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Roman Catholic Registers and Records

Nature of Source

Registers of Catholic baptisms, confirmations, marriages and occasionally burials. The Toleration Act of 1689 guaranteed freedom of worship for dissenting groups and granted these groups the right to establish their own licensed places of worship (attendance at Anglican church services was compulsory up until the Act). However, the Act of Toleration expressly excluded Roman Catholics from the guarantee of freedom of worship and Catholic repression continued. Some ceremonies were held in secret during the years of persecution but most Catholics were baptised and married in Anglican churches and buried in Anglican churchyards. It was not uncommon for the Anglican minister to note mark an entry in the register with 'papist' or 'recusant'. In the event of a Catholic marrying outside the Church of England, the authorities might have prosecuted the offending parties through Church/Ecclesiastical Courts. The records of the court might have details of a secret Catholic marriage unrecorded elsewhere. The severe restrictions against Catholics meant that dedicated Catholic burial grounds only became legal from 1852 with the introduction of the Burial Act.

The vast majority of Catholic registers survive from 1791 following the introduction of the Catholic Relief Act after the opening of Catholic chapels was permitted. Latin was largely used as the language of record in the Catholic church until Second Vatican Council in 1965 relaxed the rules governing the use of Latin.

The Hardwicke Act of 1753 which came into force in 1754 reformed the marriage system and closed the loophole that allowed legally binding 'irregular' or 'clandestine' marriages to take place. The legislation stipulated that marriage must take place in a licensed Anglican parish church before an Anglican minister and in the bride or bridegroom's own parish in the presence of two witnesses and only after the publication of banns. The details were to be recorded in a separate book with a numbered space for each entry, to prevent fraud. Jews and Quakers were exempt from the new law. After the introduction of the Act, Catholic marriages are found in parish registers and before the act within the records of various unauthorised places of marriage. Wealthier Catholics also had the option of marrying by licence thus avoiding the necessity of having banns called and was popular before and after the marriage reforms of 1754.

After the introduction of civil registration in 1837, all religious denominations were free to hold legal marriage ceremonies and were free to keep their own registers. Most Catholic congregations in England and Wales refused to hand over their parish registers to the Registrar General in 1837 following the introduction of civil registration. Only registers from Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire were handed in. Registers still remain in the custody of the parish priest who require frequent access to their baptism registers to provide evidence for first communions, confirmations and marriages. A Catholic priest's unofficial equivalent of a parish was called a 'mission' in which the priest sought to administer to as many Catholics as possible often covering a wide area. It was not uncommon for the registers to travel with the priest from mission to mission. In 1850 Catholic dioceses were established and from 1900 Catholic parishes were created.

From 1700 to 1714 Church of Scotland ministers kept lists of Catholics within the parishes and reported them to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Also see
Association Oath Rolls
Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy
Protestation Oath Returns
Recusant Rolls
Returns of Papists
Returns of Papists' Estates  
Sacrament Certificates

Timeline of Roman Catholic Persecution and Tolerations


Act of Supremacy. Henry VIII assumed authority over religious matters in England.


Second Act of Uniformity. Attendance at Church of England services made compulsory.


Third Act of Uniformity. The Act imposed a fine of 12d on people who refused to attend Anglican worship at their parish church and banned the celebration of Catholic mass. The fines imposed in the 1559 Act of Uniformity for failure to attend church were collected by churchwardens and so do not appear in the central government records and details of those fined will be found amongst quarter session records


The death penalty was imposed on priests who said mass. It was also forbidden to defend papal supremacy and those that did, were liable to have their property seized by the authorities.


Elizabeth I was excommunicated by a papal bull issued by Pope Pius V. Instead of advancing the Catholic cause, the bull heightened the distrust felt by many of Catholics and called into question their allegiance to crown and country. In 1571, Parliament made it high treason to call the monarch a heretic or schismatic, or bring into England any papal bulls.


Recusancy. After 1581, recusancy became an indictable offence, so recusants often appear in quarter sessions records and the fines levied were recorded in the pipe rolls. After 1592 a separate series of rolls, the recusant rolls was created for this purpose which continues until 1691. The pipe rolls also contain the accounts of fines and forfeitures of lands collected under the recusancy acts. Pipe and recusancy rolls are available for viewing at TNA. In 1581, the fine for missing an Anglican service was raised to twenty pounds per month. Also, in that year, a treasonable offence resulting in death was committed by anyone converting to Catholicism or attempting to convert others to the religion. In addition, a fine of 100 marks and a year in prison was imposed on those hearing mass. The details of criminal proceeding and fines levied should be contained within quarter session records. An Act of 1581 also forbade the Catholic education of children.


Priests who had trained abroad were barred from returning to England and those that did were considered guilty of high treason. All English born Catholics priests trained abroad were ordered to leave the country within 40 days. As a result, priests were hunted down and a total of 126 priests were executed during the reign of Elizabeth I.


The Babington Plot. Anthony Babington and his co- conspirators planned to assassinate Elizabeth I and place Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. The plot was discovered and the plotters were executed.


Mistrust of Catholics worsened after the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada eventually repulsed by forces under the command of Sir Francis Drake. Recusants were barred from buying and selling land. The £20 per month fine for non-attendance at an Anglican service was stiffened and now accumulated until the recusant conformed. If the recusant still refused, his goods and two-thirds of his land could be seized. Local quarter session papers and pipe rolls should provide details of the fines.


The first separate recusant rolls were compiled consisting mainly of Catholics and lasted up to 1691 (previously recusancy was recorded in the pipe rolls). The rolls recorded the punishments and fines of those who refused to conform to the Anglican doctrine. Memoranda Rolls 1217-1835: includes records of seizure of recusants' lands.


Catholics were obliged to obtain permission to travel beyond five miles from their homes and those absent from home for more than three months were to leave the country. Another Act of the same year ordered that people of the age of 16 who refused to attend an Anglican service were to be imprisoned.


James I ascended to the throne and made a limited attempt to exercise some tolerance towards Catholics. This proved a false dawn and within a year, the king called for the rigorous enforcement of anti-Catholic legislation.


The Gunpowder Plot. The conspiracy of Guy Fawkes and his Catholic associates to blow up Parliament and King James I, his queen, and his oldest son. The failed plot unleashed a new wave of attacks on the Catholic faith and its adherents.


The Oath of Allegiance was introduced, denying the authority of the Pope and those that refused to swear the oath were liable to be imprisoned. Convicted recusants were ordered to receive Anglican communion once a year or face a fine or seizure of their property. Recusants were also barred from office and professions including the military. Informers were paid £50 for revealing a priest saying mass or persons attending mass. All the restrictions applied to a Protestant who married a Catholic wife.


Catholics forced to pay a double rate of taxation. Tax records can be found in Lay Subsidy Rolls and Catholics and other nonconformists should be recognisable as they paid a double rate.


Clarendon Code 1661-1665. Four Acts passed designed to emasculate the power of nonconformists. Corporation Act. (1661). Catholics and other nonconformists were excluded from official posts unless they took the sacrament of holy communion at an Anglican service.


Act of Conformity. The Act excluded Catholics from holding church office.


Conventicle Act. Made meetings for Catholic and nonconformist worship illegal, even in private houses, where more than four outsiders were present


The Five-Mile Act. Nonconformist and Catholic ministers were forbidden to live or visit within five miles of a town or any other place where they had preached.


Declaration of Indulgence. The Penal Laws against Catholics were relaxed.


Test Act. The strength of anti-Catholic feeling led parliament to order the enforcement of the recusancy laws and pass the Test Act in retaliation against the Declaration of Indulgence. The Act required all those taking up an official post, civil or military, to take the oath and to submit a sacrament certificate that they had taken Anglican communion. Between 1689 and 1702, the requirement to take the oaths and test was extended to beneficed clergy, members of the universities, lawyers, schoolteachers and preachers. The declarations can be found in TNA.


A proclamation ordered a survey of every recusant aged 16 and over. The names were handed to the local Justice of the Peace who called on those named to take the oath or be jailed.


The Popish Plot. A fictitious plot made up by Titus Oates which alleged that Catholics were planning to assassinate King Charles II and bring the Catholic Duke of York to the throne. Estreats Rolls held at TNA hold information on fines imposed on Catholics following the alleged plot. The Estreats Rolls contain valuable genealogical information on those accused of recusancy in the local courts. They will include the recusant's name, parish, rank or occupation and the fine levied.


Declaration of Indulgence. The Catholic king, James II issued his own Declaration of Indulgence, which suspended the Test Act and other acts that restricted religious freedom.


A new Catholic Vicar-Apostolic was appointed to preside over four English districts (Northern, Western, London and Midland) created by the Pope.


The Bill of Rights excluded Catholics from the royal succession. New oaths of supremacy and allegiance were passed and measures were introduced to restrict the freedom of movement of Catholics. The Toleration Act of 1689 eased some restrictions, but the specific acts under the Clarendon Code were not repealed until the 19th century.


Following the double rate of taxation Catholics were forced to pay in 1625, Catholics were obliged to pay double land tax. Catholics and other nonconformist entries should be recognisable amongst the land tax records as they paid double the rate of others.


Recusants were barred from purchasing or inheriting land and any Catholics found practicing their religion could be jailed for life.


The Security of Succession Act. The Act introduced an oath whereby all officials had to deny the right of the son of the exiled James II to succeed to the throne. Some returns of Catholics taking oaths are held by TNA as well as certificates of those who refused to take the oath.


Security of the Sovereign Act. TNA holds certificates of those who refused to take the oath.


Catholics were blamed collectively for the Jacobite rebellion. As a result, everyone over the age of 18 was compelled to swear an Oath of Allegiance. Lists of those who refused to take the oath are normally available at county record offices.


Catholics were required to enrol documents such as wills and conveyances that involved the transfer of property and details can be found in close rolls held by TNA.


Following the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, Catholics refusing to take the oaths of loyalty were required to register their names and estates at quarter sessions or face the seizure of their property. The returns describe the estates in detail, giving precise locations and dimensions of lands. The Forfeited Estates Commission was responsible for overseeing the seizure of the estates and details can be found in the close rolls held at TNA.


Catholic Relief Act. The Act permitted Catholics to own land and removed many restrictions placed on Catholics including the Act of 1699, which threatened life imprisonment for priests practicing their religion.


Catholic Relief Act. The Act permitted Catholic clergy to freely say mass.


The Catholic Emancipation Act. The Act allowed Catholics to sit in parliament and hold office and effectively repealed the many repressive measures aimed at destroying the perceived disloyal Catholics.

Where Found

The National Archives (RG 4, Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; RG 8, Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non Parochial Registers Commission of 1857, and other registers and church records)
County Record Offices (Copies of the Non-Parochial Registers)
Westminster Diocesan Archives (The Westminster Diocesan Archives hold a great deal of material relating to finance, property and education in the diocese. The Archives hold hold a small selection of baptism, marriage, confirmation and death registers, mostly dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. These include registers from parish churches, embassy chapels and registers kept by individual priests. For information on family history within the Diocese, please click HERE)
Local Parish Office
Diocesan Archive (Roman Catholic registers and confirmation registers)
Catholic Record Society (Published registers)
Catholic National Library (Formerly the Catholic Central Library until 12 June 2007, the library holds thousands of books and periodicals relating to Catholic history and religion as well as Mission Registers which list baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths)
Scottish Catholic Archives (Archives of the Catholic Church in Scotland and abroad. Holdings include: Parish registers for all Scottish parishes founded before 1855 and post-1878, diocesan records which provide valuable historical and genealogical information. The parish registers have been indexed and are available to researchers via the Scotland's People web site)
National Records of Scotland (Photocopies of pre-1855 baptism, marriage and death registers. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])

Period Covered

1750 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Name of child, parent's name including mother's maiden name, date of baptism/birth and names of godparents or 'sponsors' and occasionally the relationship to child. Very occasionally parent's address and occupation.
Name of bride and groom including bride's maiden name, names of witnesses. Occasionally ages of bride and groom, bride's place of birth, parents of both parties
Name of deceased. Occasionally ages, name(s) of deceased's children and widow
Name of child, area of residence, religious name taken.

