales (1854, Scotland) because: registration was voluntary before 1875 in England and Wales, they can contain details omitted from the certificate, and will resolve incorrect copying of the register which may be found in the certificate. Yes, it does happen!


The best website for finding where a parish register is likely to be stored is probably the Society of Genealogists. Not many parishes have published their record details, but it is always worth trying Google. A growing collection of sites which should not be ignored is the on-line Parish Clerk which for a number of counties offers transcripts of the parish registers. Last, but not least is the IGI at Family Search.

© Ron Ferguson

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Location, Location, Location and the UK

I am British, it is difficult to describe myself otherwise as my father is descended from Scottish ancestors, my mother from Welsh and I was born in England. It may be because of this hybrid background that I am sensitive to the way in which UK locations are entered in genealogy reports.

Let us start with the meaning of the UK; it is (now) the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but prior to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland in 1922 it included the whole of Ireland. This, of course, leads to the question as to what is Great Britain; put simply, it is the largest island within the British Isles the latter being merely a geographical description which also includes, the whole of Ireland and the Isle of Man. Often the Channel Isles are included as well but this is not strictly accurate. Great Britain comprises the countries of Scotland, England and Wales. The first two are Kingdoms and the latter a principality - but never suggest to the Welsh that Wales is not a country, it is :-).

Northern Ireland is a province of the UK, created from 6 counties in 1922, and is not the same as Ulster which contains two additional counties, now in the Republic. The Isle of Man and the Channel Isles are not, and never have been, part of the UK, but are Crown Dependencies. The former having the oldest parliament in the world, The Tynwald. The Channel Isles has two separate states, Jersey and Guernsey with their own governments, and the other islands are dependencies of Guernsey.

For further information please refer to The British Isles and all That.

After only a short time studying genealogy one meets the "four field convention" for naming locations. Let us be perfectly clear - this does not work for UK locations. To start with we do not have states, and England, Scotland and Wales are countries not states of the UK or GB. The correct description of location in these three countries would basically be: Parish/County/Country or Parish/Town/County/Country. There are variations, but these are the basic formats.

Thus, the correct location of Southampton is "Southampton, Hampshire, England", and not as I have recently seen "Southampton, ,Hampshire, Engand". There is not another tier between Southampton and Hampshire. We never add "UK" or "GB" to the end of a location, in particular, the latter is simply wrong and the former unacceptable. Arguably it could be said that "Northern Ireland, UK" is correct, although I would not include "UK".

Ouch! I hear, the Geolocation finders no longer work, well they don't, they were designed to fit the four field system, which doesn't work for us (and much of the world outside of America for that matter). I would suggest that accuracy should come before convenience and where I need to use the locator (rarely) I first enter the data incorrectly so that it fits the four field system, get the latitude and longitude, and then correct the location fields. A little more trouble, yes, but at least the output is accurate.

For further information on the history of English locations you are referred to English Counties, Parish, etc. for Genealogists.

In conclusion, for me, to expect a system of naming which has developed over nearly 2000 years to fit a convention developed only in the 20c is beyond my comprehension, and I look forward to the day when we will see our locations accurately reported.

© Ron Ferguson