This is a little guide to the parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials held at City of Westminster Archives Centre. On our website under “Researching your family history at the Archives Centre” you can find a list of our Information Sheets and other useful information.
Information Sheet 1 lists the registers we have for Anglican Churches in Westminster. Most of these are available to view on microfilm (for reasons of conservation) in our Searchroom, but they have also been digitised and are available to search and view online on the Findmypast website.
Registers for the Anglican churches in Marylebone and Paddington are available to view on microfilm copies here and on the Ancestry website because the original registers for these are at the London Metropolitan Archives.
Both Findmypast and Ancestry are available on the public computers in all Westminster libraries and on Wifi to users in libraries with laptops. More detailed indexes to our holdings can be found in the Archives Searchroom.
The earliest registers date back to Henry VIII and the establishing of the Church of England. Thomas Cromwell issued an order to every parson, vicar or curate to register every wedding, christening and burial within their parish in 1538.
The oldest registers for Westminster are for St Margaret, Westminster starting from 1539 followed by St Martin in the Fields 1551 and St Clement Danes and St Mary le Strand in 1558.
In 1597 paper registers were found to be deteriorating. An order was issued for them to be on parchment or vellum. Old register were to be copied from at least 1558. There was also an order for a second copy to be made and sent to diocese and these are known as the Bishop’s Transcripts. This was to prevent the temptation of later tampering of the registers. You can find these copies for Westminster registers on the Ancestry website taken from the copies sent to the Bishop of London.
The years 1642 – 1653 are sometimes known as the civil war gaps due to the upheaval of the monarchy. From 1653 a civil register was introduced which reverted back to the clergy when the monarchy was reintroduced in 1660. Another important date to point out is 1752 when the calendar changed. Before this date the year started on Lady’s Day, 25 March.
The Hardwicke Act for marriages was introduced from 1754. Marriages had to be registered in a separate register to baptisms and burials, before this one register could contain all three. It was also expected to eliminate clandestine and irregular ceremonies; only Jews and Quakers were exempt. All others including Catholic were supposed to take place in licenced Anglican churches and printed paper registers were introduced. You could marry by Banns or Licence and needed the marks or signatures of two witnesses.
Rose’s Act was passed in 1812 and introduced printed standardised registers for baptisms and burials.
From 1 July 1837 the civil registration for births, marriages and death starts in England and Wales.
Parish registers still continues. The marriage entry in the parish register does correspond to the same format as the General Register Office certificate, but the parish register will have the original signatures of the groom, bride and witnesses, if they could write their own names.