Key Dates

  • 1538 - Registers were introduced following the English Reformation by edict of Thomas Cromwell, Chancellor to Henry VIII.  Cromwell ordered that the Clergy should keep a record of all Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, although few instructions were included and these registers frequently only contain limited information.  Many Parishes ignored this order and only about 800 registers exist from this period.
  • 1598 - Elizabeth I ordered that registers should be kept in parchments books and that earlier paper records were to be transcribed onto parchment at least back to the start of her reign in 1558.  Elizabeth I also required that these records should be copied and a transcript sent to the Bishop.  These Bishop's Transcripts are useful if the original Parish Register is missing.
  • 1653 - 1660 - During the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell imposed a system of civil registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths.  Some parishes defied these requirements and these civil registers are often poorly kept.  Many Registers during this period are missing or incomplete and the deficiency of these records is often referred to as the "Commonwealth Gap".
  • 1733 The use of Latin in registers is prohibited.
  • 1752 - The 1752 Calendar change. See notes below.
  • 1754 - The Harwicke Marriage Act "for for the Better Prevention of Clandestine Marriages" decreed that marriages were only legal if they took place after Banns in the Parish Church or on the issue of a Licence.  The Register will show the names and parish's of the Bride and Groom.  It may also show the date of the wedding, the Grooms marital status and his occupation.  The Marriage Register had to be signed by both Bride & Groom and by two witnesses.  Quakers & Jews were exempt from the Act.
  • 1763 - Minimum age for marriage is set at 16.  Those under 21 still needed the consent of parents.
  • 1812 - George Rose's Act required the use of pre-printed forms for Baptisms, Marriages & Burials.  Baptism registers now had to show the names, addresses and occupation of the parents.  Burial entries had to include the age and place of residence of the deceased. 
  • 1837 - From July, Civil Registration began in England and Wales.  From this date, if the marriage takes place in a Register Office, then there will be no entry in the Parish Register.  Marriage Registers had to show the names of the Bride and Groom, their marital status, occupation, place of residence and the names and occupation of the fathers.  Full age is 21.
  • Until 1929 girls could marry at 12 and boys at 14.
  • 1978 - The Parochial Registers and Records Measure requires all records over 100 years old to be stored at the local Record Office, unless the Church has adequate storage conditions.  If the Church no longer stands then the register is held at the Records Office.

Notes on the 1752 Date Change

Before 1752, the year number changed over on March 25th (Lady day). The year 1752 was the first year that January 1st was the first day of the year.

This gives us a potential little problem when recording dates before March 25th in each year.

If March 25th was the first day of the year, and let's say a couple were married on that day, in 1750. They could quite easily have a baptism of their first child on March 24th 1750 - a year later !

That's our problem. Some genealogists record precisely what is recorded in a parish register. Some record it as written, but didn't realise that in our modern calendar they could actually be referring to a different year. Some genealogists make an allowance and record 5 January 1750 as 5 January 1751 because 1751 is the "real" year in our modern calendar.

The big problem with either, is that we don't know if a genealogist or transcriber has written it literally or made allowance for the modern calendar!

So, the correct standard for writing these dates in our records (and when we transcribe registers) is in the form 1750/1. It is them extremely obvious that 1750 is what was written in the register, but it was really 1751 in the new calendar. 1749/50, 1630/1, 1699/00 etc. Easy! No confusion.

So, for all years up to and including 1751, dates between 1 January and 24 March inclusive, are written with double dates. 23 Jan 1731/2.

The UK Tax Year now commences on the 6th April! The tax year prior to 1752 started on New Years Day i.e "Lady Day" the 25th March - 11 days difference.

Quarter Days

Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th of September every year. As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England, it is one of the "quarter days".

There are traditionally four "quarter days" in a year (Lady Day (25th March), Midsummer (24th June), Michaelmas (29th September) and Christmas (25th December)). They are spaced three months apart, on religious festivals, usually close to the solstices or equinoxes. They were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun. It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid. This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal and university terms.