Book Review: Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records by Stuart A. Raymond

Tracing Your Ancestors' Parish Records A Guide for Family and Local Historians by Stuart Raymond

Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records A Guide for Family and Local Historians by Stuart Raymond

Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records: A Guide for Family and Local Historians. By Stuart A. Raymond. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £12.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $24.95. In Australia from www.gould.com.au. $30.25.  2015. 148 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

This is a subject I know something about having written two recent books on English parish registers and the Parish Chest records. Yet, this book was a delight to read adding details and expanding upon what I already knew about the subject.

For many family historians it is the baptism, marriage and burials registers that are first and often only records used to identify an ancestor and put them into a specific time and place. These registers are covered in this book, but in one short chapter in the middle of the book. It is the other records created by the parish that will make our ancestors come alive. Their level in society is irrelevant as they will either be conducting the business of the parish, working for the parish in one of many capacities, or receiving assistance from the parish and its officers. In other words everyone can and should be found in these records, assuming they have survived for your parish of interest.

So what is here? The English parish was an integral part of English life for at least a thousand years, certainly up through the early twentieth century. Order within the country was maintained through the parish its officers and institutions, including: clergy; guilds; vestry; churchwardens; overseers; constables; highway surveyors; parish and vestry clerks; beadsmen; beadles; organists and singers; dog-whippers; and sidesmen all of whom are put into context and all of whom generated records and accounts. The parish itself is governed by the vestry so it is the vestry minutes and account books of the different officers that are often the most voluminous and detailed records within the parish, and unfortunately the least indexed or published. Until the mid-nineteenth century the parish was responsible for the poor and the book explains how and what shape that care took, how it changed over time, and what records were generated along the way. Care needs to be taken of the church buildings and its contents so we find: inventories of church goods; bede rolls; glebe terriers; Easter books; faculties; seating plans; magazines; sermons; registers of services and preachers. The church and its members were often involved in litigation as witnesses, petitioners, or as accused in the church courts, all leaving records. To put ancestors physically on the ground and understand their worth within the hierarchy of the parish look for the tithe records; the enclosure awards and maps; or the details on the parish charities.

Throughout the book the emphasis is on understanding the history of the records, their context and what they provide or tell a researcher. The researcher is pointed towards more in depth resources through annotated recommendations often history books that have used a specific record set to describe a specific place or time period. These histories are extremely valuable in putting ancestors and the places in which they live into a correct detailed historical context, for no parish is an island unto itself. The contents of specific document types are often extracts from published sources, only a few original documents are illustrated or extracted. The reader needs to look at both the citation endnotes and the recommended reading lists within each chapter for rarely will a source be in both lists.

I agree with the descriptive text on the cover, at least for English researchers, that this “is a book that all family and local historians should have on their shelves.” You will not be disappointed as this is a big subject and this book will start you off well.

Side note – my books Discover English Parish Registers and Buried Treasures: what’s in the English parish chest by Unlock The Past focus more on how to find, use and interpret the records,, and provide lots of practical advice. The above book adds more context and history.

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