Focus on Whitby records – Part 1

Parish registers

The County Record Office hold the parish registers from nearly 300 different Anglican parish churches in North Yorkshire, including those for Whitby and its surrounding parishes. Registers of baptisms, marriages and burials began to be compiled by every church in 1538 and continue to the present day. Parish registers provide a wealth of information relating to the local population and are an invaluable source to local and family historians particularly for the period before census and civil registration records. Our holdings of parish registers can be consulted on the subscription website Find my Past which can be accessed from North Yorkshire Libraries (or from home to North Yorkshire library members whilst libraries are closed due to Covid-19).

The earliest surviving parish register from St Mary’s church in Whitby begins in 1608. The register is in Latin which remained the language for many official documents until 1733. The earliest baptism entries name just the child and the father, the first entry being Dorothy Noble daughter of John Noble (Dorothi Noble filia Johanis Noble) on the 1st May 1608.

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Burial registers contain records of many tragic events, such as in Hinderwell where the mass burial of 48 persons who died of the plague (pestilentiam) at Runswick between 1st September and 10th November 1603 is recorded.

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Burial registers sometimes include additional information as to the circumstances of unusual deaths. On 6th November 1705 William Stonehous, a Whitby man, was buried at St Mary’s after falling down during the Sunday church service. On 21st May 1761 John Douglas of York, a miller, was buried at Whitby having returned from Transportation. Miller had presumably been transported to America and for a period of penal servitude (usually 7 years) only to die on the very last part of his journey home.

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Burial registers also shed light upon the battle between smugglers and the state during the eighteenth century, when smuggling was rife on the North Yorkshire Coast. In 1769, the registers of Hinderwell record the burial of John Carr of Sunderland who was shot by a king’s cutter aboard a Smuggler and in 1776 Thomas Cassildine a soldier of the 1st Regiment of Dragoon Guards “cruelly murdered at Runswick in attempting to seize some smuggled goods”.

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Newcomers to the parish appear in the registers too, such as the baptism at St Mary’s of Fredrick Brown, a native of Guinea, on 12th April 1775 aged 22.

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Next time in Focus on Whitby Records – Part 2, we’ll be looking at the records of the Abbey and the Cholmley estate.

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