England Orphan Trail Resources 1500-1699

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England Project | England Orphaned Profiles Team | England Orphan Trail Part Two | England Orphan Trail Resources 1500-1699


How to Proceed

1. Please read this entire page. It explains what is involved for this time period.

2. Search for an orphaned profile.

3. Click through to the profile. Check to make sure that:

  • It does not have a profile manager and there is nobody on the Trusted List
  • ALL dates must be within the relevant range, either:
    • 1600-1699 (for Stage 1), or
    • 1500-1599 (for Stage 2).
  • ALL locations for birth, marriage and death must be in England.
  • There are at least 2 family members connected.
  • There are no more than two sources.

4. Send a message to your trailblazer so they can set up the profile for you. Please only send one name at a time, and include the Wiki-ID. Don't forget to record what you're working on in your Trail Log.

5. Remember, you won't step on any toes, because it's an Orphaned Profile without a Profile Manager!

Parish Registers

In Orphan Trail Part One, you learned how to use birth, marriage and death indexes from the GRO and FreeBMD, and how to use parish registers too. In Orphan Trail Part Two, you will be continuing your work with parish registers, although the earlier the date, the more likely it will be that the relevant register does not exist or is damaged.

The earliest parish registers date back to 1538 when King Henry VIII split with Rome and proclaimed himself head of the Church of England. As part of this new regime, Thomas Cromwell ruled that every vicar or rector must keep a record of all baptisms, marriages, and burials in his parish. In 1597, Queen Elizabeth ordered that the pages of such books be made of parchment which was more robust than paper.

Some early parish registers have survived, but others have not, or are damaged or incomplete. During English Civil War (1643-1647) many parishes did not keep records. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, parish registers are kept more completely again.

The format of parish registers has evolved over time. Many early registers record baptisms, marriages and burials in a single register. In 1660, the Burying in Woollen Acts meant that burial registers were often separate from Baptism and Marriage registers. In was not until 1812 that standardised printed registers became available for entering baptisms, marriages and burials separately.

Online parish register sources

  • FamilySearch.org: free; needs account (free also); has millions of worldwide records. Search within the catalog for parish registers which are unindexed and "image only".
  • FreeReg parish registers Parish registers transcribed by the same volunteer group as FreeBMD and FreeCen. Free to use, no account required. The coverage can be patchy, but the transcriptions are accurate and are of the full entry for a baptism, marriage or burial, often verbatim as the vicar wrote it. Easy to use search page.
  • FindMyPast: requires paid membership; good for English records - transcriptions and images; do not copy from members trees (use for clues)
  • Ancestry United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and United States of America: requires paid membership; do not copy from member trees, as they are often unsourced (use for clues)

The Calendar in England Pre-1752

In these older parish registers, you will invariably see the New Year beginning on 25 March (Lady Day), not 1 January. This is known as the Old Style (O.S.) New Year which was used in England until the adoption of New Style (N.S.) New Year from 1 January 1752. For more information, see:

You may also have to refer to the records kept by the Society of Religious Friends or Quakers. Quakers used another slightly different calendar again, starting on 1 March (rather than the 25th) and they also (mostly) didn't use the names of months which they regarded as "pagan", using the number of the month in the year instead. An excellent resource for this has been produced by the Society of Friends.

In legal documents, you will find dates written using Regnal years rather than calendar years. The Regnal year is the year of the reign of the King or Queen, and is calculated from the date of their accession to the throne and not their Coronation.
For example, Elizabeth I came to the throne on 17 November 1558. This means that the Regnal year 10 Elizabeth 1 (the tenth year of the reign of Elizabeth I) ran from 17 November 1568 to 16 November 1569. You can convert regnal years to calendar years using a regnal calendar table.

Reading Old Handwriting

Reading the handwriting in parish registers and other old documents can sometimes be challenging, At first glance, the writing might look illegible, but with patience and practice you can learn to read it. The study of old handwriting is known as palaeography. There are some great online tutorials to help you learn, including:

More information can be found here: Transcribing and Interpreting English Wills

Other Useful Sources

The coverage of early parish registers is patchy at best, and there are no parish registers before 1538. Instead, you will often need to look for other sources to show when a person was born, married or died, as well as their relationship to other family members. You can find this information in a range of sources, including visitations, wills, manorial records and inquests post mortem.

To find out what types are sources are considered reliable for pre-1700 research, see Reliable sources for pre-1700 profiles in England.

You will find useful links to resources, categorised by county, on the England County Resources Pages. You can also search for online versions of other print sources on British History Online, Google Books, Internet Archive and HathiTrust.


Heraldic visitations were tours of inspection throughout England, Wales and Ireland undertaken by officers of the College of Arms between 1530 to 1688. Their purpose was to regulate and register the coats of arms of the nobility, gentry and boroughs, and to record pedigrees of families.

Many visitation records have been published and are available online. You will find some useful links on the County Resources Pages and the Visitations of England Wales Page. You need to be mindful that some of the older published visitations were based on unofficial copies of the original visitations and may contain errors.


Not everyone left a will and not all wills have survived. Before 1858, wills were proved in church courts. The highest court was the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC), although there were more than 200 church courts, each with a separate register of wills. Which court dealt with a person's will depended on where they died, the location of their property and its value.

