A Background Reading List

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 Catholic Family History Society and Catholic National Library. Most of the books are out of print, but The Internet Archive 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

Dufly, E. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditonal Religion in England 1400-1580 1992.

Guilday, P. The English Catholic Refugees on the continent 1558-1795, 1914

Gwynn, D. T The Second Spring 1818-1852, n/d

Gwynn, D. A 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

Of these Norman is the most modern but Leys is probably the best on the lives of ordinary Catholics over the whole of our period. Magee has a great 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’, that mainstay of manor house mythology. 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, at over six hundred pages, 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 were the well-known experts of their day and, for the most part, their work has not been superseded. It would be nice to think work of similar quality could be produced today.


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 further information see Essex Recusant 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 The Internet Archive

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 The Internet Archive

Biography and Family History

Gillow, Joseph A Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics Burns and Oates republished c1968. originally from 1887 onwards, now available on-line at The Internet Archive Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5.

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 The Internet Archive.

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.

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 The Internet Archive.

Catholic Family History Society, Index of Nuns

Benedictines, The English Benedictine Congregational History website has searchable lists 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 The Internet Archive.

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 The Internet Archive.

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.

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 The Internet Archive 1689-1702 in Volume 1, 1703-1720 in Volume 2.


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.

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; a bibliography of local sources; for Scotland; for Wales


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