Friday, September 16, 2011

Thoughts on looking at parish registers

As the hunt for the missing (family) link continues, I find myself ever more delving into parish registers for Essex. Checking my list I realise I have now looked through at least 35 books, some of which have over 100 pages, or images, to squint at and try and decipher. This image is from a parish register for Quendon and possibly has half teh detail about my great x 5 grandfather and his father.

What’s really interesting about this exercise is seeing the variations in record keeping. Some vicars clearly took their record keeping responsibilities more seriously than others. Some pages are very easy to read, while others are just scribbles. Some have great detail, like where a baptism record also lists the name of the parents in full and gives father’s occupation, or other little glimpses into the past. And other records are just the most basic names and dates.

And you find stories behind the stories too, I mean I find more than just my ancestors, though I’ve not had much luck in finding them recently. You can see, for example, when a new vicar or cleric arrives at a parish. There’s a line ruled, and an announcement in the book. The handwriting is neat and tidy and the pages well looked after, clear of doodles and notes. And then, as the years go on, the handwriting gets worse, more shaky, clearly the vicar is becoming infirm, until it looks like he can no longer see but he is determined to keep going. Then, you turn a page and there is his own burial entry, and the announcement of a new vicar and the process starts again.

A slightly neater entry in the Harlow records
And every now and then you find a real gem of writing: “Mary So-and-so, sometime wife of Henry So-an-so.” Sometime wife? Was that a common expression? Some vicars call illegitimate children ‘illegitimate’ or ‘base born’ and some really go for it with ‘bastard’ and then write that the father fessed up.

So it’s not just about trying to find the Collin family of Essex, but it’s about having some fun and seeing some real history along the way.