England Nonconformist Church Records

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Bassingham Wesleyan Methodist Chapel Lincolnshire

Nonconformist is a term referring to religious denominations other than an established or state church.

For detailed histories of each of the major non-conformist denominations, see England Church History


Introduction[edit | edit source]

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, the term "nonconformist" was applied to English and Welsh Christians who belonged to a denomination other than the Church of England. As these individuals did not follow or "conform to" the established (state) religion, they were subject to a restriction of legal rights, per the Act of Uniformity of 1559. However, this did not stop people from joining nonconformist denominations; by 1888, when most of the Act of Uniformity was repealed, approximately 15 percent of the population of England and 80 percent of the population of Wales were considered nonconformists.

Even though nonconformist records are not nearly as prevalent as Anglican records, they are one of the most informative and accurate sources of information when they are available, at least until the start of civil registration in 1837. Nonconformist birth and baptismal registers are fairly common, and they generally contain more information than those of the Church of England. Except for Quakers, nonconformist denominations generally did not keep marriage records, especially after 1754. Nonconformist burial records are also less common, as nonconformist individuals were buried in Anglican churchyards if a churchyard belonging to their sect was not locally available.

Sometimes nonconformist was restricted to Protestant religions other than the Church of England; occasionally the term was intended to include Roman Catholics and Quakers, and rarely the term included other non-Christian faiths.

Lord Hardwicke’s Act, passed in 1754, required that couples had to be married in the Church of England for their marriage to be legal, regardless of what religion to which one belonged. An exception was made for Jews and Quakers.The law lasted until 1837 when civil registration began.

Nonconformist records are essential for those families who did not have a baptism, marriage, or burial take place in the Church of England. As a result the Nonconformist records should be consulted when your ancestor does not show up in the Church of England records. Nonconformist registers contain some burial entries, though nonconformists were usually buried in parish churchyards until the chapel obtained its own burial grounds or until civil cemeteries opened.

It is not uncommon to find an ancestor affiliated with more than one religion during his or her lifetime. Search all religions and all chapels of a particular religion if an ancestor might be a nonconformist because some people changed religions and traveled long distances to attend their meetings. Ministers often travelled large circuits keeping the vital statistics of several places in the register they carried with them.

A law passed in 1836 required many nonconformist groups to send their registers into the Public Record Office. The Family History Library has microfilm copies of those that were deposited. Many of these records have been extracted, and the names appear on www.familysearch.org under 'Records.'

The Official Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial BMDs Service (BMDRegisters) is a database to search for records of birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial taken from non parish sources. Currently, the site indexes The National Archives records for RG4 and RG5. The projects continues by indexing RG 6, RG 7, RG 8, RG 32, RG 33, RG 34, RG 35, RG 36 and BT 158, BT 159, BT 160.

The Family History Library has some of the RG 4 and RG 5 records and most of the RG 4 series of what the Family History Library has was extracted and put into the International genealogical Index, which is included in the global records search on FamilySearch.org.

As a result, both FamilySearch and BMDRegisters should be used to locate nonconformist records. As time goes more records will be available and your search may be more fruitful.

The index on BMDRegisters is free to use, but to look at the details or the image of the record www.bmdregisters.co.uk is a pay website, but could very well be the answer. The International Genealogical Index is free to use at www.familysearch.org.

Major nonconformist groups are discussed below. The following two works contain more information about nonconformist sects:

  • Steel, Donald J. Sources for Nonconformist Genealogy and Family History. London, England: Phillimore, 1973. (FHL book 942 V26ste, vol. 2.)
  • Sources for Roman Catholic and Jewish Genealogy and Family History. London, England: Phillimore, 1974. (FHL book 942 V26ste, vol. 3.)

Presbyterians, Baptists, and Independents[edit | edit source]

These religions evolved from 16th century Puritanism. The records of these religions are similar to those of the Church of England. The Baptists, however, practiced adult baptism and recorded births in birth registers, not baptism registers. The Independent Church is also known as the Congregational Church.

Societies[edit | edit source]

For information about the different denominations, you may contact their respective historical societies:

Records[edit | edit source]

Many congregations did not keep consistent records. In January 1743 officials formed a central registry for births for all three denominations, called Dr. Williams' Library. This registry contains about 50,000 birth records. Information recorded includes the child’s name, parents’ names, birth date, address, names of witnesses, registration information, and sometimes the grandparents’ names.

The original records of Dr. William's Library are housed at The National Archives near London, England. Copies of these records are on microfilm in the Family History Library.  They include:

Indexes[edit | edit source]

Ministers[edit | edit source]

Charles Surman compiled a biographical card index of Congregational ministers which was given to Dr Williams' Library in 1960. The Surman Index Online makes the contents available electronically via the internet for the first time. The index includes the names of about 32,000 ministers, and, where known, their dates, details of their education, ministries or other employment, together with the sources used. It covers the period from the mid-seventeenth century to 1972, and though it focuses on England and Wales, it includes Congregational ministers serving abroad provided they trained or served as ministers in Britain. Although intended as an index of Congregational ministers, it also gives details of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Presbyterians.

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

For information on the various denominations, see:

  • Breed, Geoffrey R. My Ancestors Were Baptists: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 2002, 4th ed. (FHL book 942 K23bg.)
  • Clifford, D. J. H. My Ancestors Were Congregationalists in England & Wales: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1997, 2nd rev. ed. (FHL book 942 K23cdj.)
  • Ruston, Alan R. My Ancestors Were English Presbyterians/Unitarians: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 2001, 2nd ed. (FHL book 942 K23ra.)
  • The Congregational Magazine [formerly The London Christian instructor) for 1827: pages 681 to 721, Supplement to the Congregational Magazine for the year 1827 - Congregational Churches of the United Kingdom. free google ebook

Methodists[edit | edit source]

There are many forms of Methodists Societies in England:

  • Wesleyan
  • Primitive
  • New Connexion, and so on.

The Wesleyan group was the largest. They were all united under the United Methodist Church in 1932. Some groups recorded their baptisms and burials in the Church of England until the 19th century. For historical material, contact:

To find the location of the original birth and burial records, contact:

A useful guide for tracing Methodist ancestors is:

  • Leary, William. My Ancestors Were Methodists: How Can I Find Out More About Them? 2nd ed. London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1999. (FHL book 942 D27l 1999.)

The Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry[edit | edit source]


The Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry recorded over 10,000 Wesleyan Methodist births and baptisms that occurred between 1813 and 1838 throughout England, Wales, and elsewhere. The records are available at the The National Archives of the UK (part of collection codes RG4 and RG5).

Indexes and Copies of Records[edit | edit source]

Many Methodist records are indexed in a searchable online database called BMDRegisters.  A basic search is free but there is a fee for advanced searching and to download images.

The records of the Metropolitan Registry are also available on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL).  In addition, the library holds copies of records of individual circuits and congregations.  Many of the records are indexed in the British Isles Vital Records Index, which is available at the FHL, family history centers, and other archives and libraries. See England Vital Records Index - FamilySearch Historical Records

Shovellers List of Methodist Churches[edit | edit source]

Roman Catholics[edit | edit source]

Dioceses[edit | edit source]

English and Welsh Catholic Dioceses Map.png
Dioceses of England & Wales

Archdiocese Dioceses
Birmingham Clifton; Shrewsbury
Cardiff Menevia; Wrexham
Liverpool Hallam; Hexham and Newcastle; Lancaster; Leeds; Middlesbrough; Salsford
Southwark Arundel and Brighton; Plymouth; Portsmouth
Westminster Brentwood; East Anglia; Northampton; Nottingham

Catholic Missions and Parishes[edit | edit source]

The Catholic church was organized from about 1700 in local missions, not parishes, with the priest being known as the missionary apostolic. Until after 1791 there were no public chapels and just a few legal private ones in embassies, officially to serve the diplomatic community. Gandy ( Catholic Missions and Registers, 1994) has published six indispensable handlists of Catholic missions and surviving registers 1700-1880 for England, Wales and Scotland. The Catholic Directory also lists them and gives the dates of foundation.

The English Catholic system of Dioceses and Archdioceses was set up in 1850 and, with the modifications that have occurred with time in 1960 stood as in the chart below. Catholics chose their own chapel to attend since there were no official Catholic parish boundaries until the parish system was set up after WWI. Gandy’s Atlas (Catholic Parishes in England, Wales and Scotland. An Atlas. Self-published, 2001-3) contains maps showing all parishes having regular Sunday mass in 1960.

Although it was illegal for most residents of England to be Catholic between 1581 and 1778 there were some Londoners who were exempt from these laws. The 17th century Queens of England were all Catholic and their right to freedom of worship was written into their marriage contracts. There was therefore always a Royal Catholic chapel, firstly in St. James’ Palace, and later in Somerset House.
The other group were the diplomats associated with the London embassies from European Catholic countries. The embassies each had their private chapels which were allowed open services with music and ceremonies to serve their large staffs since they were technically on foreign soil. They attracted many other Catholics, as evidenced by the registers which mostly record English and Irish people both from the city and in from the country, not foreign nationals.

Chart: English Catholic Dioceses and Archdioceses (denoted by *)
[Abstracted from Gandy 2001-3]

Birmingham * Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire
Clifton Gloucestershire, Somerset,. Wiltshire
Plymouth Cornwall, Devon, Dorset
Shrewsbury Cheshire, Shropshire
Cardiff * Glamorgan, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire
Menevia All Wales except Glamorgan and Monmouthshire
Hexham and Newcastle Durham, Northumberland
Lancaster Cumberland, N. Lancashire, Westmorland
Leeds Yorkshire (West Riding)
Liverpool * Isle of Man, SW Lancashire
Middlesbrough Yorkshire (East and North Ridings)
Salford SE Lancashire
Brentwood Essex
Northampton Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Suffolk
Nottingham Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland
Portsmouth Berkshire, Channel Islands, Hampshire
Southwark Kent, Surrey, Sussex
Westminster * Hertfordshire, London N of Thames Middlesex[1]

Catholic Records[edit | edit source]

From the time of the Reformation most congregations considered it too risky to keep records. There are very few registers, really priests’ notebooks, extant before 1750 and not too many before 1791. The earliest extant provincial (outside London) register is a priest’s notebook for Baddesley Clinton, a tiny place in Warwickshire, which commences in 1657, but most places only have registers from the 1770s, and particularly after 1791, when public services became legal. Some early ones on microfilm are:

  • Registers from the city of Worcester—baptisms 1685-1837, 3 marriages (1801, 1827, 1828), deaths 1774-1806, are on FHL film 1999506.
  • The notebook and supplementary documents of Rev. Monox Hervey covering marriages and baptisms from 1729-1756 on FHL film 0599709.
  • Registers of Fr. Joseph Alexiuc Smallwood in London 1730-1750 on FHL film 0547198.
  • Registers of Fr. Arthur Pacificus Baker near Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London 1747-1773 on FHL film 0547198.
  • Registers of the domestic chapel at Arundel Castle, (Duke of Norfolk and household), afterwards the public chapel at Arundel 1749-1835 with list of burials in the Fitzalan chapel at Arundel on FHL film 0599713.

