Catholic Ancestor Journals

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Catholic Burials

Catholic Burials Database

Use this link to search for or to add records of Catholic ancestors who were buried in Anglican churchyards.

Catholics were buried there at a time when there were few Catholic churchyards and before municipal cemeteries opened. This covers a period of over two hundred years. The only available burial grounds were those in Anglican churches, making finding the last resting places of ancestors difficult. As this database grows, it will be a great resource.


This example is in St Michael’s, Stone, Staffordshire.

A Background Reading List and Research Pointers

A revision, with additions, of Michael Gandy's A Basic Bibliography for Catholic Family History by Sylvia J. Dibbs 2013. Includes some additional material by Peter Barlow.

The Catholic Family History Society prepared the following list of standard histories, which may be available through your library system or from the Catholic National Library. Most of the books are out of print, but The Internet Archive has many useful out of print works.

Standard Histories
  • Aveling, J.C.H. The Handle and the Axe, 1976
  • Beck, G.A. The English Catholics 1850-1950, 1950 See a partial list of articles
  • Bennett, Canon Father Nugent of Liverpool, 1949; reprinted 1993
  • Bossy, J. The English Catholic Community 1570-1850, 1975
  • Caraman, P. The Other Face: Catholic Life under Elizabeth I 1960
  • Caraman, P. The Years of Siege: Catholic Life from James I to Cromwell, 1966
  • Duffy, E. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditonal Religion in England 1400-1580 1992
  • Guilday, P. The English Catholic Refugees on the continent 1558-1795, 1914
  • Gwynn, D. T The Second Spring 1818-1852, n/d
  • Gwynn, D. A Hundred Years of Catholic Emancipation 1829-1929, 1929
  • Havran, M.J. The Catholics in Caroline England 1962
  • Hibbert, C. King Mob, 1959
  • Hodgetts, M. Secret Hiding Places, 1989
  • Kenyon, J. The Popish Plot, 1972
  • Leys, M.D.R. Catholics in England 1559-1829: A Social History, 1961
  • Loomie, A.J. The Spanish Elizabethans, 1963
  • Magee, B. The English Recusants, 1938
  • Mathew, D. Catholicism in England 1535-1935, 1936
  • Norman, E. Roman Catholicism in England from the Elizabethan Settlement to the Second Vatican Council, 1986

Of these Norman is the most modern but Leys is probably the best on the lives of ordinary Catholics over the whole of our period. Magee has a great many interesting statistics and lists all the Catholic nobility and gentry of the 17th century, information not brought together anywhere else. Caraman's two books are compilations andHodgetts investigates the reality of 'priest-holes', that mainstay of manor house mythology. Kenyon is about the Titus Oates Plot of 1678-1681 and Hibbert covers the Gordon Riots of 1780. Gwynn's Second Spring is about that extraordinary group of Anglicans from the late 1820s onwards who talked themselves into being Catholics, often without having actually met any.



Beck's The English Catholics 1850-1950 is a compendium of articles and, at over six hundred pages, the best guide to the English Catholic world of the immediate past. The following are some of the articles it contains:

  • Hughes, P. The English Catholics in 1850
  • Albion, G. The Restoration of the Hierarchy
  • Sweeney, M.V. Diocesan Organisation and Administration
  • Wheeler, O. The Archdiocese of Westminster
  • Hughes, P. The Bishops of the Century
  • Mathew, D. Old Catholics and Converts
  • Johnson, J.T. Cardinal Newman
  • Gwynn, D. The Irish Immigration
  • Evennett, H.O. Catholics and the Universities
  • Battersby, W.J. Secondary Education for Boys
  • Battersby, W.J. Educational Work of the Religious Orders of Women
  • Beales, A.C.F. The Struggle for the Schools
  • Gwynn, D. Growth of the Catholic Community
  • Cruise, E. Development of the Religious Orders
  • Dwyer, J.J. The Catholic Press
  • Hutton, E. Catholic English Literature
  • Bennett, J. The Care of the Poor

Most of these authors were the well-known experts of their day and, for the most part, their work has not been superseded. It would be nice to think work of similar quality could be produced today.


Roman Catholic Religious practice was illegal between 1559 and 1829. There are records in local or national archives of Anglican and State attempts to monitor it. Catholics are often listed as 'recusants' or 'papists'.

  • Steele D.J., Samuel, E.R. Sources for Roman Catholic and Jewish Genealogy and Family History. National Index of parish registers Vol 3 Society of Genealogists reprinted 1986
  • Williams J. Anthony Sources for Recusant History (1559-1791) in English Official Archives. Recusant History Vol 16 No 4 Catholic Record Society Oct 1983
Tracing a family

After statutory civil registration, which started in 1837, Catholics can be found in the same way as everyone else. Marriage certificates will indicate if the ceremony took place in a Catholic Church. Other certificates and the censuses will indicate location where a search for nearby Catholic Churches or Missions for baptisms may be found.

