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Parish records and people of African and Asian origins

03/30/2016 in British Isles, genealogy and family history, Parish sources

This post is a repost of a comment by Marika Sherwood.

Marika Sherwood urges My-Parish members to carry out research in parish records on people of African and Asian origins. They begin appearing in the 16th century.

An example of such records can be seen here:

Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section: Black and Asian people discovered in records held by the Manuscripts Section




08/07/2015 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, genealogy and family history, households and the domestic environment, Italian Peninsula, landscapes and pilgrimage, Mediterranean, Other, Parish Research Today, Parish sources, preservation and memory, Projects, ritual, devotion and religious change, The Alpine Territories, towns and urban environment

When I visit the numerous churches and chapels in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland located south of the Alps, I am always struck by their extraordinary artistic and historical richness. One explanation is the flourishing of devotions and religious art which characterised most Catholic countries after the Council of Trent. This is certainly true especially in the Italian area, to whose cultural sphere the Ticino belonged (even though it fell under Swiss political control in the sixteenth century), but there are other reasons. In fact, a crucial further factor needs to be considered: migration. On the one hand, over the centuries, thousands of people associated with the building trades left their homes in the Lake Lugano region to practice their skills as architects, masons, master builders, stucco workers, stonecutters, sculptors and painters abroad. This phenomenon was generally seasonal and whilst staying in their villages, the artisans helped to build or embellish churches and chapels. On the other hand, many migrants associated with other professions donated substantial parts of their earnings to devotional and charitable purposes.

The migrants’ faith and generosity are still visible in many churches and chapels of these territories, particularly in the Pedemonte region, the Centovalli and in the villages surrounding the town of Locarno. Inhabitants of these places had migrated to different Italian cities – especially Livorno, Florence and Rome – for centuries. Exclusively men, they worked as porters (facchini), coachmen (vetturini), chimney sweeps and food-sellers (rosticcieri), to mention just a few professions. In Livorno and Florence they were even able to obtain the monopoly of the porterage trade.

The following pictures shall help to illustrate the impact of migration as it is still tangible today. (Click the thumbnails to enlarge the images.)

§ Figures 1, 2 and 3 – Chapel of S. Rocco (St Roch, 17th century) in the parish church of S. Maria Assunta (Assumption) in Tegna (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno)

On the balustrade of many chapels, and in one case even on a confessional box, we can often find the inscription “B.D.L”, an acronym which means “Benefattori di Livorno” (“Benefactors of Livorno”). The migrants active in Livorno gathered in groups and used to collect money for their parishes and brotherhoods.

§ Figures 4, 5, 6 and 7 – Chapel in Verscio (1740) (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno); and Our Lady of Montenero in Livorno (14th century)

References to migration and urban experiences also appear in specific devotions. In many churches of this region, even in small chapels deep in the forests, dozen of paintings depicting the Virgin of Montenero can still be found. Here we can see the original painting at Livorno and a very ‘rustic” copy in Verscio. The shrine of Our Lady of Grace of Montenero is located on a hill overlooking Livorno. The Madonna di Montenero, nowadays patron saint of Tuscany, was already widely venerated in seventeenth and eighteen-century century Livorno. In the chapel in Verscio, under the picture of the Virgin Mary and two further saints, we can see details of the port of Livorno (lighthouse and ships).

§ Figures 8, 9 and 10 – Parish church of S. Michele (St Michael) in Palagnedra (bailiwick and pieve of Locarno), Virgin of the Annunciation in Palagnedra (Lorenzo Cresci, altar piece, 1602) and Virgin of the Annunciation in Florence (fresco, 14th century)

A similarly imported devotion concerns the Virgin of the Annunciation of Florence. A copy of the famous and miraculous painting kept in the basilica of the Annunciation in Florence (fig. 8) can still been admired in the parish church of Palagnedra (fig. 9 and 10), a village in the Centovalli, also in the bailiwick of Locarno. This work of art was commissioned by migrants resident in Florence, as recorded in the inscription under the painting.

These are two very good examples of religious and devotional transfers. Further evidence can be found in rural brotherhoods, where migrants followed customs and devotions they had come across in major cities.


