Prior to 1837, keeping records in Britain was pretty much the responsibility of the member of the community known as 'that guy who knows how to write stuff down'. Conveniently, this was usually the local vicar, who was under decree to keep a record of births, marriages and deaths in his parish from 1538 onward.

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Parish records are an amazing and beautiful glimpse into the past, with their varying degrees of legibility and absolutely liberal use of the word 'bastard'. The majority are formal and business-like, telling us that 'John Chambers 34, shoemaker of this parish, married Jane Temple, spinster of same'.

Presumably, however, some vicars looked at their records and said to themselves “there is absolutely no way anyone's ever going to check all of this. Look how many people are in here! I can write anything about these idiots and no one will ever know!" and subsequently went mad with power, writing horrible things about illiterate people right in front of their faces.

Step forward the Reverend Thomas Patten of Seasalter, Canterbury. Reverend Patten had, shall we say, no respect whatsoever for anyone he didn't like. Here he is describing someone's actual wedding, the happiest day of their lives:

In case you're struggling with Tommy P's writing there, he describes the groom as a 'young gape-mouth lazy fellow', and his beloved new wife as 'an old, toothless, niggling hagg'. Patten has gone beyond his remit here, providing biological field notes on the sons and daughters of Faversham, despite there being absolutely no reason for him to whatsoever.

This isn't even an isolated incident:

Of all of the things you want to be described as on your wedding day, how high up the list is 'rapscallion soldier'? Probably not that high. Well, tough luck Tom Juhust, because Thomas 'The Rude Reverend' Patten has your number.

How to search parish records

Still, at least he isn't derisive about the act of marriage itself.

Oh. 'Shackled'. Oh.

At least he can recognize a decent party, acknowledging this couple's bowl of punch 'almost as big as the Caspian'.

How to search parish records:

  1. Search guide: British & Irish parish records
  2. 15 quick tips for searching parish records
  3. Understanding parish records webinar and Q&A;
  4. Discovering Welsh roots in the parish records
  5. 5 must-know tips for searching Irish Catholic parish records

Amazing discovery: This parish record holds a clue to the origin of the Great Plague