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Congregational/Independents Registers and Records (Nonconformists)

Nature of Source

Records and registers of birth/baptism, marriage and death/burial records from Congregational and Independent congregations. The Protestant Congregational movement began in 1582 in England during the Puritan reformation. Originally known as Independents or Separatists the movement took its religious guidance from Robert Browne. Congregationalists believe that each congregation derives its authority from God and not from any temporal body.

Before the early 1640s, no nonconformist sects kept registers as most strived to change the workings of the Anglican church from within. Some nonconformists were also concerned for their own safety. The Declaration of Indulgence, 1672 allowed the issue of licences for dissenter meetings and preachers. In 1688 the Dutch William of Orange seized the Crown from the Catholic James II in the so called ‘Glorious Revolution’. One of the first acts of the new monarch, now William III of England, was to pass the Toleration Act in 1689. The Act, for the first time, guaranteed freedom of worship for the dissenting groups and granted these groups the right to establish their own licensed places of worship (attendance at Anglican church services was compulsory up until the Act). Although nonconformists were forced to accept the 39 Anglican articles of faith and remained barred from public office, Protestant congregations grew in numbers along with and a growth of separate registers. Many nonconformists also recorded vital events within the established church to ensure the legality of the event so no separate registers exist.

Most registers survive after 1780 when the authorities decreed that nonconformist congregations should keep registers. Most complied with the ruling and these registers form the bulk of those handed in to the Registrar General in 1837. Collectively these registers are known as the Non-Parochial Registers and are held at The National Archives with copies available at various record offices. Burial records of nonconformist sects are rare as many chapels could not afford the necessary ground. Furthermore, some sects did not believe in infant baptism at all whilst others saw no necessity for recording baptisms, marriages and burials. As child baptism was shunned, the baptism date is not necessarily a clue to the birth date.

Search for names in minute and membership books. Some congregations kept their own birth (not baptism) books as well as burial registers. Burial grounds were often attached to chapels and some transcriptions of Congregational Monumental Inscriptions have been produced.

Registers of burials can be found in the records of Bunhill Fields which was established in response to the 1662 Act of Uniformity which led to a general refusal by Anglican priests to bury in church ground those who would not recognise the religious supremacy of the monarch. Located in Islington just north of the city of London, over 12,000 nonconformist burials took place at the site between 1665 and 1853.

For help in finding places of worship and names of ministers consult the 'Evans List' of Dissenting Congregations and Ministers compiled in 1715 and updated in 1730, the similar 1773 Josiah Thompson List and the Surman Index of dissenting ministers compiled by Charles Surman covering the period from the mid-seventeenth century to 1972. The Surman Index is available online and the other indexes are available at Dr Williams Library.

The Hardwicke Act of 1753 ended the near anarchy of marriage ceremonies taking place outside of official jurisdiction. The Act compelled all marriages (except for Quakers and Jews) to take place in a licensed Anglican church and only after the publication of banns. After the introduction of the Act, nonconformist marriages are found in parish registers and before the act within the records of dissenting churches or the various unauthorised places of marriage. After the introduction of civil registration in 1837, all religious denominations were free to hold legal marriage ceremonies and were free to keep their own registers. Post 1837 nonconformist registers contain similar information to the Church of England parish registers. Consult directories or the Ecclesiastical Census of 1851 for the location of individual chapels. 

In 1831 the Congregational Union of England and Wales (CCEW) was founded and lasted until the Congregational Church in England and Wales was established in 1966. This prompted the formation of a breakaway group called the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches. In 1972 the CCEW and the Presbyterian Church of England and Wales merged to form the United Reformed Church. Three factions continued as separate entities namely the Congregational Federation, the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. In Wales the Union of Welsh Independents remined independent of the United Reformed Church. Some churches remained free of any of the groupings.