Mission (Parish) Registers

Michael Gandy has published a series of volumes detailed below that give the location of known registers from the 18th century towards the end of the 19th century. The volumes were published published in 1993 (with the London and Home Counties volume being revised in 2002 and the North West England volume in 1998) and so can be somewhat out of date, but are still very useful as a starting point in understanding what records are available. Some volumes are now out of print, but major libraries should have copies.

Note that there are no central records of conversion to Roman Catholicism, but missions should have recorded details of those people received into the church.

Catholic records are sometimes written in Latin but this often follows a formulaic pattern and translation should not be too difficult, there are many internet resources that will help. Note that a Latin first name may have more than one English equivalent; Jacobus could be Jacob or James; Helena could be Helen or Ellen.

Many Catholic registers have now been deposited in the appropriate county record offices and should be readily available to view. Some still remain with the parish priest and these can be more difficult to access. There is no legal requirement for the priest to grant access, and you will need to rely on his goodwill. For postal enquiries please enclose a stamped addressed envelope or international reply coupon. Many priests are too busy to help or have no interest in helping family historians.

Birth and Baptism - These were normally combined into a single register with one column showing the birth date and another the baptism date. Typically, you will expect to see the name of the child, the parents’ names, and the godparent’s names. Godparents are often (closely) related to the family and are a useful pointer to further research. If the child subsequently married somewhere else, then the priest sometimes noted this against the baptism record as in this example:

11 January 1863 Anne d of John & Elizabeth Ratcliffe (olim Cheetham) born 8 inst
Ipsa die quarta mensis Septembris anni 1918 matrimonium contraxit cum Jacobo Turner filio Mathaei et Anna Turner in ecclesia Sancti Joannis apud Wigan
My translation: 4th Sept 1918 married James Turner son of Matthew and Ann Turner in the church of St John, Wigan

Sometimes, perhaps to prove legitimacy or not wishing to offend the local minister, Catholics were also baptized in the Anglican church.

Confirmation and First Communion – usually there is not much more detail than the name of the person and the date. Note that making assumptions about the age of the person is unreliable as the ceremonies can take place at any age. Central registers of confirmation were kept from 1768 - 1811 and 1816 for the Midland counties, and 1826 - 1837 and 1843 for London and the home counties and these have been published by the Society.

Marriage – The amount of detail varies, but may include both sets of parents’ names and residences. Again witnesses are often closely related to the bride and groom. Note that when Hardwicke’s Act was in force there may be both a Catholic and an Anglican ceremony, with the Anglican ceremony not necessarily being in the nearest church. As an example:

Catholic: 2 Jun 1881 John Ratcliffe married Mary Unsworth at Wrightington Hall
Anglican: 3 Jun 1881 John Ratcliffe married Mary Unsworth at St Peter and Paul, Ormskirk (this was about 8 miles from their home, and the nearest Anglican church was less than 2 miles away)

Death and Burial – Expect to find date and age, and sometimes the cause of death. Note that the cause of death can be different from the official death certificate. Where the Catholic church did not have a graveyard (and many early ones did not) then there would normally be only a record of the death with the burial taking place in the Anglican graveyard, and there would be a corresponding Anglican record. If you are lucky these entries will be marked as ‘Papist’ or ‘Church of Rome’ or similar. Here’s an example from the death register for Wrightington Hall, and the corresponding entry from the Anglican parish burial register:

Death: 4 Feb 1838 John Ratcliffe aged 53 years
Burial: 7 Feb 1838 St Wilfrid’s, Standish John Ratcliffe - Age: 53, Abode: Shevington, Notes: Interred as a member of the Church of Rome

Churchyards started to become full in the early 19th century, particularly in large towns and cities, and civic cemeteries were established. These sometimes had specific areas for Catholic burials and where records have been published they often indicate the religious denomination of the person. It is worth trying to identify all the burials in a particular plot as, except for common plots, this can indicate other family members or relatives. Where the denomination is not given then this can be established if the name (and denomination) of the officiating minister is known. The name of the Catholic priest at the time (if the mission/parish is known) can usually be obtained from Kelly (see below).

These notes on mission (parish) registers are © Peter Barlow 2016

  • Gandy, Michael Catholic Missions and Registers 1700-1880 (6 volumes including Scotland) 1994
  • Gandy, Michael Catholic Parishes in England, Wales and Scotland: An Atlas 1994

Kelly provides historical details of the Catholic missions (parishes did not appear until after the end of the first world war) up to the very early 20th century.

  • Kelly, Bernard W. Historical Notes on English Missions Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co 1907 reprinted by Michael Gandy 1996
Monumental Inscriptions and Burial Records

There were few specifically Catholic graveyards until the 19th century, Catholics were buried in Anglican churchyards, often with no indication of their Catholicity. If you are lucky there may be a mention of PapistChurch of Rome, or similar in the burial record. Municipal cemeteries sometimes have sections reserved for specific denominations.

