This is a Guest Post by Wayne Shepheard
I volunteer as an Online Parish Clerk (OPC) for four ancient parishes in Devon – Cornwood, Harford, Plympton St. Mary and Plympton St. Maurice. So what does an OPC do and how do they help family historians? I have written a few articles that explain the OPC scheme. There was also a great piece in Family Tree magazine by Roy Stockdill (2012) about the subject. References to them are listed below.
Several counties in England now have an OPC program – Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Somerset, Sussex, Warwick and Wiltshire. Basically, an OPC adopts a parish or parishes and compiles reference material in the form of transcripts, extracts, abstracts, indexes and copies of original records. Data is collected from as many sources as possible, emphasizing both local history and genealogy. Many OPCs maintain websites such as mine (http://www.cornwood-opc.com/) where data may be stored for browsing or source references may be listed. A major stipulation for being an OPC is to share their knowledge with others free of charge. They must also be accessible through email.
Map of England showing counties in which an Online Parish Clerk program is present – dark grey-shaded areas show where individuals act as OPCs, light grey-shaded areas are represented only by a coordinator who manages all data received from others
I get one or two requests per week from people looking for information about their families. Because I have copies of all of the BMD registers, censuses and lots of other information, I can access the data right at my desk, at any time, and quickly answer many of the initial questions from family researchers Most often they want confirmation about dates of baptism, marriage or burials or the names of parents. Some of the information is now online at Ancestry or FindMyPast however not everyone has a subscription or can get to a library to access these databases. With a simple search of a parish name, my websites come up and researchers then have at least an initial contact.
Occasionally people want to know about family relationships, especially where there are several families with children of similar names (not uncommon as children were often named after their grandparents so cousins often had the same name). The spelling of surnames is often different in various types of documents. For example, I found the same individuals on BMD and census records with the surname of Kellow, Kellar, Callard and other minor variations. Family members moved around Southwest Devon quite a bit and in each place they lived, their surname seems to have been recorded differently.
Another researcher wanted information on an ancestor named “George Chapple, alias Geo. Chapple Standard”, according to his Royal Navy service record (Shepheard, 2014). He was baptized in Plympton St. Mary parish as George Chapple Standard, son of a single woman named Margaret Standard. He married as George Standard and had three sons in the 1850s all baptized with the same surname, although the last one was registered as Chapple. But by 1861, as shown on the census, the family was using Chapple and did so from then on. We still do not know where the Chapple name comes from, possibly from his natural father, but George obviously thought that was his real name from the age of about 35.
One of the side-benefits of being an OPC is that, through requests from others looking for their family members in my parishes, I have met many new “cousins” from all over the world. Since the Shepheards inter-married with a number of other families, I was directed to those additional names via specific queries. Through some of those cousins I found out information on other branches of the family that I may not have discovered for some time, if at all. Along with that knowledge, in some cases, came histories that I would not have known about and copies of documents and photos that I might never have seen.
Anyone with an interest in family history can be an OPC. Volunteers are always welcome, especially if they have knowledge about a specific parish or county and like helping others find their ancestors. Have a look at which counties and/or parishes are open and contact the relevant administrator for more information.
Shepheard, Wayne (2012). The Future is Still in the Past: An Introduction to Online Parish Clerks. Crossroads, quarterly journal of the Utah Genealogical Association. 7(2), pp. 6-13.
Shepheard, Wayne (2013). Experiences of an Online Parish Clerk: Examples of information gleaned from parish registers. Relatively Speaking, quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society, 41(1), pp 14-19.
Shepheard, Wayne. (2013). Experiences of an Online Parish Clerk: A case study involving the use of information from parish registers and other data sources. The Devon Family Historian, quarterly journal of the Devon Family History society, May (146), pp. 24-29.
Shepheard, Wayne. (2014). George Chapple Case Study. The Devon Family Historian, quarterly journal of the Devon Family History society, February (149), pp. 29-31.
Stockdill, Roy. (2012). Online Parish Clerks. Family Tree, 28(7), pp. 38-41.
OPC information can be obtained at the following Websites:
• Cornwall – http://www.cornwall-opc.org
• Devon – http://genuki.cs.ncl.ac.uk/DEV/OPCproject.html
• Dorset – http://www.opcdorset.org
• Essex – http://essex-opc.org.uk
• Kent – http://www.kent-opc.org/index.html
• Somerset – http://wsom-opc.org.uk
• Sussex – http://www.sussex-opc.org
• Warwick – http://www.hunimex.com/warwick/opc/opc.html
• Wiltshire – http://www.wiltshire-opc.org.uk/
• Hampshire – http://www.knightroots.co.uk/parishes.htm
• Lancashire – http://www.lan-opc.org.uk