Before the advent of civil registration in 1837, the entries in parish registers provided the most comprehensive records of births, marriages and deaths. The two former categories are now widely available through the International Genealogical Index and the Sussex Family History Group’s Sussex Marriage Index. The coverage of deaths, as recorded in burial entries, is much more limited; but in recent years the National Burial Index has been undertaken with the intention of providing a complete record for the whole country. For details see this article on the partnership between the Federation of Family History Societies and findmypast.com.
The West Sussex Burial Index 1538-1600 has been compiled from all surviving Parish Registers and Bishop’s Transcripts. The entries have been extracted by a team of volunteers in the West Sussex Record Office, organised by Peter Wilkinson. The principles for extraction are based on those laid down for the NBI; and it is intended that the data will be included in a later edition of the NBI. Meanwhile, the Database contains the fullest record of deaths in the county for this period, with over 30,000 entries.
The earliest ordinance entailing the keeping of parish registers dates from 1538; and later regulations brought about more substantial coverage from 1558 onwards. The modern county of West Sussex – a rough parallelogram bounded by Rogate in the north west, East Grinstead in the north east, Southwick in the south east and Westbourne in the south west – is made up of 183 ancient parishes. Early registers have survived for about two thirds of these: 20 commence within the period 1538-1558, 82 within the period 1558-1570, and 15 between 1570 and 1600.