A large amount of material has been filmed, for example a keyword search on the FamilySearch Catalog for YORKSHIRE CATHOLIC produces 100 titles alone. Many of those records that have been filmed have been added to the IGI and a check of the Parish and Vital Records List will ascertain which ones.

Only a few registers have been deposited, and for all others contact the nearest priest or diocesan archives whose addresses can be obtained from the Catholic Directory or by emailing the diocese.

Catholic Registers[edit | edit source]

The surviving registers of the London Royal and embassy chapels include:

  • St. James Palace Catholic Chapel, later Somerset House Chapel 1671 onwards on FHL film 0599717.
  • Sardinian Chapel, later Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and later Kingsway Chapel, 1729 onwards.
  • Venetian Chapel, which closed when France conquered Venice, 1744-1796.
  • Bavarian Chapel, later Warwick Street (near Regent Street) 1747 onwards.
  • Austrian Chapel which tended to be more restricted to foreign nationals, 1765-1820.
  • Neapolitan Chapel 1772-1855.
  • French Chapel 1795-1910.

In 1837 and 1858, when Non-Anglican registers were called in, few Catholic clergy chose to deposit theirs—76 mainly northern ones out of 587 churches—and they remain either with them, in their Diocesan archives, in the central Catholic Archives, or in county archives. Gandy (Catholic Missions and Registers, 1994) has analyzed all the extant registers as well as the many transcripts published by Phillimore’s and the Catholic Record Society, and this is the definitive list of what is available and where, however the FamilySearch Catalog is a useful adjunct as much has been filmed.

Catholic Births and Baptisms[edit | edit source]

Baptisms are usually done sooner than in other churches, either on the day of birth or up to a week afterwards. The registers typically give dates of birth and baptism, names of parents and godparents (a.k.a. sponsors), and usually the mother’s maiden name. Unlike Anglican registers, address and occupation for the father are not usually noted, and the entry will often be in Latin in the 18th and 19th century at least. From 1908 Catholics also had to have their place of marriage inserted with their original baptism entry, so this can affect registers in the second half of the 19th century. For adult convert baptisms there may be a note in the register to this effect, and there may be a separate note-book of converts as well. A point to bear in mind with the huge influx of Irish immigrants, most of whom were desperately poor and illiterate, is that they were unused to having a system of civil birth registration. It did not start until 1864 in Ireland and as so many came during the famine period in the late 1840s it is not surprising that the births of their children are unfindable—but they would have had them baptized.

Catholic Confirmations[edit | edit source]

Early records of confirmations are rare, although there are the examples of:

  • 20,000 in northern England, often whole families, confirmed by Bishop Leyburn in 1687.
  • Another tour by Bishop Challoner occurred in 1742-5 in southern England.
  • Midland District 1768-1815.
  • London and Home Counties 1826-1843.

Catholic priests usually did not keep registers before 1778 and many registers were written in Latin. Baptism registers usually include the names of the child’s sponsors or godparents.

Some registers have been published by the Catholic Record Society. The Family History Library has most of these published registers, and depending on the area, may have microfilms of some Catholic parish registers. Currently, unlike in Scotland, and most other church registers of the United Kingdom, the vast genealogical treasures of the Roman Catholic parish registers have mostly never been centrally located--at least on a national basis, for preservation and security, nor microfilming/imaging purposes.[2]

Lists of candidates for confirmation become more frequent and then annual in the 19th century, and only at this time can one estimate the ages of the confirmands, usually 7-9 in the 19th century. Only their name, surname and religious name, (which has no genealogical significance), are recorded in a confirmation record, but it does at least establish that the child survived this long and was in this place on this date. When the dioceses were established in 1850 bishops started to keep their own records of confirmations, thus a duplicate of the parish record should appear here. There are other non-parochial ones as well, such as those that took place in schools and prisons, and for adult converts.

Catholic Marriages[edit | edit source]

During the period of Hardwicke’s Marriage Act 1754-1837 upper and middle class Catholics usually had two ceremonies—one Catholic to satisfy the conscience and one Anglican to satisfy the law for inheritance and legitimacy of children. This meant twice the expense, and poor couples, who didn’t need the latter, made do with just a Catholic marriage. Yates found that ten marriages were celebrated between 1790 and 1805 in the Roman Catholic Chapel of St. Nicholas, Mint Lane, Exeter, Devon. At least eight of these were legally married on the same day or later in the Church of England in Exeter, or the nearby towns of Sidmouth and Exmouth.

It is worth searching out the Catholic as well as the Anglican records since the former is likely to give more information pre-1837, and may do so after this date. Items given in Catholic pre-1837 registers, for which the Anglican edition is the Hardwicke format, could include name of former husband of a widow, notation if one is not Catholic, residences of both parties and of their parents, and any dispensation on account of consanguinity or affinity.

Even after 1837 many Catholic marriages are not to be found in either the Anglican church or the register office, since vast numbers of poor Irish emigrants could not afford the registration fee. The Catholic marriage registers are usually in Latin and there were no printed ones until 1856 except at some embassy chapels. Many of the poor Catholics could not write their names, or only in Irish characters, however there may be a surprising amount of extra information in these records. Apart from the standard date, names of parties, witnesses and minister, most give the names of the fathers and sometimes the mother’s Christian names also. Local addresses and/or the Irish county of origin may also be stated.

The IHGS (Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies) holds a Catholic Marriage Index containing 30,000 entries for 30 places in London north of the Thames plus Essex for the period 1837-1870 which they will consult for a fee.

Commencing in July 1837 duplicate marriages occur in the GRO indexes, as in the PARGETER/LOVEGROVE example noted below. The certificates show two separate marriages for the same couple on the same day, 28 August 1858. The names of the parties and their fathers were the same on both certificates, but a number of differences were apparent:

Chart 26: Duplicate Marriage by Anglican and Catholic Rites

St. George’s Catholic Church St. Mary’s Parish Church
in the District of St. George the Martyr, Southwark, Surrey Lambeth in the District of Lambeth, Surrey
Rites and Ceremonies of the Roman Catholics. Rites and Ceremonies of Established Church by Licence
George William PARGETER bachelor s/o George William PARGETER (deceased) George William PARGETER bachelor s/o George William PARGETER (dec’d)
Matilda LOVEGROVE spinster d/o Henry Churchill LOVEGROVE Matilda LOVEGROVE spinster d/o Henry Churchill LOVEGROVE
Groom was 26 and the bride 23 years old. Both ‘of full age’
Groom and his father were bedding manufacturers Groom and his father were both bedding factors
Groom lived in James Street, New Cut Groom lived in Lower Marsh
Bride lived in Cornwall Road, Lambeth Bride lived in Cornwall Road
Bride’s father was a publican Bride’s father a licensed victualler
Priest and Registrar signed. Curate signed
Two of the Pargeter family witnessed thus we can infer that the husband was a Catholic. Two of the Lovegrove family witnessed thus we can infer that the bride was an Anglican.

Where a Catholic married a non-Catholic the latter partner was sometimes required to sign a paper allowing the children to be raised in the Catholic faith, and these papers are occasionally found slipped into the registers. From the 1920s couples had to state their place of baptism on a Catholic marriage application form.

Catholic Deaths and Burials[edit | edit source]

There were a few Catholic churchyards, but the majority of Catholics were buried in Anglican ones, with some receiving large numbers of Catholics, examples in London being St. Pancras, St. Sepulchre Newgate/Holborn, St. Giles-in-the-Fields, St. Andrew Holborn, and St. James Clerkenwell. In most cases there is nothing to distinguish them in the registers, but in others the word papist may have been added, or the name of the officiating minister may be recognizably Catholic, or there might be a notation Catholic priest under his name, for example in the Formby, Lancashire registers. Likewise, some Anglican clergy just did not record the Catholics who were buried, or were not aware of who they were if they had been buried secretly at night with an illegal Catholic ceremony. Perhaps some of these were papists who had been excommunicated by the Established Church and were thus not supposed to be buried in consecrated ground. When the new borough cemeteries were built after 1853 then Catholics preferred these if within reach, or the Catholic sections of urban cemeteries. Cremation has not been popular amongst practising Catholics. In London the main Catholic cemeteries were:

  • Mortlake in the southwest opened 1852 ( before the new Burial Act).
  • Leytonstone in the east opened 1861, being transcribed by the Catholic Record Society.
  • South London Crematorium (part) opened in 1936.

There are special registers for the armed services, for example for the army the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy at Aldershot has baptisms, marriages and burials, (but not war deaths), which have been copied, and the Curragh British Army Camp Catholic parish in Kildare, Ireland has baptisms and marriages 1855-1880 on FHL film 0926111. Some Catholic priests kept death registers, but with only the name and age of the deceased, and the place of burial. Some priests kept a list of the sick they had visited, especially when the last rites were necessary. Catholic churches have lists of names of the deceased arranged by day and month so that masses may be said for them on the anniversary of their death.[3]

Catholic Archives[edit | edit source]

All dioceses have an archives with good collections, and there are other specialist Catholic archives in Catholic schools and religious orders which can be visited by appointment. A number have put their registers into the county record offices, and many have them filmed as well. At the diocesan level there will be a card index as well as the ordination book of all priests who have served in the diocese. There should also be a complete set of the Diocesan Year Book back to the its founding—similar to a Catholic Directory but on a diocesan scale. Large diocesan archives include:

ŸWestminster—a very large one containing:

  • Correspondence of the Vicars Apostolic.
  • Much 16th century material.
  • Registers of Missions and embassy chapels.
  • Diaries.
  • Account books.
  • Private papers.
  • List of over 20,000 confirmations in morthern counties in 1687
  • Southwark
  • Northern Vicariate are held by the Bishop of Leeds, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, and Liverpool Record Office.
  • Midland Vicariate are at Birmingham.
  • Western Vicariate are held by the Bishop of Clifton.

Archives for the religious orders are variously held with much still in foreign hands:

  • Jesuits who have an archive in London and one at Stonyhurst School in Lancashire.
  • Benedictines archives at Downside Abbey near Bath with a fine Catholic topographical library, and at Ampleforth.
  • Franciscans have an archive at Forest Gate, West Ham, London

Much of the relevant 16th-18th century research material is in the PRO and some in the Parliamentary Archives.