You learn more about finding wills, probate and administration records in FamilySearch's guide to England Probate Records.

Some early and medieval wills have been published and are available online. You will find some useful links on the County Resources Pages. You can also find copies of wills and probate records online on Ancestry (including PCC wills) and FindMyPast.

More information can be found here: Transcribing and Interpreting English Wills

How to Edit 16th and 17th Century English Profiles

Editing the data fields for this time period is much the same as for more recent profiles. It is also worth reading the England Project Profile Standards, which set outs the standards we use for profiles managed by the England Project.


Categories are the text links you see at the bottom of profiles. There is a handy link at the top of the profile to take you directly to the categories section if that profile has been added to any categories (as shown below).

Examples are: [[Category:Bodmin, Cornwall]] or [[Category:Pellyne Name Study]]
Putting a link like this onto a profile will group it together with other profiles who also have the same link. Thus, you may be able to see all the people who lived in Bodmin, for example, or who are part of the Pellyne Name Study (historical profiles).

Another important use for categories are the maintenance categories, for example [[Category:Devon, Needs Profiles Created]] or [[Category:Staffordshire, Needs Death Record]]

To add a profile to a category, click on the category button above the text edit box. This will open a separate text box where you can start to type the name of the category you wish to place the profile in, as shown below. Once the name of the category you wish to use pops up, click on it and it will put the category in the correct position in the profile.

For more help with categories see How to Categorize

Note: when you are editing a profile and click 'Preview' to see how it will look before you save it - categories will not appear. Templates will show up; stickers will show up, but categories won't.

Here is a page explaining how to create categories.


Templates are specific words or phrases between a pair of double curly brackets, which create a banner. They are always placed at the top of the profile. Here are some you may see when editing English profiles.

1. The England Project box
If you come across a profile with this in the text {{England}} it will present as this:

English flag
... ... ... is managed by the England Project.
Join: England Project
Discuss: england

This indicates that the England Project is the main Profile Manager of this profile. This is the only reason the England Project box is added to a profile. If you wish to indicate that a person was born in England, you will use the England Sticker (see below).

2. Research Boxes are added to profiles when more research is needed.
{{Unsourced}} or {{Unsourced|Devon}} or {{Unsourced|AnotherCounty}} puts the unsourced profile onto the relevant county's Unsourced Profiles page for anybody (but especially the Sourcerers) to work on.

Another frequently used template is {{Estimated Date}}, where the birth date is calculated or estimated. The reason for giving that estimation should be given in the biography or research notes section. It gives this banner in a profile:

The Birth Date is a rough estimate. See the text for details.

This page gives further details about templates and stickers.


Stickers are placed on the profile in the Biography Box to note something important about the person, or to honour them. There may be up to five stickers on a profile, but any one of them must be removed if the Profile Manager objects. The code goes immediately underneath the heading : ==Biography==.
Here are some examples of stickers:

{{England Sticker}}
Cross of St George
... ... ... was born in England.

{{England Sticker|Warwickshire}}
Flag of Warwickshire (adopted 2016)
... ... ... was born in Warwickshire, England.

{{English Ancestor Sticker}}
English flag
... ... ... has English ancestors.

{{Died Young}}
... ... ... died young.

Here is the WikiTree Help Page on Stickers

Where do Categories, Templates and Stickers go?

This is the order in which you must place the codes:


narrative biography about the person

<references />

Repeated use of the same source

Here's how to use the same source citation multiple times. The first time you use it, include a "name" inside the ref tag, like this:

<ref name="somerset wills">Weaver F W. Somerset Medieval Wills, 1531-1588. London: Harrison and Sons, 1905. Page 70-1.<ref>

The next time you cite this source, you can just use this:

<ref name="somerset wills" />

Done this way, all subsequent footnotes for this same source will point to the same footnote at the bottom of the page. Note that " in the example above is a quotation mark, not two apostrophes.

For examples of how to cite some common types of English records, see England Orphan Trail: Citation templates.

Citing sources from subscription websites

To find out how to cite sources from subscription websites, such as Ancestry and Findmypast, see Citations Behind a Paywall.

The Genealogical Proof Standard

The Genealogical Proof Standard is a method used to make genealogical conclusions with reasonable certainty. The standard sets out five essential steps for accurate research:

  • Reasonably exhaustive research has been completed.
  • Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
  • The evidence is reliable and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
  • Any contradictory evidence has been resolved.
  • The conclusion has been soundly reasoned and coherently written.

For more information, see FamilySearch: Understanding the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Example Profiles

Follow this link to view a list of example profiles worked on by the England Project: Orphan Trail Example Profiles

Trailers Index

An Index of the guidance pages used throughout the Trail can be found here: Trailers Index.
It also has useful links on it. Please bookmark it so you have easy reference to all the relevant guidance pages.

England Project | England Orphaned Profiles Team | England Orphan Trail Part Two | England Orphan Trail Resources 1500-1699

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Can you put this under wills? It’s a freeware program that Ros Haywood recommended and it makes Will transcribing so much easier. Unfortunately not for MAC users as no version for those.


posted on England 1500-1699 (merged) by Ann Browning
edited by Ann Browning