Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: Vicars and Rectors

In the United States, protestant clergy are referred to as ministers, Roman Catholic clergy are called priests and Jewish leaders are known as rabbis. From looking at the parish records of the Church of England, it is easy to see a greater variety of titles, for example, vicar and rector.  

Vicars and rectors have the same spiritual authority, but were paid slightly differently from the historic tithe system which is now defunct.  In the Bible, the patriarchs were instructed to give ten percent of all that their land produced to God’s work. England had an ancient and later quite controversial system of tithing. “The great tithes of corn and hay, and the small tithes of livestock, wool, and non-cereal crops, went to the support of the rector of the parish, who in return maintained the chancel of the church and saw to the provision of church worship.” (Hey, p. 440)
In the past, rectors received both the greater and lesser tithes. A vicar received just the smaller tithes because it was possible for a monastery or college to be responsible for a parish and be eligible to collect all the tithes.  These institutions would appoint a vicar to manage the parish in its place and give him the small tithes.

At some point, the tithes were converted to money and now have been done away with completely.  However today, each parish in England and Wales gives its clergy the title rector or vicar depending on the historical situation with tithes, but, as all clergy in the parishes are paid from central funds, the distinction is unnecessary. According to one source, any COE clergy have been referred to as parson, since the 1600s, so you probably can’t go wrong with that term if you are traveling in the UK.
Another term seen often is incumbent who is either a rector or vicar who is employed in a parish.

Colin Hinson has posted a nice chart on the GENUKI website. It shows all the clergy of the COE from the Archbishops to bishops to deans and deacons.


Friar, Stephen. The Companion to the English Parish Church. London: Chancellor Press 2000.
Hey, David. The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1996.

2012, Susan Lewis Well

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