Before Bishop’s Transcripts, Register Bills (RBs) of all births, marriages and deaths in a parish were compiled, usually anually, by rectors and churchwardens and were submitted to the archbishop. A surprising number have survived for west Suffolk, which is good news for anyone researching parishes where the parish registers have been lost or are damaged (my personal interests being Acton, Edwardstone and Great Ashfield). They survive year by year, usually one year to a sheet of paper.
The bad news is that survival is patchy, and they aren’t easy to access (although from 2025, they are apparently going to be available on Ancestry, with Suffolk’s parish registers). In order to access them, I had to go to a Family History Centre, and downloaded what I could. The references to film and image numbers will help you track them down on FamilySearch. It was rather challenging, as the connection kept dropping, and even with the Society of Genealogist’s (SoG) book explaining what years have survived for which parish it was very difficult finding the parishes I was looking for.
The Bills are divided by year, and then within each year, are kept in folders labelled by hundred. Unfortunately, the order they were filmed in for each year varies, and sometimes I found folders which have parishes for a different hundred in them! At the top of each page, there’s brief preamble to explain what’s there, but the period covered can be confusing.
To be clear about what you’re looking at with the Acton Register Bills, I have compiled the following, which should help you know what is and isn’t there.
- 1563: Baptisms provide father’s occupation. The page is damaged all along the length of the right-hand side, meaning that some brides’ forenames or surnames are partially or wholly lost.
- 1564: The top of the page reads: “A certificate of all cristeninges burialles and mariages within the paryshe of Acton in the countie off Suffocke from the xxv off Marche anno dmi 1564 for on hole yeare ended the sayd xxv of Marche then nextt ensewing an verbi incarneti (?) 1565 as followethe.” I take this to mean that it’s baptisms, burials and marriages 25 March 1564 to 25 March 1565.
- 1565: The top right-hand side of the page is damaged. The top of the page reads: “This certyfficathe indented and made the (vii or viii?) Maii in the yere of our lord god MCCCCCLXVI  of all the cry* [page edge] marayges & buryales that hathe bene in acton sense the [lost] day of Marche in Anno Dni MCCCCCLXVI  unto the day of [lost] hereof.” In other words, baptisms, marriages and burials from 25 March 1565 to [early] May 1566. No marriages took place that year.
- 1566: hasn’t survived
- 1567-1568: The preamble says “Thys certeficate indented and made the xv day of February anno domini 1568 of all Christinings mariagies and Burialls that have bene in the p[ar]ishing of Acton sync the xxvth day of Marche anno domini 1567 untill the day & date above mentioned.” Apparently, then, this one sheet unusually covers nearly two years, from 25 March 1567 to 15 February 1568/9. The years aren’t specified in the entries but have presumably been entered chronologically. For instance, baptisms run 9 June, 14 Oct, 15 Feb, 14 Jan, 12 July – so that the first four would have been 1567 (and 1567/8), and the last one took place on 12 July 1568. Marriages took place on 26 April, 8 Sep, and 18 July – presumably the first two in 1567 and the last on 18 July 1568. The five burials on the page were on 14 July, 8 March, 19 Oct, 28 Sep and 8 Dec – presumably 14 July 1567, 8 March 1567/8, and 19 Oct 1568, 28 Sep 1568 (slightly out of sequence) and 8 Dec 1568.
- 1569-1577: haven’t survived
- 1578: “This is a true copye of all the buryenges maryenges and christinges for the yeare of our lord god 1578.” The entries aren’t separated by type, and are all listed chronologically, starting with a burial on 13 April, and ending with a baptism on 1 March, presumably 13 April 1578 and 1 March 1578/9.
- 1579: hasn’t survived
- 1580: the handwriting is quite challenging and in places somewhat faded.
- 1581: hasn’t survived
- 1582: has survived.
- 1583-1584: hasn’t survived