Baptist Marriage and Birth records

The Church of England parish register for Wattisham records this marriage[1]:

Bride: Hannah Whiting, of Wattisham parish, a single woman
Groom: Abraham Stiff, of Wattisham parish, batchelor
Date: 29 November 1811
Location:  St Nicholas, Wattisham, Suffolk – the parish Church of England church for Wattisham
Officiating clergy: James Harrison, curate
Witnesses: Sally Goldsmith, John Welham

The groom was a Baptist[2] and the bride was probably baptised in the Church of England[3], but they did not have a choice of church in which to marry.  In 1811, it was the norm for Baptists and other Protestant dissenters to marry in the establish Anglican Church, because only Anglican marriages had full legal status[4].  The couple’s affiliation with both churches is reflected in the Anglican baptisms and Baptist birth records of their children.

Name Type Date Source
Hannah Steff christening 28 Mar 1813 Bishop’s Transcripts,
Church of England
Abraham Steff christening 1814
Abraham Steff christening 28 Apr 1816
Jonathan Stiff christening 05 May 1818
Sarah Steff birth 09 Apr 1820 Register transcripts,
Elijah Steff birth 09 May 1823
Ann Steff birth 31 Aug 1826
Suzanna Steff birth 05 Aug 1829
Richard Stiff birth 21 Sep 1832
Sarah Ann Stiff birth 15 Jun 1835
FamilySearch index. Wattisham Baptism and Birth Records. Children of Abraham and Hannah Stiff/Steff.

Anglican baptisms (or christenings) were generally performed on infants soon after birth.  Baptists only performed baptisms on ‘Believers’ who were old enough to understand the religious meaning of the ceremony, so recorded both births and adult baptisms.

Wattisham Strict Baptist Chapel, established in 1763, drew its congregation from the surrounding villages, including Hitcham, Bildeston and Ringshall[5].  Therefore, attendance did not necessarily indicate the residence of congregation members, only that they probably resided within travelling distance.

This couple are recorded together on only one census, in 1851 at Bildeston, with one adult daughter, Ann (aged 25), who were all born in Hitcham.  Abraham’s occupation was a baker.

In 1841, the best census match for Abraham is a 50 year old woodsman in Bury St Edmunds Goal and House of Correction.  The best match for Hannah finds her with one daughter, Susan (aged 10, born ca 1831, who may be Suzanna), at Ringshall.  Daughter Ann, aged 15, was a servant at Loose Hall, Hitcham.  Whilst I expect that the older children would have left the parental home, where were the two youngest, Richard and Sarah Ann?

[1] Church of England. Wattisham parish (St Nicholas), Suffolk. Parish Registers, 1783-1812.  Suffolk RO microfiche, J 562/97/2, row 3, col 9, [no page number], no 45. citing Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds, FB 7/D1/3.
[2]“England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 26 Nov 2012), Abraham Steff, 21 Jan 1790; citing reference , FHL microfilm 990228 (Baptist register transcripts, Wattisham, Suffolk).
[3] “England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 26 Nov 2012), Hannah Whiteing, 28 Feb 1790; citing FHL microfilm 887397 (Bishop’s transcripts for the Archdeaconry of Sudbury, 1560-1853).
[4] Probert, Rebecca (2012) Marriage Laws for Genealogists. Takeaway: Kenilworth. pp. 97-98.
[5] Timmons, T.C.B. (1997) Suffolk Returns from the Census of Religious Worship 1851. Suffolk Records Society, Woodbridge.  pp. 20-21.

English Civil Registration Tools – FreeBMD, England Jurisdictions 1851, and A Vision of Britain

This week’s post in the 50 Marriage Mondays series is another case of verifying what a relative told me some years ago.

Bride: Ivy Rose Proctor
Groom: Albert Palmer
Date: 21 October 1944
Location: unknown


FreeBMD, which stands for Free Birth, Marriages and Deaths, provides an online searchable version of the General Register Office (GRO) Index of Civil Registration in England and Wales from 1837 to 1983.  The ongoing project is run by volunteers and has now substantially completed  transcription of the marriage index up to 1950.

The search page provides a number of search parameters, but for this example I entered the couple’s names and a data range from 1930 to 1950.

FreeBMD search page

FreeBMD search page

Strangely, my first search, where I entered the bride and groom the other way round, yielded no results.  My second search gave one result.

FreeBMD result page

FreeBMD result page

It is always worth tweaking search terms and trying again as mistyping search terms and index errors can cause a search to fail.  In this case it turns out that in the entry for Albert Palmer, the spouse’s surname was transcribed as Procter because it is not clear on the original.

The colour coding tells me that the registration quarter October-December 1944 has been fully transcribed, so this is the only possible match and is consistent with the information I already had.  However, where is the Gipping registration district?  Clicking on the link helpfully takes me to the information that Gipping registration district existed between 1935 -1974 and was comprised of the following parishes that were formerly part of Bosmere and Stow registration districts:

Akenham, Ashbocking, Ashfield, Badley, Barham, Barking, Battisford, Baylham, Bramford, Claydon, Coddenham, Creeting St. Mary, Crowfield, Debenham, Earl Stonham, Flowton, Framsden, Gosbeck, Great Blakenham, Great Bricett, Helmingham, Hemingstone, Henley, Little Blakenham, Little Stonham, Mickfield, Needham Market, Nettlestead, Offton, Pettaugh, Ringshall, Somersham, Stonham Aspall, Whitton, Willisham, and Winston.