Catholic Charities and Organizations[edit | edit source]

Many charity lists of both donors and recipients exist, and membership and activities of the various parish and national organizations have left many records. The Catholic Church was unique in England in that because of its history the members were divided largely into two disparate groups—the poor Irish, and the rich who were either old established gentry or converts. As an example of what is available on film, the Catholic Philanthropic Society of Warrington, Lancashire has on films 1,701,196-7:

  • Roll of members 1823-1897.
  • List of those receiving aid 1823-1872.
  • Memorandum 1821, 1831-1843.
  • Meeting minutes 1840-1861.

The Catholic parish often served all the social needs of many parishioners, so there were groups for all kinds of activities, some local like dances and football clubs, and others part of national organizations like scouts and guides. The parish magazines, if they survive, can be mines of information about your ancestors’ activities and some events will have rated the local or regional newspaper. Purely Catholic national organizations whose local records are likely to be with the parish priest include:

  • Bona Mors (The Confraternity of a Happy Death)—This was a monthly get-together and saying of mass for deceased members, and lists of members may survive.
  • Catenians
  • Knights of Columbus—A men’s benevolent association founded - 1882.
  • Rosary Confraternities—These were similar to the Bona Mors.
  • Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP)—An organization that assisted the poor in various ways, with records including details of baptism, marriage, sickness, income, work history and schools attended for the families that were assisted.

Catholic Clergy Records[edit | edit source]

Types of clergy include regulars who were priests or clergy living under vows, following a rule of life and belonging to an order such as Benedictines or Jesuits; and secular or seminary priests ministered to English congregations but did not belong to a religious order. A vicar apostolic was a Catholic bishop in a country without an ecclesiastical hierarchy, so equivalent to a diocesan bishop. The Catholic Record Society’s Miscellanea VII contains a fascinating article on priests in England and Wales in 1692. The chart below gives examples from the section on the Archdeaconry of Hampshire and Somerset.[4]

Chart: Particulars of Priests in England 1692

Mr John Churcher of Valadolid on the mission about 45 yrs and hath taken great pains, is now very aged and past labour being troubled with cancer in the breast, he resides at Sir Henry Tichborne's in Hampshire
Mr Augustine Tayler, A Roman [educated at the English College in Rome], hath been in the mission I believe above 20 years, hath taken great pains both in the School at Silkstead and in the mission, now is much exhausted by sickness. He resides mostly in Winchester.
Mr Bonaventure Codrington of Doway [Douai], hath been in the mission about 14 years or upwards most of which time he hath spent in Hampshire. He is a very faithful labourer, exceeding zealous and diligent, he mostly resides at Mr Barlow at Compton near Winchester.
Mr Augustin Hill of the order of St. Francis of Assissium, resides constantly at Sir Henry Tichbornes.
Mr Theodore Lewis alias Francis Shelley, Jesuit, resides constantly with Mr Charles Wells at Brambridge near Winchester.
Mr Grey, actually Gilbert Talbot who became 13th Earl of Shrewsbury, Jesuit, resides with Mr Philip Caryll at North near Petersfield, Hampshire.

In England the equivalent to the Church of England’s Crockford’s Clerical Directory is The Catholic Directory published annually by The Universe newspaper; prior to 1845 it was called The Laity’s Directory. This gives:

  • Catholic dioceses and parishes and the organization in each diocese.
  • Name of each diocesan archivist, if there is one, or the Bishop’s secretary to whom you write if there isn’t.
  • The names of all officials and parish priests with their addresses and phone numbers.
  • Religious houses, schools, and national and local Catholic societies.
  • Indexes of priests, places and subjects and much else of interest.
  • The diocesan archivist or Bishop’s secretary can consult the ordination book and card catalogue of priests for the diocese.

Catholic Family and Estate Papers[edit | edit source]

During the penal period those who survived as Catholics were largely gentry and their Catholic servants and estate workers. The gentry were literate and educated and there are a great many family papers in existence which detail the lower classes in the household as well as the more affluent. These may be deposited in record offices or may still be with the family. The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, now part of the National Archives, keeps a list of known ones, where they are and how they may be accessed, and this is searchable online. There are also a large number of local histories of Catholic families. Good places to start the search are: The five volumes of Gillow’s Bibliographic Dictionary of the English Catholics on FHL films 0896646-8, for which there is also an index and finding list by Bevan (Index and Finding List to Joseph Gillow’s Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics. J.W. Arrowsmith Ltd for John Bevan, Bristol, England. FHL book 942 D3giL index).

  • Foley’s Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus in 8 volumes on FHL films 0599477-83.
  • Kirk’s Lives of the Eighteenth Century English Catholics.

Catholic Institutions and Religious Orders[edit | edit source]

Catholic priests and men and women in religious orders are very well documented and occur in most Catholic families, even though you are unlikely to be descended from one. Some folks are, as celibacy was not a requirement until the 16th century, and a few monks, nuns etc. entered an order after having had a family life, (and perhaps a few were naughty!) However, it is worth examining the records since any ancestor is likely to have had one or more siblings in a Catholic order, and their parentage and history will offer clues to your ancestor’s. The Catholic Directory is a good place to start, and then contact the appropriate diocesan archives which probably has a biography and perhaps a lot more. The Catholic Archive Society has been active in assisting amateur archivists at various Catholic institutions and orders to sort their material. 19th century material is becoming available as each diocese now has a record office which accepts deposits of this older material. Some bishops have designated the County Archives as their Diocesan Record Office in a similar manner to Anglican churches, and the FHL is microfilming as time and resources permit.

From 1568 Catholics had set up English institutions on the continent. Boys were sent for their general education to the colleges at Dieulouard, Douai, St. Gregory and St. Omer, and older ones were trained for the priesthood in seminaries in Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, Rome, and Valladolid. Convents for education of girls, some of whom would become nuns, were established starting in 1598 at such places as Bruges, Cambrai, Dunkirk, Ghent, Gravelines, Liége Louvain, Pontoise and Paris. By 1660 there were 40 English Catholic educational institutions in Europe. As they were located in safe, Catholic countries records could be kept and much of what is known about English Catholic families of the penal period derives from this source. The young people abroad were encouraged to write about their families and their experiences for the sake of Catholicism and the researcher can read these accounts today as they have been preserved. Most Catholic families will have some relatives in these annals. The continental institutions returned to England at the end of the 18th century and some of the easily accessible records published by the Catholic Record Society are shown in in the chart below.

The main male religious orders in Britain have been the Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits but there are many smaller groups as well. Their active participation in running institutions of various kinds is well documented.

There were about 7,000 nuns in England in 1900 and a central database of all those before 1914 is being compiled by the Catholic Family History Society and the Catholic Archives Society for eventual publication. The CFHS maintains an index of 14,000 English nuns from about 60 orders, out of an estimated 20,000 who have been in religious orders prior to 1914. Many of the congregations and houses of nuns have excellent records, and the database will provide a means of finding out which Order your relative joined. Nuns were usually very involved in running schools, hospitals, old people’s homes and orphanages or in foreign missions. Don’t be surprised to find plenty of French, Belgian, German and Irish as well as Anglican and Nonconformist converts working alongside them!

Chart: Some Records of English Religious Orders
in Europe and England

Records of the English cannonesses of the Holy Sepulchre at Liége now at New Hall, Essex 1652-1793 on FHL film 0599710.
Registers of the English Benedictine nuns of Pontoise, now at Teignmouth, Devon 1680-1713 on FHL film 0599710.
English Benedictine nuns in Flanders 1598-1687, annals of their five communities on FHL film 0599467.
English Benedictine nuns of our Blessed Lady of Good Hope in Paris, now at St. Benedict’s Priory, Colwich, Staffordshire, notes and obituaries 1652-1861 on FHL film 0599708.
The Douay College diaries, 3rd, 4th and 5th, 1598-1654: with the Rheims report 1579-80, and the 7th diary 1715-1778, preceded by a summary of events 1691-1715 on FHL films 0599708-9 and FHL film 0599714.
Obituary notices of the English Benedictine nuns of Ghent in Flanders, and at Preston, Lancashire 1527-1811 on FHL film 0547198
Annals of the English College at Seville with accounts of other foundations at Vallodolid, St. Lucar, Lisbon and St. Omers on FHL film 0599709.
Registers of the English Poor Clare nuns at Gravelines with notes of foundations at Aire, Dunkirk and Rouen 1608-1837 on FHL film 0599709.
English Benedictine nuns of Brussels and Winchester 1598-1856 on FHL film 0599709.
Register book of St. Gregory’s College at Paris 1667-1786 on FHL film 0547198.

In Miscellanea VII on FHL film 0599708 is an example of notes and obituaries of Catholic nuns, including a picture of the convent and facsimiles of signatures of some of the senior sisters. A sample obituary is shown below.

Chart: Excerpts from the Obituary of an English Benedictine Nun of the Convent of Our Blessed Lady of Good Hope in Paris

1663. Some Briefe Remarkes of ye very Religious Sister, Str Rachel Lanning juniour; departed this Life, the 19th of January in the yeare 1663.
The very Religious Sister Rachel Lanning of Saint John Baptest, was Borne in London in England of vertus Catholike and English parents; her Father was Mr Thomas Lanning, and her Mother Mrs Catharine Bruges, And this their Daughter being of a good and solid judgment; gave herselfe much to devotion and retierment; and by the divine conduct she came to be acquainted with ye Rd Father Huge Starkey one of our holy order, who gave her the Abrigment of venble Father Augustin Baker his Instructions in print, called Sancta Sophia; and some directions for mentall prayer. ........... she was received to her holy profession the 9th October 1660 I was the second professed for the Quire. She was of an interne Contemplative Spirite, and made such great progress in ye way of perfection yt that one may truly say she accomplish’d much, in a short time; for two years after her profession she being of a tender constitution, and the Aire of Paris too sharpe for her, she fell into a consumption; with an ulcer in her liver; so that six munths before her death, she was constraned to keepe her bedd continually. ........ she happily departed this life ye 19th January 1663 about ye 23 of her age, and 2d of her holy profession; ........ she lieth in ye Royall-Abbay of Valdigrace here in Paris. ...... Requiescat in pace. Amen

Priests are well documented, at least while they were abroad, but during the penal period they are a lot harder to trace as they frequently used false names to avoid detection. However, the names used were often selected carefully to reassure believers that they were true priests rather than one of the many informers trying to gain a reward by uncovering a Catholic priest. Typically the mother’s maiden name, or some other family name was used, and this is very helpful to the genealogist, especially as this was the period when Catholic marriages tend not to have been written down. There are several standard texts on priests, including:

  • Anstruther’s Seminary Priests 1558-1800.
  • Bellenger’s English and Welsh Priests 1558-1800.
  • Birt’s Obit Book of the English Benedictines.
  • Fitzgerald-Lombards’s English and Welsh Priests 1801-1914.
  • Holt’s English Jesuits 1650-1829.

