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I'm researching my family tree and I'm currently investigating ancestors who lived in England in the 18th and 19th centuries (1700-1899). Many of these people were born before birth registrations were mandatory, so I have to rely on church records. I'm finding a lot of children who were baptised or christened on one date, then had a second ceremony six to eighteen months later, sometimes in the same town, sometimes in a neighbouring town.

I don't fully trust the records to tell the difference between christening and baptism. I'm not a Christian myself, so I only have a vague idea of the difference between them. It's my understanding that a child would have to be christened before being baptised, but the records sometimes show this in the other order. The two girls in one family were christened 10 miles away from where the family lived, but all the boys and all the baptisms were done in the local town.

Why would you have multiple christening/baptism ceremonies for the same child? Why wait up to 18 months? Why would you have them done in different town churches (assuming the family hadn't moved)? Would gender have come into it?

  • Is it possible the baptisms were administered by a Catholic priest and the christenings were done by an Anglican priest? – Ken Graham Dec 16 '19 at 3:08
  • @KenGraham From what I know, England was Protestant (Anglican), Scotland was Protestant, Ireland was Catholic except for the north. I don't think different denominations were tolerated back then, but I could be wrong. – CJ Dennis Dec 16 '19 at 3:45
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    The Church of England website makes it clear that a christening is what happens (in the C of E) to children and baptism is what happens (in the C of E) to adults. There is no other difference. It is a bit of a mystery why that would be repeated after only a few months. Is the birth registered first, then the christening ceremony conducted later ? – Nigel J Dec 16 '19 at 4:18
  • @NigelJ Births are not registered at all. That didn't start until about the 1830s. I think they were optional before that and it was the priest's responsibility. The new law made it the parents' responsibility. The church records usually indicate who performed the ceremony, so it's not just getting the baby registered, but a religious ceremony. I imagine it was important (for the child's soul) to get it done quickly as infant mortality was higher than today. That website certainly has information about today's practices, but I image they were quite different two hundred years ago. – CJ Dennis Dec 16 '19 at 4:30
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Christening and Baptism are the same, and the Church of England doctrine is that it can be administered only once to any child.

The usual arrangement was for the baby and godparents to go to church. The godparents, speaking on behalf of the baby, renounced the devil, declared belief in the Christian creed and expressed the intention to obey God's will and commandments and walk in the same. Water was poured on the baby and the minister said " (baby's name) I baptise thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost".

Sometimes, especially if the baby was weak, the water was poured and the "I babptise thee" etc said at home. The baby was then, as stated in the rubric in the Private Baptism service in the Book of Common Prayer

lawfully and sufficiently baptised and ought not to be baptised again. Yet nevertheless if the child do afterward live it is expedient that it be brought into the Church

and there are prayers for such an occasion and the godparents then speak on behalf of the child making the same declarations that would normally have been made at the baptism.

Records were not always well or consistently kept and it is possible that some records may show both the date of the private baptism and the date the child was subsequently received into the church (building). These would then appear as two separate entries in the register.

However it would not be usual for there to be any large gap.

There are however other reasons a child might be baptised more than once. As Ken Graham points out it is possible that a child might be christened in the Church of England but also by another denomination. It may be possible to see from the records you are examining whether this is the case, as they may be amalgamated. If so it is possible that the girls in a family were taken to their mother's denomination, in the place she grew up, as well as having been baptised in the parish church where they now lived. This would be irregular, and most other denominations would not knowingly re-do a baptism.

If the records you are examining are purely C of E, which is very likely the case, then social entitlement may be a factor. Many charities were limited to persons baptised within a particular parish. The Poor Law also required destitute persons to be maintained at the expense of the parish, usually where they were christened or had established some other connection. To be baptised in more than one parish was, of course, not something the Church would approve of, and the second one would be invalid if discovered. It is possible, for example, that there was some charitable provision for girls education in a particular parish.

Again however there would seem unlikely to be any gap of as long as 18 months since suspicions would be aroused as to why the child hadn't already been baptised.

I suspect however that the most likely cause of the duplicate baptisms in the records is that the records may include both originals and transcripts.

Every christening, marriage and burial was entered in the Parish Records. Every year the churchwardens were responsible for making transcripts. A transcript was a copy of every entry in the past year, and they had to be sent to the bishop, or to the archdeacon, or both, and in some cases to other authorities. The fact cited by OP that his data usually has the second event 6 to 18 months after the first is suggestive. The practice in the locality may have been to send a full years transcript within six months of the end of the year, or at least that is when the Archdeacon etc entered them in his own records.

It is possible that your data includes parish records and transcripts, with only the date of notification in the transcript. Not all parish records have survived and so sometimes the transcript may be the only record.

Where the same date is given for a christening/baptism service in more than one church, it is likely that the service occured in a chapel of ease or district chapel. These are official Church of England churches, but which are not the main church of the parish. In such cases the event was recorded immediately in the log book of the church where it occurred and then as soon as convenient afterwards would also be entered in the parish records, maintained at the parish church. In this way the event would be recorded in two plavces (quite apart from subsequent transcription). But there wouldonly have been one event. This was particularly common in the north where parishes tended to be larger.

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  • Some are baptised and christened on the same day, in different books. I've been able to view scans of the originals in many cases and they show different dates for each line (child) or each few lines (children), leading me to believe they weren't transcribed en mass. What I haven't been able to see is if the book was a record of baptisms or christenings. They're similar to account keeping books or diaries, printed with indexed blank entries that would be filled in sequentially. The information about the girls going to the mother's parish seems spot on. – CJ Dennis Dec 16 '19 at 12:57
  • Baptism and christening are the same. If they are entered in two boks on the same day another possibility is that the service took place in a chapel of ease, or district chapel. These are Church of England churches but not parish churches. Some large paishes had a main parish church but also "branch" churches for those living further away. The correct practice was to have a log for the district church and christenings etc were entered there immediately and as soon as possible also in the parish register of the relevant parish church. . – davidlol Dec 16 '19 at 14:08
  • @CJDennis Are you able to provide any link to the records? – davidlol Dec 17 '19 at 10:48

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