England Nonconformist Church RecordsEdit This Page
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'Nonconformist' is a term referring to religious denominations other than an established or state church.
A nonconformist denomination in England is any denomination not conforming to the Church of England, including Roman Catholics, Jews, and Quakers. The registers of these religions sometimes contain more information than those of the Church of England, often including a person’s birth date, baptism date, father’s name and residence, and mother’s name (including maiden name).
Lord Hardwicke’s Act, passed in 1754, required that couples had to be married in the Church of England for their marriage to be legal, regardless of what religion one belonged to. An exception was made for Jews and Quakers. The law lasted until 1837 when civil registration began.
Nonconformist registers contain some burial entries, though nonconformists were usually buried in parish churchyards until the chapel obtained its own burial grounds or until civil cemeteries opened.
It is not uncommon to find an ancestor affiliated with more than one religion during his or her lifetime. Search all religions and all chapels of a particular religion if an ancestor might be a nonconformist because some people changed religions and travelled long distances to attend their meetings. Ministers often travelled large circuits keeping the vital statistics of several places in the register they carried with them.
A law passed in 1836 required many nonconformist groups to send their registers into the Public Record Office. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of those that were deposited. Many of these records have been extracted, and the names appear on www.familysearch.org under 'Historical Records.'
The Official Non-Parochial BMDs Service is a database to search for records of birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial taken from non parish sources. Currently, the site indexes The National Archives records for RG4 and RG5. The projects continues by indexing RG 6, RG 7, RG 8, RG 32, RG 33, RG 34, RG 35, RG 36 and BT 158, BT 159, BT 160.
Major nonconformist groups are discussed below. The following two works contain more information about nonconformist sects:
- Steel, Donald J. Sources for Nonconformist Genealogy and Family History. London, England: Phillimore, 1973. (FHL book 942 V26ste, vol. 2.)
- Sources for Roman Catholic and Jewish Genealogy and Family History. London, England: Phillimore, 1974. (FHL book 942 V26ste, vol. 3.)
Presbyterians, Baptists, and Independents
These religions evolved from 16th century Puritanism. The records of these religions are similar to those of the Church of England. The Baptists, however, practiced adult baptism and recorded births in birth registers, not baptism registers. The Independent Church is also known as the Congregational Church.
For information about the different denominations, you may contact their respective historical societies:
- Baptist Historical Society
15 Fenshurst Gardens Long Ashton,
Bristol BS18 9AU England
- United Reformed Church History Society
86 Tavistock Place,
London WC1H 9RT England
(The Presbyterian and Congregational churches are now combined.)
Many congregations did not keep consistent records. In January 1743 officials formed a central registry for births for all three denominations, called Dr. Williams' Library. This registry contains about 50,000 birth records. Information recorded includes the child’s name, parents’ names, birth date, address, names of witnesses, registration information, and sometimes the grandparents’ names.
The birth records are indexed in the British Isles Vital Records Index, which is available at the Family History Library and at family history centers.FamilySearch Historical Records has an online collection England Vital Records Index (FamilySearch Historical Records)
Charles Surman compiled a biographical card index of Congregational ministers which was given to Dr Williams' Library in 1960. The Surman Index Online makes the contents available electronically via the internet for the first time. The index includes the names of about 32,000 ministers, and, where known, their dates, details of their education, ministries or other employment, together with the sources used. It covers the period from the mid-seventeenth century to 1972, and though it focuses on England and Wales, it includes Congregational ministers serving abroad provided they trained or served as ministers in Britain. Although intended as an index of Congregational ministers, it also gives details of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Presbyterians.
For Further Reading
For information on the various denominations, see:
- Breed, Geoffrey R. My Ancestors Were Baptists: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 2002, 4th ed. (FHL book 942 K23bg.)
- Clifford, D. J. H. My Ancestors Were Congregationalists in England & Wales: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1997, 2nd rev. ed. (FHL book 942 K23cdj.)
- Ruston, Alan R. My Ancestors Were English Presbyterians/Unitarians: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 2001, 2nd ed. (FHL book 942 K23ra.)
There are many forms of Methodists Societies in England:
- New Connexion, and so on.