Gandy (Catholic Family History: A Bibliography of General Sources. Self-published, 1996) lists many more. A fascinating history of the late 16th century missioner’s safe-house at Grosmont Priory in Yorkshire can be found in Boddy (Catholic Missioners at Grosmont Priory. North Yorkshire County Record Office. FHL book 942.74/G8 K2b). It gives great detail about the local Catholics as well as the missioners themselves.[5]

Sometimes there are parish Catholic censuses, often variously annotated later. Small parishes often kept lists of Easter communicants, which was the minimal requirement of attendance. At the parish level, church notice books are the equivalent of a parish diary, and there will be parish magazines, annual reports and magazines from local Catholic organizations. There will usually be a parish history which will include several generations of families, and the church account books are fruitful sources of local Catholic builders and suppliers. Records of local Catholic homes for the elderly may also be found, either with the home if it still exists, or with the archivist for the religious order that ran it.

Catholic Schools and Orphanages[edit | edit source]

Once the national hierarchy had been re-established in 1850 Catholic schools and orphanages were set up and their records are often available. In a similar way to the Anglican system some schools were private and fee-paying while others were funded by charity for the poor. Where records survive they will be interesting to the family historian. When looking for records of orphanages and schools try the institution itself, if it still exists, the local archives and the appropriate Catholic archives. Don’t be put off by an institution employee’s indication that ‘there are no records’; they may have been safely deposited in an archives many years before that person joined the staff. For records of children who have been in care there is also a central agency called the Catholic Child Welfare Council that can forward your letter to the appropriate organization.

School Admission books will usually give the previous school attended, a typical register appears in the chart below. This is the entry for my grandfather; his family were not Catholic but his mother thought the Catholic school was ‘nicer’. From it I learned that he had attended the infants department, (ages 5-7), of the local Servite School, and had transferred to St. Joseph’s a month after his 8th birthday.

Chart: Admission Register, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School, Cadogan St, Chelsea, Middlesex February 1897

Admission Number 596
Date of Admission 15.2.97
NAME, Christian and Surname THOM, Dashwood
Date of Birth 15.1.89
Name and Address of Parent or Guardian -----, 6 Cheyne Row
School Last Attended Servite

Catholics were naturally concerned over the religious education of poor Catholic children who were placed in the workhouse, which was very Anglican. They managed to get Creed Registers kept in the workhouses giving the religious affiliation of all children and some of these survive. The principle was established that Catholic children should be transferred to Catholic institutions, however this didn’t always happen owing to obstruction or apathy by the authorities. A Catholic Poor Law Board was set up to process the paperwork as most poor parents were illiterate. Where these records survive they can be a mine of genealogical information.

Catholic Industrial (reform) Schools list the name of each child and the court sentencing them, as well as the names, address, occupation and situation of the parents. There was a Catholic Emigration Society which sent children to Canada, as well as the Westminster Diocesan Education Fund which supported orphans and handicapped children, who are named together with their teachers and pupil teachers. There were a few Catholic teacher training colleges, the most important being Notre Dame, Liverpool for women and Brook Green, Hammersmith, London for men.

Status Animarum[edit | edit source]

From the 1850s each priest had to send a regular account of his congregation, called the Status Animarum, to his Bishop. Many survive, and earlier ones contain much personal detail, although later ones tend to contain just numbers of baptisms, Easter communicants and so forth. Some of these accounts can be quite detailed, especially for families with such problems as attendance, or mixed marriages, and a number have been published with the old mission registers by the CRS.

Catholic Wills[edit | edit source]

Prior to 1858 Catholic wills were probated in normal (Anglican) ecclesiastical courts and are usually indistinguishable from others, as it was illegal to bequeath money for superstitious uses (meaning Catholic causes). The government kept tabs on Catholic inheritance and bequests after the Jacobite Rising of 1715 by requiring that all their wills be enrolled in the Close Rolls. Catholics got around this by having a separate spiritual will used for supporting chapels, priests or daughters in convents, or to have prayers said. These wills were not officially registered, of-course, but may survive in the receiving institutions. They contain cryptic wording such as for purposes he knows of or to X who knows my mind, and the recipients are often found to be a senior Catholic official, or Mr Dowey, which refers to the college of Douai, France.

Wills of notable Catholics, which may well mention household members, may have been microfilmed, thus that for Christopher Stonehouse (c1564-1631) of Dunsley, in the parish of Whitby, Yorkshire is on film 0,599,467. The CFHS maintains an index to beneficiaries of Lancashire wills, with 23,000 names at present.[6]

Catholics in Early Non-Catholic Records[edit | edit source]

Since Catholicism was to varying degrees illegal from 1559 to 1829 the state and state church (Anglican) monitored and tried to suppress it, resulting in a host of records at national and local levels. Gandy (Basic facts about English Nonconformity for Family Historians. Federation of Family History Societies, 1998) considers that Williams (Sources for Recusant History (1559-1791) in English Official Archives, Recusant History Vol 16 #4, 1983) is the best source for recusant history and Gandy’s two 1996 bibliographies (Catholic Family History: A Bibliography of General Sources. Self-published and Catholic Family History: A Bibliography of Local Sources. Self-published) indicate the vastness of the literature with comprehensive lists for every time period and area.

National Records[edit | edit source]

Amongst the national records which can be used to trace Catholic families are Recusant Rolls from 1591-1691. These are lists of fines and forfeits for non-attendance at the local parish church, and contain large numbers of Catholics as well as other dissenters. They mainly refer to the more prominent offenders, and some are on film, for instance roll 1 (1592-3) is on FHL film 0599711; roll 2 (1593-4) on FHL film 0599722, and rolls 3-4 (1594-6) on FHL film 0990031. In the early taxation records called the Lay Subsidy Rolls Catholics were taxed at double the regular rate and can therefore be readily identified.

The Memoranda Rolls in series E 368 contain recusant case histories. State Papers (SP series) of the 17th century have much family history detail and Shorney (Protestant Nonconformity and Roman Catholicism. A Guide to Sources in the Public Record Office. PRO Publications, 1996) should be consulted for more information on the many types and their PRO numbers. He also mentions the Privy Council (PC series), State Papers, Exchequer (E series) and Forfeited Estates Commission (FEC series) records of the 18th century which can reveal much about individual cases, particularly of the upper classes. The PRO leaflet D66 gives more sources on Catholic Recusants.

It should be noted that there was a great difference between reputed/suspected/known recusants and those actually convicted in a court such as Quarter sessions. The term superstitious is also used for Catholics, as in the Commission for Superstitious Lands, an anti-Catholic enquiry in the 1690s. The Catholic Record Society has published a number of such national records, for example English Catholics who attended mass at the Spanish Embassy on Palm Sunday 1613/14 are the subject of a paper in Miscellanea VII on FHL film 0599708; examples are below.

Chart: Proceedings against Catholics for Attending Mass at the Spanish Embassy on Palm Sunday 1613/14

22 Mar 1613 Thomas Davyes of Cheek (Chick) Lane in the Parish of St. Sepulchres, London, scrivenour, being examined confesseth himself to be a Popish Recusant and that he hath so been for many yeares past and purposeth so to continue. That coming along Barbican upon Sunday last was a sevennight he was seene to have a bough of hallowed Palm in his hands which he saith was given him by one Robert Wise of Horwell in Berkshire and being demanded whether he were not uppon Sunday last at the Spanish Ambassadours house to hear Mass, saith he will not accuse himself.
28 Mar 1614 Robert Wise of ye Parish of St. James Clerkenwell, weaver examined before the Lord Bishop of London, confesseth himself to be a popish Recusant and that he was at the Spanish Ambassadors upon Sunday last was a fortnight being their Palm Sunday and there heard Masse and had a bough of Hallowed Box delivered unto him by ye priest as likewise there was unto divers others which bough he brought away with him but gave no part thereof to Thomas Davyes or any other without ye house and that there were present at that Masse in the Chappell at the least 200 persons the one half thereof being no Spaniards.

Convicted recusants, primarily Catholics, who went through a formal procedure to conform to the Church of England are detailed in the Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer’s Memoranda Rolls which are at the PRO in series E 368. Their lands and property were returned and fines usually excused as the state was more interested in the conformity than the money. However, in some cases the conversion was temporary and the same names appear again for similar offences. Catholic Ancestor has published lists of those conforming between 1590 and 1625. Lists of Catholics called Returns of Papists were made in 1680, 1705, 1706, 1767 (the most thorough) and 1780 and what survives are in the House of Lords Record Office in Westminster. Some give only statistics, but those for the dioceses of Chester, Durham and Hereford give names, ages, relationship within household, addresses, and how long in residence Many are published, for example the important 1767 return in Vol 1 Diocese of Chester with a separate index, and Vol 2 Other Dioceses which are in the FHL book under 942 K25 but are not filmed yet. These parliamentary summaries contain only initials, and the full names are in the originals in the Quarter Sessions records which happily are available on film.

County and Local Records[edit | edit source]

The original lists from which the many national surveys etc., such as the Returns of Papists, Oaths of Allegiance, Lists of Recusants, Sacrament Certificates Land Tax, and Registration of Catholic Estates were compiled are with county Quarter Sessions or sometimes Petty or Borough Sessions and most of these are available on film. Some Anglican parishes list their papists regularly in their annual Churchwardens’ Presentments particularly in the 16th-17th centuries.

Returns of Papists[edit | edit source]

Examples of different formats showing an increasing amount of detail can be found below.

Chart:Return of Papists 1680 Kent Quarter Sessions

The Hundred of Blackheath Papists and Reputed Papists

Judeth Vandsvelder of Greenwich
Petronella Vanluo of Greenwich
Daniell Stibs of Woolwich
Edward Forshew (?) of Lew(i)sham
Mary Willson of Greenwich
Richard Hutton of Greenwich
Eliz: ye wife of Jno Gascoyne of Eltham
Eliz: ye wife of Christo: Greene of Eltham
Margarett ye wife of Francis More of Eltham
Richard Greene of Eltham
Jno Wyern gent of Lusham (sic Lewisham)
An. Wyern his wife
William Vandobeler a Dutch Painter, Greenwich

All those persons above mentioned have taken the oath of allegiance and supremacy the 16 day of Aprill 1680.

The persons undermentioned are gon away
Christopher Greene of Eltham gon to Lee (sic-Leigh), Essex.
Jane Parrott of the same gon to Newington Butts in ye County of Surr(e)y.
Christian Watters of Eltham gon away.
William Vandevelder junr is gon to live a bout St. James.
Charles Thayer of Deptford is gone to live in London as ye Constable heard.
Sir Thomas Grimes is gon from Lew(i)sham a bove a whole month ago as the Constable heard into Yorkshire.

