[For detailed information about the records of Bedfordshire please read the book 'National Index of Parish Registers: Volume 9 Part 1 Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire' compiled by Cliff Webb, published by the Society of Genealogists]
Bedfordshire lies in the southern part of the Midlands, about 50 miles north of London. It is a small county of irregular shape, being at its greatest extent 36½ from north to south and 22½ miles from east to west. The population was 124,478 in 1851. To the north west lies Northamptonshire, to the north east Huntingdonshire, to the east Cambridgeshire, to the south east Hertfordshire, and to the south and south west Buckinghamshire.
Record Offices and Libraries
Bedfordshire Record Office holds the vast bulk of official Bedfordshire records, including registers, bishop's transcripts, marriage licence allegations and bonds, quarter sessions records and wills and administrations, etc.
Cambridge County Record Office (Huntingdon branch) holds the registers of Everton (in which Tetworth hamlet was in Bedfordshire) and Tillbrook which was transferred to Huntingdonshire in 1896 and the bishop's transcripts of Swines head which was transferred from Huntingdonshire to Bedfordshire in 1888.
Hertfordshire Record Office holds the registers and bishop's transcripts of Ickleford (of which a portion was in Bedfordshire until 1844), the registers of Holwell, which was transferred in 1897 from Bedfordshire to Hertfordshire, and the bishop's transcripts for Kensworth which was transferred from Hertfordshire to Bedfordshire in the same year.
Ancient Parishes and Registers
Apart from a very few parishes, Bedfordshire formed the Archdeaconry of Bedford which was in the diocese of Lincoln until 1837, in the diocese of Ely 1837-1914 and in the diocese of St. Albans since 1914.
In 1844 Bedfordshire lost its part of Everton to Huntingdonshire and of Ickleford to Hertfordshire, but gained the Hertfordshire parts of Meppershall and Studham. In 1896, Swineshead was transferred from, and Tilbrook to, Huntingdonshire.
There are 131 ancien parishes which are, or were, partially or totally in the ancient county of Bedfordshire. Seven start in 1538 (Arlesey, Eyeworth, Houghton Regis, Milton Ernest, Sandy, Southill and Sutton) and a further four in 1539 (Bedford St Mary, Chalgrave, Houghton Conquest and Ridgmont). Nine more register series start before the accession of Elizabeth I. and a further sixteen in the first two years of her reign. thus 28 percent of Bedfordshire parishes have registers starting in 1559 or earlier. A further forty-three have seixteenth century dates, so no less than 62 percent pf Bedfordshire series start in 1600 or before. Only thirteen parishes start register series in the first half of the seventeenth century (though this partially made up for by the start of the bishop's transcripts series, generally, in 1602), and a very large number (40) start in the second half of the seventeenth century. However, only siz parishes start after 1700, and none after 1750.
In Bedfordshire, these records would be better known as Archdeacon's Transcipts, as they went to the Archdeacon's registry.
They are a collection of some 25,000 documents. Most Bedfordshire bishop's transcripts date from approximately 1602. The bishop's transcripts were fully collated with the parish registers by DR. F.G. Emmison in his series of printed Bedfordshire registers. Partially as a result, no effort has been made to list every missing year prior to 1812 when Emmison's transcript ends.
The transdripts were originally arranged by year, but starting in 1908 they have gradually been sorted into parish groups, this process continuing until after World War 1. The transcripts are now arranged in parish order to 1849, and thereafter chronologically.
While the transcripts from the Archdeacon's Registry form the bulk of the archive, there have been accessiojns from various other sources. At various dates between 1938 and 1973, transcripts from the Lincoln Diocesan registry were deposited at the Bedrordshire Record office. There are transcripts for most parishes for most years between 1604 and 1615 in this collection, and few of these were available to be collated with the registers in the preparation of the printed transcripts. There are also miscellaneous transcripts from this source up to the mid nineteenth century. The Record Office has also received bishop's tranmscripts for the preculiars from the Bodleian Library in 1929, from R. Richmond with his collection, and a few in 1964 from St. Alban's registry. Again, many of these were not used in the compilation of the transcripts on which the printed editions were based.
Almnost all the series apart from the Peculiars begin in 1604. Several years are usually missing, for example 1636-7, and there is, as elsewhere almost always a complete abscence in the 1640's and 1650's, though sometimes later incumbents seem to have completed a retrospective return for these years, or some of them. though a reasonable collection thereafter, there are still extensive and/or frequent gaps in most parishes.
