Free Online Parish Register Information

England Parish Registers

If you are researching your family history this list of free online parish register search resources will come in very handy when you are looking within a very specific area.

The information is compiled by locals and interested parties, so the information is provided with an understanding of the bigger picture of the area and not simply one of 10,000,000 records held on a faceless computer.

England is divided into counties. Each county is divided into towns, then into parishes. To keep it simple, you can think of a parish as being the few miles square that a church covers. Records of births, deaths and marriages are kept by the Parish.

Parish registers were first introduced in 1538, by Thomas Cromwell. Since then, every parish church was required to acquire a sure coffer (a parish chest) and keep their records securely inside it.

These hand-written parish registers of births, marriages and deaths and burials were then made available for the public to view. If you were researching your family history some years ago it would have been necessary for you to visit the parish, request the register, then sit down and actually read through every entry to see if they had the person you were looking for and what they had recorded. Obviously now, it's so much easier.

However - there was an interim period between the parish register and the Internet. At one stage in the past many of these old parish registers were recorded onto microfiche (like a slide/photograph) - and, yet again, in order to view them you'd have had to book out the microfiche you were interested in and sit and read through them in a library or the county offices.


Free Parish Registers Online
Free Parish Registers Online | Source

Researching your family tree has never been easy - but it has also never been easier! Now we have the Internet, family tree study and access to information becomes easier by the day as literally thousands of interested people across the world are contibually swapping information and uploading and transcribing their own, local, records.

Researching the past seems tricky at first, but persevere. Records have only been kept for a few hundred years - during that time they have been written in various languages (Latin and English), by different people with varying handwriting, in differing formats and using differing notations and abbreviations. It can, at times, be like a giant jigsaw puzzle, but one day you'll get each piece you were looking for.

Records were originally kept in individual churches, on paper. These will have deteriorated, or been lost, chewed by rats, or even burnt during various periods of religious uprisings. There have been various Acts of Parliament requiring Parish Clerks to record set information in set formats and even a move to writing the records on parchment. One Act required all the information to be written out twice, with one copy being sent weekly to the central records - and there were uprisings among the clergy about the increased workload. Add to that the fact that the people registering births, marriages and deaths will have had various accents and many not being able to read/write it would have been up to the clerk to interpret what they said their name was and how to spell it.

It's an absorbing and fascinating interest that you can either take from, or contribute to. You might find yourself obsessed with people with your name within just one parish, for example, and might become part of the global contributors who publish all that information in the form of a website, or you might be somebody who stumbles across somebody else's efforts, finds 3 ancestors and moves on. It's up to you!

Online Parish Clerks (OPC) and FreeREG

There are two main systems currently in use:

  • Online Parish Clerks (OPC)
  • FreeREG

The online parish clerks were the first set of volunteers to start to pull together and transcribe the parish registers, making them freely available to individuals and personal researchers.

More recently, the FreeREG system has been set up and is more heavily promoted and backed, so this looks like it might become the preferred system going forward.

Each of the OPCs is individually managed, laid out and created. The FreeREG system has a standardised format and easy search functions. I believe it is this consistency of approach and easy searching that will make FreeREG win out in the end.

Online Parish Clerks

The online parish clerks are groups of individual volunteers who painstakingly transcribe the parish registers onto a database that is then made available, for free, online.

In addition to transcribing and recording the parish registers, these online parish clerks are also collating any other documents they can find, e.g. non-conformist records, certificate data, voters lists, protestation returns etc.

Many will also have provided maps so you can understand the data in context.

Not every county has, or had an Online Parish Clerk. It's a huge commitment in time and effort, as well as some joined-up thinking that can get these facilities off the ground. In fact, if you're reading this and interested in online parish clerks for your county and there isn't one, maybe you can consider contacting the existing groups to contribute, or to set up your own online parish register along the same style.


Note: Online Parish Clerks are not employees, they are not officials, they are not hired, they volunteer. It costs them money and time to contribute diligently. While many OPCs will take requests, you must remember it is the goodness of their heart that drives them on.

