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Sep 17, 2013
Parish Chest Records

Parish Registers are very useful but there are other parish records which are less well known. They go under the name of Parish Chest Records and cover a wide range of topics. Not every type of record has been retained but a trip to the County Archives in the UK is worth while. Not all the Parish Chest Records are in the Records Office you would expect them to be in so because they are not in the county archives you would expect them to be in doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Sometimes the Parish Chest Records have been retained within the church.
Vestry Minutes
The action points arising out of the parish meetings which were the basis on which the parish was administered. In addition to historical background to the parish, names of the vestry officers are given and names of those carrying out work in the parish.
Constable’s Accounts
Responsible for law and order the constable made an annual report on the expenditure involved in maintaining the law. This account would give names of offenders (and their occupations), vagrants (where names are known), apprentices (often poor children) and parishioners failing to attend church.
Overseer of the Poor
Post created in 1572 ended in 1834 by the Poor Law Amendment Act. Gives names of those receiving aid. From 1601 the overseer was allowed to apprentice and child under the age of sixteen whose parents were not able to provide for him/her.
Gives names and addresses of those paying rates. Sometimes listed as a family unit.
Settlement Certificates and Removal Orders
Information relating to those moving into the parish - gives details of the parish they have come from and lists the whole family. Removal orders often have brief biographies of those being sent away from the parish.

Parish Chest Records cover a wide range of topics but you never know what you are going to find and what has survived. Some parishes have hardly any records others have a very comprehensive collection.
Perhaps the records which have survived more than any others are the vestry minutes and churchwardens’ reports. Here we can see the effects national and international events had on people’s lives. Church bells are rung to mark Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar, the passing of The Reform Bill or the defeat of Napoleon to spread the message amongst parishioners.   Sometimes there are descriptions of sweeping snow off the church roof or dispatching sparrows and hedgehogs. You just never know what you are going to get. There may be detailed descriptions of the workhouse, prison, market or church. Through the parish registers we get the facts of someone’s life, through the parish chest records we get  a glimpse of how our forebears lived - we share their lives as they sup their ale, raise money for church alterations, bemoan the state of the nation and  see their economic fortunes rise or fall.

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