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parish registers

parish registers. Records of baptisms, burials, and weddings were kept in England following an order of Thomas Cromwell in 1538. Registers began in Scotland in the 1550s and 1560s, although few survive before the 17th cent. Irish parish registers, too, do not normally start before that century and those that do usually cover only the protestant Church of Ireland; few registers recording the majority catholic population start until the 18th cent. Register-keeping in England was poor during periods of religious conflict, such as the reigns of Edward VI or Mary I, or during periods of civil unrest such as the Civil War and Interregnum (1642–60). The form and content of English parish registers was altered by a brief dalliance with civil registration under the Protectorate (1653–60) and also by Hardwicke's Marriage Act (1753) and Rose's Act (1813).

Before civil registration in 1837 parish registers provide historical demographers with the best means of calculating population statistics. Their techniques involve the counting of monthly totals of events in parish registers (aggregative analysis) and the reconstruction of individual families by linking together baptisms, burials, and marriages (family reconstitution). The reliability of their results, however, depends on overcoming the many deficiencies of Anglican parochial registration, since registers record church ceremonies, rather than births, deaths, and marriages. Many babies died before baptism, and, over time, an increasing proportion of the population deserted the Church of England so that by the 1810s English registers contain only about two-thirds of the nation's births and deaths.

Jeremy Boulton

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