St Helier baptisms
The first family records to be added to Jerripedia, back in 2010, were baptisms in St Helier from 1842 to 1909. These records are held by Jersey Archive and although the transcripts were freely available to visitors to their website for a number of years, they can now only be viewed by subscribers.
In 2017 these records were included in a large set of church records from 1540 to 1940 which were released to Ancestry by Jersey Heritage and now appear as page images of the original registers. These, of course, are also only accessible to Ancestry subscribers.
The Jerripedia listings do not contain all the data from the original transcriptions, but have been edited to fit conveniently across the width of a Jerripedia page. Information which is not contained in our index includes:
- Location of births which occurred in parishes other than St Helier, or outside Jersey
- Baptisms which were held privately (often at home) or in the General Hospital, when the life of a young baby was at threat
- Fathers' occupations (and addresses in later records)
- Names of third godparents
- Location of baptisms which were held in St Helier churches other than the parish church
- Details of the location in which abandoned babies were found (tragically a common occurrence in the 19th century)
For the benefit of those who have a subscription to the Jersey Archive data collection, the number at the start of each record in the Jerripedia indexes indicates the appropriate file (1 - 8) and record number to be accessed to view the full transcription of the baptism record. Please note that a small quantity of record numbers are duplicated or out of sequence in the transcriptions and a further page search may be required to locate the exact record required.
Some extraneous information has also been edited out for the sake of clarity and to reduce the length of records. Victorian Jersey was a highly elitist society and parents were often anxious to highlight their own rank, or that of godparents. The registers are, therefore, littered with additions to surnames such as "Esq", "Gent" and "Jnr", military ranks and other indications of status. These have been removed for the purposes of an index in which the vital data is the names of people. Edited information can always be discovered in the original transcriptions.
It is critical for family history research that records are presented as accurately as possible.
Despite the fact that the transcription of these 30,000 records took a dedicated team of volunteers over four years to produce, some errors of transcription have inevitably crept in, but in many cases the transcriptions appear to have innocently perpetuated what appears to be an extraordinarily high number of errors in the original records. While it is appropriate that the official archive transcriptions of the baptism registers should faithfully reproduce what was recorded, for the purposes of this index, obvious errors have been corrected (often based on the information contained in another record within the same family), but in some cases apparent errors have had to be perpetuated, either with a comment (!) or (?).
The index should not be used in isolation from the original transcripts. Once researchers have found what appears to be an ancestor in the index it is recommended that reference is made back to the entry in the original transcript. Where spellings differ between the two a comparison should be made with other entries in the index which appear to be for the same family group. Researchers should decide for themselves whether a correction made in the index is accurate and keep an open mind as to whether the orginal transcription may still be accurate. Where several baptisms seem to belong to the same family group and the spelling of a name in one differs from all the others, that is the one which has been amended. Where the balance between one name and another is more even, two or more names are usually given in index, indicating that there is doubt about the correct spelling. If there is any doubt that two or more baptisms belong to the same family group, alternative spellings will be given or no changes will be made from the transcriptions. Where the same name is shown in successive records with an * it indicates that several different spellings appear in the original records and the one chosen is an educated guess.
Spelling of surnames is obviously critical; baptismal names slightly less so. Amendments have been made where appropriate to forenames of fathers and mothers (Elizabeth/Elisabeth, Jean/John, Mary/Marie etc) so that when sorted alphabetically baptisms which are almost certainly from the same family group appear in sequence in the index. This was an era when names were prone to change as English became more widely used in Jersey, particularly in St Helier, and men who had been baptised in the first half of the 19th century as Jean may well have become commonly known as John as they became fathers in the second half. A woman baptised as Marie in a French-speaking family may have been called Mary after marrying into an English-speaking family and may have been confused as to which name to give at baptisms of successive children.
It is not uncommon to find the order of Christian names of mother or father reversed or spelt in several different ways; a mother's surname spelt three, four or more different ways at different baptisms; the mother's surname omitted altogether and a second given name appearing to be her surname; even the surname of the child can sometimes be identified as wrongly spelt in comparison with two or more obvious siblings, or simply what is recognised as a common Jersey surname of the time. Few of these mistakes can be spotted when a chronological transcription of registers is undertaken, but as soon as the data is sorted alphabetically they become obvious. Corrections have been made wherever possible, but when trying to trace a generation back from a mother or father, various options for the spelling of Christian names should be explored.
