What Documents Were Kept In The Parish Chest?

In 1538 an Injunction was issued requiring every parish to keep a register in which to record the date and names of person who was baptised, married and buried. This book was to be kept in a chest secured with 2 locks; the key to one lock kept by the minister and the key to the other by the church warden. This large wooden chest is what is known as The Parish Chest.

Apart from holding the Parish Register many other parish books and documents were often kept safe inside it. Typical items kept inside the Parish Chest would be:

  • Overseer’s Accounts
  • Records for Poor Law Administration:
    • Settlement Certificates
    • Examinations as to settlement
    • Removal Orders
  • Bastardy Records
    • The Examination
    • The Summons
    • The Bastardy Bonds
  • Apprenticeship Indentures
  • Parochial Records
  • Vestry Minutes
  • Churchwarden Accounts
  • Parish Lists

Most of these documents relate to the care of the poor and destitute members of the parish. Before 1538 care of the poor and destitute was mainly looked after by the monks and nuns of the monasteries but after the dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII responsibility for caring for the poor and destitute passed to local parishes.

The Poor Law Act of 1601

By the end of the 16th century all parishes were ordered to levy a poor rate to fund the care of the poor. The Poor Law Act of 1601 governed the care of the poor for more than 200 years.

Who were the Overseers?

The Poor Law Act required each parish to appoint two Overseers each year. Their job was to collect the rates from the property owners in the Parish and distribute it to the poor.

What are the Overseers Accounts Books?

The Overseers were ordered to keep records of all their transactions in the Overseer’s Accounts Book including the names of everyone who received relief.

What were the Examination Records?

Although the idea of giving Relief to the poor was a good idea there was the practical problem that many people moved from parish to parish in search of work. A parish may therefore have new people arrive who are in need of Relief. The Settlement Acts of 1661, 1691 and 1697 gave two Justices Of The Peace the power to examine poor new arrivals to determine the parish which should give them Relief.

What was a Removal Order?

If the result of The Examination was that the destitute person was not entitled to Relief in that parish they would be issued with a Removal Order sending them back to their original parish for Relief.

What were Settlement Certificates?

A Settlement Certificate gave a person the right to live and work in another parish on the condition that their original parish would take them back if they found themselves destitute and in need of Relief. A Settlement Certificate was the forebear of modern day Work Permits.

What was a Bastardy Bond?

Bastardy Bond

If a woman had an illegitimate child there was the likelihood that both she and her child would become dependant on the parish for Relief. Two Justices of the Peace would therefore Examine the mother to try to discover who the father was. Once they determined who the father was they would issue a Bastardy Bond which required the father to pay for the upkeep of the illegitimate child. The Bastardy Bond is the forebear of our modern day Maintenance Payments system.

What were Apprenticeship Indentures?

From the 14th Century boys and girls could be signed up to a master to learn his trade under strict conditions in return for a fixed payment. Apprenticeships were also used as a way for a parish to avoid paying for the upkeep of a poor child from 1601.

The Apprenticeship Indenture was the certificate explaining the details and terms and conditions of the apprenticeship. It can be especially useful to Genealogists as it may give the names of the child and the master and their addresses as well as the age of the child and details of the trade the child was being trained in.