In the Parish Chest: Settlement Examinations, Settlement Certificates, Removal Orders

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As we learned in my last post on bastardy bonds, parishes in England did not want to be financially liable for the support of individuals or families settling within their boundaries who could not provide for themselves.

In England, the Poor Relief Act of 1662, also known as the Settlement and Removal Act came into being.1 The Act established the parish to which a person belonged. This was his ‘place of settlement’ and would indicate which parish was responsible should he at some point need to rely on the parish for help.  Many of the poorer individuals and families moved from parish to parish to find work which was acceptable only if they had a Settlement Certificate that stated that their parish of settlement would take them back should they have no means of support.

Below is an example of a Settlement Certificate issued by the Churchwarden and Overseers of the Poor in the Parish of Ashurst, Sussex for John Pollard and Sarah his wife on 22 November 1786.2 The certificate states that the Pollard’s are legally settled in the Parish. This allowed John and Sarah to move to a different parish in search of work. Should they not find employment and become ‘chargeable to the new parish’ (meaning they needed poor relief) the certificate assured the new parish officials that their parish of settlement would take them back and support them.

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Should an individual or family move into a parish without a settlement certificate and then need to rely on their new parish for support, a Removal Order would be prepared. What is great for genealogists is that the family is usually named, sometimes even ages given, as well as the name of the parish they had come from or to which they legally belonged.  In the example below, William Aldridge, his wife Elizabeth and their son, Elisha, have become or are deemed likely to become ‘chargeable to the Parish’ of Sherringham, Norfolk, where they are currently living. The Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the Parish of Sherringham have reported the family to the Justices of the Peace for Norfolk county. The Removal Order states that William Aldridge’s last legal Settlement was in the Parish of Blickling, Norfolk and that the family is to be returned there. Further, the Removal Order reminds the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the Parish of Blickling that they are to receive and provide for the Aldridge family who are legal inhabitants of that Parish.3

Aldridge

As part of the process of determining whether an individual or family had a legal right to settle in a parish, an examination by the Churchwarden or the Justices of the Peace often occurred. During the examination the individual would have to provide evidence of their claim to legal settlement in the parish. They were asked where they were born, about their parentage, their work history and their movements around the country.

So, what were the terms under which someone could settle in a parish?4

  • Be born into the parish.
  • Have lived in the parish for forty consecutive days without complaint.
  • Be hired for over a year and a day that takes place within the parish – (this led to short lengths of employment so that settlement was not obtained).
  • Hold an office in the parish.
  • Rent a property worth £10 per year or pay the same in taxes.
  • Have married into the parish.
  • Gained poor relief in that parish previously.
  • Have a seven-year apprenticeship with a settled resident

Settlement Examinations vary greatly but they often contain information that is of great value to a genealogist.  Take the incredibly informative settlement examination of Mrs. Mary Bird on 7 March 1825.5

The Settlement Examination of Mrs. Mary Bird

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Mary Bird was living in the Parish of Sherringham, Norfolk in 1825 when she became in need of financial help from the parish. The resulting examination before the Justices of the Peace is full of information on her very interesting background.  Take a look at the genealogical gems found in Mary’s examination:

  • She states she is about 32 years old, giving a clue to her year of birth
  • She was born in Bombay, East Indies where her father was stationed as a soldier in the Bombay Artillery
  • At age 14, she went into service for a Mrs. Monroe in Bombay. She was with Mrs. Monroe for between two and three years
  • She was married at about age 16 to William Neal, a private in the 17 Regiment of Light Dragoons stationed at Bombay
  • Two years into the marriage William died
  • Mary lived in Bombay for another year before marrying again, to Thomas Bird, a corporal in the 17 Regiment of Light Dragoons
  • Mary and her second husband Thomas Bird returned to England about six years ago
  • Thomas Bird was discharged at Chatham in Kent
  • Six months later, Thomas Bird reenlisted with the 19th Regiment of Foot. Mary and Thomas resided together, moving around England and Ireland to wherever the 19th Regiment of Foot was stationed
  • On 1 January 1825, Thomas Bird was discharged at Limerick, Ireland at his own request
  • Thomas Bird left Mary in Limerick, Ireland for an undisclosed period of time after which Mary stated she joined him in Dublin for about a week, after which Thomas again left her
  • Mary stated that Thomas told her she should go to ‘the place he belonged’ which was Sherringham in the county of Norfolk and that she has not seen him since that time
  • She stated she traveled from Dublin to Sherringham arriving on the past Tuesday, having with her a child between the ages of 8 and 9 years who was born in Bombay about a year into her marriage to Thomas Bird