For example, Elizabeth may have been variously known as Elisabeth, Betsy, Betsey, Eliza, Elisa or Elise; Jean may have been baptised John, or John Charles; Joseph may have been baptised Josue; Tom was probably Thomas, because very few children were baptised with dimininuative names in this era. For this index, attempts have been made to identify the most likely spelling of baptismal names where there are several entries for what seems certain to have been the same couple, in order to keep the family group intact and facilitate genealogical research. So, where there are three entries for a father with the names William Charles, and one for Charles William, the former has been chosen. But it is always worth checking back with the original transcriptions to see what was actually recorded, particularly if an asterisk is shown against an entry. Where an asterisk is shown against all records in a family group it suggests that there were several different spellings for names in the original transcriptions.
Researchers should be aware that because such a high proportion of errors has been identified in the records, any information contained in the index must be treated with a degree of scepticism. As much as genealogists are known to rely on the information in primary records such as baptism registers, it cannot be guaranteed to be accurate, particularly in the case of handwritten records of information given by poorly educated French-speaking parents who may have been uncertain of how to spell their own names when asked by and English-speaking minisiter.
- Regrettably Jerripedia will inevitably have introduced some mistakes while correcting others and apologises for any inaccuracy in data, whatever the source. Those site users who encounter information they believe to be inaccurate can leave comments through the Discussion process.
- It cannot be stressed too strongly that if you find a possible match for an ancestor in this index, cross-check with the original transcription to see what further information or what alternative spellings might appear there
Dates of birth and baptism have proved a particular problem because they are presented in a variety of styles in the original transcriptions and a decision was made to standardise them in a single format for the Jerripedia index. A semi-automatic process had to be used to reformat over 60,000 dates and while it coped admirably with the great majority of these dates, some caused inaccuracies to creep in. These were usually easy to spot and were adjusted manually, but there may be a small number of errors which have not been corrected. Sometimes there are errors in the original transcriptions when birth dates are shown later than baptism dates, and this is also true of the original registers. These have usually been highlighted with a (?). Usually baptisms took place a matter of days or a few weeks at most after the birth. Where the gap shown in the index is longer this is not necessarily an error, because there are some adult baptisms recorded and other instances of two or more children of a marriage being baptised together.
During the period covered by this index the official language of Jersey's government and courts was French. Most families in the country parishes spoke Jerriais, but in St Helier there was a much greater preponderance of families (many immigrants) speaking English. So the records contain names of children given French and/or English Christian names, and these have been faithfully reproduced. Relationships of godparents were sometimes recorded in French, sometimes in English, and as far as possible they have been standardised to English in this index, although in the original transcriptions they are given as recorded. Fathers' occupations, which are not included in this index but can be found in the original transcriptions, were also given in either English or French. The transcriptions sometimes include translations of the French occupations, but sometimes they do not.
A very small number of records in the period covered by this index show no surname for the child. These have been excluded from the index on the basis that they cannot be listed alphabetically and are of little or no interest to family historians. Some of these were children who were abandoned (see below).
Many children are recorded in these baptismal records as illegitimate. Under Jersey law, even as late as the end of the 20th century, the name of the father could not be recorded on a child's birth registration if he was not married to the mother. Indeed, if a married woman had a child by another man, her husband's name would appear in the birth registration. So, the parents of many of those children recorded as illegitimate could have been living together although they were not married at the time of the child's birth (or ever). Other records will show the children of single mothers living alone, and there is no distinction between the two. Many records which show no father do not describe the child as illegitimate, and this may be because the father was present at the baptism but could not be included in the register because he was not married to the mother.
In the records of the country parishes there were two phrases used to describe an illegitimate child. The first is the very old term en paillardise, a French term which is difficult to translate in this context but with meanings - 'bawdiness', 'ribaldry', 'lacking in character', which illustrate fully society's attitude to the mothers of children born out of wedlock. The church fulfilled its obligation to baptise the child, but could not avoid expressing its distaste. Strangely the term is found very rarely in French church records, but it was in common usage in Jersey well into the 18th century.
