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In order to trace your ancestors prior to the Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths in 1837, you will need to look at Church Records, often known as Parish Registers. Parish Registers have been recorded since 1538 when at the Court of Henry VIII, Cromwell ordered that every baptism, marriage and burial should be recorded.
Unfortunately some very early Church records have been lost in some parishes. But from 1597, it was manadatory for the church to send a copy of their church records to the Bishop. These became known as the Bishops Transcripts. So where an original entry is unclear or missing, these can often be useful in trying to fill gaps.
Many Parish Registers and Bishops Transcripts for Devon can be viewed on microfiche or microfilm at one of the Devon Record Offices.
Devon Record Office provide an index of both parish and cemetery registers available at each record office:
Please Note the codes in the location column for the above indexes refer to:
FreeREG provides free searches of baptism, marriage and burial records that have been transcribed from UK parish and non-conformist registers. The project is in need of more volunteers to transcribe parish registers. For more information, please see Transcriber Registration.
The Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as the LDS probably hold one of the largest genealogy collections in the world. Their website contains lots of information including transcriptions of the British 1881 Census, Ancestral files submitted by members of the Church and also the wonderful International Genealogy Index, more commonly known as the IGI.
The IGI contains transcriptions of baptisms and marriages from around the world, along with entries that have been submitted by members of the Church. So some of these do come from parish registers that the Mormon's were allowed to transcribe, while other entries may simply be estimates of the dates and places where baptisms and marriages took place. Certainly for Devon, about 60% of Devon Parish Registers were transcribed, so this can be useful in finding out where surnames were centralised.
Devon Heritage Centre provide a page on the International Genealogy Index with a more detailed description useful for researchers.
Hugh Wallis provides the following two sites to compliment the IGI: