If your ancestors were Catholic, you may find that you struggle to find parish records online. The National Archives has provided a guide to help in research.
Between 1754 (Marriage Act) and 1837 it was a legal requirement for all marriages to take place in an Anglican church. Many Catholics also married in a Catholic church, with the record of this marriage never being handed in to the authorities. Because of this, some Catholic baptism and burial records that were contained in the same register might also be missing.
It is not unusual to find that a couple married in a Church of England church, yet they and their children were baptised Catholic (it’s also not unusual to find two marriages – one Anglican and one Catholic).
Many Catholic churches still hold the records themselves, and more and more are being digitised, so it’s always worth contacting churches in the area where you are searching. I’ve found most to be very helpful. They can also advise which local Anglican church would have been used for marriages. I discovered that some of my Catholic ancestors were married at St Andrew’s Anglican Parish Church in Leyland, Lancashire, thanks to information from the priest at St Mary’s in Euxton.
Some useful dates:
- 1534 Act of Supremacy
Essentially created the Church Of England and made Henry VIII its head. It made supporting the Pope (that is, being a Catholic) an act of treason.
- 1554 – Act of Supremacy repealed
Queen Mary I, a Catholic, came to the throne.
- 1559 Act of Supremacy
Queen Elizabeth I, a protestant, ascended the throne and reinstated the 1534 act with some amendments.
This act included the Oath Of Supremacy, which required anyone taking public or church office to swear allegiance to the monarch as head of the Church and state. Individuals who refused to take the oath could be charged with treason. The severity of the penalties for refusing to take the oath had three different levels. For the first refusal, the offender suffered the loss of all moveable goods. A second offence could mean life in prison and the loss of all property. A third offence carried a charge of high treason and death.
- 1559 Act of Uniformity
This act enforced the use of the book of common prayer in religious services. It imposed fines on all men who refused to attend Church of England services at their parish church, these people were known as recusants.
- 1559 to the 18th century
Catholics were subject to new laws, taxes and persecution. State records documented Catholics and their activities, reflecting their status outside the establishment. Records show the penalties and punishments (including fines and land seizures).
- 1754 Marriage Act
decreed that all marriages must be conducted by a minister and take place in a parish church or chapel of the Church Of England to be legally binding.
- By the 18th century, Catholics were no longer as persecuted, but were still effectively barred from entering the professions, holding civil or military office, or inheriting land.
- 1829 Roman Catholic Relief Act
This brought about official emancipation of Catholics and many state restrictions on their activities were lifted.
- 1836 Marriage Act
The act allowed Catholics and non-conformists to marry in their own church, with a registrar present. It also made civil marriages at registry offices legal.
- Today, marriages that take place in the Church of England or Church of Wales do not require a registrar to attend. Any other religion (whether Christian or not) require the attendance of a registrar (which can be the minister, priest, Iman, rabbi etc if they have been licenced by the local Superintendent Registrar) for the marriage to be legal.
Note: Laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland may be different to England and Wales.