skip to content

Methodist Registers and Records (Nonconformists)

Nature of Source

Records from Methodist chapel meetings and committees and other circuit records including registers of Methodist birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial from the various Methodist denominations. The Methodists were probably the best record keepers of the nonconformists. Methodism originated in the 1720s with the teachings of John Wesley, a Church of England clergyman, his brother Charles and their associate the Anglican minister George Whitefield. The first chapel for the newly emerging Methodist Societies opened in Bristol in 1739 and in 1778 Wesley opened his first chapel in London. Initially evangelical renewal and reform was sought from within the Church of England but by John Wesley's death in 1791 the Methodist fellowship had developed into a separate entity. However, two strands developed; the followers of Wesley emerged as Wesleyan Methodists following the Arminian theology which stresses that salvation is open to all believers whilst the followers of Whitefield became Calvinistic Methodists believing that only God can determine who is saved.

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 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.

Records that could include names of individuals and other genealogical and historical information might be found in: registers of members, class books (members of prayer groups), minute books, pew rent records, Sunday school records, temperance meeting minutes and plaques and memorials. Circuit (equivalent to deaneries) records show the names of preachers and possibly officers of the church. Circuit minutes should name those in attendance at the quarterly meetings. Circuit registers name those attending each chapel and dates of death or departure of a person. Also consult other chapel records held in County Record Offices for names of individuals and histories of a chapel.

Some Methodists accepted Anglican baptism, marriage and burial ceremonies. Many vital events were recorded in church books so these events are not recorded in separate Methodist registers. Many preachers took their registration books from circuit to circuit. Marriage ceremonies held in Methodist chapels were legalised in 1837. 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 Methodist 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.

Various splits emerged within the Methodist movement after John Wesley's death and the movement remained in a state of continual instability. In 1797 the Methodist New Connexion was formed by Alexander Kilham. Later in 1810 the Primitive Methodists were established by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes and in 1815 a group known as the Bible Christians emerged in south west England. Next to appear were the Protestant Methodists formed in 1827 followed in 1835 by the Wesleyan Methodist Association .These two groups merged in 1836. A number of expulsions of Wesleyan Methodists ministers led to a breakaway group called the Wesleyan Reformers in 1849. These Reformers then merged with Wesleyan Methodist Association and the Protestant Methodists to form the United Methodist Free Churches in 1857. Those that declined to support the new grouping established the Wesleyan Reform Union which exists independently to this day. In 1907, the United Methodist Free Churches, the Methodist New Connexion and the Bible Christians merged to form the United Methodist Church, the name of which is used in America. Finally in 1932 the United Methodist Church, the Primitive Methodists and the Wesleyan Methodists came together to form the Methodist Union thereafter known as the Methodist Church. The church is now known as the Methodist Church of Great Britain. A number of so called Independent Methodist Churches are also in existence which had strong ties to the Primitive Methodists.

George Whitefield's Calvinistic Methodist teachings attracted the immensely wealthy Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon. He became her chaplain and together they established a separate denomination called the Countess of Huntingdon Connexion. In 2005 the Connexion and the Wesleyan Reform Union founded the network New Connexions.

A useful resource for researching Methodists is the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry. The registry, originally located near St Paul's cathedral, holds nearly 10,000 Wesleyan Methodist births and baptisms covering England and Wales. The registry lasted from 1818 to 1840 with some retrospective births dating back to 1773. The register was surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857 and is now housed at The National Archives in series RG 4, and RG 5, Birth Certificates from the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry. The register is available online at www.bmdregisters.co.uk and at www.familysearch.org. A typical entry includes the name and sex of the child, name and address of the father, the name of the mother and both her parents, the date and place of birth, the name of the Wesleyan circuit, name of witnesses to the birth and the name of the officiating minister. Also consult Richard Ratcliffe's Basic Facts About the Wesleyan Methodist Historic Roll published by the Federation of Family History Societies in 2005 and the online article The Wesleyan Methodist Historic Roll also by Richard Ratcliffe.