Adamoli Davide, Fratelli per l’eternità. Storia delle confraternite nei baliaggi sudalpini in epoca moderna, PhD presented at the Université de Fribourg and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, April 2014 (forthcoming).

Beard Geoffrey, Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe, London, Thames & Hudson, 1983.

Damiani Cabrini Laura, Seicento ritrovato: presenze pittoriche “italiane” nella Lombardia svizzera fra Cinquecento e Seicento, Milano, Skira, 1996.

Gambi Lucio (ed.), “Col bastone e la bisaccia per le strade d’Europa: migrazioni stagionali di mestiere nell’arco alpino nei secoli XVI-XVIII: atti di un seminario di studi tenutosi a Bellinzona l’8 e il 9 settembre 1988”, in Bollettino storico della Svizzera italiana, vol. 103, fasc. I-IV, gennaio-dicembre 1991.

Muchembled Robert (ed.), Cultural exchange in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006-2007.

Orelli Chiara, “Migrazione e mestiere: alcuni percorsi di integrazione nelle città lombarde e toscane di “migranti” dalla Svizzera italiana (secoli XVI-XVIII)”, in Meriggi Marco, Pastore Alessandro (ed.), Le regole dei mestieri e delle professioni, secoli XV-XIX, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2001.

Rüsch Elfi, I monumenti d’arte e di storia del Canton Ticino IV, Distretto di Locarno IV (La Verzasca, il Pedemonte, le Centovalli e l’Onsernone, Berna, Società di storia dell’arte in Svizzera SSAS, 2013.

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by Pat Cox

Chester Consistory Court Cause Papers of the Sixteenth Century

07/28/2015 in British Isles, Parish sources, Projects, ritual, devotion and religious change

A new project coming soon.

A new project hosted by My-parish will present material from the sixteenth-century church court at Chester. The cause papers, which are the basis of the project, illuminate parish life in an English archdeaconry during the age of the Reformation.

This innovative venture will feature images of the papers juxtaposed with transcriptions, translations and supporting materials for each cause and there is much more information to be found under the ‘Parish Projects’ tab above.

Once the pilot, planned for later this year, is up and running the involvement of a wider community in the transcription and/or translation of the remaining records would be warmly welcomed.

Do take a look at the additional information available and let us have your comments.

Viking runestone at Växjö

04/02/2015 in archeology and architecture, Parish sources, ritual, devotion and religious change, Scandinavia, Uncategorized

Växjö Runestone c1000 Tyke Gunnar Pic Berig

Outside the chancel of the Domkyrkan, the medieval cathedral which also served as the town’s parish church, visitors to Växjö in Sweden encounter a runestone dating from c. 1000. One of several surviving in the area, it was discovered in the nineteenth century under plaster in the church wall.

Religious historians are used to memorial brasses and tomb inscriptions inviting prayers for the dead on the eve of the Reformation, but this concern for the salvation of souls predates the elaboration of the doctrine of purgatory by several centuries.

The inscription starts at the head of the serpent and runs clockwise along the circle, with the commendation to God in the vertical rectangle on the right. Translated into English, it reads: “Tyke, the Viking, raised the stone in memory of Gunnar, Grím’s son. May God help his soul!”. Picture: Berig 2007 under Wikimedia Commons.

Parish Records – a new guide

03/10/2015 in British Isles, genealogy and family history, officeholding and local government, Parish sources, Secular law and regulation