The Wesleyan group was the largest. They were all united under the United Methodist Church in 1932. Some groups recorded their baptisms and burials in the Church of England until the 19th century. For historical material, contact:
- The Methodist Archives and Research Centre
John Rylands University Library
Manchester M3 3EH,
To find the location of the original birth and burial records, contact:
- Wesley Historical Society
34 Spiceland Road
Birmingham B31 1NJ,
A useful guide for tracing Methodist ancestors is:
- Leary, William. My Ancestors Were Methodists: How Can I Find Out More About Them? 2nd ed. London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1999. (FHL book 942 D27l 1999.)
The Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry recorded over 10,000 Wesleyan Methodist births and baptisms that occurred between 1813 and 1838 throughout England, Wales, and elsewhere. The records are available at the The National Archives of the UK (part of collection codes RG4 and RG5).
Indexes and Copies of Records
Many Methodist records are indexed in a searchable online database called BMDRegisters. A basic search is free but there is a fee for advanced searching and to download images.
The records of the Metropolitan Registry are also available on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL). In addition, the library holds copies of records of individual circuits and congregations. Many of the records are indexed in the British Isles Vital Records Index, which is available at the FHL, family history centers, and other archives and libraries. See England Vital Records Index (FamilySearch Historical Records)
Shovellers List of Methodist Churches
Catholic priests usually did not keep registers before 1778 and many registers were written in Latin. Baptism registers usually include the names of the child’s sponsors or godparents.
Some registers have been published by the Catholic Record Society. The Family History Library has most of these published registers.
For information on records not available at the library, contact the society.
Most synagogues have retained their own records.
For historical information, contact:
- Jewish Historical Society of England
33 Seymour Place
London W1H 5AP England
In the mid-20th century, a Jewish genealogist named Isobel Mordy collected and indexed a group of English Jewish records. Her collection is now available on microfilm at the Family History Library.
For more information, see:
- Gandy, Michael. My Ancestor Was Jewish: How Can I Find Out More About Him? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1982. (FHL book 929.1089924 G153.)
This Protestant group began in France then spread to England as its members fled persecution. Huguenots began keeping records as early as 1567; however, few pre-1684 records still exist.
After arriving in England many Huguenots changed their names from French to English. For example, the French surname LeBlanc may have changed to White.
Until 1754, Huguenots often recorded their marriages in both Huguenot and Church of England registers. None were recorded in Huguenot registers after that date. The Huguenot Society has transcribed and published most of their original church records. Contact them at:
- The Huguenot Society
University College London
London WC1E 6BT England
The published Huguenot records are held at the Family History Library and are listed in the library's catalog under:
Society of Friends
Also known as Quakers, the Society of Friends did not have appointed clergy to perform the rites of baptism. They recorded births instead. Burial registers usually include the date of death. Quakers recorded marriages to ensure their validity.
The organization of Quaker religious groups, known as "meetings," includes:
- The preparative meeting or the local church group, about the size of a parish.
- The monthly meeting, made up of several preparative (local) groups, is the primary meeting for church affairs and includes records of births, marriages, and deaths.
- The quarterly meeting, comprised of two to seven monthly meetings, similar to a diocese.
- The yearly meeting includes representatives from the quarterly meetings and Friends from other countries.
Quaker registers began in the late 1650s. From 1840 to 1842, the Society made digests of its records (to about 1837), which cover all English meetings. The digests are arranged first by date and then alphabetically by surname. Copies of digests and original registers are in the Family History Library. The original records are in The National Archives, England.
For a valuable booklet on this subject, refer to:
- Milligan, Edward H., and Malcolm J. Thomas. My Ancestors Were Quakers: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1983. (FHL book 942 D27m.)
Online non-conformist church records
- The Official Non-Parochial BMDs Service is for records of birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial taken from non parish sources BMDRegister.co.uk such as non-conformist records of Methodists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Independents, Protestant Dissenters, Congregationalist, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Quakers (Society of Friends), Dissenters and Russian Orthodox. Maternity Records plus various other BMD records are also included.
- The Genealogist has recently placed millions of entries of names transcribed from nonconformist church registers. See their website for searching.
- Record Search Pilot at FamilySearch.org has millions of entries transcribed and indexed over the last 40 years, now available online.
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