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Parish Registers - Church of England

Church of England Parish registers record baptisms, marriages and burials from 1538 onwards. The records were made by the clergy for the government, and are the earliest source of this type of information. This is a brief guide to a complex source. Staff in the Archives and Heritage Service can help you if necessary and show you more detailed guides to registers.

What do parish registers show?

Early entries vary; some give only a name and the month. Some early registers are in Latin. Some include comments. This is from Aston parish register, 1595:

"This tyme there was a great goinge into Ireland against the Earl of Tyrone the clergy payed deerly. It cost the vicar of Aston xxli marks".

Standard Forms


Hardwicke Act; marriages were now only legal if they took place after banns in the parish church. The register shows names and the parish of the bride and groom. It may show the date of the wedding, the man marital status, and his occupation.


Baptisms and burials. For baptisms, registers now had to show the names, address and occupation of the parents. Burial entries had to include the age, and place of residence of the deceased.


Marriage registers had to show the names and ages of the groom and bride, the marital status, the occupation, the place of residence, and the names and occupations of the fathers. Full age is 21. Until 1929 girls could marry at 12, and boys at 14. Witnesses to marriages were not always family members, frequently they were churchwardens.

Period Covered

Henry VIII ordered that the clergy should keep a record of baptisms, marriages and burials.


Elizabeth I ordered that registers should be copied, and a transcript sent to the bishop. Bishop Transcripts are useful if the register is missing.

1653 - 1660

During the Commonwealth: Registers had a different format for political reasons. Many registers for this period do not survive or are very incomplete.

1837 July

Civil registration began in England and Wales. From this date there is no parish register entry if the marriage takes place in the Register Office.


The Parochial Registers and Records Measure requires all records over 100 years old to be stored in the local Records Office, unless the church has adequate storage conditions. If the church no longer stands, the register is held at the Records Office.

Area covered

Since 1538 many new parishes have been created, especially in industrial towns. Many old ones have disappeared. The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers is a useful guide up to the 1830s. Please ask the staff for this. The International Genealogical Index, a surname index to many of the parish registers in the UK and Ireland, is a useful starting-point, though sometimes inaccurate.

Inaccuracies and omissions

Through the centuries many registers have perished, or been lost or destroyed. Spellings of names vary; ages are frequently inaccurate. Handwriting can be difficult to decipher. Entries may have been modified for political or social reasons.

Parish Registers in the Central Library

Birmingham Archives and Heritage Service, as the Diocesan Record Office, holds most Church of England parish registers for Birmingham; and many Nonconformist records. It holds copies of Sutton Coldfield registers on microfilm, and transcripts, copies and indexes of some Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire registers. You need official proof of ID to use Archives, with name, address and signature. A list of the Anglican parish registers held by Birmingham Archives and Heritage is now available below. If you are planning a visit to use the parish registers, please check the attached document to see if you need to book a microfilm reader or make an appointment to use the archive search room.

Parish Registers at Archives and Heritage

 PDF (Size: 215 Kb Type: pdf )

Archives and Heritage

The Archives and Heritage Service also holds microfilm copies of some Nonconformist and a few Catholic registers. There are indexes to show which churches cover which suburb, which records have been microfilmed and which are in Archives only. There are transcripts of parish registers for various parts of England, Wales, and Scotland up to 1837, and transcripts of later registers made by BMGSH. They are indexed by town.

Parish registers at other locations

Each church holds its own current register, and has the right to keep older registers if there are suitable storage conditions.

Archives and Heritage Service
Tel: 0121 303 4217 or 0121 303 4549 or 0121 303 4220
Fax: 0121 233 4458
Email: archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk

Church of England Ecclesiastical Records
Electoral Registers
Black Family History - African & African-Caribbean
International Genealogical Index (IGI)
Trade Directories
GRO Indexes
CD-ROMs & the Internet for family history