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Non-Conformity - Other Denominations (Nonconformist)

Nature of Source

Records from the many and varied dissenting nonconformist sects. In England nonconformists refused to confirm to the doctrine of the established Anglican Church of England. Originally the term dissenter was applied to those that refused to adhere to the 1662 Act of Uniformity by rejecting the use of the Book of Common Prayer in worship. Nonconformity expanded rapidly in the 19th century and nonconformist had become the usual way of referring to an adherent of Protestants congregations such as Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Independents, Huguenots, Congregationalists and Quakers. Roman Catholics were usually called recusants and were not a part of the Protestant movement. Presbyterians in England were not aligned to the Presbyterianism of Scotland and Ireland. Other more fringe nonconformist sects included:

Moravians, 1727-
Muggletonians, 1652-1979
Inghamites, 1748-
Irvingites/Catholic Apostolic Church, 1832-
Swedenborgians, 1788-
Sandemanians/Glassites, 1760-c1900
Plymouth Brethren, 1827 -

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 many transcriptions of Monumental Inscriptions have been produced. Many preachers took their registration books from circuit to circuit so the events recorded could cover different areas. An important collection of nonconformist birth registers is held by Dr Williams Library in London. A similar system of birth registration was established in 1818 at the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry near St Paul's cathedral. Between 1818 and 1837, 10,291 births were recorded and is available online at BMD Registers.

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.

See also
Baptist Registers and Records
Congregational/Independents Registers and Records
Huguenot Records and Registers
Methodist Registers and Records
Missionary Society Records
Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy
Protestant Dissenters Registry/Dr. Williams Library
Protestation Oath Returns/Oath of Allegiance
Quaker Digests (The Religious Society of Friends)
Quaker Records (The Religious Society of Friends)
Sacrament Certificates (Oath of Allegiance)
Unitarian Records & Registers
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)
County Record Offices (Non-parochial registers: extant church and chapel records: Meeting Houses Registration [Quarter Session records]: Church books & membership rolls)
Dr Williams Library (Nonconformity literature and various finding aids and indexes)
Society of Genealogists (Copies of nonconformist registers and other nonconformist material)
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])
National Library of Wales (Nonconformist Records. The records of the nonconformist chapels include: Baptism, marriage and burial registers; Manuscript lists of members; Contribution books of individual chapels; Printed annual reports from 1880; Denominational periodicals)
Glasgow City Archives
LDS FamilySearch Centers (Non-parochial registers)
British Museum (Muggletonian archive)
Lambeth Palace Library
Individual churches and chapels

Period Covered

1530 - Onwards

Further References

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


Gandy, Michael. Tracing Nonconformist Ancestors: Public Record Office, 2001


Lamont, William. Last Witnesses: the Muggletonian History, 1652-1979: Ashgate, 2006


McLaughkin, Eve. Nonconformist Records: 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)


Oates, Paul. My Ancestors Were Inghamites: Society of Genealogists, 2003


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


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


TNA Research Guide: Family History in England and Wales

Websites (The Brethren Archivists and Historians Network) (The Christian Brethren Archive) (The Moravian Church Archive and Library) (Unitas Fratrum: The Moravian Unity of the World Wide Moravian Church) (Muggletonian Press) (web site to encourage and support the study of Muggletonianism) (List of Inghamite Chapels, historic and current) (Wheatley Lane Inghamite Chapel, a brief history) (The Catholic Encyclopedia: Irvingites) (Swedenborg Society) (TNA Your Archives: Swedenborgianism) (The Catholic Encyclopedia: Sandemanians) (ExLibris: English Dissenters prior to and during the civil war/revolution in England as well as during the Interregnum) (Finding Nonconformist Records Online, by Alec Tritton)
(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)
(West Yorkshire Archive Service: Collections Guide 2 Nonconformist Registers) (The Dr Williams's Centre for Dissenting Studies) (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) (Links to missionary collections) (Victorian London Churches)
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) (Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section: Non Anglican Religious Bodies including records of non-conformist and foreign protestant congregations in the City of London) (North Devon Record Office Information Leaflet: Nonconformist Records) (Devon Heritage Centre Information Leaflet Non-Conformist Records) (The Genealogist Research Guide: Non-Conformist & Non-Parochial Records) (Researching the history of chapels) (Guide to the Non-Parochial Registers) (Whereabouts of Berkshire nonconformist registers and other records) (Nonconformist Records guide from the Society of Genealogists) (Online store selling nonconformist records from a variety of suppliers) (London Metropolitan Archives Information Leaflet No. 3: Records of nonconformists in London) (London Metropolitan Archives Information Leaflet Number 60: Non-Anglican register transcripts held in London Metropolitan Archives) (Nonconformist Denominations in Northamptonshire) (Christians Together: Presbyterianism - Scottish style: Brief History of the Presbyterian Christian Church in Scotland) (Sources for Scottish Church history in the National Archives of Scotland)
(Church of Scotland and some other churches: Brief History) (TravelScotland: The Great Disruption of 1843) (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)
British Library Newspaper Collections (Whereabouts of nonconformist journals and newspapers) (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) (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) (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) (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) (Historical Record Collections: Transcripts of baptisms, marriages and deaths extracted from Anglican parish registers and non-parochial/nonconformist registers including those held at Dr. Williams Library. 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. Nonconformist records include Cheshire Non-conformist Records, 1671-1900, Bristol Non-Conformist Registers; Northumberland Nonconformist Records; Non-Conformist Record Indexes transcribed from TNA series RG 4-8. The former Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File can be found under the heading of 'Family Trees') (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 Spa Fields Burial Ground from 1778 up to 1849 which catered for mostly but by no means exclusively for Non-Conformist rather than Anglican burials) (The Cheshire Collection: Non-Conformist and Roman Catholic Records 1671-1910. The original records are held by the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies) (The Shropshire Collection, 1538-1900. The collection includes searchable transcripts and scanned colour images of Non-Conformist Shropshire registers)
(Essex Memorial Inscriptions. The dataset contains records covering Anglican, Roman Catholic, Quaker, and non-conformist, as well as community and war memorials) (Genhound: Hertfordshire calendar to the sessions minute books 1689-1831 including dissenters and papists rolls; Hertfordshire list of nonconformist chapels in 1829; Yorkshire North Riding Register of Oaths of Dissenting Protestant Preachers, 1791-1818; Hertford Quarter Session Rolls 1702 to 1706 including lists of names in receipt of Sacrament Certificates 1761 to 1828; Hertfordshire Oaths of Allegiance 1702 to 1732, 1723 to 1723 [In 1722 an Act was passed requiring 'every Person and Persons' to swear loyalty oaths to King George I by 25 December 1723]; North Riding Quarter Sessions Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance)
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) (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 (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) (Nonconformist data from a variety of suppliers)