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, September 4, 2013

Wisdom Wednesday: Visiting a Parish Church – The Interior

A visit to the UK and some of the ancestral villages is exciting. The parish church should be near the top of the agenda. Not only did family events take place here, but there may be important genealogical clues in the monuments and memorials on the interior.

It is exciting to be there, and it is tempting, and for some of us unavoidable, to hurry through and try to see everything at once. Try to slow down, or do the run through and then start again for a slow leisurely stroll around the interior, pencil and notebook in hand. Okay, ipad or iphone in hand.
The walls and floors of even the small churches have some stone or brass tablets or monuments that can help in family research. To have such a memorial, a family would have to have considerable means, however.

If you enter by the front door, your will probably see a rack of pamphlets highlighting the history of the church building and the interesting plaques or memorials it contains. This information may be available on the parish website so you can preplan your visit.
Among the newer memorials might be ‘Rolls of Honor’ for casualties of the Boer War (1899-1902), World War I and World War II. They give the name, rank, regiment and sometimes the battle where the service man or woman died. No matter where your family fell on the economic scale of this parish, a relative’s name might be found here.

There are two types of older stone monuments – tombstone effigies and memorial tablets. Effigies or figures representing a dead person have been used in church monuments since the twelfth century, usually lying on top of a coffin or coffin shaped stone box on the church floor. The older carvings are flatter and the later ones more three dimensional.
Memorial tablets, also called wall monuments or wall tablets, are stone panels engraved with genealogical information and commemorative poems or phrases. They look like one sided tombstones embedded in the wall, and they could usually fit within a rectangular space 2-3 feet wide and 3-4 feet tall.  Having been in common use between the 16th and 19th century, their decorative style depends on when they were produced.

Last, but hardly least, are the monumental brasses. These are engraved metal plates attached to the wall or floor which shows both human figures and symbols to represent the person who has died. There may be as many as 8000 remaining in England, but many were destroyed during the English reformation and later in the time of Oliver Cromwell.
The deceased and members of his family are commonly depicted wearing the clothing and uniforms of the time period.  Others have Christian symbols or are depictions of biblical stories. They date from the thirteenth to the seventeen century.

Rubbings of these brasses have been a popular pastime, but ask permission before attempting an art project. Many parishes forbid it and have reproductions for sale as an alternative.
Friar, Stephen. The Companion to the English Parish Church. London: Chancellor Press, 2000.

Mellen, Rachael. A Practical Guide for the Genealogist in England, Second Edition. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc., 1987.