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FAQ Baptisms

Why were infants baptised?

Infant baptism is an established practice in the Anglican church. The prevailing view up to the end of the 19th century was that a person who died unbaptised, could not gain entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus it was important to be baptised as early in life as possible. Most commonly you will find a baptism occurring during the first month of life.

Why are some baptisms recorded as “privately”?

If a new-born infant was sickly and thought unlikely to survive, its fate in heaven required it to be baptised urgently. So any available clergyman was persuaded to attend the family home and baptise the child there, and hence the baptism was done “privately” and recorded as such. If the child recovered it would often be baptised publicly later and you may sometimes find “brought to church” with a date, added beside the original entry, or as a separate entry in the register. However this was not always done, nor recorded. So you should not automatically assume the absence of a “brought to church” entry indicates that the child died. Another aspect of private baptisms was that it was not always possible to locate the local incumbent at short notice, so a clergyman from a neighbouring parish might be called upon. In which case he would quite often record the baptism in his own register, rather than the one for the parish where the parents lived.

Was everyone baptised as a baby?

Not necessarily. If the parents were not firm believers in infant baptism, a child might go unbaptised, or be baptised later in life. Often there will be a note in the parish register indicating the age for such non-infant baptisms but this is not always the case, so you should not automatically assume the baptismal date is close to the birth bate. You will sometimes find cases where several siblings were all baptised at the same time “in a batch”. Often this can be the result of pressure being applied to the parents and you will occasionally find cases where several such batch baptisms take place in a parish over a period of a few months. This usually indicates that a new, keen incumbent has taken over the parish and is busy rounding up his stray sheep! Missing baptisms are particularly prevalent between 1783 and 1794, whilst stamp duty was levied on register entries.

Why was first child baptised away from home?

You will often find cases where the first child of a marriage is baptised in a different parish from the later children. The explanation is that a young bride often went home to her mother for the birth of her first child, with mother acting as midwife. So the child’s baptism can be a pointer to the parish where the bride came from (and can also imply that the maternal grandmother was still alive at the time of the birth).

Why is only the father’s name given?

Before 1600 it is very rare to find any mention of the mother’s name in a baptism record. Mothers gradually began to be named over the next hundred years and by 1700 they were named in around 50% of baptisms. By 1750 it was becoming rare to find only a father named.

Why is only the mother’s name given?

This almost invariably indicates that the child concerned was born out of wedlock. Sometimes this will be specifically stated in the register, using phrases such as “bastard” , “illegitimate” or “natural child”. In other cases no such phrase will appear and the situation can only be inferred from the absence of a father’s name.

The mothers name is “wrong”

There can be several reasons for a baptism where the mother’s name appears to be incorrect. Often the vicar or parish clerk just got it wrong. Before the 20th century, a married woman would only be known by her forename to her close friends. To most of her acquaintances she would be known more formally, as “Mrs. Xxxxx” where “Xxxxx” is her husbands surname. So in entering her forename in the register, the incumbent or the parish clerk was relying on distant memory, and quite often got it wrong. On the other hand if you find a situation where several baptisms name one wife’s name, followed by several with a different wife’s name, it is likely that the first wife died and the husband re-married. The confirmation here is to search for a burial for the first wife and a re-marriage for the husband. A final situation is one where two different wives’ names will be interspersed. Here the probability is that there are two different husbands, both with the same forename and surname, living in the parish and raising children. Again a marriage search will probably prove helpful. Often in situations like this the fathers are themselves likely to be related (usually cousins) and working out which father is which can be challenging!

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