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English Parish Registers
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Parish registers were started in England in 1538. A law was passed ordering the clergy to record baptisms, marriages and burials, and that they should be written down in a book after the service on Sundays, and in the presence of the Churchwardens. Before this date there were no records, except for a few created by monks who recorded the events for prominent families. Many churches, however, did not begin keeping records until a further notice was sent out in 1558, and even then, many did not comply.
In 1597, Queen Elizabeth I decreed at all existing records should be copied into "fair parchment books, at least from the beginning of this reign". There was considerable opposition. Many churches complained that they could not afford parchment books, others began the task, some started with the 1558 records, some omitted large sections as the task was too large, and some did not start at all.
Some of the early 1538 records (re-written in 1597) still exist, but it is not at all unusual for the registers not to have been preserved. Many were lost, and it is quite common to find no preserved records for a parish until a much later date.
Most of the parish registers are now stored in a County Record Office, although a few are still in the individual churches.
Over time, more information was recorded in the parish registers. The table below shows the main milestones.
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