Most series end in the 1860's and 1870's. A few end as early as the 1830's or 1840's, and just four series continue after 1890 (Bedford St Mary to 1894, Souldrop to 1895, Meppershall to 1897 and Hockliffe to 1906).
Allegations and Bonds for Marriage Licences
All the surviving bonds and allegations to 1812 were published in the Bedfordshire Parish Register series volume 14 covering 1747 to 1790 and volume 15 covering 1791 to 1812. These are full abstracts of all the detail in the original. Original bonds and allegations continue to 1822, and allegations alone to 1885. There is an indexed typescript at the Bedfordshire Record Office of these records 1813-1885.
A few Biggleswade peculiar bonds and allegations survive for the epriod 1714-1800, which are not included in the printed volumes. Bedfordshire record office has a card index to unprinted allegations.
Bedfordshire inhabitants could, of course, have recourse to the entral authorities of the Faculty Office and the Vicar general, whose records are preserved at Lambeth Palace Library.
Allegations in the 1822-3 period were particularly full of information, as parties were supposed to supply baptismal certificates. Thos for Bedfordshire have been printed in:
Bedfordshire Marriage Licences in the Annus Mirabilis 1822-23 (Bedfordshire Family History Society Journal volume 3 number 2)
The Bedfordshire Family History Society have a slip index to all legations 1813-49.
Modern Copies of Parish Registers
A far greater proportion of Bedfordshire's ancient parish registers are in print than any other county. Only one parish has been printed as a rsult of private initiative (Haynes, printed 1891 by William Brigg). The great achievement of the county in this field, therfore is due to the efforts of successive County Archivists and their staffs. As an assistant to the County Archivist, Dr. F.G. Emmison spent many years before World War II, cycling around Bedfordshire parishes, listing their records, and, wherever possible, making atranscript of their registers to 1812. Dr. Emmison then collated this transcript with the surviving bishop's transcripts, indexed the whole, and, not content with this produced a duplicated edition of dozens of the resulting typescripts. Dr Emmison moved on to Essex as County Archivist, where he was very active in the transcription and editing of records. Dr Emmison's printed series ended in the early 1950's, but Bedfordshire Record office had one of four typesrcipt copies of a number of registers which had not been duplicated, and, when time and finance allowed (Bedfordshire County Council, to their great credit, voted some funds for the continued transcription of registers) transcription continued, until now all pre-1812 registers have been transcribed, and a few later. The Bedfordshire record Office has also arranged the transcription of a number of early nonconformist registers and church books, and has printed some of these. They also, in 1978, resumed publication of their registry of transcripts, and no less than 34 further volumes of transcripts have appeared. They have reduced to two, therefore, the number of Bedfordshire registers remaining unprinted, and these will follow very shortly.
The Mormons have, as elsewhere, been extremely active in Bedfordshire qnd have filmed a large proportion of the original registers. they also have utilised a printed transcripts for their extraction programme, and the IGI for Bedfordshire contains perhaps 90% of the pre-1812 baptisms which sruvive for the county.
Bedfordshire Record Office have a slip inex to those pre-1812 marriages not in the I.G.I. they also have an index to post-1812 burils, mainly from the towns, and to Methodist Circuit baptisms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In addition they have compiled indexes to all settlement papers in parochial collections and are in the process of extracting alls ettlement and bastardy information from the Quarter Sessions records.
As might be expected from the home of John Bunyan, Bedfordshire was an early centre of Puritan thinking, and at the Restoration a large number of nonconformist chapels, mainly Baptist and Quaker were established, many of which still survive. The holdings of the Public record Office and the Bedford Record office are listed with special note taken of all congregations noted in the 1851 Religious Census for Bedfordshire and a number of Kelly's County Directories. A list exists showing the foundation (and where appropriate closure and demolition)dates of all Bedfordshire nonconformist chapels, especially those founded prior to 1900. This list list sources especially where conflciting information is to hand. Much use has been made of the Bedfordshire Record Office's own slip index of chapels.
Nonconformist congregations are listed under each ancient parish in chronological order of the date at which the first reference to them has been located. In the case of the towns, a single chronological nonconformist sequence follows the last Anglican parish entry for that town.
The existence of excellent modern bibliographies has also enabled the listing of various chapel histories where these are known. This has been done for nonconformist churches and chapels only, since their history is normally much more obscure than Anglican churches and congregations.
As is usual with mordern record offices, bedfordshire Record office has copie sof Public Record Office holdings on microfilm, and has organised the transcription of several of them to match its virtually complete collecion of Bedfordshiore parish register transcripts. Transcripts of early nononformist churhes have been published.