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A revision, with additions, of Michael Gandy’s

A Basic Bibliography for Catholic Family History

by Sylvia J. Dibbs 2013

The Catholic Family History Society prepared the following list of standard histories, which may be available through your library system or from the Catholic National Library. See www.catholic-history.org.uk/cfhs and www.catholic-library.org.uk. Most of the books are out of print, but www.archive.org has useful out of print works.

Aveling, J.C.H.          The Handle and the Axe, 1976
Beck, G.A. *              The English Catholics 1850-1950, 1950
Bennett, Canon         Father Nugent of Liverpool, 1949; reprinted 1993
Bossy, J.                   The English Catholic Community 1570-1850, 1975
Caraman, P.              The Other Face: Catholic Life under Elizabeth I, 1960
Caraman, P.              The Years of Siege: Catholic Life from James I to Cromwell, 1966
Duffy, E.                    The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, 1992.
Greenslade, M          Catholic Staffordshire 1500-1850, 2006
Guilday, P.                The English Catholic Refugees on the continent 1558-1795, 1914
Gwynn, D.                 The Second Spring 1818-1852, n/d
Gwynn, D.                 Hundred Years of Catholic Emancipation 1829-1929, 1929
Havran, M.J.              The Catholics in Caroline England 1962
Hibbert, C.                 King Mob, 1959
Hodgetts, M.              Secret Hiding Places, 1989
Kenyon, J.                  The Popish Plot, 1972
Leys, M.D.R.              Catholics in England 1559-1829: A Social History, 1961
Loomie, A.J.               The Spanish Elizabethans, 1963
Magee, B.                   The English Recusants, 1938
Mathew, D.                Catholicism in England 1535-1935, 1936
Norman, E.                 Roman Catholicism in England from the Elizabethan Settlement to the Second Vatican Council, 1986
Watkin, E.I.                Roman Catholicism in England from the Reformation to 1950, 1957

Leys is probably the best on the lives of ordinary Catholics over the penal period. Magee has many interesting statistics and lists all the Catholic nobility and gentry of the 17th century, information not brought together anywhere else. Caraman‘s two books are compilations and Hodgetts investigates the reality of ‘priest-holes’. Kenyon is about the Titus Oates Plot of 1678-1681 and Hibbert covers the Gordon Riots of 1780. Gwynn‘s Second Spring is about that extraordinary group of Anglicans from the late 1820s onwards who talked themselves into being Catholics, often without having actually met any.

* Beck’s The English Catholics 1850-1950 is a compendium of articles and the best guide to the English Catholic world of the immediate past. The following are some of the articles it contains:

  • Hughes, P.  The English Catholics in 1850
  • Albion, G.   The Restoration of the Hierarchy
  • Sweeney, M.V.   Diocesan Organisation and Administration
  • Wheeler, 0.   The Archdiocese of Westminster
  • Hughes, P.   The Bishops of the Century
  • Mathew, D.   Old Catholics and Converts
  • Johnson, J.T.   Cardinal Newman
  • Gwynn, D.   The Irish Immigration
  • Evennett, H.O.   Catholics and the Universities
  • Battersby, W.J.   Secondary Education for Boys
  • Battersby, W.J.   Educational Work of the Religious Orders of Women
  • Beales, A.C.F.   The Struggle for the Schools
  • Gwynn, D.   Growth of the Catholic Community
  • Cruise, E.   Development of the Religious Orders
  • Dwyer, J.J.   The Catholic Press
  • Hutton, E.   Catholic English Literature
  • Bennett, J.   The Care of the Poor

Most of these authors are the well-known experts of their day. Mostly their work has not been superseded.

The Catholic Record Society publications have many transcribed registers, lists and entries on families.



Roman Catholic Religious practice was illegal between 1559 and 1829. There are records in local or national archives of Anglican and State attempts to monitor it. Catholics are often listed as ‘recusants’ or ‘papists’.

Steele D.J. Sources for Roman Catholic…Family History. National Index of parish registers Vol 3 Society of Genealogists reprinted 1986
Williams Anthony J. Sources for Recusant History (1559-1791 in English Official Archives. Recusant History Vol 16 No 4 Catholic record Society Oct 1983

Tracing a family

After statutory civil registration, which started in 1837, Catholics can be found in the same way as everyone else. Marriage certificates will indicate if the ceremony took place in a Catholic Church. Other certificates and the censuses will indicate location where a search for nearby Catholic Churches or Missions for baptisms may be found.

Mission Registers

Full details of known Catholic registers are given in:

Gandy, Michael Catholic Missions and Registers 1700-1880 (6 volumes including Scotland) 1994.
Gandy, Michael Catholic Parishes in England, Wales and Scotland: An Atlas 1994
Kelly, Bernard W. Historical Notes on English Missions Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co 1907 reprinted by Michael Gandy 1996

Monumental Inscriptions

There were few specifically Catholic graveyards until the 19th century, Catholics were buried in Anglican churchyards, often with no indication of their Catholicity.

