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‘Papist’ Returns for Family History

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide if your ancestor was a Roman Catholic and you know where they lived between 1608 and 1781, but particularly in 1767.

2. What are the records?

Between 1680 and 1781, Parliament requested information about known or reputed Roman Catholics on several occasions. This information was laid before the House of Lords and survives in the Parliamentary Archives. The records are commonly known as the ‘Papist’ Returns.

3. What information do the records contain?

Returns survive for 1680, 1706, 1767 and 1781. In many cases names are not given. Instead only the total numbers of Catholics living in the area are recorded. Sometimes descriptions of individual people including details such as age and occupation are given but omitting the name.

Very occasionally names of individual are mentioned in the records, especially in the Return for 1767.

4. How to get started?

Search our online catalogue by entering ‘papist returns’ in the search box at the top of this page.

You should look for records that reference the county or parish your ancestor resided in.

5. How to access the records?

You will need to consult the records in our search room, but first you will need to identify the record(s) of interest to you and make a note of their catalogue reference. Use the instructions above to get started.

When you find a record you’d like to consult, following the instructions on our Plan Your Visit page.

We can produce copies of most documents in our care. For more information please see our Ordering Copies page.

6. What records are held elsewhere?

The 1767 returns have also been transcribed and published as follows. ‘Returns of Papists, 1767: dioceses of England and Wales except Chester’ and ‘Returns of Papists, 1767: Diocese of Chester’, by E. S. Worrall (Catholic Record Society, Occasional Publications nos 1-2, 1980-1989). This book is not available online, but it might be in a local history library near where you live.