After giving this testimony and making her mark, it seems that the Justices of the Peace wanted further evidence of her claims. The next document found is an extract from the Registry of Marriages 19th Regiment of Foot.6

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More genealogical gems here!

  • Confirmation of Mary’s married name (from her first marriage) and that she was a widow
  • A more exact place of marriage as Kaira, Bombay, India
  • An exact date of marriage of 19 May 1816
  • The names of two witnesses to the marriage

The marriage extract is not an original document but it gives many clues to aid in a hunt for the original.

And finally, Thomas Bird’s birth in the parish registers for Sherringham was located. An extract of that entry is noted with remarks by the Vicar that certifies it to be a true and correct extract from the Registry of Baptisms in the Parish of Sherringham in the County of Norfolk.7

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It would appear that Mary Bird satisfied the terms for being able to legally settle in the Parish of Sherringham by her marriage to Thomas Bird, who was born in the parish.

What a treasure trove of genealogical information available in one Settlement Examination!

Where to find Settlement Certificates, Settlement Examinations and Removal Orders

They are always found on the county level in England in Parish Chest records.

In FamilySearch.org, the search term ‘Settlement Certificates’ will result in a long list of records containing settlement certificates, removal orders and settlement examinations. Adding in a location such as ‘Settlement Certificates Durham England’ will bring up a list of those records in that geographic area.  FamilySearch.org seems to have the best collection of these parish chest records although Ancestry.com and Findmypast.com also have several record sets containing parish chest records. Use search terms such as ‘settlement certificate’, ‘removal orders’, ‘parish chest’, ‘settlement examinations’ and/or ‘poor relief’.

Searching directly on a county record office website is also a good way to find these types of records as can be seen in the screenshot below of the Durham County Record Office. However, most of these are not digitized and will mean either a visit to the individual record office or ordering a copy of the record online.

Screenshot 2018-08-29 14.48.30

 


  1. Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org), “Poor Relief Act 1662,” rev. 14.39, 30 July 2017. 
  2. Parish of Ashurst, Sussex, Settlement Certificate, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : accessed 29 August 2018), 22 November 1786, John Pollard and wife. 
  3. Norfolk County, Sherringham Parish, Parish Chest Records, 1300-1900, Removal Order for William Aldridge and family, 13 February 1755; images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.com : accessed 28 August 2018). 
  4. Marjie Bloy, Ph.D., The Victorian Web (http://www.victorianweb.org/history/poorlaw/settle.html : accessed 29 August 2018), “The 1662 Settlement Act.” 
  5. Norfolk County, Sherringham Parish, Parish Chest Records, 1300-1900, Examination of Mrs. Mary Bird, 7 March 1825; images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.com : accessed 28 August 2018). 
  6. Norfolk County, Sherringham Parish, Parish Chest Records, 1300-1900, Examination of Mrs. Mary Bird, 7 March 1825, containing marriage register extract for Thomas Bird and Mary Neal on 19 May 1816; images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.com : accessed 28 August 2018). 
  7. Norfolk County, Sherringham Parish, Parish Chest Records, 1300-1900, Examination of Mrs. Mary Bird, 7 March 1825, containing birth register extract for Thomas Bird on 19 March 1793; images, Findmypast (www.findmypast.com : accessed 28 August 2018).