Find your ancestors in Devon, Plymouth & West Devon Parish Chest Records 1556-1950

Explore this eclectic collection of records from the parish chests of Plymouth and West Devon. Discover if your ancestor stayed in the workhouse, received parish relief or appeared in the churchwardens’ account books. The parish was the local power for centuries, responsible for the local government and law, as well as the welfare of the poor.

The results will give you both a transcript and an image of the parish record. The transcripts include

  • Name
  • Event year
  • Event type
  • Place and county
  • Archive
  • Archive reference


The image will reveal additional information about your ancestor. What is found in each image is dependent on the type of record you are viewing, but most will include the exact event date and a further description of the event.

The details found in the various event types include, but are not limited to

  • Pew Rentals – date of the rental and the location of the rented pew.
  • Examinations – will include further details about your ancestor’s life such as work history, when and to whom they were married and previous residences.
  • Jury Lists – the lists are of eligible jurors and will include the individual’s name, residence, occupation or calling, nature of qualification and amount contributed to the poor rate. Some individuals are classified as special jurors.
  • Settlements – the settlement papers usually included the name of the person’s previous parish, names of their family members and personal details such as age, birthplace and occupation. It was a legal certificate to state that you were a resident of the parish and, therefore, a responsibility of that parish.
  • Bastardy papers – the papers will register the name of the child, mother and the possible father, as well as the amount of money owed to the parish for the child.
  • Overseers and Churchwardens’ accounts – date and amount of parish relief paid to an individual or how much an individual has paid to the parish, as well as expenses paid by the parish and to whom.

Discover more about the records by using the arrows on either side of the image. By browsing through the parish documents, you will learn more about the context of the records and why your ancestor’s name has appeared in these records.

Discover more about these records

In the past, local parishes were responsible for far more than keeping the records of births, marriages and deaths. Collectively, the records kept by parishes of local and civic affairs are called the parish chest. The records include the levying of taxes, selection of juries and pew rentals within the church.

Each parish was responsible for supporting its poor and pauper families. Residents were required to pay poor rates, which went to support these individuals through poor relief or the workhouses. In the parish chest records, we also find bastardy bonds and papers. These were investigations into the paternal responsibility of children born to an unknown father. They also documented the father’s mandated payments.

The Plymouth & West Devon parish chest records consist of the following events.

  • Bastardy bonds and papers
  • Churchwardens' accounts and book of record
  • Examination, removal orders and other papers
  • Expenses of removals
  • List of paupers for relief
  • List of paupers relieved
  • Lists of subscribers for relief
  • Maintenance orders
  • Miscellaneous vouchers and poor rates
  • Note of paupers receiving relief
  • Notices of chargeability
  • Order of payment of relief
  • Overseers' account and rate books
  • Overseers' account for the poorhouse
  • Overseers' papers
  • Overseers' rates and disbursements
  • Parish jury lists
  • Parish returns and removals
  • Poor relief disbursements
  • Poor relief general ledger
  • Register of pew rents
  • Removal orders
  • Returns of men for jury service
  • Settlement and removal papers
  • Settlement certificates and removal orders
  • Settlement examinations and removal orders
  • Settlement orders
  • Settlement papers
  • Vestry minutes
  • Warrants for arrest
  • Workhouse admission and discharge books
  • Workhouse indoor relief lists