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Parish records

A parish is a town or village which has its own church. Many years ago, the parish was at the centre of the system of local government in Britain. Some areas of the country still have parish councils.

The parish was organised by a group of people known as the Vestry. This name comes from the room in the church where they usually met. Until Victorian times, the Vestry appointed the parish officers, such as the overseers (who looked after the poor) and the churchwardens (who looked after the church). They also collected and spent a local tax called the poor rate.


When Elizabeth I was queen, the government made a law that said all churches had to make a note of everyone they baptised (christened), married or buried. These notes were kept in a big book called a parish register.

Medway Council has put all its parish registers online on CityArk. You can look at some examples here: (select each image to show a larger version of the document).

Example of baptism register page

Baptism of Frances Ward

From 1812 onwards, baptism registers had to record the date of birth and baptism, the child's and parents' names, their "abode" (where they lived) and the father's occupation.

Marriage of Richard Mason and Mary Jacobs

  • Richard is "of full age" while Mary is a "junior" (under 21 years old).
  • Mary cannot write her name, so puts a cross (X).

Marriage register page

Example of a burial register page

Burial of George Hayward

  • The 1881 census shows George's family living at 9 River Street, Chatham.
  • His father was a general labourer in the Dockyard.

Visit us at Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre, Clock Tower Building, Former Civic Centre site, Strood, Kent ME2 4AU.