Taken the 16th Aprill 1680 by us.
Thos Biddulph
Willm Hooke

Chart: Brentford, Middlesex return of Papists 1711 in Quarter Sessions — FHL film 2068200

Middlesex Sessions:
The Returne of the Hundred of Elthorne in Brentford Division, relating to Papists and reputed Papists

Pursuant to her Majesty’s late proclamation we have caused diligent search and inquiry to be made concerning Papists and reputed Papists, and upon the returne of the severall Constables we had notice given us, her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for this County, living in and near the said Division, of the Persons hereunder mentioned (viz):

Mary Thompson, widow living in New Brentford, one that Professes physick. She has refused to subscribe, make and repeat the Declaration of the 30th of King Charles the second, as by law required. She has promised to goe seven miles from the Citys and Libertys of London and Westminster, within two days from the date hereof.
Given under our hands and seales this fourteenth Day of Aprill in the tenth year of the Reigne of our Soverain Lady Anne of Great Britain etc Queen, Annop Dom. 1711.
[Signed] Chris: Clitherow
Thomas Cullum

Chart: Kensington, Middlesex return of Papists 1711 in Petty Sessions — FHL film 2068200

Middlesex Sessions:
An Account of the Names, Sirnames and places of abode of such Papists and reputed Papists against whom wee have granted warrants under our hands and Seales for apprehending and brining them before us at our Petty Sessions this day held at Kensington in the Parish of Fulham in the County aforesaid In order to their being severally proceeded against according to her Majties late Proclamation for Amoveing Papists etc from within Ten miles of the Cities of London and Westminster etc.
Mrs Cecilia Cornwallis reputed Mistress of a Popish Boarding School at Hamorsmith could [not be] taken as by the Constable’s oath appeareth to us.
Martha Marshall servant to the said Cecilia Cornwallis appeared before us last Tuesday and refused to make and subscribe to the Declaration mentioned in an Act of the 30th King Charles the Second.
Elizabeth Henslow an other servant at the same Boarding School
Elizabeth Clarke an other servant at the same Boarding School
Anne Mullinex another servant there
Mary Clift another servant there
Elizabeth Bond another servant there
[Last five} All absconded and could not ... as the Constable of Hamersmith ... now made oath before us.
Joseph Woodcock servant to Samuel Hudson a Weaver in Hamsmith or to a Lodger there could not be taken as the Constable hath made oath before us.
Mr. Thomas Roberts lodger at Mrs Elizabeth Racketts house in Hamersmith and could not be taken as the said Constable hath made oath before us.
Elizabeth Taylor servant to the same Mrs Rackett - abscond also and could not be taken.
Thomas Causby servant to the same Mrs Rackett could not be taken as by the said Constable’s [oath] now taken before us.
Mary Brown servant to Mrs Mary Bolney of the parish of Chelsey in the said County appeared now and refused to make and subscribe the Declaration mentioned in the Act 30th Car. Second.
George Williams butler to her Grace the Dutchess Dowager of Beaufort at Chelsey appeared and refused to make and subscribe to the Declaration aforesaid.
Jane Messenger an inmate in the Parish of Acton in the County aforesaid appeared but refused to make and subscribe the Declaration before mentioned.
This account or List is Returned this sixteenth day of Aprill 1711 by us.

(Signed and sealed) Nich. Goodwin
Jermyn Wicks
J.A. Cawley
Thomas Cullum
Peter Lavigne
Henry Fox[7]

Chart: Return of Papists in Winchester Diocese 1767
FHL film 1544503
A variety of amounts of detail were provided as shown here.

Eling, Hampshire
No Papist or reputed Papist within the Parish. [signed] Samuel Speed, vicar, Sep 12 1767
Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey
Papist professed - Mary Makraw, wife of John, labourerr, age 70 years, resided in Kingston 20 years.
Papists reputed- Thomas Waterhouse, surgeon and man midwife, age 55 yrs, resided in Kingston 30 yrs.
Wife of - Butler, painter, age 50 yrs, resided in Kingston 20 yrs.
Edward Sangwin, labourer age 34 yrs, resided in Kingston 10 yrs.
St. George, Southwark, Surrey
Examples among 42 people listed
Patrick McRayner, male age 50, dealer in lemons, resided 7 yrs
Alice McRayner, female age 40, resided here 7 yrs
Patrick McRayner, male 7 yrs, resided here 7 yrs
Nicholas McRayner, male 6 yrs, resided here 6 yrs
Elin McRayner, female 13 yrs, resided here 7 yrs
Elizabeth McRayner, female 10 yrs, resided here 7 yrs
Hannah Wilson, female age 52, dealer in greens, resided 10 yrs
Luigi Donini, male age 17, drawer, resided here 1 year
Elizabeth Hays, female age 60, gentlewoman, resided here 1 year
Catherine Quare, female age 40, broker, resided here 40 years
James Hughes, male age 40, distiller, resided here 20 years
Elizabeth Hughes, female age 30, [no occupation] resided 30 years
‘22 males, 20 females, total 42. The above is as near as can be got at a true list of all the Papists or Reputed Papists in the said Parish. [signed] Leonard Howard D.D. Rector, 21 Sep 17676.
Farlington, Hampshire
John Blunden, male age 35, labourer working on the turnpike road, renting part of a cottage on Purbrook Heath, parishioner of Wymering. Resident here 6 years.
Elizabeth Moulton, female age 23, born Catherington, spinster, maid servant at Mr. Bridger’s on Purbrook Heath, resident 1 ½ yrs
Portsea, Hampshire
One man age 50, victualler, born Portsea.
One man age 40, tailor, resident 20 years.

Oaths of Allegiance[edit | edit source]

These were required at the beginning of each new reign. Catholics had refused to take the Oath of Supremacy for over two centuries, but in 1778 the Catholic Relief Act provided a special oath of loyalty to the crown for them, but lower and middle classes generally felt no need to do this.

Lists of Recusants[edit | edit source]

It is worth noting that any list of Non-Anglicans can include Catholics and in certain parts of the country, for example Lancashire, these are likely to constitute a sizable number, if not the majority.

Sacrament certificates[edit | edit source]

Gandy (Pocket Guides to Family History: Tracing Nonconformist Ancestors. PRO Publications, 2001) sums these up nicely ‘Catholics should not be in them, so appearance is evidence of either apostasy or hypocrisy’!

Land tax[edit | edit source]

This tax was inaugurated in 1692 and Catholics were charged double until 1829 so can be identified. The returns are with the Quarter Sessions and have largely been filmed.

Papists Estates[edit | edit source]

During the long period when Catholics were not allowed to own land, many had trusted Protestant friends in whom they vested their land, and some lawyers specialized in this business. However, when he died the nearest Protestant was able to claim the land, which would give rise to court records with much genealogical detail. An example of an inquisition post mortem from a manor court, which recognizes the heir to the deceased’s estate, is that of Thomas Wiseman of Wimbish, Essex, 1586, on film 0,599,708.

After the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion over 3,000 Catholics from Lancashire alone were involved with the Forfeited Estates Commission. Since most were not affluent and would have fallen on poor relief they were not prosecuted.

Until 1778 Catholics could not officially be executors or administrators of wills, nor guardians of children, but sympathetic Protestant friends would often assist in disguising such acts, for example by wording a will so that named executors dispose of estates as they see fit or according to my mind which they know.

During the penal period Catholics could not be educated at the universities since this would involve denying their beliefs. Some did go, nonetheless, and many went instead to the Inns of Court on London where the oath was not applied so rigorously.[8]

Catholic Societies[edit | edit source]

Catholic Archives Society (CAS)[edit | edit source]

Formed by a group of about 100 archivists responsible for preservation of Catholic diocesan and religious order records in 1980. These archives and archivists are listed in its directory, its journal is Catholic Archives, but the society has no records for consultation by genealogists.

Catholic Family History Society (CFHS)[edit | edit source]

This organization was founded in 1983 and is similar to a county FHS but with special knowledge of Catholic families and Irish families in England, Scotland and Wales. Their journal is the Catholic Ancestor and it is this group which family historians will find useful for advice, and to join for general information. They have an index of 14,000 English nuns and a Lancashire Wills Beneficiaries Index with 23,000 people so far listed.

Catholic Record Society (CRS)[edit | edit source]

‘The Catholic Record Society, which was founded in 1904, is the premier Catholic historical society in the United Kingdom and is devoted to the study of Roman Catholicism in the British Isles from the Reformation period to the present day. The Society does not, however, have genealogical interests and cannot help those researching their family trees’ (CRS website). The CRS has produced a long run of genealogically important, indexed publications all the contents of which are listed on the CRS website:

  • Monograph Series in 5 volumes.
  • Occasional Publications—1767 Return of Papists.
  • Records Series now up to 78 volumes, the early ones called Miscellanea, which include:
  • Transcribed private registers.
  • Lists of Catholic recusants in various counties, for example in the Recusant Rolls and Pipe Rolls.
  • Transcriptions of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Catholic registers up to about 1850.
  • Transcripts of early Lancashire parish registers.
  • Items on the religious orders of Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits.
  • Transcripts of PRO records.
  • Diaries and records of the English Catholic schools, colleges and convents on the continent.
  • Recusant History, their journal with 26 volumes from 1951 (Volumes 1-3 were published as Biographical Studies).

Catholic Publications[edit | edit source]

Catholic Literature[edit | edit source]

The written material on the history of Catholicism in England is huge and is ably summarized in Gandy’s two invaluable volumes (Catholic Family History: A Bibliography of General Sources. Self-published, 1996, Catholic Family History: A Bibliography of Local Sources. Self-published, 1996), with a short list of the more important ones (1998). He is certainly the foremost writer on English Catholic family history today and has published a number of guides to extant records (1994-2) and his short guide to research is authoritative (2001-1). The volumes of the Catholic Record Society are a prime source and there is much biographical material available. Rendal’s 1984 lecture on the CRSto the Society of Genealogists is a useful introduction to many kinds of records published by them, including occupational sources.

Catholic Periodicals[edit | edit source]

The Laity’s Directory (1768-1839) and its successor The Catholic Directory (1838 onwards) lists names and addresses of all parish priests by diocese, together with details of all the diocesan organizations such as archives, schools, societies and religious orders. There is a national section which covers those organizations organized centrally. Old editions can be very useful in tracing such things as local orphanages, movement of priests, and location of churches.

A full set is housed at the Catholic National Library, and the FHL holds the 1880, 1950, 1964, 1973, and 1978 editions, together with its successor, The Catholic Directory of England and Wales from 1986 in FHL book 942 K22c. The obituaries from the Laity’s Directory were reprinted in Volume 12 of the CRS Records Series.

Recusant History has been published since 1951 by the Catholic Record Society; the first three volumes are entitled Bibliographical Studies. A list of all articles published in Catholic Ancestor can be obtained from the secretary of the Catholic FHS which publishes it. Other include The London Recusant, and Catholic Archives from the CAS which describes archival collections useful for Catholic research, mainly ones in England but some also in Ireland.