See also
Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy
Sacrament Certificates
Wesleyan Methodist Historic Roll

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)

Electronic images of these records can be searched online at BMD Registers (see below)

Methodist Archives and Research Centre (The centre holds the official archives of the Methodist Church including books and journals, manuscripts, chapel histories and minutes of Methodist congregations. The centre also has material relating to the Moravians, Unitarians, Christian Brethren and Baptists. The centre also holds the personal libraries of John Wesley, Charles Wesley and John Fletcher. The site has a number of guides to help in researching Methodist ancestry)
Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History (The centre is dedicated to the study of Wesley and Methodism, holding many books, newspapers, manuscripts and chapel histories. The centre incorporates the holdings of the Wesley Historical Society Library and Archives, the archives of Westminster College, AVEC consultancy, Oxford Institute of Methodist Studies and the papers of Donald English and Bill Gowland as well as the archive of the Bletchley Park/Lady Spencer Churchill College of Education)
Methodist Central Hall
(Methodist Central Hall Archives)
Wesley Historical Society (Wesley Historical Society Library)
Englesea Brook Chapel & Museum (The library houses an extensive collection of Primitive Methodist records including circuit plans, literature, journals and conference minutes)
John Rylands University Library
(Manuscript papers, printed books and pamphlets, periodical relating to the Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Quakers, Moravians and the Christian Brethren)
Society of Genealogists (Copies of nonconformist registers and other nonconformist material)
County Record Offices (Non-parochial registers; extant Methodist church records; Church books and membership rolls)
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 (Church Archives)
Dr Williams Library (Nonconformity literature and various finding aids and indexes)
LDS FamilySearch Centers (Non-parochial registers)
Lambeth Palace Library
Individual chapels
British Library Newspaper Collections (Nonconformist journals and newspapers)

Period Covered

1779 - 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 Methodists. Location and description of chapels and meeting houses. Death of church member or dates of departure from church.

Further References

Gandy, Michael. Basic Facts About English Nonconformity for Family Historians: Federation of Family History Societies, 1998


Leary, William. My Ancestors Were Methodist: Society of Genealogists, 1999


Leary, William. Local Methodist Records: A Brief Explanation of Local Methodist Archival Material Deposited in County Record Offices: WMHS Publications, 1981


McLaughlin, Eve. Nonconformist Ancestors: Varneys Press, 1995


National Index of Parish Registers: Society of Genealogists (A list of the parish registers with dates of available registers and where they are kept, includes nonconformist registers)


Ratcliffe, Richard. Methodist Records for Family Historians: The Family History Partnership, 2014


Ratcliffe, Richard. Basic Facts About Methodist Records for Family Historians: Federation of Family History Societies, 2005


Ratcliffe, Richard. Basic Facts About The Wesleyan Methodist Historic Roll: Federation of Family History Societies, 2005


Ruston, Alad (ed). Obituaries and Marriages of Dissenting Ministers in the Gentleman's Magazine in the 18th Century: Rushton, 1996


Palgrave-Moore, Patrick. Understanding the History & Records of Nonconformity, Elvery Dowers, 1994

 

 