Further References

Bevan, John. Index to Gillow's "Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics": John Bevan, 1985


Catholic Directory of England & Wales (Details of local churches and parishes)


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Parishes in England, Wales and Scotland: an Atlas: the author: 1993


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Missions and Registers 1700 - 1880. 6 Vols: the author, 1993


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Missions and Registers 1700 - 1880. Vol 6: Scotland: the author 1993


Gandy, Michael. Tracing Catholic Ancestors: Public Record Office, 2001


Gandy, Michael. Basic Facts About Tracing Your Catholic Ancestry in England: Federation of Family History Societies, 2002


Gandy, Michael. Family History Cultures and Faiths: The National Archives, 2007


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Family History: a Bibliography of General Sources: the author, 1996


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Family History: a Bibliography of Local Sources: the author, 1996


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Family History: a Bibliography for Wales: the author, 1996


Gandy, Michael. Catholic Family History: a Bibliography for Scotland: the author, 1996


Gillow, Joseph. A Literary and Biographical History or Bibliographical Dictionary of English Catholics from the Breach with Rome in 1534 to the Present Time, 5 vols: Burns & Oats, 1885-1902 (Volumes available online from the Internet Archive)


Kelly, Bernard William. Historical Notes on English Catholic Missions: Michael Gandy, 1995 (1907) (The original 1907 edition is available to download or read online at the Internet Archive)


Mullins, E.L.C. Texts and Calendars: An Analytical Guide to Serial Publications, 1957-1983. London: Royal Historical Society (Guide to publications of the Record Commissions, the P.R.O. and other national bodies and societies and those of local record societies in England and Wales)


Munby, Lionel M. & Thompson, Kathryn (eds) Short Guides to Records: First Series-Guides 1-24: The Historical Association, 1994


Steel, D.J. and Samuel, Edgar R. National Index of Parish Registers, Vol 3: Sources for Roman Catholic and Jewish Genealogy and Family History: Society of Genealogists, 1974


Steel, D & Samuel, Edgar. Sources for Roman Catholic and Jewish Genealogy and Family History: Society of Genealogists, 1986


TNA Research Guides:
Oaths of loyalty to the Crown and Church of England

Websites (Catholic Heritage: The website for the Networking Archives and Libraries in the Catholic Church. The network is forging partnerships between diocesan archives, Bishops’ Conferences’, seminaries, and religious orders in order to provide a single access point to an online collection of archives databases) (UK Catholic Parish Directory. These pages are designed to give you a complete directory of all English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Catholic Parishes with links to individual parishes, diocese and other major Catholic sites) (Roman Catholic Dioceses of Great Britain) (Links to Catholic family history sites) (Roman Catholic Cemeteries in Victorian London) (Timeline of anti-Catholic legislation) (Catholic Record Society: The society deals with the history and culture of British Catholics and is not a research centre for family history. However the society's 'Records Series' does contain items of genealogical interest including baptism and marriage registers and Returns of Papists. Local Catholic history societies have also published transcripts of records) (British Genealogy: Latin Names & Abbreviations) (Findmypast Guide: Common Latin Words for Genealogical Research) (Catholic Archives Society: The Society promotes the care and preservation of Catholic records by identifying and listing Catholic records. The Society does not hold any archive collections itself)
(West Yorkshire Archive Service: Collections Guide 5 Roman Catholic Registers) (Scottish Catholic Archives) (Catholic Family History Society: The society publishes the journal 'Catholic Ancestor' with indexes and back issues available at the web site as well as a range of data CDs) (Catholic Family History Blog: Hints, tips and information on researching Catholic ancestors in England and Wales) (Guide to Latin words)

