As you are no doubt aware, our parishes have a long and rich history and church records are a unique and valuable record of the history and development of a parish. They are, therefore, of great importance for the church, the Diocese and the local community.
It is essential that the historic records are looked after properly and securely so that they can be preserved for future generations. Incumbents and churchwardens are legally responsible for the records of a church and the Diocese has put in place a number of measures to help with the management of both historic and current records.
Firstly, Kent Archive and Local History Service has produced a “Guide to the Management of Parish Records”, which gives advice on which records should be kept and for how long. The guide has a comprehensive list of ‘retention schedules’ covering every record that might be produced.
Under the terms of the Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978 the Diocese works in partnership with both Kent County Council and Medway Council to preserve the historic records dating back to 1538. The Centre for Kentish Studies in Maidstone (www.kent.gov.uk/archives) and Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre in Strood (http://cityark.medway.gov.uk/about/medway_archives/) have been designated as Diocesan Record Offices by the Bishop. This means that most records which are over 100 years old have been transferred into the care of the relevant archive services where they can be properly catalogued, looked after in the right environmental conditions and made available to the general public. For a list of which records are deposited at the centres see their websites and guides.
The archive services also carry out five yearly surveys of all the parishes in the Diocese to check which records are held where and to give any advice that is needed on the care and retention of historic records. In addition, regular training sessions are held for churchwardens, and staff at both Diocesan Record Offices are available to give advice on historic records. If your parish is within the Medway Council borough boundaries, you should contact MALSC on 01634 332714. If not, please contact CKS on 01622 694363 (full contact details are available via the websites above)
Please note that the Centre for Kentish Studies is preparing to move to the new Kent History and Library Centre due to open in Maidstone in early 2012. As from 22 August a microfilm only service will be available, with the centre expected to close completely from mid-November.