Information to be gleaned
The information that can be found in Parish Registers varies depending on the period when the register entry was written. The following gives a brief synopsis of the changes in register format and information over the years:
|The keeping of parish registers was mandated but many parishes did not implement it straight away. Only a small percentage of parishes have surviving registers from this period.
|Copies of entries in registers were required to be sent to the bishop of their diocese. These copies are known as Bishop's Transcripts.
|Registers were very variably kept during the English Civil War and the following Commonwealth period. Some registers of this period contain a lot of extra detail, some do not survive at all. Marriages in particular may be missing as they may have been conducted by deposed or deprived ministers and never entered into any register.
|Register pages were supposed to be ruled and numbered though this requirement was again widely ignored.
|The use of Latin in registers is prohibited.
Calendar reform took effect in September 1752.(although you should note that Scotland had changed in 1600). Prior to this change the year commenced on 25th March, so any register entry for say December 1751 would have been followed by January 1751 and somebody born in April 1750 is actually nearly a year older than somebody born in February 1750.
The 11 day adjustment made in 1752 resulted in the start of the UK tax year moving from 25th March (Lady Day) to 5th April. For fuller details on the history of and changes to the calendar see my calendar page.
|Hardwicke's Marriage Act (passed in 1753), which required a separate marriage register, came into force. Marriage entries now contained the names of witnesses and the signatures of the couple as well as their originating parish. Banns were also now required and sometimes these registers also survive. Many forms of clandestine marriage now became illegal.
The minimum age for marriage was now set at 16. Before this date the marriage of girls of 12 and boys of 14 was possible.
Those under 21 needed the consent of parents. Individuals that are over 21 often have their age listed simply as "of full age".
|George Rose's Act stated that new pre-printed registers were to be used for separate baptism, marriage and burial registers as a way of standardizing records.
|Civil registration introduced. A format of register was now used with a fuller range of information recorded to match the civil registration. This meant that on marriage certificates the age, marital condition, occupation, residence, father's name and father's occupation had to be given for both the bride and the groom.
|The above comments apply specifically to the Church of England. For non-conformists, it was the individual denominations / chapels that decided as to what they should include in their registers (that is if they did indeed keep a register). Although I have never had cause to look I understand that most Roman Catholic registers add further information to the Baptism records such as where and when married and when the individual died.