What is a parish chest?
A parish chest is just what it sounds like, a chest or strongbox in which the parish registers were kept. Some records exist from as early as the 16th century, but most are from the 18th century onwards.
What do they include?
They include many different things, and every church has different papers in, but most include:
- Vestry minutes
- Poor and other rates.
- Churchwardens accounts
- Bastardy bonds
- Settlement and removal papers
- Apprenticeship records
The vestry is the parish’s governing council, and they had regular meetings which were usually recorded. These often had individual’s named in them such as the appointment of parish officers and men eligible to serve.
What were the poor rates?
The parish had to earn money and pay out money on a regular basis. The money came in from the church collection as well as taxes, or rates from the people living in the parish. The rates were a tax charged in each separate parish and the parish could, and most likely would refuse settlement of any family needing poor relief.
The amount of tax required from each property was decided on, then the overseer of the poor would go out and collect it.
They paid out to the poor and needy, and this was recorded in a register, usually called ‘Overseers of the poor accounts, or something similar.
What are churchwardens accounts?
Churchwardens, usually appointed at Easter, presented wrongdoings at the quarter sessions. These included such offences as not attending church, undesirable behaviour and drunkenness. They also reported misconduct by the vicar or other vestry members. Churchwardens also often kept the records of men qualified to be churchwardens.
What are bastardy bonds?
Bastardy bonds or bond of indemnification are a fathers guarantee he will take responsibility for a child born out of wedlock. The unmarried mother would have been pressured to name the father while she was still pregnant, if the parish knew, or as soon as she had the child. Friends and relations may also have been questioned.
If they did not find the suspected father, the parish would have to keep the financial responsibility for the child, which they did not want. If they did locate him, pressure was put on him to pay for the child’s upkeep, until he was apprenticed.
If the alleged father refused to sign the Bastardy Bond the parish officials would apply to the Justices for a filiation, or affiliation, order, which forced the father to pay for the child or risk a going to prison.
Later, after the New Poor Law of 1834, the parish lessened their role in bastardy cases and the woman was left with the option of applying for the bond herself.
What are settlement and removal records?
A settlement record records a person’s legal place of settlement, determined by a set of rules. The parish of settlement was responsible for the old age care of people as well as all family members welfare. If a family sought help from the parish, the officials would check to see if they were illegally there and if not they had them removed back to their parish of settlement. The parish officials would often aggressively deny settlement to people.
The people who were entitled to a settlement certificate were:
- A child, who took the father’s settlement no matter where s/he was born.
- An apprentice, 7 or over, who took the parish he had moved to as his parish after living there for 40 consecutive days.
- A trader or someone renting a smallholding or a farm stayed who for 12 months or more and paid parish rates and rented a property for over £10 per year.
- An unmarried man who had worked in the parish for a year or more.
- A woman always took the settlement of her husband.
- A servant who stayed for a year and left with full wages.
- A person who inherited an estate and lived there for 40 days or more.
These records can be quite interesting to genealogists as they often list the person being apprenticed, who could be aged anything between 7 and 18, the apprentice’s fathers name, the name of the person apprenticing the child, the length of the apprentice, and the occupation in which the child is being apprenticed. The father usually arranged the occupation, but the parish did many as it was cheaper to pay for an apprenticeship than to raise a pauper child and it may also be mentioned in the vestry minutes.
The child would usually serve a 7-year indenture, which was the legal agreement that bound the apprentice to serve the master. After he had learned his trade, he would become a journeyman, which meant he was an employee who earned wages. Eventually, he would become a master of his trade, the highest level of craftsmanship
The amount of information to be found in a parish chest is immense. If your family stayed in one parish, they might be found over and over, and their life story can be then built; if they moved you can sometimes find out why they moved and where to.
If you have any comments or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will get back to you.