Cover It is now more than half a century since W.E. Tate provided us with his comprehensive review of the contents of The Parish Chest. His work remains the authoritative guide to parish records. However, since he wrote, a huge amount of research has been undertaken, as witnessed by the contents of this website. In his day, parish records were generally still held in parish chests; today, apart from current records, they are in record offices. Many, if not most, are fully listed in online catalogues. Numerous transcripts – especially of parish registers and churchwardens’ accounts – have been published by record societies and others. The value of parish records is now widely accepted by academics, as well as by enthusiastic family and local historians. Seminal works such as Eamon Duffy’s Voices of Morebath (Yale2003), and Wrigley & Schofield’s’s Population history of England 1541-1871 (Harvard, 1981), have been based upon them. The internet has many relevant sites (such as this one). It is therefore surprising that Tate’s work has not been fully updated until now. My Tracing Your Ancestors’ Parish Records: a guide for family and local historians (Pen & Sword, 2015) is an attempt to remedy the omission. I begin by placing parish records in the context of the history of the parish. Parish records mostly owe their existence, not just to the clergy, but also to churchwardens, poor law overseers, parish constables, and highway surveyors, so the roles that each of them played is analysed. Then follows the meat of the book – detailed discussions of the various different types of records that could once be found in parish chests. Vestry minutes, officers’ accounts, poor law records, various records relating to ecclesiastical administration, parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, and the records of tithes, enclosure, and charities, are all considered. Detailed information concerning sources published both in hard copy, and on the internet, is provided. I hope that my book will be of assistance to everyone interested in the study of both local and family history, whether they are academics, undergraduates, local enthusiasts, or just trying to trace their family history.

Feastday economies

07/21/2014 in Parish Research Today, Parish sources, ritual, devotion and religious change, The Alpine Territories


While working on records of the former Bishopric of Constance (now kept in the archives of the German Archdiocese of Freiburg), I found a petition by the parish republic of Gersau (address page pictured). Sent to the vicar general in 1779, the mayor and council voiced concerns about the large number of Catholic feasts and mounting difficulties to keep them observed. With the backing of the regional dean, no fewer than 26 saints’ days were identified for downgrading (among which the Visitation of Our Lady). The bishop played ball, approving the request, but urging his ‘Catholic flock’ to diligently attend mass on all remaining feasts and to ‘abstain from all vanities, damaging idleness, suspicious gatherings, dancing, gaming, excessive drinking, swearing … as well as any other insults to the Almighty’. Gersau was in good company, following the lead of the neighbouring Canton of Lucerne, which had secured a similar privilege, and rather ahead of Enlightened monarchs like Joseph II, who started to curb religious duties for economic reasons at about the same time.

Event: ‘The Parish Clerk and the Parish Record in Early Modern London’

04/25/2014 in British Isles, Events, literature and the liturgy, officeholding and local government, Parish sources, Secular law and regulation, towns and urban environment

This coming Monday 28 April, Dr Andrew Gordon (University of Aberdeen) will be giving a seminar paper on ‘The Parish Clerk and the Parish Record in Early Modern London’. The seminar is part of a series of Open University Book History Research Group seminars co-organised with the Institute of English Studies at the University of London titled ‘Paper, Pen and Ink: Manuscript Cultures in Early Modern England’.

The seminar will take place between 5.30 pm and 7 pm at in Room 234, Senate House, Malet St, London, WC1E 7HU.

For more information on the Open University Book History Research Group, please see their website here.

The full list of  ‘Paper, Pen and Ink’ seminars, with details, can be found here.

New community parish history published

09/04/2013 in British Isles, Parish sources, Projects

A Chronicle of Avon Dassett [Cover]


Avon Dassett Local History Group are delighted to announce the publication of A Chronicle of Avon Dassett, a community history project funded by Stratford District Council. The fully illustrated book covers the history of the village from Domesday to the twentieth century. Space limitations means that the book only provides a taster of the rich history of Avon Dassett but the publication is supported by fuller transcriptions of sources on the village website: A free copy of the book will be distributed to every household in Avon Dassett. It is also available for purchase at £4.50 from Jill Burgess ( or Sarah Richardson (

There will be a book launch at St John the Baptist Church, Avon Dassett from 12.30-2pm on 29th September. All are welcome. Please contact Jill or Sarah for more information.

History and Heritage in a Norfolk Market Town

07/29/2013 in British Isles, Parish sources, preservation and memory, towns and urban environment

(c) Glen Denny @

Wymondham Parish Church of St Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury, commonly known as Wymondham Abbey, from the south (c) Glen Denny @

Wymondham (pronounced Wind-um), a market town and parish 15 kilometres south west of Norwich, has a rich and important history. Home to the Parish Church of St. Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury, commonly known as Wymondham Abbey, as well as the leaders of the 1549 Norfolk Rising, Robert and William Kett, the scene of a devastating fire in 1615, and the site of ‘one of the vilest prisons in England’ which spawned early comprehensive prison reform in the 1780s, Wymondham has a lot of history to preserve and to remember. Just how it does this is remarkable in itself.