The earlier Miscellanea publications of the CRS are on several films. As an example of the variety of contents, Vol 17 on FHL film 0599710 contains:

  • Records of the English cannonesses of the Holy Sepulchre at Liége
  • now at New Hall, Essex 1652-1793
  • Registers of the English Benedictine nuns of Pontoise,
  • now at Teignmouth, Devon 1680-1713
  • Official enquiry as to the estate of Robert Charnock of Leyland, Lancashire
  • Catholic registers of Harvington Hall,
  • Chaddesley-Corbett, Worcestershire 1752-1823
  • Catholic registers of Linton upon Ouse, Newton upon Ouse,
  • near York 1771-1840
  • Catholic registers of Kiddington, Oxfordshire 1788-1840
  • Catholic registers of Woolston, Warrington, Lancashire 1771-1834

There have been a number of local Catholic family and local history societies which have published journals that can be found in libraries. Some societies are no longer functioning but back numbers of journals are still be found. Titles to look for include:

  • Essex Recusant
  • Gloucester and Avon Catholic History
  • Kent Recusant
  • London Recusant
  • Midlands Catholic History
  • North West Catholic History
  • Northern Catholic History
  • South West Catholic History
  • Staffordshire Catholic History
  • Worcester Recusant

Full details of a wide range of other Catholic journals and a range of Diocesan magazines can be found in Gandy’s bibliographies on General Sources (1996-2) and Local Sources (1996-3). One portal on the net to access current English and Wales Catholic organizations is on their website .

Catholic Newspapers[edit | edit source]

There have been a number of Catholic newspapers, the three largest ones that still publish are:

  • The Universe from 1860.
  • The Catholic Herald from 1888 with its many local editions.
  • The Tablet from 1840.[9]

For information on records not available at the Family History Library, contact the Catholic Record Society.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)[edit | edit source]

Counties[edit | edit source]

Here is a list of the top 10 England counties with the most congregations, from July 16, 1837 to ~1870:

  1. Greater London: 58
  2. Lancashire: 46
  3. Yorkshire: 35
  4. Derbyshire: 28
  5. County Durham: 28
  6. Kent: 28
  7. Gloucestershire: 23
  8. Cheshire: 20
  9. Lincolnshire: 20
  10. Monmouthshire: 20

Records[edit | edit source]

Historical membership records for most of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint congregations (called Wards or Branches) are now located in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. Many additional copies (originals) are found in the Church History Library. Currently, these records may only be viewed in the Family History Library. Digitization for most of these records has not been completed. Dates of living baptisms are mostly available for church members. These baptismal dates may be viewed in FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. However, there are (yet) many early convert baptisms which have supposedly been indexed (at least), but which are not made conveniently accessible in the Family Tree at this time. There is a hope and expectation that FamilySearch.org will prioritize the completed living early baptismal (indexed) data (the pre-1920 baptisms) by making it available in an accessible online format at some point in the near future. [Note to Church members: Just about all other ordinances for the living and by proxy (for deceased loved-ones) performed in nearly 180 years-worth of temple proxy work, are mostly available and found in FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. The place of baptism is never given. The place and original date[s] of living baptisms are found in the microfilmed branch/ward membership records of the town in which they occurred. Look in census records to help you determine where your ancestor resided in order to help determine in which the likely township or city a person was likely to have been baptized.]

Here is a digital version of an excellent Family History Library reference aid, called LDS in Britain for finding local branch records in England, with colored maps. Those records held in the Family History Library's collection have not yet been digitized. However, the Church History Library, which has also acquired at least a majority of branch membership records, has digitized some of these records and they are accessible for research online. For those that have not been digitized, by submitting a "Request" to digitize (see the online catalog entry), one can obtain access for a limited time period. Allow approximately two to three months (sometimes longer) for digitization processing.

Huguenots[edit | edit source]

History and Beliefs[edit | edit source]

The French-speaking Protestants who fled from religious persecution and civil war on the continent are all loosely referred to as Huguenots, however this term properly refers to only those from France, and not to the Walloons from the Low Countries. However, it is often impossible to distinguish the two groups because of the shared language and churches as well as much intermarriage in the early communities in England. Their beliefs were Calvinistic and closest to the English Presbyterian style of church government. Some of the late 17th century Huguenot congregations adopted the Anglican litany translated into French and these were termed conformist Huguenots. Others maintained the Calvinistic style they had used in France and have been called nonconformist Huguenots, although they should be distinguished from the English Nonconformists.

Huguenot, Walloon and Flemish Records[edit | edit source]

The Flemish, Huguenot and Walloon refugees were the only groups allowed to have separate churches before 1642, and this was in order to conduct services in their own languages. The very active Huguenot Society has published and indexed most of the important records of all three groups, and these have also been filmed and extracted onto the IGI. The Huguenot services and records were, of-course, in French and the most important church was that in Threadneedle Street, London where most refugees gathered when they first arrived. Typically they presented a character reference, as was common in many English Nonconformist groups when moving to another congregation. Should they not be in good standing then a public repentance was made and they were subsequently admitted to membership. These first records are, then, usually in family groups and state where in France the immigrants came from.

Other French churches opened in London to serve the needs of recently arrived Huguenots, and by 1700 there were 23 there, but as families became anglicized they gradually closed. The sole survivor is a French church in Soho Square which is the ‘descendant’ of the one in Threadneedle Street and holds the archives of several of these London churches. London was by far the most important centre for French-speaking refugees, between one half and three-quarters of the Huguenots locating there. They were concentrated in the two areas mentioned above, Westminster and Spitalfields, and the large number of churches so close together creates a great problem for genealogists since members moved from one to the other quite indiscriminately.

Over 100 immigrant Protestant congregations were established in England during Elizabeth I’s reign. The main congregations outside London established in the south-east and have good registers extant:

  • Essex—at Colchester and Thorpe-le-Soken.
  • Hampshire—at Southampton.
  • Kent—at Canterbury, Dover, Faversham and Sandwich. Settlement at Faversham was encouraged because the gunpowder industry needed the superior French expertise.
  • Norfolk—at Norwich.
  • Suffolk—at Ipswich.
  • Sussex—at Rye.
  • and in the south west, having few records extant:
  • Devon—at Barnstaple, Bideford, Dartmouth, Exeter, Plymouth and Stonehouse.
  • Gloucestershire—at Bristol

Some Walloons had their own chapels and all known records have been published by the Huguenot Society, whilst the records of others are in the parish registers. The Huguenot Library is a joint one for the French Hospital and the Huguenot Society of London.

It holds thousands of books, periodicals and transcripts of other manuscripts and a collection of over 900 Huguenot pedigrees and will abstracts. Much material has been microfilmed, for example at the country level on the FamilySearch Catalog a search for ENGLAND + HUGUENOT produces over 200 items, and there are many more at the county and town levels.

Huguenot, Walloon and Flemish Registers[edit | edit source]

The French registers are easy to read with the aid of a simple guide such as the FHL Genealogical Word List - French. However, the dates and names need to be carefully noted.

  • Dates. During the 17th century there was a difference of 10 days between French and English dates, and from 1700-1752 the difference was 11 days. This was because France had adopted the new Gregorian calendar in 1582 but England waited until 1752. Thus the English 12th August was 22nd August in France. Also, the year started on 1st January in France and most of Europe whilst England continued to use 25th March until 1752. Thus one has to be careful with dates between January 1st and March 24th in order to assign them to the correct modern-style year. As an example, the French 16 February 1688 would be the English 6 February 1687, and to avoid confusion can be written 6/16 Feb 1687/8. Not all of the Huguenot refugees, or the record keepers in England, can be expected to have sorted these out or bothered to change their birthdays!
  • Names. Considerable care has to be taken with the interpretation of names as they are rendered in the registers. They were written as they were heard - for example French places and names by Englishmen, and English place names by French speakers. One name may have several variants even in one register, including translations, such as Happy from Lheureux, or Jaques du Bois becoming James Wood, and all manner of misspellings, such as Lacklead arising from the French de la Clide. A useful feature of the Huguenot records is that French women retain their maiden names throughout their lives.

The French churches all have baptism and marriage registers but not burial registers as none had their own burial grounds. Most, if not all by now, have been transcribed and published by the Huguenot Society and the originals filmed. As examples, there are four films, starting at FHL film 0466707, for the London Walloon Church, Threadneedle Street, and several French Spitalfields churches starting in 1687 are filmed and have indexed printouts. The contents of the published registers can be exemplified by the Walloon or Strangers’ Church in Canterbury edited by Hovenden on FHL films 0086956-7 containing:

  • Baptisms 1581-1837.
  • Marriages 1590-1747.
  • Deaths 1581-1715.
  • Abstracts of marriage contracts 1580-1680.
  • Abstracts of wills 1586-1704 and possibly later.
  • Abstracts of miscellaneous documents undated and 1586-1683.
  • Baptismal register of the Malt House Church 1710-1823 including one marriage 1744.
  • Index.

French registers contain more information than typical contemporaneous English ones. In the Baptisms the mother’s maiden name and names of two godparents (usually relatives) are given on baptisms. Examples from the church in Canterbury quoted above follow in the chart below. Marriage registers often state where the bride and groom were born as well as noting fathers’ and mothers’ names, in addition to the typical information expected in English registers. Burials of Huguenots were usually in Anglican churchyards thus they appear in the parish registers of the areas surrounding their own congregations. Some can be found in the early nonconformist cemetery at Bunhill Fields, London.

Chart: Baptisms in the Walloon Church, Canterbury, Kent
Tem: = témoins = witnesses

1642, Déc 11 Abreham, fils d’Estienne DU THOIT. Tem: Pierre de Cler, Elizabet Delme, vefue de Samuel du Bois; Marye, femme de Jaque Sy
1642 Déc 11 Isaac, fils du sus dit d’Estienne DU THOIT. Tem: Simon Oudar, Ester, femme d’Elye Castel; Marye, femme d’Anthoinne le Grand
1643, Jan 8 Sara, fille de Jaque DELBEQUE et de Sara DE NEU, sa femme. Tem: Jaque Hochepie, fils de Jaque; Jaque du Hamel, fils de Jean; Ester de Lespau, fille de Jean; Susanne Hochepie, nieche de Jaque.
1643, Mars 9 Ester, fille de Dauid DE LESPAU et de Judith LE NOBLE, sa femme. Tem: Jean le Keux, Salmon de Lespau, Anne, femme de Mr. Steaple, anglois; Rachel le Noble.[10]

Other Records of Huguenots[edit | edit source]

There are three very helpful other records made in the French churches and all have been published by the Huguenot Society and filmed:

Témoignages—Certificates of sound doctrine and good behaviour from their previous congregation presented to the new one. These are the most important of the documents after the registers as they state when the family arrived and from whence. Those for the London Walloon Church, Threadneedle Street 1669-1789 have been published by W. and S. Minet and are also on FHL film 0466698.

