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Commonwealth gap

Some of you may have come to point in your research where a person might simply disappear or their baptism may not be found or perhaps you have found a marriage entry twice for the same people. If you’re look 1649-1653 then you have hit the Commonwealth gap.

After the execution of Charles I on 30th January 1649, an English republic was established and represents a period in English history known as the Commonwealth (1649-1653). The Rump Parliamentary had declared Bishops, Deans, and Chapters abolished. Before the abolition, the Deans would send annual records of Baptisms Deaths and Marriage to the Bishop, these are known as Bishop’s transcripts. If you can find these they can prove very useful to your family history research. The Commonwealth ended in 1653 with the Oliver Cromwell establishing the Protectorate. The Commonwealth is a very difficult period to research any family history. This is because there are large gaps in the records, more commonly in parish registers. In fact in an act of 1653, Oliver Cromwell's intended to remedy poor record keeping in parish registers by placing the responsibility for the records in the hands of appointed officers called "Parish Registers". The records kept by Parish Registers became known as Civil Registers but sadly many have not survived.

After Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Registers were dismissed (some appear to have become parish clerks). The restored clergy in some areas of the country confiscated the Civil Registers and destroyed them. Other clergy simply went around the parish writing down vital events by asking people to remember what had happened in the previous years.

During this same period marriages didn’t have to be done in a church. A notice of marriage could be stated at a Market cross or the couple could go to a Justice of the Peace to be legally married. Many couples did not like the new system and secretly went to the church to be married. Following the restoration, marriages preformed by the Justices of the Peace were legalized in retrospect. Many of the clergy simply refused to accept such blasphemy and forced a second marriage in the church or simply branded the children illegitimate.

Sadly the Commonwealth Gap isn’t confined to 1649-1653, the effects of the commonwealth period can been seen in records up to C1660 when Charles II was proclaimed by Convention Parliament as the lawful monarch since the execution of Charles I in January 1649.

Finding records between 1649 -1653 can be quite diffilcult if you suddenly find yourself in that posision. The best idea is to contact the local records office and ask what records they hold for that period