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Special Collections

Transcripts of parish registers (Bishop's Transcripts)

What are Bishop's Transcripts?

Contemporary copies of Church of England parish registers, recording baptisms, marriages and burials. Parishes were required to copy (transcribe) their registers annually, and to send the copies (transcripts) to the Diocesan Registry.

Original parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials do not form part of the Durham Diocesan Records, but are kept either by individual parishes or (normally) at the Durham County Record Office. The Bishop's Transcripts supplement the parish registers that survive at the County Record Office, and in some cases fill gaps. The handwriting within the Bishop's Transcripts is sometimes also easier to read than in the original registers.

Where and when: geographical coverage and dates

The Bishop's Transcripts relate to the whole diocese of Durham (County Durham and Northumberland), see bottom of page for details.

For most parishes, the surviving bishops' transcripts cover the period from approximately 1760 until the mid-nineteenth century. Very few transcripts of marriage registers were made after civil registration was introduced in 1837.

What family history information will I find within the Bishop's Transcripts?

Lists of people who have been baptised, married and buried within Church of England parish churches and churchyards, in date order. For the earlier period, little more than names and dates are included (and usually parents' names for children baptised). From 1813, standard forms are used, which include names of both parents for baptisms, place of abode and age at death for burials, and place of abode of both parties for marriages.

The unique feature of parish registers for Durham diocese, and therefore also of the Bishop's Transcripts, is the additional information recorded for baptisms and burials from 1798 to 1813. During this period, Bishop Shute Barrington required parishes to record additional information as follows:

  • for baptisms: date of birth, numerical position of child in family, mother's maiden name, native parish of both parents
  • for burials: date of death, trade, status and age of deceased, sometimes maiden name of married women
Shute Barrington, bishop of Durham 1791-1826

“Mentioning the places of nativity of the parents, though attended with some little trouble, may at a future time be attended with beneficial effects. Without such information, many are the instances where the descent of families cannot be traced.”

Bishop Barrington, instructions to parishes for recording baptisms, 1797

Where is the catalogue and does it include names?

The list of Bishop's Transcripts is within the episcopal administration section of the Durham Diocesan Records catalogue. It does not include any names. For most parishes, only the outside dates of the transcripts are listed.

Are the Bishop's Transcripts available online?

Yes, digital images of almost all the Bishop's Transcripts are available at the familysearch website.

When using the images on familysearch, note:

  • The images have not been indexed, so will not be found by carrying out a surname search on familysearch. They are only available for browsing on that site.
  • You will have to sign in to access the images. If you do not have an account on familysearch, you will first need to set one up. This is free of charge.
  • familysearch is an external site and is the responsibility of the Genealogical Society of Utah, not of Durham University.

Details of geographical coverage for Bishop's Transcripts

Within the final column of the table below, Durham refers to this series of Bishop's Transcripts (BTs), Borthwick refers to BTs at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.

Area Details Location of Bishop's Transcripts
County Durham County Durham north of the Tees, including Darlington, Hartlepool, Stockton, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland boroughs Durham
Crayke (Yorkshire)

Durham until 1837; any later BTs in Borthwick

Allertonshire (Yorkshire) Birkby, Brompton, Cowesby, Deighton, Hutton Bonville, Kirby Sigston, Leake, Northallerton with Romanby township, Osmotherley, Otterington North, Rounton West, Nether Silton, Thornton-le-Street and Worsall High Durham until 1813; Borthwick after 1813
Alston (Cumberland) Alston and Garrigill Durham
Thockrington (Northumberland) Durham (including BTs before 1837)
Hexhamshire (Northumberland) Allendale St Cuthbert, Allendale St Peter, Allenheads chapelry, Bingfield St Mary, Carrshields (or High West Allen), Hexham, Ninebanks (or Low West Allen), St John Lee, St Oswald in Lee and Whitley chapel Borthwick until 1837, Durham after 1837 (see catalogue for further detail)
Northumberland (rest of county) Durham

For further information

Background information on the Bishop's Transcripts is available within our Administrative Histories for the Durham Diocesan Records.

Printed indexed transcripts of some parish registers are available in our local collection, but many more can be found with County Record Office collections, the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society and at findmypast.com.