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Parish Records Introduction

One of the major archives held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service is that of the parishes of the Church of England. No parish archive is ever the same as any other, as a look at the lists below will confirm. Genealogists, of course, are very familiar with the parish registers of baptisms, banns, marriages and burials and those who have delved further into their family histories will know of the records of the Overseers of the Poor. Parish records, however, are of use to a greater circle of researchers than genealogists alone. Naturally local historians and historians of the Church will find much in them, but so too will researchers into social history, transport, architecture, law and order and numerous other subjects. Until the formation of modern local government in the last years of the 19th century (County, District and Parish Councils which we know today) much of the burden of local government at its most local level fell on the parish, its vestry and officers. Thus the Church had a degree of civil power in addition to its religious authority. The Parish and its officers oversaw a number of functions, including:

* The Poor Laws before 1834 - payment of money to poor people and relief from poverty and destitution by the Overseers of the Poor;see also Poor Law Records pre 1834
* creation of apprenticeships, again a responsibility of the Overseers;
* maintenance of the roads in the parish by Surveyors of the Highways;
* maintenance of law and order by the Parish Constables;
* responsibility for selecting men to serve in the militia - another function of the Overseers;
* lighting and watching of the streets and thoroughfares of the parish;
* administration of parish charities which commonly included apprenticeship funds, bread and fuel doles as well as more specialised charities.

Our Parish records are broken down into a number of series, which may be summarised thus:

INCUMBENT, BENEFICE, PROPERTY & INCOME
* Registers of Services
* Parish Registers [these are not listed below, for the coverage for each parish see Anglican Parish Registers
Clergy Institutions, Admissions and Licences (the legal documents installing an incumbent or curate)
*Property and income of the parish including glebe (land owned by the parish church) and tithes (tenths of produce originally, but increasingly commuted to sums of money, particularly after the Tithe Act of 1836. The Tithe Act of 1935/6 abolished tithes, compensation being provided by stock which was purchased by the incumbent commuting his own tithe)

CHURCHWARDENS (the chief lay officers in a parish)
* Rates - to raise money for the repair or enlargement of the nave of the parish church
* Accounts - expenses of all types from purchasing candles to major repairs, often a useful source for investigating the history of the fabric of the church and for researching local tradesmen
* Property of the parish

VESTRY
The minutes and proceedings of the Vestry which, very roughly, approximated to the modern Parochial Church Council and Parish Council combined

CONSTABLES
* Accounts
* Other records such as lists of constables

OVERSEERS
* Rates to raise money for poor relief
* Accounts
* Settlement papers (sending paupers back to their parish of origin and receiving local paupers transferred by other parishes, very good sources for the genealogist)
* Appretinceship papers
* Bastardy records
* Militia papers
* Relationship with Poor Law Unions after 1834 (particularly the provision of outdoor relief, i.e. money etc. given to the poor in their own parish rather than sending them to the workhouse)

SURVEYORS
* Rates to raise money for highway maintenance
* Accounts showing how money was spent, often a good source for local tradesmen

LIGHTING & WATCHING INSPECTORS

SPECIAL COMMITTEES

CHARITIES

STATUTORY DEPOSITS
* Inclosure Awards (a copy of the Inclosure Award, together with its map, had to be deposited with the parish concerned)
* Tithe Awards (a copy of the Tithe Award, together with its map had to be deposited with the parish concerned)

MISCEALLANEOUS

SCHOOLS

PARISH MAGAZINES

PAROCHIAL CHURCH COUNCIL
* PCC minutes including Annual Church Meetings
* PCC Accounts
* PCC correspondence
* PCC property
* PCC sub-committees