England, Bristol, Non-Conformist Church Records (FamilySearch Historical Records)
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Nonconformist church registers began in the 1500s. Some registers continue to the present.
Nonconformist registers were recorded in volumes of varying size and format. Nonconformist church registers cover approximately 15 percent of England’s population and 80 percent of Wales’ population after 1850.
Nonconformist church registers were created to record births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials or deaths.
Nonconformist church registers are the most reliable and accurate family history source until 1837, when England’s civil registration began.
Citation for This Collection
The following citation refers to the original source of the data and images published on FamilySearch.org. It may include the author, custodian, publisher and archive for the original records.
- England, Gloucester, Bristol, non-conformist registers. Bristol Record Office, Bristol, England.
Nonconformist birth and baptismal registers will sometimes contain more information than those of the Church of England. They often list the person’s birth date, baptismal date, father’s name and residence, and mother’s name (including maiden name). They rarely contain marriage records (except for the Quakers and Jews), especially from 1754 to 1837. They contain some burial entries, though Nonconformists were usually buried in Anglican churchyards until the Nonconformist chapel obtained its own burial grounds or the civil cemeteries opened.
How to Use the Record
To search for a person in a nonconformist church's records, you must know the following:
- Where the person lived
- Their denomination or sect
- When the person lived; if you do not know the time period, you must estimate it from what you know of more recent generations.
When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details that can lead you to other records about your ancestors. Add this new information to your records of each family.
- Use the parents' names along with the child’s birth date and place as the basis for compiling a new family group or for verifying existing information.
- Use the birth date along with the place of birth to find the family in census records.
- Use the residence and names of the parents to locate probate and tax records.
- Occupations listed can lead you to other types of records such as employment or military records.
- The name of the officiator may be a clue to their religion or area of residence in the county.
- Compile the entries for every person who has the same surname as the bride or groom; this is especially helpful in rural areas or if the surname is unusual.
- Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives who may have been born, married, or died in the same county or nearby. This can help you identify other generations of your family or even the second marriage of a parent. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify.
- When looking for a person who had a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.
Keep in mind:
- Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after the late 1900.
- There is also some variation in the information given from one marriage record to another record.
If you are unable to find the ancestors you are looking for, try the following:
- Check for variant spellings of the surnames.
- Check for a different index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume.
- Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.
A Nonconformist church was one that disagreed with the Church of England (Anglican). They may have disagreed with its rites of worship, opposed its authority, or objected to it being heavily supported and subsidized by the government. The better-known Nonconformist groups were Independents (Congregationalists), Baptists, Presbyterians (including Scots Congregations), Methodists, Roman Catholics, Society of Friends (Quakers), Brethren Church, Jews, French Huguenots (Walloons), and Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Roman Catholics and Jews trace their heritage back to earlier eras. Baptists, Presbyterians, Independents, and French Huguenots all had their beginnings in the 16th century. The others were established in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Few Nonconformist registers exist before 1700 because of persecution. By the late 1700s or early 1800s, many denominations had started keeping registers. Some were better at keeping records than others. The denominations usually did not have a formal hierarchy, so the records were kept on a local level. However, some denominations did form central registries. The Presbyterians, Baptists, and Independents (Congregationalists) established central birth registration in 1743; and the Methodists did so in 1773.
Some of the births, baptisms, marriages, and burials for Nonconformists were recorded in Anglican registers. Between 1695 and 1705, Anglican ministers were required to register the births of any children in their parish who were not baptized. Even though many Anglican ministers ignored this act, some Nonconformists’ births were recorded this way. And some Nonconformists’ children were even baptized in Anglican parishes. By law, marriages after 1754 were required to take place in Anglican parish churches and be recorded in their registers. Nonconformists were often buried in Anglican churchyards because there were no other burial grounds until the early 1850s, when civil cemeteries opened. Sometimes Nonconformists’ burials were recorded in both Anglican and Nonconformist registers. Huguenots often left their recording to the Church of England. Until the end of the 19th century, some Methodists let the Church of England record their baptisms and burials.
Many Nonconformist registers have been preserved. A law passed in 1836 required Nonconformist groups to send their registers through 1837 to the Registrar General’s Office. Many complied but not all. In 1857, additional records were turned over to the registrar general. The records that have survived are generally in good condition and are now held at the National Archives. More recent registers are held in county record offices, in local chapels, and in regional and central denominational archives. Most registers have been microfilmed, and some have been transcribed and published.
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“Argentina, Buenos Aires, Catholic Church Records, 1635-1981,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: accessed 28 February, 2012), La Plata > San Ponciano > Matrimonios 1884-1886 > image 71 of 389 images, Artemio Avendano and Clementina Peralta, 1884; citing Parroquia de San Ponciano en la Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Matrimonios. San Ponciano, La Plata, Buenos Aires.