When record offices first opened their doors to accept deposits from outside organisations, one of the first to take advantage was the Church of England.
Archive services around the country were designated Diocesan Record Offices, with the function of taking in church records and maintaining them, while making them available to the public.
Oxfordshire Record Office
Oxfordshire Record Office was one of the last to be given Diocesan Record Office status. In the 19th century the Bodleian Library had taken on looking after church records in the county, and this continued until its policy decision to withdraw from collecting purely local history in 1984. At this point the records were transferred to the Record Office, and are now part of the Oxfordshire History Centre.
The diocese is the administrative area ruled over by the Bishop of Oxford. The diocesan records are the administrative records of the bishop, created in the running of the diocese.
Oxford Diocese was formed in 1542, when the Archdeaconry of Oxford was split from the huge Diocese of Lincoln.
The following are the major classes of diocesan records:
- Bishop's registers and act books (pdf format, 12Kb)
- Clergy records (pdf format, 16Kb)
- Records of benefices (pdf format, 16Kb)
- Diocesan parish boxes (pdf format, 18Kb)
- Records of churches (pdf format, 12Kb)
- Papers relating to parishioners (pdf format, 16Kb)
- Church courts (pdf format, 18Kb)
- Visitation records(pdf format, 16Kb)
- Letters and memoranda (pdf format, 16Kb)
- Property records (pdf format, 14Kb)
- Care of churches (pdf format, 12Kb)
- Diocesan Council of Education (pdf format, 14Kb)
Where to find these records
The diocesan records are all with the Oxfordshire History Centre, including those after 1836 relating to Berkshire and those after 1845 relating to Buckinghamshire. The records cannot be found online.
An overview catalogue exists on Discovery. Search for 'DIOC Oxford'
You will need to visit the Oxfordshire History Centre to look at the full catalogue in printed form.
The collection contains the records for the Archdeaconry of Oxford, the Archdeaconry of Dorechester (created in 2014) and also for peculiar jurisdictions in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
Wills and inventories
Wills and related documents are held at the History Centre. All of them have been digitised, and are available online through the FindMyPast website. Access is by subscription and/or pay-per-view, but free online access is available at the History Centre.
The original wills are not ordinarily produced in the Oxfordshire History Centre searchroom.
The records for the following Oxfordshire deaneries are at the Oxfordshire History Centre.
- Aston and Cuddesdon, 1864-1993
- Bicester, 1832-1978
- Chipping Norton, 1883-1993
- Deddington, 1918-1966
- Henley, 1932-1972
- Islip, 1848-1978
- Witney, 1847-1969
- Woodstock, 1832-1939
Within each archdeaconry of the diocese are the individual parishes. The community gathered around each individual church.
The church was the great record keeper of the community, and most of the surviving records of any town or village before the nineteenth century are the parish records. These are both records of the activities of the church itself (for example, the parish registers of baptism, marriage and burial) and records of civil administration through the church (for example, the Poor Law records).
Oxfordshire History Centre holds the parish records for the Archdeaconry of Oxfordshire, roughly the same area as the old, pre-1974 county of Oxfordshire, before the Vale of White Horse was transferred to it from Berkshire. Parish records for the Vale of White Horse are part of the Archdeaconry of Berkshire, and are held by the Berkshire Record Office.
The majority of Oxfordshire Parish registers have been digitised and are available to view online at Ancestry. Access is by subscription but free online access is available at the History Centre. Copies of register entries are also available to order on paper or as an electronic file from the History Centre.
These are the main types of document found in the parish records: