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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Non-Anglican Church Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Contents

Anglican Records

Monumental Inscriptions

In the 17th century Puritans who could afford to would be more likely to erect a memorial plaque inside the church than to mark a burial spot with a gravestone. This attitude ameliorated with time and when the middle classes started having gravestones then all Nonconformists except Quakers did so.

Parish Chest Records

All of the other parochial records kept in the parish chest will refer to all inhabitants since the Anglican parish collected civil taxes and paid benefits to all who were in need until the New Poor Law of 1834. Non-Anglicans took their turn as parish officials and did so with no note of their religious preference. They received relief as necessary likewise, but very few Nonconformists were so destitute as to qualify for poor relief, although many immigrant Irish Catholics were. That having been said, it does occasionally happen that a person’s religious affiliation is mentioned in miscellaneous parochial records so they cannot be ignored. Thus, the 12d fines for recusancy occasioned by the Act of Uniformity 1559 was collected by the church wardens for relief of the poor until 1581 and will appear in parish records if they go back that far.

Ecclesiastical Court Records

Two of the most used genealogical documents emanating from diocesan or higher levels are the various probate records and marriage licences. They applied to everyone regardless of religious adherence until 1837 (marriages) and 1858 (probate) when these came under civil administration.

Wills can provide important clues to religious affiliation by:

  • Particular words and phrases used; but be careful not to misread the intent of standard preambles which may have only reflected the lawyer’s or court’s viewpoint, not that of the testator.
  • Burial requested in a Catholic or Nonconformist burial ground. Thus, a request by Mary Dashwood in her will dated 1771, to be buried in Rev. Wallin’s Burying Ground led me to find out from a local archives that he was the pastor of the Maze Pond Particular Baptist Chapel in Southwark, Surrey from 1740-1782.
  • Bequests to a religious charity, school or minister.
  • Bequests of named books or articles that only someone of a certain religion would possess.
  • Oaths presented in lieu of standard Anglican records. For example a dissenter who had not been christened in the Church of England needed to prove his relationship to the deceased to inherit, see below.

Chart: Oaths at Sutton Bonnington, Nottinghamshire regarding Parentage of Thomas Palmer — Found in Miscellaneous Parish Documents on film 1,517,777

Slip of Paper
We hereby certify that Thomas Palmer is the only son of Thos Palmer, the others died in their infancy.
1837 May 5th John Bramley, Thomas Dalby

Mr Thomas Bramley’s Declaration in support of Mr Thomas Palmer’s Pedigree
I Thomas Bramley of Sutton Bonnington in the County of Nottingham yeoman aged eighty four do solemnly and sincerely declare that I knew and was intimately acquainted with Thomas Palmer formerly of the Parish of St. Michael’s in Sutton Bonnington in the County of Nottingham yeoman and Ann his wife formerly Ann Pave spinster and that they had seven children namely six Daughters and one Son Thomas. And that their son the said Thomas Palmer (who is now living and residing at Sutton Bonnington aforesaid) was born on or about the nineteenth day of November One thousand seven hundred and seventy four. And further that the said Thomas Palmer the father died on or about the seventh day of December One thousand seven hundred and ninety one intestate and without having made any Will as they said Thomas Bramley has always understood and verily believes to be the fact, and was also buried in the burial ground belonging to the said General Baptist Chapel at Kegworth in the County of Leicester and leaving the said Thomas Palmer (the younger) his only son and heir at law him surviving, and who thereupon became seized and possessed of all his real estate situate at Sutton Bonnington aforesaid. And also that the said Thomas Palmer the younger as such only son and heir at law of his said father as aforesaid has ever since his death been and continued and now is seized and possessed of all the said real estate situate at Sutton Bonnington aforesaid. And further that the said Thomas Palmer the father and Ann his wife and their son the said Thomas Palmer and all their Children were dissenters from the Established Church and Members of the General Baptist Connexion at Kegworth aforesaid and that not any of their children were baptised, not such of them as are dead were buried at the Parish Church of Sutton Bonnington aforesaid but at the General Baptist Meeting House at Kegworth aforesaid, and that no registers thereof were ever made or are kept at the said Meeting House. And further that the said Thomas Palmer (the Son) is now living at Sutton Bonnington aforesaid and is a bachelor. And I make this solemn Declaration conscientiously believing the same to be true and by virtue of the Provisions of an Act made and passed in the fifth year of the reign of his late Majesty entitled ‘An Act to repeal an Act of the present session of Parliament intituled, An Act for the more effectual abolition of Oaths and Affirmations taken and made in various departments of the state and to substitute Declarations in lieu thereof and for the more entire suppression of voluntary and extrajudicial oaths and Affidavits and to make other provisions for the abolition of unnecessary Oaths.’
Declared by the said Thomas Bramley at Sutton Bonnington aforesaid the eighteenth day of August 1837
                  Before me Thos Cradock, A Master extra in Chancery.
                             X Thomas Bramly, his mark.

Ever since the mid-16th century teachers and midwives had to be Anglicans in good standing licensed by a bishop. This applied at first only to Catholics, but later when Nonconformists left the Established Church they were discriminated against too. The rule about midwives’ licences died out but that for teachers continued into the 18th century, when only parish school teachers had to be Anglican. Nonconformists could set up private schools.

Those who held ‘wrong’ beliefs were brought before ecclesiastical courts before 1642 and trouble-making Puritans and those accused of heresy could be excommunicated in severe cases. However Puritans were not prevented from preaching or writing about their views. From 1642 to 1660 the ecclesiastical courts were abolished in favour of civil ones, and after the restoration they had diminished powers.

Bishops’ Visitations to the parishes in their dioceses took place regularly and the Anglican incumbents were required to report on the spiritual state of their parishioners. Records contain lists of numbers of papists and dissidents and sometimes names as well. However it also has to be born in mind that the laws were not applied equally strictly from place to place. Thus, Rendel states that up until the end of the 18th century one quarter of the Anglican livings in the Wirral area of Cheshire (south of Liverpool) were held by Catholic squires. Naturally, sympathetic very High Anglican ministers would be chosen and the church would attract Catholics.

The marriage details of those who were married illegally by their own priest or minister, especially Catholics, are often referred to in ecclesiastical court records when they were presented for fornication if they had omitted to be legally married in the Anglican church as well.
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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Non-Anglican Church Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.