These are contemporary copies of the Parish Registers - that is, copies made in the parish in the same year as the original parish register entries. Under an Order made in 1598 it was stipulated that within one month of Easter each year, the churchwardens were to send to the Diocesan Registry (that is, to the Bishop) a copy of all the register entries for the preceding year. Note that these copies may not be an exact copy of a register entry. Some transcripts were made first, and copied up into the register before being sent to the bishop, and some do not contain all the information found in the register, while some contain more.
Bishops transcripts are useful to the family historian in cases where a parish register is missing, or where there are gaps or difficulties in reading existing ones. These transcripts are now stored in the Diocesan Record Office. This is usually, but not always, the County Record Office. If a diocese includes more than one county, the transcripts for that diocese may be split by archdeaconry, and stored in the relevant County Record Office, instead of together as a complete group with all the other diocesan records.
Early Bishops Transcripts (up to 1812)
Bishops transcripts are available for almost all Devon and most Cornwall parishes. The earliest transcripts date from 1598, but because they were written on paper, very few survive from the early 17th century.
No transcripts were written during the Commonwealth period because there were no bishops, and many of the Anglican clergy were deprived of their livings. The keeping of bishops transcripts was recommenced at the Restoration and most parishes have a reasonably good series from 1660, and this is especially so for the second half of the 18th century.
Late Bishops Transcripts (after 1812)
When George Rose’s Act was passed requiring baptism, marriage and burial registers to be kept in printed books with parchment pages, the keeping of bishops transcripts changed in a similar way, and they were exact copies of the registers, written on printed sheets of parchment, often with the page and entry numbers copied from the register, as well.
After the introduction of civil registration in 1837, copies of marriage entries were no longer sent to the bishop because copies had to be sent to the registrar. Baptisms and burial entries continued to be copied for some time; the date when they cease varies from parish to parish, with some continuing into the 1850s and 60s. Most of these parchment transcripts are in good condition, but some were very badly damaged by fire and water when the room in the Cathedral where they were kept was hit by an incendiary bomb in 1942. This damage is so severe that in some cases transcripts for a whole parish cannot be unfolded and read.
Locating Bishops Transcripts for Devon and Cornwall
The counties of both Devon and Cornwall were, until 1876, in the diocese of Exeter. The pre-1812 transcripts for Devon have been microfilmed and the films are available at all three of Devon's Record Offices.
The transcripts for Cornwall are divided between the Devon Record Office in Exeter and the Cornwall Record Office, County Hall, Truro. Bishops Transcripts for Cornish parishes in the Archdeaconry of Cornwall are held at Truro for the years 1674-1736, 1741-1772, and 1801-1804, but these are also available on microfilm at Devon Record Office in Exeter.
The post-1812 Bishops Transcripts (known as late BTs) for Devon and Cornwall have not been filmed, and those which are not badly damaged can be consulted at the Devon Record Office in Exeter. All Cornish Bishops Transcripts are held in the Great Moor House strong-rooms, and those for Devon parishes which have not deposited early 19th century registers, or which have missing registers, are also held at Great Moor House.
To enquire about the location and availability of post-1812 Bishops Transcripts for particular parishes, please telephone us on 01392-384253 or email us several days prior to your visit.