Reconnaissances—Profession of Calvinistic faith in lieu of a témoignage which were not able to be presented after the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Some 3,000 of these are available for the prime years of 1686-1688 in the Acts of the Threadneedle Street congregation alone.

Abjurations—These were conversions from Roman Catholicism and were comparatively rare.

A fascinating series of manuscripts reporting on visits during 1879-1883 by church representatives to the lapsed members of their congregations in London’s east end has been described by Gandy (1997).

Huguenot Charities[edit | edit source]

A number of charities were established by Huguenots to assist members in difficulties, especially the nearly destitute late-17th century refugees, by the French Committee from 1681-1704. Records of some have been published by the Huguenot Society in their Quarto Series) or in their annual Proceedings, both of which are on film. The Huguenot Library has much more unpublished charity material as well.

Marmoy’s splendid series on the vast records of the French Protestant Hospital called La Providence, at Rochester in Kent was published in the Quarto Series as volumes 52 and 53. It has extracts relating to all inmates and unsuccessful applicants 1718-1957 as well as for the Coqueau Charity 1745-1901, with details such as appear below.

Chart: Extracts from Archives of the French Protestant
Hospital at Rochester

Rosina CLARKE née HITCHINS, inmate
Petitioned 17 Feb 1923. Entered 6 Oct 1928, left 5 Dec 1931. Of 261 Harrow Road, Leytonstone, parish of East Leyton. Widow, d/o Henry Hitchins and Rebecca Hitchins née Barnardier. Born 5 May 1857 in Abbey Place, Bethnal Green. On mother’s side an ancestor was a French Protestant who left France about 1776. Brother George Hitchins (also in the index).Formerly a domestic, married, now supported by Port of London Authority with an annuity of £29 per annum. In her file are copies of her birth and marriage certificates, death certificate for (husband), Mr. T. Clarke; etc.
Sarah Elizabeth CLARKE, applicant
Entered 31 Mar 1880, deceased 22 Jul 1880. Of 133 Columbia Square, Bethnal Green. Spinster d/o James and Sarah Clarke. Born 26 Oct 1823 in Busby Street, Bethnal Green. Mother was a d/o Elizabeth Vatin, a member of French Protestant church until her death. Petitioner is niece of Susannah Lawson (also in index) a former recipient of Coqueau Charity. Formerly a weaveress, now supported by waistcoat making, earns about 6/- weekly from the use of her needle. Failing health. In her file are copies of parish register entries for her birth/christening, parents’ marriage, mother Sarah Palmer’s birth/christening and grandparents Joseph Palmer and Elizabeth VATIN’s marriage.

The Friendly Benefit Society of Bethnal Green, Middlesex was one of the Huguenot Friendly Societies whose object was to grant weekly allowances to sick members, an allowance at death of members and their wives, and a retirement pension. An example from the records appears in below.

Court Books of the Weavers’ Company[edit | edit source]

This City of London craft guild had a large French membership heavily concentrated in the Spitalfields area of east London and their records can be very useful, not only for details of their work, but for family relationships.

Chart: Excerpts from Bethnal Green (Huguenot)
Friendly Benefit Society Minutes

1857 Apr 6 Proposed by Mr Geo Ferry, Wm Goddard by trade a Cabnet (sic) maker, 34 Turk St. Bethnal Green, aded (sic) 20 years.
1858 Jul 5 Proposed by Mr Edw. Ferry, Tho Stillwell by trade a Weaver, No 24 Mape St Bethnal Green, aged 23 years.
1858 Jul 5 Proposed by Mr Tho Combs, seconded by Mr John Hill that all members arived (sic) at the age of 65 years that he be excenpt (sic) the call for Steward. Carried.
1859 Mar 7 Proposed by Mr Keymer, Henery Treadway by trade a Fancy Trimming Manufacturer, No 10 North Side Bethnal Green, aged 19 years
1859 Apr 4 Proposed by Mr Tho Combs, Alfred Wm Combs by trad (sic) Pawnbroker, No 2 Proverdance (sic) Row, Old Ford Road, aged 19 years. Admitted.

Huguenot Family Histories, Pedigrees and Probate[edit | edit source]

There are a huge number of Huguenot family histories and Wagner collected about 900 Huguenot pedigrees, both sources being well represented in the FHL. A large number of Huguenots left wills, many of which have been indexed and abstracted by Wagner and are at the Huguenot Library.

Huguenot Publications[edit | edit source]

Gwynn’s two publications (Records of Huguenots in the British Isles, pages 1-9 in Volume F, World Conference on Records and Genealogical Seminar, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA 5-8 August 1969. Genealogical Society of Utah. FHL fiche 6039361(1) and Huguenot Heritage: The History and Contribution of the Huguenots in Britain. Routledge) , Currer-Briggs and Gambier (Huguenot Ancestry. Phillimore, 1985), and Delaforce (Undated, about 1981.Family History Research Vol I “The French Connection”. Regency Press, London.) are good places to start, and Kershaw and Pearsall (Immigrants and Aliens. A Guide to Sources on UK immigration and citizenship. PRO Publications, 2000) have details of the PRO holdings. The Huguenot and Walloon Research Association are about to publish a valuable index to the French Protestant Hospital records and a Guide to Protestant Ancestry Research, an article by Tsushima describes their work.

The Huguenot Society of London has lead the way in gathering and publishing records of a particular religious group. The Proceedings run from 1885 and their record series (theQuarto Series) from 1887 to date, many giving complete transcriptions of archive material, for example the Returns of Aliens, Denizations and Naturalizations and Oaths of Naturalization from the PRO, and all of the London French church registers. Both the Quarto Series and the Proceedings are on film and there is a comprehensive (but not all-name) index by Marmoy (General Index to the Proceedings and the Quarto Series of Publications of the Huguenot Society of London, 1885-1985. Huguenot Society. FHL book 942.1 C42m). Ramsay-Sharp (Huguenot Surname Index Quarto Series Volumes 1-40. Society of Australian Genealogists) has completely surname-indexed volumes 1-40 of the Quarto Series.[11]

This Protestant group began in France then spread to England as its members fled persecution. Huguenots began keeping records as early as 1567; however, few pre-1684 records still exist.

After arriving in England many Huguenots changed their names from French to English. For example, the French surname LeBlanc may have changed to White.

Until 1754, Huguenots often recorded their marriages in both Huguenot and Church of England registers. None were recorded in Huguenot registers after that date. The Huguenot Society has transcribed and published most of their original church records. Contact them at:

Just about all of the published Huguenot records are held at the Family History Library and are listed in the library's catalog under:

Most of the names from these Huguenot registers are listed at FamilySearch.org and at BMDRegister.co.uk.

Society of Friends[edit | edit source]

History and Beliefs[edit | edit source]

The Religious Society of Friends (colloquially Friends or Quakers) is a puritanical group founded by George Fox in 1647 and had its chief strength in north west England.

The Friends set up numerous meeting houses (they did not favour fancy church buildings, calling them steeplehouses), as well as Quaker schools. In 1694 there were 151 district groups called Monthly Meetings and the local community units called Preparative or Particular Meetings drew up material for them to discuss. Men and women would often meet separately and divide up the work. Representatives were elected to the county Quarterly Meetings which, in turn, sent representatives to the Yearly Meeting held in London. Their superb organization allowed them to organize philanthropic work and exert a considerable influence in public affairs. There is a great amount of historical literature on the Society of Friends; a keyword search on the FamilySearch Catalog for ENGLAND + QUAKER brings up well over 800 references. As an example, Rickard’s small book on Quakers in Kent gives a concise history as well as lists of births, marriages and burials from different Monthly Meetings, extracts of wills, burial ground deeds and subscription list, and a Quaker Affirmation Roll. Bartlett has a two-part article on Quaker records, and a major section on west country Quakers appeared in the Greenwood Tree (Anonymous).[12]

Quaker Records[edit | edit source]

The Society of Friends has kept its own distinctive and detailed records since 1669, with an earlier system from 1656 but there are very few records surviving from those early years. They were the first Nonconformist group to keep systematic records and the survival rate for their registers is higher than for the three major Old Dissent denominations (Baptist, Presbyterian and Independent/Congregational). Milligan and Thomas should be consulted for a detailed discussion on Quaker records and further references. Quakers used their own system of dating described in the next section.

Quaker Dates[edit | edit source]

Quakers objected to the use of names of days and months which were derived from pagan gods, thus always used numbers, for example Saturday 27th of March 1789 would be spoken as 27th 3rd month 1789. To distinguish the two numbers in writing, Quakers often used Arabic numerals for the day and roman numerals for the month, so this would become 27.iii.1789. A complication arises prior to 1752 when the English year began, not on January 1st but, on March 25th. In early records March was the 1st month but from 1752 March became the 3rd month (see chart below). This system explains why September/October/November/December are not the 7th/8th/9th/10th months, respectively, now as their names would imply!

When transcribing from early records the researcher needs to remember to double date (which occur in the period January to March 24), which effectively lap over into what we call the next year. This is done by using the format: 24 Jan 1721/22, meaning, ‘It is written as 1721 but we would call it 1722’. When we now apply the Quaker numbers instead of names, 24 Jan 1721 would have been written 24.xi.1721 in Quaker records.

Chart: Numbers of Quaker Months

UP TO 1751 QUAKER # 1752
March 1st January
April 2nd February
May 3rd March
June 4th April
July 5th May
August 6th June
September 7th July
October 8th August
November 9th September
December 10th October
January 11th November
February 12th December

Note that not all countries made this change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752. Catholic countries of southern Europe changed in 1582, Scotland in 1600, and others at various times up to the 20th century (Webb 1989).

Quaker Registers[edit | edit source]

Quaker registers were the responsibility of the Monthly Meeting and are a joy to the genealogist as they are so detailed. They did not have to use the formats provided by Hardwicke’s Marriage Act (1754) or George Rose’s Act (1812). All known registers dating from the 1650s were deposited with the Registrar General in the mid-19th century, and summaries called Digests were made. These nearly 1500 registers contain about 260,000 births (not baptisms), 40,000 marriages and 310,000 deaths/burials. One copy of each Digest was sent to its local congregation, which may now be at the county archives, and another to the Friends House Library. To access them on film do a keyword search for QUAKER DIGEST ENGLAND.

The original registers, which contain more information as well as a few entries missing from the Digests, are in PRO series RG 6 (with four latecomers in RG 8). Most have been filmed and can be found under FamilySearch Catalog - ENGLAND - COUNTY - CHURCH RECORDS with indexes under CHURCH RECORDS - INDEXES. However some random checks indicate that the RG6 Quaker registers are not included in the IGI.