Cornwall Online Parish Registers

Cornwall Online Parish Registers was one of the first (or THE first) groups to set up. They started collating the information in 2001.

Cornwall has over 200 individual town and parish councils. The full list is available at: http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=22301

The records in this database have been donated by volunteer transcribers worldwide. Although every effort has been made to ensure that the transcriptions are as accurate as possible, researchers are advised to consult the originals for themselves.

Also available on the Cornwall Onlne Parish Registers site you will find:

  • A Wills Index
  • An index of transcribed documents from the Malcolm McCarthy Collection
  • A list of burial grounds that are not administered by the County Council
  • A list of crematoria
  • A list of epidemics affecting Cornwall from 1591-1864
  • A list of parish codes used by the Central Recording Office (CRO)
  • Some donated/contributed files that link specific individuals to each other based on their surnames.


Cumberland/Westmorland Online Parish Clerks

The Cumberland and Westmorland Online Parish Registers website is now forwarding to the Cumberland & Westmoreland Archives site.

The original OPC website was at ttp://www.cumberlandandwestmorland-opc.co.uk/

The site still provides access to the following information:

  • Morland Parish Registers: Burials, Marriages, Deaths
  • Cumberland Parish Registers: you need a login
  • Stanwix Parish Registers: Marriages 1662-1682.
  • Miscellaneous Marriages
  • Monumental inscriptions
  • Quaker sufferings in the 1600s
  • 1873 Cumberland Post Office Directory


Devon Online Parish Clerks

At the time of writing, the whole of Devon isn't covered by the Online Parish Clerks scheme - but about half of it is (nearly 200 parishes are covered) and it's growing all the time.

They do not appear to have a clearly defined website of their own at present, but you can find out more about the Devon Online Parish Clerks here: http://genuki.cs.ncl.ac.uk/DEV/OPCproject.html

One parish, Cornwood, does have a website: http://www.cornwood-opc.com/ - Cornwall is a small parish not far from Plymouth.

Dorset Online Parish Clerks

Dorset is a very active group, sometimes it seems like the whole county is working on gathering the information to make it available.

Some of the information is contained on external sites, but most of it is in the one central site.

You can either view records parish by parish, or there is a search facility to search them all.

The Dorset Online Parish Clerks information includes:

  • Births, deaths, marriages
  • Census information
  • Burials
  • Dorset Windmills
  • Parish Registers and Bishops Transcripts


Essex Online Parish Clerks

Very few parishes in Essex currently have an assigned Clerk. Information has been provided by 13 parishes to date though.

Information available on the Essex OPC website includes:

  • Births, deaths, marriages
  • Baptisms
  • Banns
  • Burials, searchable across four churches
  • Census Returns, extensive lists
  • A list of churches
  • Memorial inscriptions (currently only from one church)
  • Wills


Hampshire Online Parish Clerks

Hampshire Online Parish Registers is compiled by volunteers, who own a microfiche reader (or can gain access to one), buying a parish register fiche from their own money and spending time transcribing it.

You can search by parish, but there is no centralised search box that covers the whole county of Hampshire yet.

With the Hampshire Online Parish Clerk information, you select the Parish you want, then choose births, marriages or deaths, then the whole of the parish register is shown on the screen.

In addition to births, marriages and deaths, you will find some information on:

  • Parish Council information and photos
  • Local pages

In the main, however, it is simply lists of births, marriages and deaths, transcribed and donated by people who have either bought a fiche for their own research, or who have simply volunteered as they're interested in family history and local history.

Kent Online Parish Registers

It seems that in Kent only about a dozen parishes have an active volunteer for the Online Parish Register. However, the site does have a useful page per parish, helping you to put your research in context as it shows a photo of the church, a local map, population figures and local information. It helps you to feel you understand the area your ancestors lived in.

The site is organised by parish, so you find the parish, then look at the records. There is no site-wide search facility.