Buxhall, Combs, Creeting St. Peter, Gipping, Great Finborough, Harleston, Haughley, Little Finborough, Old Newton with Dagworth, Onehouse, Shelland, Stowmarket, Stowupland, and Wetherden.

Ivy Proctor’s birthplace, Hitcham, is not in this list.  How far is Hitcham from Gipping district?  A map is the ideal tool to visualise relative locations.

England Jurisdictions 1851 and A Vision of Britain

Both these websites use Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology to present maps of administrative units that existed in the past.  FamilySearch’s England Jurisdictions 1851 is the more user-friendly implementation, but is limited by its focus on a particular time.  A Vision of Britain is much more comprehensive and includes the history of a wide range of administrative units.  As a product of a major academic project undertaken in the 1990s, the Great Britain Historical GIS, the website implementation is showing the age of its origin.  The links to the boundary maps, and history of administrative units (important and useful to the genealogist) are not prominent. The boundary maps respond slowly, lack interactivity and support for pointing devices, and display only one administrative unit.  Despite these limitations, it remains an invaluable tool.

Gipping district comparison

Comparison between ‘A Vision of Britain’ boundary map for Gipping district (above) and ‘England Jurisdictions 1851’ for the same area (below)

From England Jurisdictions 1851 we can see that Hitcham lies in Cosford district which adjoined Bosmere and Stow.  From A Vision of Britain, we can see which parts of Bosmere and Stow became Gipping district.

Knowing the administrative unit that handled the marriage registration gives us clues about where relevant records may now be held.  I could simply order the marriage certificate from the GRO as a way of accessing the copy register submitted to the Registrar General.  However, the two original registers are at:

  • the Ipswich branch of Suffolk Record Office because Gipping district lies in East Suffolk
  • the Stowmarket Registration Office

Parish Register Inconsistencies and Finding a lost website

In previous posts in the 50 Marriage Mondays series, I examined Marriage certificates, which are certified copies of entries in marriage registers introduced by civil registration in 1837.  This marriage occurred just 3 years earlier, so I turn instead to the parish marriage register.  Due Suffolk Record Office’s terms of access, I cannot share an image of the printout from microfiche, so present a transcript.


1834 Marriage Register Transcript
Source: Hitcham Parish (Suffolk, England) Marriage register, 1813-1837, p.64, no 190 Suffolk RO (Bury St Edmunds) microfiche J562/43/14 citing FL586/4/12

The Parish Register Act 1812, also known as Rose’s Act, introduced this type of pre-printed register with numbered pages and entries.  It contains similar information to that collected after 1837, but lacks explicit ages and occupations of the bride and groom; and names and occupations of the couple’s fathers.  Consent was required from a parent or guardian if either the groom or bride was under 21, so we can deduce that both William and Maria were over 21.  However, the 1851 census records William’s age as 46 and Maria’s as 34, so we can calculate they were 29 (born ca 1805) and 17 (born ca 1817) respectively in 1834.  Note that neither could write, hence “the mark of”, so William could not have corrected the spelling of his surname.  Steff is often spelled as Stiff, especially in later Hitcham records.

Back in 2002, I found details of this marriage and other information on Raymond Erle Long’s “The Cosford Database” website.

William STEFF was born on 7 Dec 1803. He was baptised after 7 Dec 1803 in Wattisham Baptist Chapel, Wattisham, Suffolk, England. He was baptised on 12 Sep 1813 in Hitcham, Suffolk, England. He died in 1872 in Hitcham,Suffolk, England. He was buried on 26 Jun 1872 in Hitcham, Suffolk, England. He is entered on the burial record as aged 68.

William aged 46 and his wife Maria aged 34 were living with their children in Hitcham at the time of the 1851 Census.

Parents: William STEFF and Hannah GRIMWOOD.

He was married to Maria PROCTOR on 13 Oct 1834 in Hitcham, Suffolk, England.

Children were: William STIFF, Harriot STEFF, Eliza STEFF, Isaac STIFF, Walter STIFF, Hester STEFF, Arthur STEFF.

However, the website no longer exists.  On further investigation, I found that the author died in 2008.  Although there is some discussion about re-instating it on various forums, I only found dead links.

Wonderful Wayback

However, all is not lost thanks to Internet Archive’s Wayback MachineThe Cosford Database was last archived on 20 October 2010.  William Steff’s entry on this version differs:

William STEFF was born on 7 Dec 1803 in Hitcham, Suffolk, England. He was baptised on 12 Sep 1813 in Hitcham, Suffolk, England. He was a Labourer between 1835 and 1856 in Hitcham, Suffolk, England. He died in 1872 in Hitcham, Suffolk, England. He was buried on 25 Jun 1872 in Hitcham, Suffolk, England. His age is entered on the burial record as 68. Parents: William STEFF and Hannah GRIMWOOD.

He was married to Pheobe Maria PROCTOR on 13 Oct 1834 in Hitcham, Suffolk, England. Children were: William STIFF , Harriot STEFF, Eliza STEFF, Isaac STIFF, Walter STEFF, Hester \ Esther STEFF, Arthur STEFF.

In particular Maria is now named as Pheobe Maria.  The baptism register confirms this name.  She appears on the 1851 census as Maria, but as Phoeby on the 1861 census.  Like William, she could not correct the marriage or census records. The website names her parents as Thomas Proctor and Bridget Buckle and one of her brothers as Peter, a witness to the marriage.

It is a pity that the website does not include source information, as that would help me resolve the discrepancies in this couple’s records.