Wills and Estates

Catholic wills appear in the usual sources but in the 18th century they were supposed to be enrolled in the Close Rolls. For a simple list see:

  • Anstruther G. Abstracts of Wills, mostly of priests and their relations London Recusant Vol 3 No. 2 (May 1973) – London Recusant (NS) No 1 (1980). For further information see Essex Recusant Society.
  • Cosin, Charles & Cosin, James The names of the Roman Catholics, non-Jurors, and Others, who Refus'd to Take the Oaths to his late Majesty King George Printed for J. Robinson , Reprinted for J.R . Smith 1862, now available at The Internet Archive
  • The Genealogist (NS) Vol.1 p267 and Vol.2 pp59-60, 279-282.
  • Payne, J.O. Records of the English Catholics of 1715: Compiled Wholly from Original Documents Burnes & Oates 1889 republished 1970. For over 400 abstracts of wills and administrations relating to known Catholics, available on-line at The Internet Archive

The Society has published an index of names of people who appear in the wills of reputed Catholics in Lancashire between 1492 and 1894.

Biography and Family History
  • Gillow, Joseph A Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics Burns and Oates republished c1968. originally from 1887 onwards, now available on-line at The Internet Archive Volume 1Volume 2Volume 3Volume 4Volume 5.
  • Gordon Gorman, W. Converts to Rome: a lists of over 3000 Protestants who have become Roman Catholics since the Tractarian movement to May 1899 Swann Sonnenschein & Co 1899, available on-line at The Internet Archive.
  • Kirk, John English Catholics in the late 18th Century Burns and Oates 1909 reprinted 1969

Also try the standard Who's Who or for the 20th century The Catholic Who's Who.

The Clergy and Religious

Many orders keep their own records, some published by the Catholic Record Society.

  • Anstruther, G The Seminary Priests: A Dictionary of the Secular Clergy of England and Wales 1558-1850 Mayhew-McCrimmon 1969-1977
  • Bellenger D. A. English and Welsh Priests 1558-1800 Downside Abbey 1984
  • Birt, Henry Norbert Obit Book of the English Benedictines 1600-1912 republished Gregg International 1970
  • Challonor, Richard Memoirs of Missionary Priests and other Catholics of both sexes from the year 1577 till the end of the reign of Charles II 1741 frequently reprinted, available on-line at The Internet Archive.
  • Catholic Family History Society Index of Nuns
  • BenedictinesThe English Benedictine Congregational History website has searchable lists of their religious
  • Fitzgerald-Lombard, Charles English and Welsh Priests 1801-1914 Downside Abbey 1993
  • Foley, Henry Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) Burns & Oates 1877-1883
  • Gumbly, Walter Obituary Notices of the English Dominicans from 1555-1952 Blackfriars 1955
  • Oliver, George Collections towards illustrating The Biography of the Scotch, English and Irish members (Jesuits) Exeter 1838 now available on-line at The Internet Archive.
  • Thaddeus, Father The Franciscans in England 1600-1859 (1898)
  • Zimmerman, B. Carmel in England: A history of the English Mission of the Discalced Carmelites 1615-1849 Burns & Oates 1899 now available on-line at The Internet Archive.
Martyrs and Prisoners
  • Camm, Bede Lives of the English Martyrs; (Volume 1) Longmans, Green & Co. 1914 available on-line at The Internet Archive
  • Camm, Bede Lives of the English Martyrs; (Volume 2) Longmans, Green & Co. 1914 available on-line at The Internet Archive
  • The Martyrs of England and Wales 1535-1680 Catholic Truth Society 1985 for short biographies

Prisoners will be found in local records with other non-catholic prisoners, but some have been published by the Catholic Record Society.

Civil War

Most Catholics took the Royalist side.

  • Newman, P.R. Roman Catholic Royalists: Papist Commanders under Charles I and Charles II Recusant History Oct 1981, vol 15 no 6
  • Calendar of the Proceedings of the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents 1643-1660 HMSO 5 Vols. Recusants noted.

These were not all Catholics.

  • Lart C.E Jacobite Extracts from the Parish Registers of St Germain-en-Laye 1689-1720 2 Vols, St Catherine Press Ltd 1910-1912, now available on-line at The Internet Archive 1689-1702 in Volume 11703-1720 in Volume 2.

There were some local schools run by Catholic teachers, but these were illegal in the penal period and most education took place abroad. The Catholic Record Society has published many school lists.

  • Battersby W.J. Secondary Education for Boys and Educational Work of the religious Orders of Women for developments in the 19th century.
  • Beales A.C.F. Education under Penalty: English Catholic Education from the Reformation to the Fall of James II The Athlone Press 1963

The appendix lists 35 boys' schools on the continent. In the 1790s the surviving colleges returned to England and are represented by the current Catholic schools and colleges, St Edmund's, Ushaw, Downside, Stonyhurst and Ampleforth. These have their own archivists and have published lists of students.

Other Material
  • Gandy, Michael Catholic Family History in 4 volumes a bibliography of general sources; a bibliography of local sources; for Scotland; for Wales
  • Shorney, David Protestant Nonconformity and Roman Catholicism, A guide to sources in the Public Record Office
  • Gandy, Michael Family History Cultures and Faiths, How your ancestors lived and worshipped
  • Herber, Mark D Ancestral Trails, The complete guide to British genealogy and family history
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