The Kent Online Parish Register has been active since 2004.

Lancashire Online Parish Clerks

The Lancashire Online Parish Clerks project has extensive information available. About half of it is available online.

The records are organised by church and includes:

  • Births, marriages, deaths
  • Banns
  • Churchings*
  • Baptisms
  • Burials

*Churchings were a Christian tradition where the mother of a recently born child is blessed after recovering from childbirth. It was regarded as unwise for a woman to leave her house to go out at all after confinement until she went to be churched. This service has disappeared now, but you will still see it occasionally crop up when researching parish registers. A woman was churched one month after the baby was born. If a baby died within the first month it was referred to as a crysome or crisome child (spelling varied across parishes and years)..

Lincolnshire Online Parish Clerks

Lincolnshire is not part of the Online Parish Clerks system (OPC).

You can access Lincolnshire information through the FreeREG system. The objective of the FreeREG system is to:

Provide free Internet searches of baptism, marriage, and burial records, that have been transcribed from parish and non-conformist registers of the U.K.

Free Lincolnshire Original Parish Registers

Lincolnshire have put their parish records books online and you are free to browse through them. You do have to do it page by page as there's no searchable transcription at present, but there will be in the future, it's a project underway.

For a list of the individual Parish Registers you can use the LincsToThePast search facility, although it will take a little getting used to before you fully understand what they have got and the keywords to search for: http://www.lincstothepast.com/searchResults.aspx?qsearch=1&keywords=par%2F1

Somerset Parish Register

Very few of the Somerset parishes have had, or have, an active OPC. However, the site does have search facilities, as well as being navigable on a per parish basis. You can search by parish or, scroll to the bottom and there is an "all" option.

The information on the Somerset Parish Register website includes:

  • Births, marriages, deaths
  • Baptisms
  • Bishops' Transcripts
  • Banns
  • Census Returns
  • Wills


Sussex Parish Registers

Sussex is a county divided into two parts: East Sussex and West Sussex. There are over 200 parishes in each part, so the whole of Sussex contains over 400 parishes).

The Sussex Online Parish Registers site has a handy search feature, enabling you to choose to search in East Sussex, West Sussex or the whole of Sussex.

The information they provide includes:

  • Births, marriages and deaths
  • Baptisms
  • Burials
  • Monumental Inscriptions
  • Census Returns (by district and by property)
  • Wills
  • Poll Registers
  • Protestation Returns
  • A Gazette Index
  • Postcards and Photos

This is a very well populated site with a lot of well researched and searchable information. One nice detail is that you can view graphs and see the status of the transcriptions, showing you what has been completed and how far along the next tranche they are with the census'

Warwickshire Online Parish Clerks

The Warwickshire Online Parish Registers site is organised by parish, There seems to be no central search facility available.

The information includes links to external sites and includes:

  • Births, marriages, deaths
  • Workhouse records
  • Census returns
  • Monumental inscriptions

Overall, rather than being one central site, the site simply brings together all the resources that are available on other sites.


Wiltshire Online Parish Clerks

The Wiltshire region is divided into over 340 parishes - most of which are actively being contributed to.

Having chosen the relevant parish, one neat twist is that you will then see a list of contiguous parishes (parishes adjoining the one you have selected).

Information included in Wiltshire is:

  • Births, marriages, deaths
  • Wills and probate
  • Civil registrations
  • Census returns
  • School admissions registers
  • Newspaper snippets
  • Workhouses

The Wiltshire site has a facebook page, and a site-wide search facility that is limited to parish names and not people, so you can't just type in your surname and get a result.

There are also links to local family websites and one name studies.

Yorkshire Online Parish Clerks

This is a new site, that is being set up in February/March 2013. It is being set up by the person who started the Wiltshire OPC group.

At the time of writing there is no content and they are seeking volunteers for the three regions of Yorkshire:

  • The North Riding
  • East Riding
  • West Riding


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