A useful resource for researching Congregationalists is the Protestant Dissenters Registry which contains records of birth registered at the Dissenters Library (Doctor William's Library). The registry allowed Baptists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians to register the birth of a child. The register, officially known as the General Register of Protestant Dissenters, was only open to those living within twelve miles of London, however later the registry opened up to all regardless of distance and denomination. The registry began when a committee representing Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists, known as the Dissenting Deputies, arranged with the library to keep an official register of births. After a slow start the registry grew in popularity and for the years in operation from 1742 to 1837, there are 29, 865 entries. Some retrospective entries date back to 1716. The officials at the registry produced two copies of the birth certificate, one was handed to the parents and the other kept at the library. The entries were then entered into the register kept at the library. The registers and certificates were handed to the Registrar General in 1837 and are now housed at The National Archives. A typical entry should show the name of child, date and place of birth, parent's name, mother's maiden name, occasionally the names of the mother's parents and the father's occupation. The collection is available at Dr William's Library and at The National Archives in series RG 4, Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857 and in RG 5, Birth Certificates from the Presbyterian, Independent and Baptist Registry. Copies can be found at LDS Family History Centers. The register is available online at www.bmdregisters.co.uk and at www.familysearch.org.

Also see
Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy
Sacrament Certificates

Where Found

The National Archives (RG 4, RG 8: non-parochial registers; RG 4: Dr Williams Library registers; RG 5: the original certificates: Records of dissenters burial grounds such as Bunhill Fields: Irregular marriage records: Licences issued for dissenter meetings and preachers)
County Record Offices (Non-parochial registers: extant Congregational/Independents church records: Meeting Houses Registration [Quarter Session records]: Church books & membership rolls: ARCHON Directory: Find the details of a UK archive from a searchable list of over 2,500 archives The catalogue can be found on the TNA Discovery home page)
Society of Genealogists (Copies of nonconformist registers and other nonconformist material)
United Reformed Church History Society
National Records of Scotland (The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
Glasgow City Archives (Records of Baptist, Congregationalist, Evangelical, Methodist and Unitarian churches)
Dr Williams Library (Nonconformity literature and various finding aids and indexes)
LDS FamilySearch Centers (Non-parochial registers)
Lambeth Palace Library
Individual churches

Period Covered

1582 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Baptism
Full name, address, date of baptism, possibly date of birth, name of parents, father’s occupation, name of minister
Marriage
Full name of bride and groom, address, name of bride’s father
Burial
Name date of burial, address
Other Records
Names, addresses, occupations of practicing Congregationalists. Location and description of chapels and meeting houses.

Further References

Clifford, David. My ancestors Were Congregationalists in England and Wales: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London: Society of Genealogists, 1997  Buy Now on Amazon
Gandy, Michael. Basic Facts About English Nonconformity for Family Historians: Federation of Family History Societies, 1998 Buy Now on Amazon
Gandy, Michael. Tracing Nonconformist Ancestors: PRO Publications, 2001 Buy Now on Amazon
Gandy, Michael. Family History Cultures and Faiths: How your ancestors lived and worshipped: Expert Advice to Speed up Your Search: The National Archives, 2007 Buy Now on Amazon
Livingstone, E.A (ed). Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church: Oxford University Press, 2013  Buy Now on Amazon
McLaughlin, Eve. Nonconformist Ancestors: Varneys Press, 1995  Buy Now on Amazon
Palgrave-Moore, Patrick. Understanding the History & Records of Nonconformity, Elvery Dowers, 1994  Buy Now on Amazon
Ruston, Alad (ed). Obituaries and Marriages of Dissenting Ministers in the Gentleman's Magazine in the 18th Century: Rushton, 1996  
 Steel, D J. National Index of Parish Registers, vol. 2: Sources for Nonconformist Genealogy and Family History: Phillimore, 1973  Buy Now on Amazon


TNA Research Guide: Family History in England and Wales

The EurekA Partnership: Various titles containing transcriptions of Congregational and Independent Church records and registers covering Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Warwickshire and Worcestershire

