Problems using the Great Bromley parish register

Photo: Eve Frostick

It’s worth mentioning that the Great Bromley parish register presents a couple of problems, mainly with burials. Firstly, only six burials survive before the 1700s, and the burial register starts properly in 1725, ending in 1729, then starts again in 1735. There are no baptisms or burials from early 1757 to early 1758, and the register is poor in the early 1760s, with first names and surnames variously missing, and gaps which perhaps indicate entries that someone meant to put in the register but never got round to doing.

As well as these gaps, we have to contend with that fact that in most cases, burials have been entered in the format of date and name only – no ages, no relationships. This isn’t particularly uncommon for the time, especially considering that the burial register seems to be a way to record whether or not people have sworn to a burial in woollen, to satisfy the Burial in Woollen Acts (1666-80) (though that said, in some parishes the burials and record of affidavits were kept in separate books). The lack of extra information makes life complicated for anyone tracing members of a family such as the Gardiners – when you see the name “Henry Gardiner” pop up in the burials, there are a huge number of possible candidates.

Deduction and guesswork has to come into play, and recourse to other records can be helpful. Where we have HenryII and Mary¬†Gardiner baptising two sons Henry, one in 1724 and the next in 1731, it’s reasonable to assume that the first died before the baptism of the second. There are two burials in Great Bromley for Henry Gardiners in the period between the first and second baptisms: one in 1727 and one in 1728. We know that Henry GardinerI‘s will was proved in 1728, so it’s likely that he is the one buried in 1728, which means HenryII‘s son is probably the one buried in 1727. While Francis Barton’s 1726 will mentions HenryII having three children – Mary, Henry and John (children in wills are usually named in age order), HenryI‘s 1728 will only mentions two children – John and Mary, so it does make it increasingly likely that the Henry baptised in 1724, died in the intervening years, making 1727 even more possible. Except we can’t be sure, of course – what if HenryI wasn’t buried in Great Bromley at all?

Memorial inscriptions would be extremely useful in this situation. I would like to revisit Great Bromley churchyard (I only managed a brief visit before), and it would also be very good if the Essex Society for Family History were to compile a memorial inscriptions CD. I am hoping to hear back from the churchwardens at Great Bromley in case there is already a list of memorial inscriptions held by the church. It quite possible that some of the Gardiners, being well-to-do, have memorial plaques up inside the church, which obviously survive better than the headstones which persist through all weathers outside.

Please also note that there are no baptisms for 1708, 1709 and 1710, or early 1711 (the register continues with a baptism on 11 Nov 1711).

There are no marriages from 1641-1653 or 1732-34, however, the latter gap might genuinely be because no-one was marrying in Great Bromley at the time, rather than entries having been omitted.