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Guides to Our Sources

Parish Registers

Page from Exbourne parish register [3326A add 2/PR6]
Page from Exbourne parish register
[3326A add 2/PR6]

How and when did parish registers begin?

What information do they contain?

What dates do they cover?

Are they included in the IGI?

Are there any other relevant indexes?

Where are Devon parish registers held?

Parish registers are one of the four main sources used by family historians researching families in England and Wales. They are also an essential source for parish history and  demography.  Post 1754 marriage registers can provide useful information on the extent of literacy.

Parish registers are simply records of baptisms, marriages and burials as recorded by the minister [rector, vicar or curate] in charge of the Church of England parish. They can date from 1538 to the present day, and survive for most, but not all, Devon parishes .

Baptismal registers, which in most cases were the only record of a child's birth before civil registration began in July 1837, are especially useful as they record the names of the child’s parents.  Marriage registers from 1754 onwards give the signatures of witnesses, who may be relatives of the married couple. From 1837, marriage registers also give the names and occupations of the fathers of the bride and groom.  The family connections which can be made from such evidence make parish registers especially useful.

Most pre-1837, and a substantial number of post-1837, registers are now available to researchers on microfiche only, but a set of these microfiche is available in all three of Devon's Record Offices.  Service Points in Devon at Appledore, Brixham, Colyton, Holsworthy, Honiton, Kingsbridge, Okehampton, Tavistock, Tiverton, Torquay and Totnes also have microfiche of the filmed registers of parishes in their areas.  For a list of the parishes covered by each service point, see the information on Service Points.

The majority of the original registers deposited are at the Devon Record Office in Exeter but those for North Devon parishes are at the North Devon Record Office , North Devon Library and Record Office, Tuly Street, Barnstaple, EX31 1EL (01271 388607), and those for Plymouth and some West Devon parishes are at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, Unit 3, Clare Place, Coxside, Plymouth PL4 0JW (Tel: 01752 305940).  The original registers of a very few parishes are still held by the parish churches, but in these cases transcripts or microfiche of the early registers are held at the record office.

It is important to bear in mind that registers under 100 years old may still be in the possession of the incumbent.  In some cases parish churches also still hold registers dating back to the early 19th century. The Devon Record Office will help you, where possible, to make enquiries to the present custodians of a parish's registers.

The Guide to the Parish and Non-Parochial Registers of Devon and Cornwall, 1538-1837, by Hugh Peskett (Devon and Cornwall Record Society, 1979, revised 1983) is a valuable information source on Devon parishes and their registers.  Copies are kept for reference in the Devon Record Office and Westcountry Studies Library as well as at other family history society libraries outside Devon.

A regularly updated list of parish, non-parochial and civil registers deposited in the three Record Offices is available on this website - see below.

Some indexes and transcripts of Devon parish registers exist.  For a detailed description of these, and more information on the historical background and use of this important source, see the following pages: