Below is a timeline of events that should give you a better understanding of why Parish Registers were started, how they were recorded, what hapenned over time to the books and parishes, and how the records changed.
1538 Parish Registers first ordered to be kept - every Sunday, the parson must enter all baptisms, marriages and burials of the previous week.
1557 Name of Godfather and Godmother recorded in baptism records.
1563 All records had to kept in 'great decent books of parchment', and copies were to be sent every month to the diocesan centre. Clergy had to charge for entries in order to pay for the parchment - this was strongly opposed by many parishes.
1603 Act passed in 1563 was enforced throughout the county - to ensure the records were kept properly, they had to be read out every Sunday.
1643 Registers poorly kept during the English Civil War and commonwealth period (1643 - 1660). Many were abandoned or hidden by the clergy, and some were lost completely.
1660 Registers returned to churches.
1694 Register entries used as a tax to raise money for a war against France. Also fines were charged for people not reporting births, not getting their child christened, and vicars for not recording a birth.
1706 Taxes and fines enforced in 1694 are abandoned.
1733 Law passed that forbid the use of Latin in Parish Registers.
1738 Commencement of Methodist registers. At the time the registers had to be hidden since they were illegal.
1751 Calender is reformed - Year used to start on 25th of March, so in previous registers, December 31st 1750 is followed by January 1st 1750 and not 1751 as it would today.
1754 Lord Hardwick's Marriage Act - enforced a seperate register for marriages which included siganture of bride and groom, signature of minister, witnesses, and parish where married.
1763 Minimum age of marriage fixed at 16, and parental consent required for under 21s. Before, the church accepted the marriage of girls aged 12+ and boys aged 14+.
1812 Rose's Act - New printed baptism, marriage and burial registers used by all parishes, with separate volumes for each.
1853 Cemetary Act - many churchyards were over crowded and an act of parliament was passed, which allowed towns to open cemeteries.