Muniment Room poster

Wymondham Parish Records 23/51, ‘Poster advertising the opening of the muniment room, ?1913 (c) Wymondham Abbey, used with kind permission

Whereas most parishes deposited their records with diocesan and subsequently county archives in the mid-twentieth century, Wymondham retained most of its records at the Abbey . A strong archival culture had existed since the early twentieth century, with the opening of the muniment room in 1913. The archive remains today, and many important documents relating to the history of the parish are still held in the picturesque setting of the muniment room. Housed above the north porch of the Abbey and accessed via a spiral staircase, the muniment room contains documents relating to the religious life of the town and parish, as well as much of its civic life in its early modern records. Alongside files, displays and archive boxes is an original parish chest, still used to house parish documents, and replete with its three locks, originally intended for the two churchwardens and vicar.

The Abbey has recently been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to develop the ‘Abbey Experience’. This project is aimed at strengthening the Abbey’s relationship with the town, and includes funds to create a new reading space for the archives.

23/36 Poster advertising Old English Sports kept as a record of the celebrations in Wymondham for the  Coronation of George V and Queen Mary, 22 June 1911.

WPR 23/36 Poster advertising celebrations in Wymondham for the
Coronation of George V and Queen Mary, 22 June 1911. (c) Wymondham Abbey, used with kind permission.

In addition to its parochial archive in the muniment room, Wymondham retains an independent town archive, housed in the council offices. This archive was established after historically minded residents noticed a local solicitor dumping volumes of old, superfluous documents in a skip. Having been rescued from disposal, these mainly nineteenth century documents were preserved and now form part of the core collection of the town archive.

Much of Wymondham’s material heritage is housed in the Heritage Museum. The building the museum occupies is an old bridewell. The first bridewell, which the current building replaced, was described in 1779 by prison reformer John Howard as the ‘one of the vilest prisons in England’. The bridewell was subsequently rebuilt following Howard’s plans for a ‘new model prison’. The Heritage Museum documents much of Wymondham’s past, including its industrial heritage as once a capital of brushmaking.

Details of the archives and museum can be found at: – Wymondham Abbey Muniments – Wymondham Town Archive – Wymondham Heritage Museum

Meriden Centre of England

06/24/2013 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles, genealogy and family history, landscapes and pilgrimage, Parish sources, preservation and memory, Region, Uncategorized

Every decade or so Meriden’s traditional claim to be the ‘Centre of England’ is challenged, sometimes by another place like Minworth or Lillington but since 1941 by the Ordnance Survey.  Despite this alternative version being more than 70 years old, a  statement was put out by the OS on 14 June as if a newly discovered fact . An identical claim was also made in 2002 but may be the difference this time is that on the edge of a field near Fenny Drayton,. Leics a 6′ post made from a railway sleeper bears a plaque with the information. Meriden’s claim is  a traditional one based not on exact sciene because in previous centuries exact science was not significant. No one knows when or why precisely this attractive folklore  became accepted but in 1829 a  Warwickshire Gazeteer informed its readers oft Meriden’s status indicating it was of long standing.

For many years I have collected newspaper cuttings from 1905 to 1972 on the theme but the advent of readily accessible newspaper archives on the internet has made my task easier. To date I have about 24 additional statements from 1870s to the present day the majority of which support Meriden’s claims, often dogmatically. Many articles  link the ancient sandstone market Cross on the Green with the precise centre and a letter to the Birmingham Post in the summer of 1898 related how the villagers believed the Cross had been moved to the Green to ensure precision.. We knew the Cross had been moved  from oral testimony by a lady born in the village in 1900 with a long standing family background there. In addition the famous Coventry local historian W.G. Fretton who grew up in Meriden recorded it had been moved in living memory  in a book he published in 1879. The 1829 gazeteer  says it was on the Green by then but I must point out not in its current position. The then main A45 had encroached on the Green bit by bit leaving the Cross very near its edge and in danger of being hit by lorries. It was moved in to its present position in June 1953 just in time for the Coronation celebrations.

Doreen Agutter – Meriden Historian