Friday, 16 March 2012

Beyond the Internet Week 11: Church Archives

Continuing the weekly theme, inspired by Family History Across the Seas.

Over the last few weeks I have spoken about the Parish Chest at Puttenham and the Church Records also at Puttenham. I don't believe that Puttenham is a unique village. There are probably rural communities across the UK where an amazing amount of data relating to early parishioners has survived. Perhaps a curious Religious man who loved his adopted parish, as in the case of Charles Kerry of Puttenham. The Parish Records for Puttenham are fairly generous. Early records exist within the Records Centre and later records are held at the Church for those who wish to visit.

My Grandfather was born in the neighbouring parish of Wanborough, so having spent quite a lot of time in Puttenham and received nothing by hospitality and generosity, I toddled off to the church at Wanborough to seek the details of the Church Warden. I telephoned him and made an appointment to visit and look at the records.

I have to say, this was around 1988 and before the worries of identity fraud had really taken off, so I had, based upon experiences from a parish 2 miles away that I would be met with friendliness and would be welcomed. The was huge reluctance to let me see the registers.

These were not especially modern births, they ranged from 1900 until the 1920s, and at that point, the majority of my Great Aunts and Uncles had passed away, with the exception of 3 of them. There was one chair, so I moved it and sat down with a pencil and my note book to write down the details, the Church Warden hovered behind me then started pacing. I have no idea what his worries were. I suddenly announced that I would be at least 3 hours and that I was more than happy for him to leave me and come back after a time. He did and I breathed a sigh of relief. I continued on my quest and wrote down every single baptism, marriage and burial detail relating to my family names. I had no intention of returning for a while. I mentioned this to my contact in Puttenham who informed me that the Church Warden always behaved like that. I heard a few years later that he had passed away and returned to the parish again, to view the records and meet the then Church Warden. It was a completely different experience.

Regardless, of how I was made to feel, I was adamant that I was not going to be put off looking at the records for my relatives. The moment I saw the entry for my Grandfather in 1908 was a very special one and I was not going to let a stranger spoil it for me. The experience of visiting the Church and simply absorbing the atmosphere, holding the register, looking at the font is a real experience and was well worth the hassle that I had experienced. Time has passed now and the register completed, so the Church have deposited it with the Surrey Records Centre.

The visit was aimed at a completion of seeing the records. I had the data - the names of my Great Aunts & Uncles and when they were born already from the oldest sibling of the family, yet I learnt several new things that day. Firstly, that my Great Grandparents had lost three children, two boys and a girl, all of whom had died within their first year. The little girl had died of convulsions. I also learnt that my Great Aunt who we had all called Doll, because she was christened Dorothy and was so small as a baby that her siblings called her Doll, was in fact not Christened Dorothy, she was formally Christened as Lillian Dorothy.

In the parish of my own Christening, like my Mum and Grandmother before me, I was held, apparently at the font by my Godparents and Christened. I have my original Baptism Certificate which records me as Julie Joyce, which is actually incorrect, although the Baptism record does record the details correctly.  Joyce is the middle name of my Mother, so perhaps it was the same rector who carried out the service.

In these two instances, we have an official record, given to the parents and Godparents that is incorrect, supported by a correct recording in the register along with my birth certificate. We also have family history which conflicted what the official documentation says. Even my Great Aunt, who would have been 15 years old at the time her sister was born was adamant that her sister was christened Dorothy.

We should view the records, both those retained at the church and those given by the church and oral family history in tandem, in this case there is any inconsistencies such as in my case.


  1. Thanks Julie for participating once again. You've amply demonstrated that persistence pays and that one needs to be both vigilant and discerning when looking at the records...those anomalies need to be weighed and appropriate conclusions reached. I know exactly what you mean about the reception one gets: the archive that gave me the certificate is generous and inclusive and I have a happy meeting-of-minds with the archivist. Another Catholic archive is by no means as generous -with them you don't even get in the door. It frustrates me because I'm talking about the late 1800s and this is the history of the church in Queensland as represented by its Irish members with occasional sprinklings of other nationalities. They cite Privacy etc etc quite happily...and unproductively.

    1. The bond, we feel as researchers with deceased and unmet ancestors is an odd one. We research and confirm they are our ancestors and then we become protective over it as we add them to our tree and records and seek to discover all we can.

      It is so frustrating, when our genuine behaviour and fondness for these ancestors is challenged or simply not welcomed. After all,they are our ancestors.


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