In 1497 Cardinal Ximenes introduced the registration of baptisms to his province of Toledo, then throughout western Europe. No doubt his aim was to check the growing scandal of wholesale divorces, disguised as decrees of nullity, based on the alleged spiritual kinship contracted at baptism between the baptised and his relatives, and the sponsors and their relatives. How far this notion had gone may be seen from such instances as that of John Hawthorn of Tunbridge, who was sentenced in 1463 to be whipped thrice round church and market for incest, i.e. for marrying as a second wife the god-daughter of his first. On 11 November 1563, the Roman Catholic church ordered the general keeping of baptismal and marriage registers.
Meanwhile in England (including Wales, which was incorporated into England by the Act of Union of 1535, 27 Hen. VIII, c.26), a raft of reforming measures was consolidating the split with Rome and the Reformation. Among these, on 5 September 1538, Thomas Cromwell, the Lord Privy Seal and the king's vicegerent, ordered that every parson, vicar or curate enter in a book every wedding, christening and burial in his parish, with the names of the parties. The entries were to be made each Sunday after the service, in the presence of one of the churchwardens. The parish was to provide a 'sure coffer' with two locks, the parson having custody of one key, and the wardens the other.
These earliest registers were generally made of paper, sometimes even loose sheets. On 25 October 1597 a provincial constitution of Canterbury, approved by the Queen in 1598, ordered that parchment registers should be purchased by each parish, and that all names from the earlier registers should be copied therein from the beginning, 'but especially since the first year of her Majesty's reign'. The reason why so many registers begin in 1558 is that many transcribers lazily complied with only the last part of the injunction, and omitted to copy the first twenty years of the original register. Register entries were still to be made on Sundays, now in the presence of both churchwardens, and a third lock was to be added to the parish chest, with each warden having the key to his own lock. Also, bishop's transcripts were established.
Only one Welsh parish (Gwaenysgor, Flintshire) has a register starting in 1538, and even this is a parchment register made sometime after 1598. Of just over one thousand ancient parishes and chapels in Wales, only seventy have registers that begin before 1600. Ceredigion has the poorest record of the counties of Wales. The earliest parish register in the county dates from 1653 (for the parish of Cardigan); the earliest register in nearly two thirds of Ceredigion parishes (including Llangynfelyn) dates from 1754, and thirteen parishes have no surviving registers before 1813.
Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753 (26 Geo. III, c.33) came into force 25 March 1754, and ordered that records should be kept of both banns and marriages, and that these should be 'in proper books of vellum or good and durable paper' to be provided by the churchwardens. The entries were to be signed by the parties and to follow a prescribed form, and the registers were to be 'carefully kept and preserved for public use'. These Hardwicke marriage registers were the first registers to consist of bound volumes of printed forms. The earliest surviving Llangynfelyn register is a 1754 marriage register. Until then, baptisms, marriages and burials usually used the same volume, sometimes each using separate pages, sometimes all mixed in together. Now, however, that register carried on with baptisms and burials alone. The earliest Llangynfelyn baptisms and burials are dated 1770 and 1772 respectively; presumably it took longer to finish the last page of burials in the previous, now lost, volume. The earlier registers, containing the baptisms 1538-1770, marriages 1538-1754, and burials 1538-1772, have disappeared.
George Rose's Act of 1812, 'An Act for the better regulating and preserving Parish and other Registers of Birth, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, in England' (52 Geo. III, c.146) was passed 28 July 1812, and stated that 'amending the Manner and Form of keeping and of preserving Registers of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials of His Majesty's Subjects in the several Parishes and Places in England, will greatly facilitate the Proof of Pedigrees of Persons claiming to be entitled to Real or Personal Estates, and otherwise of great public Benefit and Advantage', and enacted that separate register books should be kept for baptisms, marriages and burials from 31 Dec. 1812. The king's printer was to supply each parish with a copy of the Act and three books printed on parchment or durable paper, each printed in conformity with the standard lay-out and numbered entries laid down by the Act. Llangynfelyn parish registers 3-5 are the books supplied under this Act, with a copy of the Act bound into the front of the baptism register.
As part of the 1831 census, enquiries were made of clergymen of the pre-1813 parish registers. The returns are now in the PRO (HO 71), and sometimes give reasons for recent losses of registers.
A select committee reported on the 1831 returns in 1833, publishing an Abstract of the answers and returns made pursuant to an Act ... for taking an Account of the Population of Great Britain ...: Parish Register Abstract. The return for Llangynfelyn (p. 427) notes two registers, one containing baptisms 1770-1812 and burials 1772-1812, the other marriages 1754-1812 (Llangynfelyn parish registers 1-2). The result of the report was further legislation in 1836, the Marriage Act (6&7 Will. IV, c.85) and the Births and Deaths Registration Act (6&7 Will. IV, c.86). These Acts came into force on 1 July 1837, and established the present system of civil registration.
A more recent survey was carried out in Wales by the NLW between 1933 and 1940. The Llangynfelyn return lists the earliest volume, with baptisms 1769-1813 and burials 1769-1812, two further volumes of baptisms, 1813-61 and 1861 onwards, three marriage registers, 1754-1812, 1813-37 and 1837 onwards, and two burials books, 1813-70 and 1870 onwards. All the registers are listed as made of paper and stored in the church safe. The condition of the 1769 book is given as rather poor, the 1754 book is fair, the 1813 marriage and burial books are good, and the other four books are very good. A note is made that the 1769 book also contains vestry minutes for 1784-86. There are also two volumes of churchwardens' accounts, 1889-1904 (good) and 1905 onwards (very good), both also in the church safe.
All marriage registers in Wales were closed in 1971, when bilingual volumes were substituted.
Llangynfelyn parish registers
1 1770-1813 (baptisms and burials)
2 1754-1812 (banns and marriages)
3 1813-61 (baptisms)
4 1813-37 (marriages)
5 1813-70 (burials)
6 1837-1970 (marriages)
7 1870-1949 (burials)
8 1824-1968 (gostegion / banns)
The registers still in use in the parish are baptisms (1861-), marriages (1971-) and burials (1950-)
The bishop's transcripts (BT) were established in the Church of England by a constitution of 1597, codified by a canon of 1603. They are an annual return to the bishop of a copy of the parish register entries for the proceeding year. There are virtually no BTs in Wales dating from before 1660, and even then there are substantial gaps. A fair number of Ceredigion parishes have a very similar pattern of BTs to Llangynfelyn: scattered returns through the 1670s, 1680s, 1690s and 1700s, a gap for the rest of the eighteenth century (several parishes restart in 1799), and then a pretty continuous series of BTs to the end, generally in the 1870s, 1880s or 1890s. The last Ceredigion BTs were made in 1911 (in the parishes of Betws Leucu and Gartheli), and the last in Wales in 1917 (Llangoed in Anglesey).
1675, 1678-79, 1681-83, 1687-89, 1691, 1699, 1701-03, 1705, 1803, 1811-53, 1855-63, 1865-71, 1873-80, 1882, 1885-86
As the earliest Llangynfelyn parish register only dates from 1754, the fifteen BTs for the thirty years 1675-1705 are valuable.
The dates covered by the BTs each year vary from parish to parish before 1812. Since then, they tended to standardise on 1 January to 31 December. Most parishes ceased sending marriages with their transcripts after July 1837.
Cox, Parish registers of England (1910)
Tate, The parish chest (1951)
Williams & Watts-Williams, Cofrestri plwyf Cymru / Parish registers of Wales (1986)
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