Websites

http://conglib.co.uk (Congregational Library: The Congregatinal Library is located at 14 Gordon Square in the same building as Dr. Williams’s Library. The are divided into Printed Books and Manuscripts/Archives and include the archives of the Congregational Union of England and Wales/Congregational Church in England and Wales)
http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/ktcong/congregationalism.html (History of Congregationalism)
http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Research_Guide:_Family_History_in_England_and_Wales (Research Guide: Family History in England and Wales)
www.chapelssociety.org.uk (The Chapels Society: The Society seeks to foster public interest in the architectural and historical importance of all nonconformist places of worship including churches, chapels and meeting houses throughout the United Kingdom)
www.mundus.ac.uk/links.html (Links to missionary collections)
www.swheritage.org.uk/da-ls-research-guides (North Devon Record Office Information Leaflet: Nonconformist Records)
www.swheritage.org.uk/da-ls-research-guides (Devon Heritage Centre Information Leaflet Non-Conformist Records)
www.archives.wyjs.org.uk/documents/archives/Collections%20Guide%202.pdf
(West Yorkshire Archive Service: Collections Guide 2 Nonconformist Registers)
www.english.qmul.ac.uk/drwilliams (The Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies)
www.english.qmul.ac.uk/drwilliams/academies.html (The Dissenting Academies Project: The site has historical information and a timeline on the dissenting academies and Protestant dissent in the British Isles with as well as an Encyclopedia and Virtual Library System)
www.thegenealogist.co.uk/researchguide/?cid=1&p=100 (The Genealogist Research Guide: Non-Conformist & Non-Parochial Records)
Victoria County History (Description and location of chapels and meeting houses county by county with some volumes online at British History Online. The Victoria County History series of county histories is an ongoing project recording county by county England's places and people from earliest times to the present day)
www.buildinghistory.org/buildings/chapels.shtml (Researching the history of chapels)
www.bmdregisters.co.uk/help.php (Guide to the Non-Parochial Registers)
www.berkshirerecordoffice.org.uk/familyhistory/non-paroc.asp (Whereabouts of Berkshire nonconformist registers and other records)
www.sog.org.uk/leaflets/nonconformists.shtml (Nonconformist Records guide from the Society of Genealogists)
www.parishchest.com (Online store selling nonconformist records from a variety of suppliers)
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/london-metropolitan-archives/visitor-information/Pages/information-leaflets.aspx (London Metropolitan Archives Information Leaflet No. 3: Records of nonconformists in London)
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/london-metropolitan-archives/visitor-information/Pages/information-leaflets.aspx (London Metropolitan Archives Information Leaflet Number 60: Non-Anglican register transcripts held in London Metropolitan Archives)
www.history.ac.uk/gh/17.htm (Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section: Non Anglican Religious Bodies including records of non-conformist and foreign protestant congregations in the City of London)
www.christianstogether.net/Articles/138977/Christians_Together_in/Christian_Life/Presbyterianism_Scottish_style.aspx (Christians Together: Presbyterianism - Scottish style: Brief History of the Presbyterian Christian Church in Scotland)
www.gla.ac.uk/services/archives/news/dunaskinnews200207/sourcesforscottishchurchhistoryinthenas (Sources for Scottish Church history in the National Archives of Scotland)
http://scottishchristian.com/churches (History of the church in Scotland and summaries of other denominations)
www.gla.ac.uk/services/archives/news/dunaskinnews200207/sourcesforscottishchurchhistoryinthenas (Sources for Scottish Church history in the National Archives of Scotland)
www.edinphoto.org.uk/1/1_church_of_scotland.htm (Church of Scotland and some other churches: Brief History)
www.scotland.org.uk/history/disruption (TravelScotland: The Great Disruption of 1843)
www.scotshistoryonline.co.uk/episcopal-church.html (Scottish History Online: The Scottish Roots of the Episcopal Church)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A], National Register of Archives [NRA)
BMD Registers (Non-parochial registers plus other nonconformist registers and the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground records)
www.wbcollyer.org/index.php?p=1_69_Hanover-Chapel (Hanover Chapel, Peckham, baptism register transcripts, 1801-1854)
British Library Newspapers (Whereabouts of nonconformist journals and newspapers)
