Searching Berkshire Parish Registers

page reviewed and revised 3rd March 2016

Introduction to parish registers

Two key dates in your research are Saturday, 1 July 1837 — the start of civil registration in England & Wales — and Sunday, 6 June 1841 — when, for the first time on that particular census night, the national census collected names and some limited personal information of every person in the household. But if you need to search before 1837, what other resources can you use?

To find ancestors before 1837, or to learn more about people who were born, married or who died before that year, you must turn to parish records. While many different parish records survive, Church of England parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials should be your starting point. Earliest registers date from 1538 (but many parishes did not begin to keep records until much later) and registers are kept to this day, offering valuable information for researchers.

Registers of baptisms are particularly important. In the early years of civil registration (from July 1837 to 1875), it is estimated that up to 15 per cent of births went unrecorded in some areas (for a variety of reasons). The baptismal record thus remains a key record even in the early years of civil registration.

Those parish registers that are over 100 years old should now be safely deposited in the relevant diocesan archive, usually the County Record Office (CRO) or its metropolitan equivalent. For all of pre-1974 Berkshire (including parishes of North Berkshire and the Vale of the White Horse), original registers and other parish documents are held at Berkshire Record Office in Reading.

Finding your ancestor in church records is rarely as straightforward as searching for them in civil registration and census records. You need to know how best to make intelligent use of available finding aids and indexes to parish registers. And you need to be able to use other research resources that can help you to find the right parish register for your needs.

What transcriptions and indexes are available? And how readily can you use them?

Additional information