Searching Berkshire Parish Registers

Berkshire Record Office

Berkshire Record Office (link) is a designated diocesan archive for the Diocese of Oxford, of which the Archdeaconry of Berkshire forms a part. It holds original registers deposited by the parishes of pre-1974 Berkshire (including those of North Berkshire and those of the Vale of the White Horse). In a few cases, most notably Abingdon St Helens, parishes have been permitted to retain their registers.

In 1992, the Church of England made a requirement that all parish registers of baptisms and burials containing entries that are 150 years old or more should be closed and (in most cases) deposited in a diocesan record office. The order does not apply to a church's copy of marriage registers after 1837 (copies of these entries should have been sent for entry into the civil registration system). In practice, most of these older marriage registers have been deposited too. In a record office, these old and very often fragile registers can be safely maintained under suitable storage conditions.

Bishops' Transcripts (BTs)

From 1598 onwards, most parishes were required to furnish an annual copy for the bishop of those baptisms, marriages and burials that had been entered in the register in the preceding 12 months.

Some of these copies were constructed at the same time as the original register entries were made. Others were compiled retrospectively, once the year had ended. As a result, under both approaches, there are variations (sometimes providing vital missing details for family historians) between entries in a parish register and the corresponding transcripts prepared for the bishop.

Once prepared, bishops' transcripts were sent to the bishop of the diocese holding authority over the parish. There are a few instances of bishops' transcripts before 1598 and the transcripts mostly ceased around 1837 with the arrival of the civil registration process. A very few BTs extend into the mid-19th century.

Many bishops' transcripts have been lost or destroyed but there are situations where BTs survive while the original register has been lost. This makes BTs a potentially valuable resource in your research. Where both registers and bishops' transcripts survive, it is good practice to check both, and compare the entry detail. As explained earlier, there will be inevitable differences for some entries - offering you a challenge — which source should you accept in your research?

Surviving BTs for Berkshire are held in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (the Berkshire Archdeaconry formed part of the Salisbury Diocese until 1836). For the few BTs prepared subsequently, original returns are held in the Oxfordshire History Centre (after the 1836 transfer of the Berkshire Archdeaconry the Oxford Diocese).

North Berkshire

Berkshire Family History Society is the only society to cover all of pre-1974 Berkshire. Its Baptisms, Marriages and Burials CDs provide county wide coverage.

Its Vale of the White Horse Branch (which meets in Abingdon) provides a focal point for family historians living in North Berkshire. 

Following changes to modern county boundaries in 1974, some North Berkshire parish registers have also been indexed or transcribed by the Oxfordshire Family History Society (OFHS). Reflecting techniques and materials used, most of these OFHS outputs are not as readily searchable as Berkshire Family History Society CD publications. Most of these Oxfordshire publications are available from the Shop on this website, as microfiche or non-searchable CDs.

Suggested further reading

An Historical Atlas of Berkshire, 2nd edition, December 2012, Editors Joan Dils and Margaret Yates, published by Berkshire Record Society (and available from the Berkshire FHS shop) Read a review

Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers,  3rd edition (2003) by Cecil R. Humphery-Smith

National Index of Parish Registers Volume 8 Part 1 Berkshire (2003) by Anthony Wilcox, published by the Society of Genealogists Available from the Shop

page reviewed and revised 19th December 2017

Additional information