Very few people will have noticed, but a major new book describing some of the history of Draycott-in-the-Moors has just been published. Titled ‘Draycott Parish Registers 1669-1900’, it is a faithful transcription of 250 years of our church records – outlining christenings (i.e. births), deaths, marriages – and more.
These parish records had to be kept by law, and it was the local clergyman’s job to fill in the register every time somebody in the parish was born or died.
You can imagine what a huge job it must be to copy and type up these registers. One is working from old, illegible, fragile documents very often in Latin and very often written out by a priest who didn’t necessarily have easy-to-read handwriting!
The Draycott book alone is 250 pages long… and yet it was compiled by a volunteer, working alone. The person who took on this huge task was Marion Hall. Marion says it’s simply just what she likes doing, even though each register that she transcribes can take her over six months to complete.
As you’d expect, Marion’s interest in these papers began when she was researching her own family history. She told us that it took her four years to really learn how to do it – and then it turned into her all-abiding interest. She would spend a third of her holidays in old record offices…
Of course nowadays, she doesn’t need to spend all her time in record offices. Having bought a microfiche reader, she can purchase microfiche copies of old documents to take home and read there.
By 2002 she was ready with her first completed project – a transcription of the parish register at Fradswell, which was taken up and published by BMSGH.
So… how did Marion come to choose the Draycott parish registers as a project? She told us: “I don’t have a direct connection with Draycott in the Moors, but I have used the parish registers and other sources here in family history research – particularly the Lymer family.
“Some of my ancestors moved to Milwich and the Belcher family in the parish of Leigh were also in the family tree. So, that’s how I came to be examining the Draycott registers, which are stored these days in Stafford.”
Unfortunately, the early registers of Draycott are missing, (this has led to some online trees showing incorrect connections in fact), and the earliest records for Draycott still existing consist of a single loose leaf of paper!
But, Marion explained that it’s just a matter of copying what you can. “One also has to check other contemporary sources to make sure everything is as correct as it can be. Registers can have all sorts of mistakes. For example, old marriage bonds are useful to verify names – especially if the clergyman used a style of handwriting which is extremely difficult to read.”
For the local family historian, this book makes fascinating reading. Names that you see in the district to this day pop up all over the 250 years of the records: names like Bagnall, Perry, Warrilow, Tabberner and Shelley which come from local families that all go right back to the seventeenth century (and probably before that).
The most interesting thing in the book for the general historian is the number of people and families locally who were described as “Popish Recusants” – i.e. they remained Roman Catholics even when practising Catholicism openly was outlawed. They were usually recorded as having been buried “on the north side of the church”.
And sometimes, just one entry can summon up a whole image. On May 29 1834, the death of Joseph Cope is recorded as “An Idiot and Draycott Pauper, who died in the Dilhorne Workhouse.” What a terrible life he must have had.
Buy a copy
Being a very specialist item, the book has only had a short print-run, no more than a few dozen copies.
The publishers (the Staffordshire Parish Registers Society, SPRS) only have around ten for general sale. They cost £5.50 + £1.51 postage. When they are sold out, the work will be available as a (paid-for) download.
A cheaper way (in the long run) to get the book is to become a member of the SPRS: it costs £7.50 – for which members receive three registers a year. Those who join this year will receive the Draycott one as part of the deal.
And what of Marion? Is she worn out after her endeavours?
Not at all. “I am currently working on Bramhall and Marchington. I picked Marchington for my next project because some of it was done already, but it was very incomplete, and I have had to pay a number of visits to Lichfield to check what I have against the original records, and to extend what I have … It will run to 300 pages, this one. It will be my seventh published project!”
A note on family history sources in Staffordshire
There are two separate main sources of these registers (unless you want to go to the Record Offices and use the original documents). These are the SPRS and Staffordshire Find My Past (which works with the Staffs Archive Service to digitise their parish registers). Each is independent of the other.
The FMP people are, unlike the SPRS volunteers, paid to do it (and Marion has noticed that errors do creep in to their transcriptions). As yet, the FMP Staffordshire collection is not complete, and also will not cover all of Staffordshire, as some agreements are not in place yet.
The general editor of the SPRS series, Bob Morton, would welcome a call from you if you think you can help in this kind of work.
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