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Help and advice for Church database date fields

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Church database date fields

The date fields are used in searches to let the user specify a date when an event took place and exclude churches that didn't exist then. We don't always know the exact years when the churches were founded or closed so we try and specify a reasonable inclusive range, and modify things as were learn more about them.

The initial defaults are 1 for the founding date and 9998 for the closing date. These are the most inclusive and are the best starting values but we then try and replace these with some more appropriate values. The date fields are just a year (not a day or month!) and for the closing date there are some special values:


9999 Still meeting
9998 Unknown status
9997 Church has closed, but we don't know when
9996 Church has closed and been demolished, but we don't know when

If you do know the founding or closing years, then put those values in. If you know an approximate value then use <nnnn for before nnnn or >nnnn for a year after nnnn. The year fields are used when we know an event happened in a particular year, and we want to know what churches were in the local area then. Where you use < and > then the text that appears in the web pages is before nnnn or after nnnn.

Other styles that can be used are 'nnth C', 'Saxon', 'Norman', 'Medieval'. These are displayed as entered but appropriate values are used internally when searching by year.

It isn't easy to get dates in many cases but there are a number of techniques we can use to help get a range of years. The best starting point is record office listings of deposited registers. The founding date must be before the date of the earliest register, so if that is in nnnn then put <nnnn as the founding date till you get something better. The text that appears as a result of searches is then before nnn so the user is not mislead into thinking this is the actual founding date. Note that we should be able to list churches where events may have taken place, not just those where the records exist.

Another good place to find the founding date is in old directories especially for the very oldest as the directory will typically give some of the history and the accepted date of founding. There is history available for most churches - e.g. in Pevsner's Buildings of England. Finding the appropriate publication may limit this approach.

Another source is maps, if you find the church on map then it must have been founded before the date of the map. Another source is directories which usually list churches at each place. They can give founding dates and if not it must be before the date of the directory. Be careful to ensure that a full description of the church appears on the map. There is normally enough space for this in rural areas, but not in towns and cities. And don't make assumptions, e.g if it just says 'Methodist chapel' that's rather too vague. And remember that changes may have taken place after the survey. But if you have corroborating evidence such as another source that the particular church was there later, then that is good evidence to make the founding date earlier.

Those are some good techniques for dealing with founding dates but what about finding out if a church is still in use? Nowadays there is usually a diocesan website which hopefully lists all the churches in the diocese. For Lancs Anglican churches Blackburn is best as it gives most detail and was one of the first. Manchester, and Carlisle (for the part of Lancs now in Cumbria) do list the churches, but not a lot more. Liverpool doesn't actually list the churches which is disappointing. If I find them on the website I assume they are still open and set the closing date to 9999, otherwise I leave it at 9998 until I know exactly what the status is. For those churches that are mentioned you have the bonus of another piece of information, a URL which you can put in column N (church URL) or there may be a link to an individual website. There is one thing to watch out for though is how they deal with closed churches, especially in the cities. It does seem to be a fashion to add the dedication of a closed church to the one the remaining congregation have combined with. But don't assume that it is the last name that has closed, they sometimes have the closed church as the first saint's name.

If the church does have its own web page then they may have a history section which is again a useful source of dates.