The Parish registers of England are a great source of information for genealogical research, especially prior to 1837.
These records may exist as far back as 1344. However, records before 1538 are not able to be accessed for genealogical research.
Thomas Cromwell ordered that parish registers were started in England in 1538. A law was passed at this time that ordered the clergy of the church to record baptisms, marriages and burials on paper or in a book after each Sunday service and witnessed by the churchwardens.
The book was to be kept in a wooden box with two locks (one key for the vicar, the other for the wardens). A fine of 3s 4d was to be levied for failure to comply. Many thought this was going to be a new tax.
The order was repeated in 1547 with the fine to go to the relief of the poor. Some churches did not comply until another notice was sent in 1558.
Queen Elizabeth I decreed in 1597 that all existing records be copied into parchment books. These were then to be sent to the diocesan center. These were quite expensive at the time so not all churches complied with this order. the costs were supposed to be met by charges for each entry.
During the English Civil War from 1642 to 1647, the registers were not kept well or hidden so there may be gaps in the records for this period.
Between 1653 and 1660, the recording of these events was transferred to a government officer called a "Parish Register".
In 1694, the cost of an entry into the register was increased to finance the ward against France.
Those records that still exist are mostly preserved in County Record offices, though some are still kept in some churches.
Parish registers can be searched through a number of different websites such as findmypast.co.uk