Welsh Journals

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THE PARISH REGISTERS OF WALES TiHIS article is based on a study of the original parish registers deposited in the National Library of Wales and the photocopies of other registers which are available in the Library. Over four hundred ancient parishes are represented in these two groups. This is more than a third of the total number of ancient parishes in Wales. Since the registers are derived from all parts of Wales, they are sufficiently representative to form the basis for a general study. The majority of the registers remain in the custody of the incumbents of the various parishes but there is an arrangement for the deposit of the original registers in the National Library for preservation and repair, and the provision by the Library of photocopies to be kept in the appropriate parishes. Another source used in this study was the replies to the questionnaire relating to parochial records sent to parishes by the Library in the period 1933-1940.1 Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal and Vicegerent, issued a mandate, 5 September, 1538, ordering every parson, vicar or curate to keep a register of every wedding, christening and burial in his parish. The parishes were to provide a coffer for the safe keeping of the register. The coffer was to have two locks, one key being kept by the clergyman and the other by the churchwardens. Every Sunday the weddings, christenings and burials of the preceding week were to be entered in the register in the presence of the churchwardens (or a churchwarden). Every time they omitted to comply with the injunction, the party at fault was to forfeit 3s 4d to be used for the repair of the church. The official keeping of parish registers in England and Wales starts with Cromwell's order. It is probable that records relating to important families had been kept before this time by the religious houses and by the clergy, but I know of no evidence relating to the keeping of any parish register in Wales before 1538. Records were sometimes kept in missals and other religious manuscripts e.g. the death of Issabelle Godynogh on 23 April, 1413 is recorded in the Caernarfon Book of Hours (N.L.W. Ms 17520). Poets and genealogists also recorded dates of births and deaths in their manuscripts3 and dates are often given in verse in the eulogies and elegies of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Welsh poets. Such details are rare before the introduction of the official registers but they can be important because so few early registers have survived in Wales. The injunction of 1538 relating to the keeping of parish registers was repeated by Edward VI in 1547 with the variation that the fine of 3s 4d was to be used for the poor of the parish.4 A similar order was issued by Elizabeth in 1559, the 3s 4d fine was by this order, however, directed to be divided equally between the poor and the repair of the church.5 In 1598 Elizabeth confirmed a constitution issued (1597) by the convocation of the province pf Canterbury which directed the more careful keeping of parish registers.6 The parishes were ordered to buy parchment registers and the old registers, which had usually been of paper, were to be copied into the new parchment registers, especially from the first year of Elizabeth's reign