The second phrase is fils naturel or fille naturelle (natural son or daughter), which is another strange way of describing a child whose natural father might or might not have been present at the baptism.
Sometimes when a father has died by the time of the baptism this is noted in the record, although these comments have not been included in the Jerripedia index.
During the period covered by this index some 100 children were baptised after being found abandoned in St Helier (sometimes elsewhere in the island) and taken to the General Hospital. Often these children were left outside the hospital, or close by, but sometimes they were abandoned on doorsteps in other parts of the town, or even in country parishes. The original transcripts of the records usually show the location where the child was abandoned.
The abandoned children were invariably given surnames and the choices are, in many cases very inventive and often quite amusing.
- de Printemps - abandoned in spring
- de Avril, de Mai - abandoned in April, May
- de la Porte - abandoned at the hospital door
- du Paques - abandoned at Easter
- Clarence - abandoned at Clarence Terrace
- Ward - taken to the hospital maternity ward
- Monday - abandoned on Monday
- de Jersey - a Jerseyman, including twins Esau and Jacob found in 1852 (no connection with the family of this name)
- de l'Isle - an islander (no connection with the family of this name)
- Toussaint - abandoned at All Saints (no connection with the family of this name)
- Minden - abandoned in Minden Place
In some cases the children were given quite common surnames. It may be that adopted parents had been found by the time of the baptism and the child was given their name, although they would not appear on the baptism record.
How the Christian names were chosen is not known in most cases, although it was not uncommon for an abandoned baby to be given the name of a nurse who cared for it.
One child found abandoned in David Place in March was called David Mars.
In most cases abandoned children had one or more godparents, but these were usually members of the hospital staff, not the adoptive parents. The children were usually baptised very soon after being taken to hospital because having been abandoned, there would be fears for their survival. Where a date of birth is given in the records, that is usually the day on which the baby was found. The original transcriptions often indicate the estimated age of the baby at that time.
- Jerripedia editor Mike Bisson notes - It is difficult but often highly interesting to trace the lives of abandoned babies through subsequent records. Sometimes their baptismal surname was abandoned and they assumed the surname of their adoptive family. Sometimes they retained an anglicised version of their invented name. For example, Catherine de Mai, found abandoned on a doorstep in Vauxhall Street in May 1852, was married at the age of 21 to John Monet Le Cras. On their marriage certificate her father's name is shown as Charles May, which was either an invention to conceal her unfortunate background or an unlikely coincidence of Catherine de Mai having been adopted by a family called May. (Census records suggest the former.) She was my father's maternal grandmother, and it is too late to discover, but fascinating to speculate, which, if any members of the family, knew of her background. Her husband? Her daughter, my grandmother? I don't know, and unfortunately never will know anything further about a not-so-distant ancestor who appeared as a tiny baby on a St Helier doorstep.
The majority of children in Victorian times were born at home in Jersey. Only when serious complications were expected would the mother be taken to hospital and the baby be born there. Sometimes unexpected problems led to the mother and baby being taken to hospital soon after the birth. The original transcriptions show when births took place in the hospital. When the child was baptised while in hospital it was usually because it was not expected to survive. Similarly a child might be baptised at home when its survival was uncertain but a decision was taken not to take it to hospital with its mother. Often children baptised at home did survive and were subsequently presented in church and the full transcripts contain records of such occurrences.
As the 20th century progressed and a dedicated Maternity Hospital was built, the majority of children in Jersey were born there. Today there is no separate maternity hospital, bud a dedicated maternity ward at the General Hospital, where the vast majority of children are born. Only a handful of births is now registered in a parish other than St Helier, although baptisms subsequently take place at a church of the parents' choice - or not at all.
The great majority of the children in the St Helier register were baptised in the parish church, but some were baptised in other Anglican churches in the parish. Some were born in other parishes and baptised in St Helier. Some were born overseas and sometimes baptised there and then registered with the church on their parents' return with them to Jersey. A small number of children baptised in St Helier were born at sea and often the exact position of the vessel was recorded. Information on all these unusual cases can be found in the original transcriptions.