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

Websites

www.wesleyhistoricalsociety.org.uk (Genealogy Research Guide)
www.methodistheritage.org.uk (Methodist Heritage. The site lists heritage sites across England, Scotland and Wales with detailed descriptions. The site also has a history of Methodism and a guide to researching Methodist ancestors with the opportunity of sharing stories)
www.mymethodisthistory.org.uk (My Methodist History: Recording and sharing the family history of the Methodist Church. The aim of the project is to share information and research about every aspect of Methodist history. Primitive and Wesleyan Methodism are covered by sister websites, My Primitive Methodist Ancestors and My Wesleyan Methodist Ancestors)
www.mybiblechristians.org.uk
(My Bible Christians. The website is dedicated to the Bible Christians, a nineteenth-century Methodist denomination. It’s a place to collect and share online the history of the Bible Christians and browse through the collection of research resources, photos, old documents and family memories. Resources include a listing by District & Circuit and by Chapel name of BC Chapels in Cornwall in 1901)
www.engleseabrook-museum.org.uk/library.asp (Englesea Brook Chapel and Museum Library: History of Primitive Methodism)
www.wesleyhistoricalsociety.org.uk/dmbi (Online Dictionary of Methodism in Britain and Ireland)
www.library.manchester.ac.uk/searchresources/guidetospecialcollections/methodist/using (Methodist Archives and Research Centre: Using the Collections: Information and advice to assist your research including a guide to 'Researching Your Family History')
www.library.manchester.ac.uk/searchresources/guidetospecialcollections/methodist/using/familyhistory/printedlists (Methodist Archives and Research Centre: Printed lists of Methodist ministers and lay people)
www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/subdivisions/methodist_1.shtml (BBC Guide: Methodist Church
www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REmethodism.htm (History of Methodism)
www.methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=opentogod.content&cmid=2516 (Methodist Church Guide: Researching Methodist History)
www.newadvent.org/cathen/10237b.htm (Catholic Encyclopedia entry on Methodism)
www.wesleyhistoricalsociety.org.uk/genealogy.html (A brief guide to help you search for Methodist family records)
www.familyhistorypartnership.co.uk/hints04.html (An Introduction to Methodist Records, by Richard Ratcliffe)
www.wesleyschapel.org.uk/museum2.htm (Museum of Methodism)
www.thefamilyhistorypartnership.com/hints-tips/an-introduction-to-methodist-records.php (An Introduction to Methodist Records, by Richard Ratcliffe)
www.thegenealogist.co.uk/researchguide/?cid=1&p=100 (The Genealogist Research Guide: Non-Conformist & Non-Parochial Records)
www.archives.wyjs.org.uk/documents/archives/Collections%20Guide%202.pdf (West Yorkshire Archive Service: Collections Guide 2 Nonconformist Registers)
www.mundus.ac.uk/links.html (Links to missionary collections including the Methodist Missionary Society)
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.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.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.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.buildinghistory.org/buildings/chapels.shtml (Researching the history of chapels)
www.bmdregisters.co.uk/help.php (Guide to the Non-Parochial Registers)
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.edintone.com/noncon.html
(Nonconformist Denominations in Northamptonshire)
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)
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.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)
www.ancestry.co.uk
(Medway, Kent, Methodist Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1798-1932)
www.batharchives.co.uk/what_we_hold/records_for_family_history/bath_ancestors_database.aspx (Bath Record Office: Bath Ancestors Database: Methodist Registers, 1792-1928)
www.ukpressonline.co.uk
(The Watchman Archive 1835-1885)
Familysearch.org (Nonconformist registers including Bristol Non-Conformist Registers; Northumberland Nonconformist Records and those held by the Cheshire Record Office. The Historical Record Collections includes data from the former International Genealogical Index which has baptisms and marriages taken from the non-parochial registers and Non-Conformist Record Indexes extracted from TNA series RG 4-8)
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 Groundn which catered for mostly but by no means exclusively for Non-Conformist rather than Anglican burials)
www.findmypast.co.uk
(Yorkshire & Derbyshire Methodist Baptisms, 1795-1997. Access to over 42,000 records of Methodist baptism from the Sheffield district)
www.findmypast.co.uk (Yorkshire & Derbyshire Methodist Marriages. Access to over 22,000 records of Methodist marriages from the Sheffield district. Within the collection, you will find records from eight branches of the Methodist Church: Free Methodist, Methodist, Methodist New Connection, Primitive Methodist, United Free Methodist, United Methodist, Wesleyan Methodist, and Wesleyan Reform Methodist)
www.findmypast.co.uk (The Manchester Collection: Cheetham Hill Wesleyan Cemetery burial registers, 1858-1968. The original records are held by Manchester 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 (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 (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.wolverhamptonhistory.org.uk/resources/indexes (Wolverhampton Circuit Methodist Registers 1726-1968, compiled by Pat Galloway)  
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)
www.ukpressonline.co.uk
(UKPressOnline. The Watchman, the first Methodist newspaper, 1835-1884)
www.durhamrecordsonline.com
(Durham Records Online: Transcripts [mainly baptisms] from Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Circuits covering County Durham and Northumberland)
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)

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)
Berkshire Family History Society (Bradfield St Andrew and Methodist Chapel, Berkshire)