And some more useful information from our chairman, Sylvia Dibbs:
Jim has covered the best material. Knowing the history of Catholicism in England is a very necessary prerequisite to researching Catholic ancestors.
So you will find Catholics in Anglican marriage and burial records, many of which are on commerical websites. Catholics also appear in ‘Anglican Parish Chest’ records or the local Quarter Sessions records, perhaps becuase they have broken the law in relation to their religious activities.
Some specifically Catholic records have strayed into local archives (for example in Warwickshire) and then been picked up by commercial sites, but for the most part Catholic priests and bishops have been very reluctant to release any archives in their care.
The National Archives at Kew http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/atoz/r.htm# gives some helpful guidance on what records they hold. Many state papers include lists of papists made to collect fines/taxes or lead to prosecution for following the Catholic faith. I have made a transcription of some of these which will be made available for a small fee to download through the Catholic FHS website via GENfair. So ‘watch this space’.
Some free records can be found at http://archive.org where out of copyright books have been scanned and made available to download. Use search terms ‘papist’ , ‘recusant’, ‘roman catholic’ ; with a little patience there is some worthwhile material to be found here.
The Latter Day Saints http://familysearch.org is always worth trying as some Catholic names have strayed here too.
Try http://cyndislist.com.catholic too. It does give details of catholic records on the family search site from around the world and of course many English catholics emigrated.
Access to Archives at http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/A2A gives details of archives arround England including their catalogues. For example Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives has a very good catalogue, which often gives brief details, which may be all a researcher needs.
One of the members of the Catholic Family History Society is compling a data base of as many pre-1837 Catholic names from all manner of documents as he can find. In due course he intends to put his on-line and it will be a very usefull resource. So something to look out for.
Catholic records do provide family historians with a very interesting challenge. It will be a long time before any commercial or free site makes much headway with them.