Clicking on the locations on the map below, or the links on this page, will take you to details of our holdings of church records for each town or village. General information follows the map on this page.
We have copies of registers for most of the local Church of England churches available on microfiche or film for you to consult when you visit the Centre. Most original Church of England records are held by Staffordshire Record Office or, occasionally, at the individual church. We also hold many original nonconformist church registers, and transcripts of some Catholic church registers.
Most of England's parishes were formed by 1200; many however are much older than that, with their boundaries dating as far back as the 9th century. In 1538 Thomas Cromwell ordered each parish to keep a register of marriages, baptisms and burials. At first normal practice was to record the entries onto loose sheets, many of which have since been lost or destroyed. Only a minority of parishes have records that go back to 1538, many begin in the reign of Elizabeth I (1558). In 1597 it was ordered that each parish should keep a bound register and that older documents should be transcribed into that register. The Act of 1597 also ordered that a copy of the registers should be sent to the bishop's office. (See Bishop's Transcripts and Marriage Licences, Fact Sheet 10)
During the Commonwealth (1653-1660) the registers were in the hands of a secular official, known as the "Parish Register", who was responsible to the magistrates. The Act of 1653 ordered the registration of births rather than baptisms although in practice this was not always followed. The Restoration of Charles II (1660) saw the Act repealed and the Church of England restored to its role of record keeping.
Between 1694-1706 there was a short period of registration of births, as taxation was imposed on births, marriages, burials, bachelordom and childless widower hood. Up until the mid 18th century most parish registers were general, combining baptisms, marriages and burials, either in chronological order or in separate parts of the register. Before 1753 there was no formal ceremony for marriage. Any ceremony performed by a priest with or without banns or licences, in or out of church, was legal. Therefore if married by a clergyman without a benefice your ancestors may not have left a formal record of their marriage. However Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1754 made it compulsory for marriages to be by banns or licence by a beneficed Anglican clergyman in an Anglican church. The Act also imposed a standard entry for marriages in a bound volume of printed forms. The couples' names were entered, their marital status and their parish of residence; in addition the forms were signed by both parties and by witnesses. Marriages often took place in the parish of the bride. As between 1753 and 1836 marriages were only legal if they took place in a Church of England church (with the exception of marriages of Quakers and Jews), some Nonconformists and Roman Catholics may have preferred to remain legally unmarried rather than go through an Anglican ceremony.
After 1837 not all marriages needed to take place in Church of England churches, therefore after this date Anglican marriage registers are less all encompassing. On the other hand marriage registers include more information after 1837. They record the name, age, occupation and residence of the bride and groom and also the name and occupation of the respective fathers. If the father was deceased at the time then this is recorded. It is necessary to remember that contrary to popular opinion many people did not get married and therefore do not appear in marriage records.
Rose's Act of 1812 made it compulsory for all register entries to be of a standard type in separate volumes. There are separate baptism and burial registers therefore from 1813. Before this date the information provided for baptisms is the date of the baptism, the first and other names of the child (except in some circumstances), the first and other names and surname of the father and the first and other names of the mother (although this was omitted by some incumbents.) Occasionally the date of birth is noted in the margin. Baptism registers after 1813 record the first and other names of the child, the date of the baptism, the parent's names, the father's surname, their residence and the occupation of the father as well as the name of the officiating minister. Remember that many ministers refused to baptise illegitimate children. It is also worth noting that a baptism might take place several months after the birth. Before 1660 some ministers who objected to infant baptism might refuse to baptise infants. It is also worth considering when looking for a baptism that the mother might have been visiting a relative at the time of the birth and hence the baptism might have taken place away from her home parish.
Burial registers before 1813 contained the name of the deceased, the date of burial and sometimes the status or occupation of the deceased. From 1813 onwards each entry recorded in addition to this abode, name of the officiating minister and the age of the deceased, although this last piece of information should be treated with some caution. It should be remembered that by the terms of the Toleration Act of 1689 Roman Catholic and Nonconformist cemeteries were permitted. Entries for burials in these cemeteries would not be recorded in the parish registers. There are various other reasons why someone's burial may not be recorded in the parish registers. Some incumbents would not bury unbaptised persons or suicide victims or those persons who had been excommunicated. Remember also that death may have taken place abroad, or the deceased (or their family) may have wished burial to be elsewhere than in the parish where the deceased or their family lived. From 1853 onwards many urban churchyards were closed and burials began to take place in municipal cemeteries. (See Municipal Cemeteries, Fact Sheet 7.)
Most parish registers were written in Latin during the 16th century but by 1625 English was rapidly taking over. Despite this Latin can occur until the early 18th century. It should be remembered that until 1752 the New Year was not January 1 but March 25, and so an entry before this date reading 1 January 1729, would by our reckoning actually be 1 January 1730.
Parish Records at the Local History Centre
Walsall Local History Centre does not hold any original parish registers. Under the provisions of the Parochial Records and Registers Measure (1978) original registers of the ancient county of Staffordshire are kept at the Staffordshire Record Office or at the parish church. The Local History Centre has microfilmed copies of most local parish registers. Where microfilmed copies finish at 1900 the subsequent registers are at Stafford if they have been transferred by the church or still at the church if not.
The registers of St. Matthews Church, Walsall are still kept at the church, but the Local History Centre does have microfilmed copies of the registers except the first (1570-1649) up to 1986. There is no burial nor marriage register for the period 1649-1662. The Local History Centre also has printed transcripts, 1570-1649 and typed, indexed transcripts of baptisms to 1837, burials to 1852 (except for October 1746-May 1749), (these are on the microfilm of the registers but have not been transcribed), and marriages, 1662-1837. There is also a card index of baptisms, 1831-1835 and marriages, 1754-1837 based on the bishop's transcripts but checked against the parish registers.
Walsall parish was divided into the borough and the foreign. The borough was the area in the centre of Walsall whilst the foreign covered a larger area including places such as Bloxwich and Caldmore. Shelfield and Walsall Wood were detached parts of the parish. The foreign was abolished in 1835. A number of other places were parts of larger parishes and did not become proper parishes until about the 1840s and some or all of the relevant records therefore may be with the so-called mother parish. The areas affected are in brackets as follows with the mother church first: Aldridge (Great Barr); Bilston St. Leonard (part of Moxley); Darlaston St. Lawrence (part of Moxley); Norton Canes (part of Brownhills, though not Ogley Hay); Shenstone and, from 1823, Stonnall (the Ogley Hay area of Brownhills); Walsall St. Matthew (Blakenall, Bloxwich and Walsall Wood); Wednesbury St. Bartholomew (The Delves, King's Hill, part of Moxley); and Woverhampton St. Peter (Bentley, Pelsall, Short Heath and Willenhall).
See Also Nonconformist and Catholic records and Roman Catholic Records.
Gibbens, Lilian, An Introduction to Church Registers, (Federation of Family History Societies, 1994)
McLaughlin, Eve, Parish Registers, (Federation of Family History Societies, 1985)
Pounds, N J, A History of the English Parish, (Cambridge University Press, 2000)