Wills and Estates

Catholic wills appear in the usual sources but in the 18th century they were supposed to be enrolled in the Close Rolls. For a simple list see:

Anstruther G. Abstracts of Wills, mostly of priests and their relations London Recusant Vol 3 No. 2 (May 1973) – London Recusant (NS) No 1 (1980) scattered. For information see www.catholic-history.org.uk and link to South Eastern Catholic History Society.
Cosin Great Britain Commissioners and Trustees for the Forfeited Estates The names of the Roman Catholics, non-Jurors, and Others, who Refus’d to Take the Oaths to his late Majesty King George survey of the value and location of Catholic estates in 1715, this edition published in 1862 now available at www.archive.org
The Genealogist (NS) Vol.1 p267 and Vol.2 pp59-60, 279-282.
Payne, J.O. Records of the English Catholics of 1715 Burnes & Oates 1889 republished 1970. for over 400 abstracts of wills and administrations relating to known Catholics, available on-line at www.archive.org.

Biography and Family History

Gillow, Joseph A Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics Burns and Oates republished c1968. originally from 1887 onwards, now partly available on-line at www.archive.org
Gordon Gorman, W. Converts to Rome: a lists of over 3000 Protestants who have become Roman Catholics since the Tractarian movement to May 1899 Swann Sonnenschein & Co 1899, available on-line at www.archive.org
Kirk, John English Catholics in the late 18th Century Burns and Oates 1909 reprinted 1969

Also try the standard ‘Who’s Who or for the 20th century The Catholic Who’s Who.

The Clergy and Religious

Many orders keep their own records, some published by the Catholic Record Society www.catholic-history.org.uk/crs/records.htm

Anstruther, G  The Seminary Priests: A Dictionary of the Secular Clergy of England and Wales 1558-1850 Mayhew-McCrimmon 1969-1977
Bellenger D. A. English and Welsh Priests 1558-1800 Downside Abbey 1984
Birt, Henry Norbert Obit Book of the English Benedictines 1600-1912 republished Gregg International 1970
Challonor, Richard Memoirs of Missionary Priests and other Catholics of both sexes  from the year 1577 till the end of the reign of Charles II  1741 frequently reprinted, available on-line at www.archive.org
Catholic Family History Society, Index of Nuns
English Benedictine History www.plantata.org.uk/ for a list of their religious
Fitzgerald-Lombard, Charles English and Welsh Priests 1801-1914 Downside Abbey 1993
Foley, Henry Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) Burns & Oates 1877-1883
Gumbly, Walter Obituary Notices of the English Dominicans from 1555-1952 Blackfriars 1955
Oliver, George Collections towards illustrating The Biography of the Scotch, English and Irish members (Jesuits) Exeter 1838 now available on-line at www.archive.org
Thaddeus, Father The Franciscans in England 1600-1859 (1898)
Zimmerman, B. Carmel in England: A history of the English Mission of the Discalced Carmelites 1615-1849 Burns & Oates 1899 now available on-line at www.archive.org

Martyrs and Prisoners

The Martyrs of England and Wales 1535-1680 Catholic Truth Society 1985 for short biographies

Prisoners will be found in local records with other non-catholic prisoners, but some have been published by the Catholic Record Society  www.catholichistory.org.uk/crs/records.htm

Civil War

Most Catholics took the Royalist side.

Newman, P.R. Roman Catholic Royalists: Papist Commanders under Charles I and Charles II  Recusant History Vol 15 No. 6 (Oct 1981)
Calendar of the Proceedings of the Committee for Compounding with Delinquents 1643-1660 HMSO 5 Vols. Recusants noted.


These were not all Catholics.

Lart C.E  Jacobite Extracts from the Parish Registers of St Germain-en-Laye 1689-1720 2 Vols, St Catherine Press Ltd 1910-1912, now available on-line at www.archive.org


There were some local schools run by Catholic teachers, but these were illegal in the penal period and most education took place abroad. The Catholic Record Society has published many school lists. www.catholic-history.org.uk/crs/records.htm.

Battersby W.J. Secondary Education for Boys and Educational Work of the religious Orders of Women for developments in the 19th century.
Beales A.C.F. Education under Penalty: English Catholic Education from the Reformation to the Fall of James II  The Athlone Press  1963

The appendix lists 35 boys’ schools on the continent. In the 1790s the surviving colleges returned to England and are represented by the current Catholic schools and colleges, St Edmund’s, Ushaw, Downside, Stonyhurst and Ampleforth.. These have their own archivists and have published lists of students.

Other material

Gandy, Michael Catholic Family History in 4 volumes a bibliography: of  general sources; of local sources; for Scotland; for Wales