A revision, with additions, of Michael Gandy's A Basic Bibliography for Catholic Family History by Sylvia J. Dibbs 2013. Includes some additional material by Peter Barlow.
The Catholic Family History Society prepared the following list of standard histories, which may be available through your library system or from the Catholic National Library. Most of the books are out of print, but The Internet Archive has many useful out of print works.
Beck's The English Catholics 1850-1950 is a compendium of articles and, at over six hundred pages, the best guide to the English Catholic world of the immediate past. The following are some of the articles it contains:
Most of these authors were the well-known experts of their day and, for the most part, their work has not been superseded. It would be nice to think work of similar quality could be produced today.
Roman Catholic Religious practice was illegal between 1559 and 1829. There are records in local or national archives of Anglican and State attempts to monitor it. Catholics are often listed as 'recusants' or 'papists'.
After statutory civil registration, which started in 1837, Catholics can be found in the same way as everyone else. Marriage certificates will indicate if the ceremony took place in a Catholic Church. Other certificates and the censuses will indicate location where a search for nearby Catholic Churches or Missions for baptisms may be found.
Michael Gandy has published a series of volumes detailed below that give the location of known registers from the 18th century towards the end of the 19th century. The volumes were published published in 1993 (with the London and Home Counties volume being revised in 2002 and the North West England volume in 1998) and so can be somewhat out of date, but are still very useful as a starting point in understanding what records are available. Some volumes are now out of print, but major libraries should have copies.
Note that there are no central records of conversion to Roman Catholicism, but missions should have recorded details of those people received into the church.
Catholic records are sometimes written in Latin but this often follows a formulaic pattern and translation should not be too difficult, there are many internet resources that will help. Note that a Latin first name may have more than one English equivalent; Jacobus could be Jacob or James; Helena could be Helen or Ellen.
Many Catholic registers have now been deposited in the appropriate county record offices and should be readily available to view. Some still remain with the parish priest and these can be more difficult to access. There is no legal requirement for the priest to grant access, and you will need to rely on his goodwill. For postal enquiries please enclose a stamped addressed envelope or international reply coupon. Many priests are too busy to help or have no interest in helping family historians.
Birth and Baptism - These were normally combined into a single register with one column showing the birth date and another the baptism date. Typically, you will expect to see the name of the child, the parents’ names, and the godparent’s names. Godparents are often (closely) related to the family and are a useful pointer to further research. If the child subsequently married somewhere else, then the priest sometimes noted this against the baptism record as in this example:
11 January 1863 Anne d of John & Elizabeth Ratcliffe
(olim Cheetham) born 8 inst
Ipsa die quarta mensis Septembris anni 1918 matrimonium contraxit cum Jacobo Turner filio Mathaei et Anna Turner in ecclesia Sancti Joannis apud Wigan
My translation: 4th Sept 1918 married James Turner son of Matthew and Ann Turner in the church of St John, Wigan
Sometimes, perhaps to prove legitimacy or not wishing to offend the local minister, Catholics were also baptized in the Anglican church.
Confirmation and First Communion – usually there is not much more detail than the name of the person and the date. Note that making assumptions about the age of the person is unreliable as the ceremonies can take place at any age. Central registers of confirmation were kept from 1768 - 1811 and 1816 for the Midland counties, and 1826 - 1837 and 1843 for London and the home counties and these have been published by the Society.
Marriage – The amount of detail varies, but may include both sets of parents’ names and residences. Again witnesses are often closely related to the bride and groom. Note that when Hardwicke’s Act was in force there may be both a Catholic and an Anglican ceremony, with the Anglican ceremony not necessarily being in the nearest church. As an example:
Catholic: 2 Jun 1881 John Ratcliffe married Mary Unsworth at
Anglican: 3 Jun 1881 John Ratcliffe married Mary Unsworth at St Peter and Paul, Ormskirk (this was about 8 miles from their home, and the nearest Anglican church was less than 2 miles away)
Death and Burial – Expect to find date and age, and sometimes the cause of death. Note that the cause of death can be different from the official death certificate. Where the Catholic church did not have a graveyard (and many early ones did not) then there would normally be only a record of the death with the burial taking place in the Anglican graveyard, and there would be a corresponding Anglican record. If you are lucky these entries will be marked as ‘Papist’ or ‘Church of Rome’ or similar. Here’s an example from the death register for Wrightington Hall, and the corresponding entry from the Anglican parish burial register:
Death: 4 Feb 1838 John Ratcliffe aged 53 years
Burial: 7 Feb 1838 St Wilfrid’s, Standish John Ratcliffe - Age: 53, Abode: Shevington, Notes: Interred as a member of the Church of Rome
Churchyards started to become full in the early 19th century, particularly in large towns and cities, and civic cemeteries were established. These sometimes had specific areas for Catholic burials and where records have been published they often indicate the religious denomination of the person. It is worth trying to identify all the burials in a particular plot as, except for common plots, this can indicate other family members or relatives. Where the denomination is not given then this can be established if the name (and denomination) of the officiating minister is known. The name of the Catholic priest at the time (if the mission/parish is known) can usually be obtained from Kelly (see below).
These notes on mission (parish) registers are © Peter Barlow 2016
Kelly provides historical details of the Catholic missions (parishes did not appear until after the end of the first world war) up to the very early 20th century.
There were few specifically Catholic graveyards until the 19th century, Catholics were buried in Anglican churchyards, often with no indication of their Catholicity. If you are lucky there may be a mention of Papist, Church of Rome, or similar in the burial record. Municipal cemeteries sometimes have sections reserved for specific denominations.
Catholic wills appear in the usual sources but in the 18th century they were supposed to be enrolled in the Close Rolls. For a simple list see:
The Society has published an index of names of people who appear in the wills of reputed Catholics in Lancashire between 1492 and 1894.
Also try the standard Who's Who or for the 20th century The Catholic Who's Who.
Many orders keep their own records, some published by the Catholic Record Society.
Prisoners will be found in local records with other non-catholic prisoners, but some have been published by the Catholic Record Society.
Most Catholics took the Royalist side.
There were some local schools run by Catholic teachers, but these were illegal in the penal period and most education took place abroad. The Catholic Record Society has published many school lists.
The appendix lists 35 boys' schools on the continent. In the 1790s the surviving colleges returned to England and are represented by the current Catholic schools and colleges, St Edmund's, Ushaw, Downside, Stonyhurst and Ampleforth. These have their own archivists and have published lists of students.