Online Databases

BMD Registers (Some entries mainly from Northumberland are included in the Non-Parochial registers held in TNA series RG 4 and RG 5) (Liverpool Catholic Burials, 1813-1988; Liverpool Catholic Baptisms, 1802-1906; Liverpool Catholic Marriages, 1754-1921; Liverpool Catholic Confirmations, 1813-1920) (Westminster Roman Catholic Census, 1893) (England Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms, Marriages, Burials, 1650s - 1907. Explore thousands of Roman Catholic registers from the Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives and Westminster Archdiocesan Archives) (7,000 Roman Catholic burial records for Pleasington Priory in Blackburn, Lancashire covering 1899 to 1996 and transcribed by Bill Binns; The London Catholic National Burial Index; Roman Catholic Register of Wrightington Hall, Lancashire) (The Cheshire Collection: Non-Conformist and Roman Catholic Records 1671-1910. The original records are held by the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies) (Essex Memorial Inscriptions. The dataset contains records covering Anglican, Roman Catholic, Quaker, and non-conformist, as well as community and war memorials) (Parish Register Transcription Society. The Catholic Baptism & Marriage Index: The index covers baptisms & marriages, chiefly for London and Essex from the mid-eighteenth century to approximately the 1870's)
(Manchester & Lancashire FHS Catholic Register Index: Manchester Roman Catholic parish registers. The Index contains data derived from the registers of a number of Roman Catholic churches in Manchester) (Boyd's Marriage Index 1538-1840 including the London & Middlesex Marriage Index 1538-1837: This collection indexes 96,000 marriages for the City of London and Middlesex. This is an on-going project by Cliff Webb working from surviving source records. Over 50,000 City of London marriages and 46,000 for Middlesex have been indexed. These include 3,160 Roman Catholic marriages) (Durham Records Online: Transcripts from Roman Catholic registers covering County Durham and Northumberland)
ScotlandsPeople (Images and indexes of Catholic Parish Registers including births and baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials as well as confirmations, communicants, sick calls, status animarum, converts, first confessions and seat rents) (SoG Data Online: Index of Catholic Nuns, 1598-1914. Members of the Society of Genealogists are able to view these records for free via their existing membership. Non-members can carry out free surname searches but will need to join the society to view the full record details) (The Catholic Record Society data Wales including returns of recusants and parish registers) (The Catholic Records Society datasets UK) (The OGRE Online: Catholic Records Society datasets covering England and Wales)
(Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Baptisms. This collection holds baptism registers from all eight Scottish dioceses and encompasses over 300 years of record keeping) (Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Marriages. The database consists of  more than 197,000 records taken from original Roman Catholic sacramental registers) (Scotland Roman Catholic Parish Burials. The records contain the location of your ancestor’s final resting place, the date of your ancestor’s burial and in many cases, your ancestor’s cause of death. Each record provides an image of the sacramental register from The Scottish Catholic Archives and a transcript of the vital details)
(English Benedictine Congregation History: Database of monks and nuns in England & Wales since 1550) (GenTeam: Online access to a variety of databases covering present-day Austria and its neighbouring lands. The collections include: Vienna: index of Catholic baptisms, 1584-1915; Vienna: index of Catholic deaths; Churchbook Registry-Indices of Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Burgenland, Tirol and Poland)

CD Roms

S & N Genealogy Supplies (Catholic Records: Miscellanea Volumes 1 - 4. Originally published as part of the Catholic Record Society's 'Records Series'. A table of contents for each published volume can be found at the society's website; Catholic Records: Obituaries 1722-1839)
Anguline Research Archives (Shropshire Nonconformist and Roman Catholic Registers. In 3 volumes. Published in 1903, 1913 & 192)
Catholic Family History Society (Various register transcriptions including London, Sardinian Embassy Chapel, Registers 1772 - 1841; Manchester, St. Mary (RC) Baptisms 1820 – 1831; Lancashire Catholic Wills 1492-1894)
Catholic National Library (Mission Registers on CD ROM)
Archive CD Books
(A Complete Catholic Registry, Directory, and Almanack, Vol. 1, 1836; A Complete Catholic Directory, Almanack and Registry, Vol. 2, 1837)