The following announcement was written by Ancestry.ca:
18 million parish records from over 1,000 London parishes now online – Ancestry.ca
September 22, 2009 -- Ancestry.ca, Canada’s leading family history website, today launched online for the first time the definitive collection of more than 18 million London parish records, which spans London’s history for almost half a millennium.
This collection will be of huge significance to the estimated 14.6 million Canadians[i] who have been able to trace ancestors back to the City of London.
The records detail baptisms, marriages and burials from more than 1,000 London parishes between 1538 and 1980 and reveal the names and stories of those who lived through major events in the city’s history -- including the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.
The collection pre-dates Civil Registration - the British government’s system established in 1837 to keep accurate records of citizens’ lives. The only way to trace a baptism, marriage or burial before the 19th century is through parish records.
The records are a timely reminder that Swine Flu is not the first major epidemic the world has seen – burial records in this collection refer to some of the 100,000 Londoners who died from the Bubonic Plague between 1665 and 1666 - 20% of London’s population at the time. Officials sometimes marked a plague victim’s burial record with ‘plague’ or simply the letter ‘P’.
The collection also covers the period of another of London’s major disasters – the Great Fire of London, which occurred in 1666, destroying more than 13,000 houses and 87 parish churches across the City. It is thought that many people were incinerated in the blaze however only a handful of bodies were recovered and their burials recorded.
Ironically, the Great Fire of London has since been credited with helping to curb the spread of the Bubonic Plague as it killed off the thousands of London rats, later known to be carriers of the disease.
A number of famous names from history, and also those of ancestors of living celebrities appear in the collection, including:
- Samuel Pepys - The baptism of Pepys is recorded in the registers of St Bride, Fleet Street on the 3rd of March 1633. Pepys’ famed diary of London provides a valuable account of the Great Plague and the Great Fire
- Oscar Wilde - The marriage of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ author to Constance Mary Lloyd is listed on the 29th of May 1884 in Paddington. It was just a year after this marriage that many believe Wilde became aware of his homosexuality after meeting a boy named Robbie Ross
- Joseph Allerton Cowell - The baptism of the music producer Simon Cowell’s great-grandfather is listed in the registers of St John of Jerusalem, Hackney, on the 15th of March 1874. Joseph was a rope and twine manufacturer by family trade, as was his father before him
The digitisation and indexing of these parish records allows an insight into the social trends linked to key historical events such as a steady increase in marriages recorded from 1754 when Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act resulted in the abolition of the practise of common-law marriage, thus making it a requirement for couples to marry in a church.
Trends can be seen in the burial records, with the number of recorded burials rising sharply in line with epidemics of the 18th century. Recorded burials increased by 33% from 33,000 in 1753 to more than 44,000 in 1854 following a major outbreak of Cholera, which killed an estimated 10,000 Londoners.
Ancestry.ca Marketing Director Karen Peterson comments: “These records help bring to life the all-too-often tragic stories of individuals who lived through the numerous iconic periods in London’s history.
“The collection will transform family history research for those with ancestral ties to London.”
The London parish records, 1538-1980 can be accessed directly at www.ancestry.ca.