Church and Parish records are important sources of information for the family historian because they contain information about individuals prior to the recording of vital or civil records (birth, marriage, and death information).
In the United States, most states did not even begin keeping records for births until the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. In England and Wales, civil registration did not begin until 1837. As a result, church records are the best sources for vital records prior to these dates.
The types of information that you’ll find in a Church or Parish Record are:
- Baptisms and Christenings
- Church Membership
You may also find birth information, but many times this was not part of the original Church or Parish Record because church records were only maintained for individuals at the time of baptism.
If you are searching for individuals that lived during the 17th and 18th century in the UK, one very important element to keep in mind is something called “Non-conformity” vs. “Conformity”.
Non-conformity is a term associated with individuals that worshipped at a church or parish other than the Church of England. Information for non-conformists were not maintained by the Church of England, but are found in separate records called “Non-conformist Records”. In short, Non-conformists were individuals that considered themselves to be Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Jews, Muslims and other faiths.
Conformity related to the Church of England is actually a quite interesting story with roots dating back to the days of Henry the Eighth. In present day U.S., it most closely resembles the Episcopalian Church.
In the UK from 1538 to the early part of the 17th century, the percentage of Non-conformists to Conformists was still quite small. By 1851 though, for Wales the percentage of Non-conformists was about 70% of all individuals. For this reason, you can see how important it is to check the Non-conformist Records as well as normal Church and Parish Records if you are searching for an individual during this time.
For US genealogy research, Non-conformity presents no issues because the US was founded on the principals of religious freedom. Non-conformity vs. conformity is also a non-issue as it relates to the UK from 1837 to today.