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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.

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.

Avon Dassett Local History Group Launch New WWI Project

07/24/2014 in British Isles, genealogy and family history, households and the domestic environment, preservation and memory

Summer 1914.

Life goes on as normal in the small rural Warwickshire village of Avon Dassett. But the life of the community is about to change for ever.

On August 4 1914 Britain declared war on Germany. But how did the experience of war affect the lives of ordinary citizens across the country?

This Heritage Lottery Funded Project seeks to follow the lives of the residents of Avon Dassett during the first year of the war. It charts the rhythm of daily life – births, marriages, deaths, school, work and leisure – and the extraordinary experiences of a community living through global conflict. We follow the fortunes of some of the Avon Dassett lads who enlisted early in the war.

Subscribe to the blog. Comment on stories that interest you. Add your own photos or stories of your family’s experience of World War I.

William Winthrope Watts, father of Avon Dassett Local History Group Member, Reg Watts enlisted in January 1915. Follow his story on the blog!

William Winthrope Watts, father of Avon Dassett Local History Group Member, Reg Watts enlisted in January 1915. Follow his story on the blog!

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

‘Admirable memoranda’ and ‘memorable Recordes’ in parish registers

01/07/2013 in British Isles, genealogy and family history, officeholding and local government, Parish sources, preservation and memory

Parish registers are some of the most familiar sources for parish historians. Introduced in the 1530s by Thomas Cromwell, they contain records of the baptisms, burials and marriages of parishioners and thus serve as useful genealogical and demographic tools. From information contained with these records, historians have been able to estimate population sizes, fertility rates and mortality rates, and genealogists have been able to trace their ancestry back into the sixteenth century.

But these records are not always just lists of names and dates. Authors of these registers took it upon themselves to record memorable local events alongside the sacraments. In Rowde, Wiltshire the first parish register opens with the a note that therein is contained all the ‘memorable accidents which have or shall happen within the parish’. Similarly, in the eighteenth century, Dr White Kennet, the Bishop of Peterborough, urged local clergy ‘to enter down any notable incident of times and seasons, especially relating to your own parish, and the neighbourhood of it’ when making his visitations. These local chronicles were seen as potentially instructive guides to future generations. William Auerell, clerk of Saint Peter’s, Cornhill, included a sixty line poem on the instructional value of the parish register:

Thus every age and calling,

May heare beehold theyr faces:

Theyr rising and theyr falling,

Theyr endes and wretched cases:

Which glasse weare it well used,

Life should not bee abused.

However, until relatively recently, and perhaps because of the registers’ value as demographic and genealogical sources, these local chronicles have been neglected. The Harleian Society published its early registers ‘to obtain as large a mass of genealogical information as possible in the shortest possible time’, thus leaving out ‘lengthened Annotations’ and other marginalia deemed ‘useless and uninteresting matter’.

There are some wonderfully evocative vignettes included in registers. My own interest is in flooding and other so-called ‘natural disasters’ in early modern Britain. Parish registers (the name for both the book and the person that wrote in the book) were particularly keen on noting down freak meteorological events. Henry Childe, vicar of Arlingham, a parish in a loop of the River Severn in southwestern Gloucestershire recorded the dramatic events of January 20th 1607, the Bristol Channel ‘tsunami’:

manye, about the number of 20, had lost their lives, or, at the least, binne greatly endangered to be pined or starv’d to death. Mr Thomas Yate and his eldest son, Mr Richard Yate, were then hemm’d in upon the Glass Cliffe with the water. I say it is an admirable memorandum, because it exceeded the fludd that was about 46 years before, a foot and a half at the least higher than it was then.

In Welford, an Avonside parish in Warwickshire, the end paper of the earliest surviving register records a flood on July 8th 1588. We read of a flood that was so sudden that ‘John Rennies wife then millward was soe amazed that shee sate still till she was almost drowned’, and was ‘much besides her selfe and so farr amist that shee did not know her owne child when yt was brought unto her’. In Pilton, Somerset, the register tells us of a snow so deep in February 1577 ‘that no man coulde travell wthout daunger of Drowninge therin’. These notes were obviously referred to by future generations, much as William Auerell had hoped: in Long Newnton, Gloucestershire, the Great Storm of 1703 is referred to as the ‘most generall calamitie that ever this nation felt. Neither can we find any paralell of it in our Chronicles’.

Despite the glum tone of this last memorandum, the Long Newnton chronicler was not down for long. In 1704 we hear of ‘this happie yeare [when] This nation had many remarkable occurences of Gods good Providence; in giving good successe and victory to our Armies & Fleetes’. The personal whims of authors could come through in accounts of more local events too. Henry Childe included a verse on his experiences of Arlingham’s seventeenth-century floods:

Thrice have I seen a fearful inundation

Within the space of two and twentie years,

As few of my coate have in al their station;

Which when it comes (as’t will) unto men’s eares

What hart so hard that can abstain from teares?

But woe is mee that I am first to dwell

Where seas, enradge with windes, so proudlie swelle!

God knows who shall survive to see the next,

To be, as I have binne, with feare perplext.

These ‘admirable memoranda’ and ‘memorable Recordes’ give us an interesting, very local perspective on important events in parish life. I would be very interested to hear of any memoranda in the registers of fellow My-Parishioners!


Further reading:

Will Coster, ‘Popular religion and the parish register 1538-1603’, in Katherine L. French, Gary G. Gibbs, and Beat A. Kümin (eds), The Parish in English Life 1400-1600 (Manchester: MUP, 1997), pp. 94-111., pp. 94-111.

Steven Hobbs, ‘‘The abstracts and brief chronicles of the time’: memoranda and annotations in parish registers 1538-1812’, The Local Historian, 38, 2 (May, 2008), pp. 95-110.

Steven Hobbs (ed.), Gleanings from Wiltshire Parish Registers (Chippenham: Wiltshire Record Society, 2010)

W.E. Tate, The Parish Chest; A Study of the Records of Parochial Administration in England (3rd edn., Chichester: Phillimore, 1983)

Preaching and Pastoral Provision

10/08/2012 in archeology and architecture, British Isles, genealogy and family history, literature and the liturgy, Media, Podcasts, preservation and memory, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy

Dr Heather Falvey (University of Cambridge) chairs a morning panel session, entitled ‘Preaching and Pastoral Provision’, at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. Papers include:

  • Revd Martin Gorick, ‘Stratford Sermon Series Project’
  • Ian Brodie (Southam), ‘Bastard priest: The life of a Scottish-born 19thC vicar of Grandborough, Warwickshire’
  • Prof. em. Claire Cross and Dr Judith A. Frost (The University of York, History), ‘A Prior and his Parish: Alvered Comyn and Wragby Church in the Reign of Henry VIII’
  • Andrew Thomson (King’s College London, History), ‘17th-century Winchester clergy’

Recorded Saturday 26 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.