The Church of England began requiring the recording of baptisms, marriages, and burials in 1538 although most parishes did not begin adhering to the rules until around 1600. Still, for a family like the Denchfields of North Marston, who stayed put for the next couple hundred years or so and were important members of their community, those early parish registers are a treasure trove of genealogical gold.
The registers for St. Mary’s, the established church in North Marston, date back to the late 1580s, but they are in bad shape. Before the FHL had a chance to film them, the books sustained water damage, molding the paper and smearing the ink. If that weren’t bad enough, for reasons known only to the culprit, enormous chunks were torn from each of the books, leaving one to wonder what on earth someone was trying to hide. What remained was filmed and the earliest transcribed entry relating to the Denchfields is the marriage of Richarde Deanchefeld to Margaret Ingram on 10 July 1600.
The Denchfields were loyal to their village, and to each other. Typical of the times, children were named after siblings and parents, and before long every generation had multiple Johns, Richards, and Matthews, many of whom had a penchant for marrying women named Mary.
Really. Quite. Confusing.
Use Timelines to chart and connect entries from parish records
With a family as confusing as the Denchfields, information found in parish registers is not enough to put the pieces of the kinship puzzle together, but you don’t know that until you lay it all out and analyze the evidence. I’ve done everything I can with making timelines of families and collateral lines—following them for centuries, chasing branches that spread to neighboring villages like Aston Abbotts, Whitchurch, and Wing. The timelines helped, but the church records were usually too vague to be definitive.
The wills the Denchfields wrote have helped immensely. They were a generous bunch for the most part, and liked to identify everyone by name. For example, probate records have been especially invaluable in determining which Mary bore which of John’s children. But there are still gaps—just too darn many men named John Denchfield. So, my next step is to follow the land.
Here’s what I have so far:
- 1779 Enclosure Awards for North Marston
- The Plan of the Parish map showing the allotments
- Several deeds, land indentures, and probate references to land transactions
- Church Yard Mound reports for multiple years
- Tithing reports
Step 1: Extract all possible information from each record
Step 2: Create a chronology of the extracted data
Step 3: Analyze the chronology to see possible ways to put the information together
If the pieces of the puzzle fit together only one way, wooohoooo!!!! If not, keep searching for additional puzzle pieces.