Dr. Penelope Christensen reminds us that most people with British ancestry have Catholics in their family tree before Henry the VIII’s split with the Church of Rome in the 1530’s. “There was little or no tolerance for the Roman Catholic religion in England between 1558 and 1829…” (Page 127) Statutes passed by parliament at that time are referred to as ‘penal laws.’
There are several groups trying to make pre-1837 Catholic records accessible. One website will lead you to most of them: www.catholic-history.org.uk/index.php. From this very humble home page, there are nine buttons to click across the top. Beginning with the first on the left, ‘cas’, click to link to the site of the Catholic Archives Society, www.catholicarchivesociety.org . This group promotes preservation of documents and trains archivists who do the day to day work. They do not have a collection of documents for genealogists.
The next link is to the CFHS (Catholic Family History Society) that accepts memberships from people who are researching their English and Irish ancestors in England, Scotland and Wales, www.catholic-history.org.uk/cfhs/index.htm . They publish a journal called the Catholic Ancestor, once known as the ECA Journal. The titles of the journal articles since 1983 are listed at the site. The bookshop has books and CD-ROMs available from transcription projects in London, Manchester and Lancashire.
The third link is to the Catholic Records Society, www.catholicrecordsociety.co.uk that according to its web site is “the premier Catholic historical society in the United Kingdom and is devoted to the study of Roman Catholicism in the British Isles from the Reformation period to the present day.” Since 1904, it has been producing transcriptions of records. The National Archives web site notes that “the majority of Catholic registers remain in the custody of parish priests, although a number have been transcribed and indexed by the Catholic Record Society.” (See above.)
The fourth link is to Benedictine history, www.plantata.org.uk. There is a searchable list of monks and nuns of the order.
The five links on the right connect with regional Catholic history societies with journals and publications, and dues in the £10 per year range. Note they are not ‘family’ history societies.Last but not least, a resource you may want to check is the Catholic National Library which has most of the transcripts from the Catholic Record Society in its 70,000 volume collection. The Library is located at St Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire and is open three days each week.
Source: Christensen, Dr. Penelope. Researching English Non-Anglican Records. Toronto, Canada: Heritage Productions 2003.