www.ancestry.co.uk (England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970 This collection is mainly comprised of birth, marriage, and death registers from non-conformist congregations and churches in England and Wales that were turned over to the Registrar General following the Non-Parochial Register Act of 1840 and a later request in 1857)
www.ancestry.co.uk (Non Conformist Registers, 1694-1921: Baptism, marriage, and burial registers for many Non-Conformist churches in the greater London area digitised in partnership with London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts)
www.ancestry.co.uk (Parish Records: West Yorkshire, Nonconformist Records, 1646-1985. This database contains a compilation of records from Nonconformist congregations in the West Yorkshire area of England including Methodist, Baptist, Society of Friends (Quaker), Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and other congregations)
www.ancestry.co.uk (Manchester, Non-Conformist Births and Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths and Burials, 1758-1987. This database contains birth records from Nonconformist congregations in the Manchester area. These include Methodist, Quaker, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, URC, Congregationalist, Baptist, Unitarian, and Jewish congregations)
Familysearch.org (Historical Record Collections: Transcripts of baptisms, marriages and deaths extracted from non-parochial/nonconformist registers including those held at Dr. Williams Library, nonconformist records held by the Cheshire Record Office, Northumberland Nonconformist Records; Bristol Non-Conformist Registers and non-Conformist Record Indexes extracted from TNA series RG 4-8. The site incorporates the data formerly known as the International Genealogical Index and also data formerly sold on CD as the British Isles Vital Records Index. The former Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File can be found under the heading of 'Family Trees')
www.findmypast.co.uk (Parish Records Collection: Includes access to baptism, marriage and burial registers supplied by members of the Federation of Family History Societies and other organisations. Includes records from the Bunhill Fields and Spa Fields Burial Ground which catered for mostly but by no means exclusively for Non-Conformist rather than Anglican burials. Collections include: Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Non-conformist Registers; Tunbridge Wells Congregational Marriages)
www.findmypast.co.uk (The Cheshire Collection: Non-Conformist and Roman Catholic Records 1671-1910. The original records are held by the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies)
www.findmypast.co.uk
(The Shropshire Collection, 1538-1900. The collection includes searchable transcripts and scanned colour images of Non-Conformist Shropshire registers)
www.findmypast.co.uk
(Essex Memorial Inscriptions. The dataset contains records covering Anglican, Roman Catholic, Quaker, and non-conformist, as well as community and war memorials)
www.findmypast.co.uk
(Norfolk Non-Conformist Records 1613-1901 Image Browse. This collection comprises registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials as well as membership lists and meeting minutes covering Methodist, Quaker, Baptist and Congregational congregations)
www.durhamrecordsonline.com (Durham Records Online: Transcripts from Congregational registers covering County Durham and Northumberland)
Gloucestershire Archives' Genealogical Database (Non-conformist baptisms for some chapels in Gloucestershire. Also try searching for a named individual at the Gloucestershire Archives Online Catalogue which includes the General Personal Names Index and other specialist indexes)
http://sheffieldindexers.com
(Sheffield Indexers: Sheffield Cemetery Road Congregational Church Members, 1859-1908)
www.mundus.ac.uk (Mundus Database: Catalogue of British Missionary Society records. The catalogue contains summary description of collections relating to missionary material held at various institutions and British missionary societies. The material includes missionary archives, personal papers, printed matter, maps and photographs)
www.theoriginalrecord.com (some extracts from 'The Baptist' journal)

CD Roms

www.midlandshistoricaldata.org (Old Non-Parochial Registers of Dudley, 1899)
S & N Genealogy Supplies (Worcestershire, Dudley Non-Parochial Parish Registers 1656-1837)
Gloucestershire Family History Society (Gloucestershire Non-Conformist Transcriptions - Vol 1 Baptisms; Gloucestershire Non-Conformist Transcriptions - Vol 2 Baptisms and Burials; Gloucestershire Non-Conformist Transcriptions - Vol 3 Baptisms)
Parish Register Transcription Society (The Sussex NonConformist Registers)
www.genfair.co.uk (Nonconformist data from a variety of suppliers)