Parish and Cemetery Records

Parish registers contain baptismal, marriage, and burial records which provided proof of an individual’s status. Religious personnel in each parish were responsible for entering the information, maintaining the registers, and providing civil authorities with a copy. They are valuable and well-used sources which historians consult to reconstitute families around these life-cycle events, to track changes in birth, fertility, marriage, and death rates over time, and to write local and family histories. Parish records often include additional information such as occupations of fathers and husbands and the names and signatures of those who witnessed events such as marriages.

Nonetheless, parish records have certain limitations. The information contained in them varies according to religious denomination, the idiosyncrasies of individual recorders, and the circumstances under which the event occurred. For example, during epidemics resulting in a great loss of life, the data tends to be scant. Moreover, not all families baptized each of their children in the weeks following birth; others chose instead to baptize them all together or not at all. Catholic record-keepers were much more rigorous about the information they recorded than Protestant record-keepers, who were generally inconsistent. Like other historical sources, not everything survived the ravages of time. Historians thus look to cemetery records for information not found in parish records, such as cause of death or information on those born elsewhere.