Parish records

What you are about to read is by no means set in stone. It's a working outline of what I think are three generations of our family that can be culled from the Lewes church records found so far.

A couple of observations before you start:

In all the Lewes parish records uncovered so far, no other male named anything but John appears to have lived to adulthood and I have yet to find a woman with our surname to marry.

Five male names -- Henry, John, Richard, Robert and William -- were immensely popular in England of old, accounting for 38% of all those recorded in the 12th Century, 57% in the 13th Century and no less than 64% in the 14th Century. This can make things slightly confusing.

A few asides about English parishes: Many records of this period were kept on loose sheets of paper, and as you can imagine, were lost over the centuries. The first bound records have pages missing, holes through many pages and many pages damaged by mildew and mold. As a rule there were two copies of records: The church kept one and a copy was made each year -- usually -- and sent to the archbishop. What I have reported here is culled from both records.

Tombstones really didn't appear in England until well into the 17th Century, after our family had left. The stones I saw -- even many of those made in the 20th Century -- are in poor condition for the most part. I don't know whether it's the stone they are made of or if it's the elements, but I found older stones in Connecticut that were in much better shape than those in England.

Lewis has been served by at least 15 parishes over the centuries; just seven remain. (See the table at right) One of the churches, All Saints, is no longer used as such, but as a community center. Although All Saints was rebuilt several times over the years, the tower at the entrance was part of the church our family belonged to in the late 1500s.

While the 15 family entries in the records of All Saints have circulated among family historians since the 1960s, it appears the records of the town's other parishes have gone unchecked for years. On my one-day expedition in 1997, I was able to look through only a few registers at the County Records Office, but my efforts did prove rewarding.

The earliest family entry at All Saints is the 1572 marriage of John Parmaly to Alice Russell; the last found there is the 1620 baptism of Marye Parmely, daughter of John. It looks like after that, our family changed parishes.

The first entry at St. Michael is the 1610 baptism of Elizabeth, "daughter of John Parminy of All Saints in Lewes." No other family entries come until 1632, and then they continue into the fall of 1638. These later entries were made just before 55-year-old John Sr.'s arrival in Connecticut in the spring of 1639. The unaccounted-for time between the last All Saints entry in 1620 and the bulk of those at St. Michael is 12 years -- and I'm betting that the family belonged to at least one more local parish in this interim. One record -- a 1629 burial for John Sr.'s first wife -- has turned up at St. Wulfran in Ovingdean, about eight miles south and west of Lewes.

The good news is that this proves our family did, indeed, stay in Lewes right up until the year John Sr. set sail on the St. John. And the best news is that I was unable to find another Parmelee family entry in any of these church records after 1639 (I quit looking after 1700 in all registers).

For the time being, I'm going on the theory that there were three male Parmelees in Lewes from the 1550s through the 1630s -- our John Jr., our John Sr., and his father, yet another John. These men had several marriages and many children who died young. There could very well have been another John, a cousin to one of ours, but if so, wouldn't there be some record of this John's father? And what happened to this man and his descendants? Since there are no other recorded names, I think this appears unlikely.

The strangest record is the 1637 birth of John to John and Elizabeth Parmelee. By this time our John Jr. would be in America, so this father must be John Sr. -- but why would he name a son John Jr. if he already had a son named John? One fellow genealogist has relayed to me that it was the custom in England at the time to name two sons John: one for John the Baptist and one for John the Evangelist--I don't know how much truth there is to this and would welcome any other ideas. The only other explanation I can come up with -- and this is a stretch -- is that the elder John figured he'd never see his grown son John again, so he named his new son John so there would still be a namesake in England. At any rate, this boy was buried a few months later.

After burying another wife and still more children at Lewes by mid-1638, John Sr. must have decided during the winter of 1638-39 that he had had enough of England and wanted to make the voyage to Connecticut with the Rev. Henry Whitfield's party to meet his grown son. For many years, researchers have puzzled over why they couldn't find records of our family with the others of Whitfield's congregation at St. Margaret's, in Ockley Parish in Surrey. His flock was said to have come from Kent and Surrey -- but the Parmelees lived Sussex.

Meanwhile, finding records to fill the gap between All Saints and St. Michael might just clear up some problems -- and, no doubt, create new ones! -- but I'll keep looking and keep you posted. Once you've looked at these parish records, see how I believe the last generations of Parmelees in Lewes and the first in Guilford come together.

(Click on blue parishes
for records)

x*-All Saints
2 marriages,
8 baptisms,
5 burials
(Through 1700)
Holy Trinity --
St. Andrew --
x-St. Anne
(St. Mary, Westout)
NONE (1608-1700)
x-St. John-sub-Castro
(St. John under the Castle)
1 possible marriage
x-St. John the Baptist,
NONE (1559-1700)
St. Martin --
St. Mary-in-foro
(St. Mary's in the Forest)
NONE (1608-1684)

x-St. Michael
3 marriages,
6 baptisms,
7 burials
x-St. Michael the Archangel,
South Malling
St. Nicholas-in-foro
(St. Nicholas in the Forest)
St. Peter, Westout NONE (1679-1700)
St. Peter the Less --
St. Sepulchre --
x-St. Thomas (of Canterbury) at Cliffe NONE (1606-1700)

x - Church still exists.
* - Church exists but not functioning as a house of worship.

One more interesting church record: From the Sussex Record Society, Farncombe & Co. Ltd., Lewes, 1902, Vol. I, p. 102, it also appears our John Sr. was a witness to a marriage in this Feb. 15, 1616, entry at the Archdeaconry of Lewes:

Sureties for the marriage of Thomas Howell of Kingston near Lewes, husbandry, and Judith Garrett of same, maiden.

Witnesses: John Parmulle of Lewes, bricklaier, and T.H.

Thomas Howell is the brother of Anne Howell, John Sr.'s first wife.