Searching parish records is where you really begin to feel a sense of history. Parish records used to be kept in the church of the parish or be held by the incumbent. In the unlikely event that they still are, you should arrange an appointment with the incumbent to view the records. My ancestors came from Kent I spent many a happy hour searching for and finding their records in Canterbury Cathedral Archives. Truly an historic environment.
From 1598 copies of the parish records of baptisms, marriages and deaths called Bishop’s Transcripts were also made to be sent annually to the bishop of the diocese. You should be aware that BT’s (as they are often referred to) when found, may contain errors and the original records should be checked where ever possible.
Earlier parish records were written in Latin and you may need the services of a translator to interpret them for you at a later date if you are making contemporary copies. Most, if not all parish records have now been transferred to county records offices and/or the Public Record Office in Kew, London and are available for viewing there. You should be able to find where the records of a particular parish are kept by searching online. If that doesn’t work, try to contact a family history society local to the area that you’re interested in for the information.
Copies of found documents will usually be made by the record office for a small fee but if they are busy they may post them at a later date. If you know exactly what document you are looking for, you may be able to order copies by telephone or online. For birth, marriage and death certificates you will normally need index reference details.
Although many records and documents can now be found online and copies ordered and downloaded, there is nothing quite like seeing and handling them if you can track down their location. They’re a direct connection back through time to when your ancestors lived and were often written right in front of your ancestors centuries ago as they stood before the cleric of the time.
Record your researches carefully – keep organized notes of what registers and time periods you have searched, even if fruitlessly, to avoid duplicating your searches again at a later date. If the name you are searching for is uncommon, you may wish to record every instance of it appearing within a particular time period for future reference.
When visiting record offices, always plan well in advance. Your route and journey, where you’re going to park, the location of the office etc. This sounds obvious, but If you’re traveling a long distance to visit the office every minute is very precious and time will slip away in an instant. Accept the fact that you may need several visits to complete your researches.