Other registers which have come to light since 1857 have found their way into Friends House Library or county archives and some remain in private hands. Quakers continued to record births until 1959, deaths until 1961 and they still record marriages, and many of these later registers are also held by the PRO and may be an easier source to use than civil registration.

Quaker Births[edit | edit source]

Quakers do not practice baptism and their birth registers were similar to post 1813 Anglican baptismal ones but with birth instead of baptismal dates, and can have more information such as witnesses names. There is individual variation both within and between registers in what extra information is given and how it is written up, and many of the early registers contain retrospective entries dating back into the 16th century (Chart 61).

Chart: Quaker Births

Lewes Meeting, Sussex                                          FHL Film 0811737
1682     28th day 5th Month Sarah VERRALL the first daughter
            and child of Richard Verrall (and Sarah his wife) was
            born at Hove
1682     5th day 11th month Sarah CHISMAN the daughter of John
            Chisman (and Sibilla his wife) was born at Shoreham
1683     20th day 3rd month Frances BEARD the daughter of
            William Beard (and Frances his wife) was born at Brighthelmstone
1685     15th day 4th month Nicholas BEARD the son of William
            Beard (and Frances his wife) was born at Brighthelmstone

                                                A separate list is headed

A Register of Several Children Born before their Parents were Convinced of the TRUTH
Children of Nicholas BEARD
Sarah BEARD the first daughter of Nicholas and Susanna Beard
          was born at Rottingdean the 24th day of 12th month 1650.
Nicholas BEARD the second son of Nicholas and Susanna Beard
          was born at Rottingdean the 17th day of 4th month 1652
Hannah BEARD the third daughter of Nicholas and Susanna Beard
          was born the 14th day of 8th month 1654
George BEARD the third son of Nicholas and Susanna Beard
          was born at Rottingdean the 17th day of 8th month 1655
A child of Rich d BEARD
Persis BEARD the daughter of Richard and Ann Beard was born at
          Rottingdean the 8th day of 9th month 1655

Colchester, Essex RG6/999 on FHL film 0812204
These few retrospective birth records occupy the first page in the book and are clearly of the adult members of the congregation born well before the Society of Friends was started in 1647.
Thomas CHITTAM born in ye 12 mo. 1613
Stephen CRISP senior born ye - 1616
John Furly (junior crossed through) born 8th 7 mo 1618
George Weatherby senior sonn of Richard Weatherby born the 8th day of the 7 mo 1624 in a villadg cald Ruslip in the Countey of Midellsex.

Gainsborough, Lincolnshire                     RG6/1538 on FHL film 0817375
The register books starting in 1700 are handwritten, later some have individually printed certificates with spaces for filling in details, and later still they are printed in columns. These show When and Where born, Name, Son or Daughter, Names of Parents, Residents, description of the Father. In the last column there are three types of entries:
Simon Mow BROWN father of Abigail born 1804 is described as Grocer and Chandler.
George BLAKEY father of Mary born 1805 has Watchmaker NB The Parents not members at the Birth of the Child.
Samuel COOK father of Sarah born 1806 has Linen Weaver NB The Child has not a right of Membership by Birth.[13]

Other Quaker Records[edit | edit source]

Friends House Library has a wealth of other Quaker records as well, and also maintains a list of material held elsewhere. These include the minute books of the Preparative (local), Monthly, Quarterly (county) and Yearly (national) Meetings, the Sufferings Books, and lists of members. The local records contain more of interest to the family historian. Much has been filmed, but some of these records may still be with the local congregation or at a local archives and may not yet be filmed.

Some indexed transcripts of Monthly Meeting Minutes have been made and are listed by Milligan and Thomas. A list of Quarterly Meetings as existing in 1840-2 is provided by Milligan and Thomas. Although copious other records were kept, Quakers did not keep membership records like other Nonconformists.

The Minutes of Quaker Monthly Meetings are probably the most useful source after the Registers have been read. They deal with:

  • ŸMembership and transference to and from other meetings. They issued certificates similar to parish settlement certificates for those moving out of their district. These confirmed that a person was of sober and orderly life and conversation, clear of debt and (if unmarried) of marriage engagements; for an example see Herber’s Ancestral Trails. Society of Genealogists. (2000). The former Meeting would support a family if they fell on hard times within three years of moving to a new Meeting.
  • Ÿ Disciplinary matters including disownments. The Quakers were a very caring community who persevered with persuasive discipline with those who—absented themselves from meetings.
    • were dishonest in business.
    • became bankrupt.
    • drank excessively.
    • condoned war by having arms, joining the army or hiring a substitute for the militia.
    • paid Anglican tithes.
    • married before a priest, or were present at such a marriage.
    • committed fornication.
    • had a bastard child or one conceived before wedlock.

This disorderly walking was cause for disownment, or not being in good standing; but the suitably penitent individual could attend meetings and eventually come back into good standing.

  • Ÿ Finance and property.
  • Ÿ Apprenticeship.
  • Ÿ Poor relief.
  • Ÿ Death testimonials.
  • Ÿ Clearness for marriage. This was of great import and the Meeting had to ensure that the parents approved, that neither party had promised themselves to another, and that the prospective partners were both Quakers in good standing. In fact some did marry in the Anglican Church, either to ensure legality of the union, or to a partner outside their faith. Herber has examples of Minutes regarding marriages.
  • Ÿ Persecution (sufferings), including any form of prosecution or distraint, were recorded by monthly, quarterly and yearly Meetings, from 1793 in standard printed books for thispurpose. Most were sent to the London Yearly Meetings and entered into the Great Book of Sufferings 1650-1856 in 44 volumes. Consult Besse on FHL film 0599671 for a compilation of interesting cases from 1650-1689, and Friends House Library for a check of the index prepared for volumes 1-29 (1650-1791) and other county summaries. Volumes 1 and 2 have been indexed by Audrey Sullivan (1991) but not filmed; use the Request for Photocopies form for appropriate pages. Gandy (Sufferings of Early Quakers. Facsimile of 1753 edition by Joseph Besse with an introduction and indexes to names and places. Sessions Book Trust, Ebor press, York, England, 2002) has edited a 1753 facsimile edition of Besse’s 4 volumes. Examples are shown below.

Chart: Colchester, Essex Sufferings of Quakers
FHL film 0812204

These are intermingled with the burial records.
                                      Those imprisoned in Colchester Castle
12th of 5th month 1655
James PARNELL sent prisoner thither by Dionisius Wakering, Thomas Cooke, Herbert Pelham and William Harlarkinde for speaking to Priest Willis in the steeplehouse at Great Coggeshall, where he remained a prisoner about tenne moneths suffering much abuse from the Jaylor’s wife and there didd an innocent suffer for ye testimony of Jesus.
20th [?] of 10th month 1657
John Sewell of Gestingthorpe being moved of the Lord to goe into the steeplehouse at Hedingham Castle stood silent till the priest had ended his service who having sprinkled a child with water the said John bid him prove that ever any Minister of Christ sprinkled water upon the face of any child and called it Baptisme, which he refused to doe but caused the said John to be had before him called Justice Eden whoe committed him to Colchester Castle where he suffered imprisonment on yt account 12 or 14 days.

1671 2 mo 4th day Distrained for not finding Armes
Jno Furly junior fined four pounds had taken from him by Henry Garland and Edwd Roritt [?]sergeants in Ralph Crefild’s Company three quarters of a hundred to thirteen pounds wth of kettles worth six pounds five shillings.
Thomas Cole for 40/- fine had taken from him by Sergeant Baker and J...... serjants and Wm Wiltshire constable a good feather bed and blanket valued of about three pounds.

Quakers appeared frequently in the Quarter Sessions records with other Nonconformists during times of persecution. Quakers refused to swear the standard oaths as they believed that one should tell the truth all the time. However, in 1696 it became possible for Quakers (and a few Strict Baptists), to make an affirmation rather than swearing an oath. Quakers also would not take off their hats before the magistrate as a sign of deference as they believed all were equal, so for these offences they were often committed for contempt of court. Several stayed in prison for many years without any conviction. The Anglican Church frequently took Quakers to court for refusing to pay tithes, and bailiffs were appointed to confiscate goods of a greater value than the tithes they refused to pay. Quakers were leaders in educational reform and established their own Meeting Schools from the 17th century, as well as Private Schools and public Committee Schools from the 18th century. Committee school admission books can be found, some of them published, but records of Meeting and Private Quaker schools are rare. Note that attendance at a Quaker school does not necessarily denote membership in the Society of Friends. Quaker teacher training institutes were set up from 1848 in the midlands and north of England. Further information on Quaker schools, and a large bibliography can be found at their website.

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Portraits and Coats of Arms[edit | edit source]

Quakers disapproved of portraits since they might flatter and exalt an individual, thus most pictures purporting to be of pre-1850s Quakers would have been made much later and would not be true likenesses. They thought silhouettes and photographs to be truthful portrayals, so from the mid-19th century these are found abundantly. Beck (The Impact of Photography on Quaker Attitudes to Portraiture. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol 27 #2, page 21-24) has a most interesting article on this topic. Quakers deemed everyone equal and thus did not approve of vanities such as coats of arms, any that were already entitled to them quietly stopped using them.

Records of Quaker Clergy[edit | edit source]

Quakers employed no paid ministers, and they were led by seasoned Friends at first called elders and overseers, and later termed ministers. An obituary and appreciation, known as a testimony, frequently appeared in the Minutes of the Yearly Meeting and these have been published, with an index for the years 1700-1843 being at Friends House Library. Many were also published in Piety Promoted and in the Annual Monitor.

Quaker References and Publications[edit | edit source]

  • The standard text to commence with is Milligan and Thomas’ My Ancestors Were Quakers.
  • Dictionary of Quaker Biography is a work in progress with about 25,000 entries and is kept at Friends House Library and well worth a lucky dip.
  • The Quaker Record (Green 1894 on FHL film 0908277) has 20,000 deaths 1813-1892 indexed from The Annual Monitor.
  • Piety Promoted in 11 volumes from 1701-1829 by Tomkins and Kendall contains some biographies as well as collections of ‘dying sayings’. Friends House Library has an alphabetical index.
  • The Annual Monitor 1813-1920 carried many death notices and is on 14 films starting at FHL film 0874080. Green has indexed these for 1813-1892 and this is on FHL film 0908277.
  • The magazine The Friend, started in 1843 and contains announcements of births from 1850, marriages and deaths from 1843 and obituaries since 1894.
  • The British Friend has some births, marriages and deaths from 1845 to 1913.
  • Friends Quarterly Examiner from 1867.
  • Journal of the Friends Historical Society from 1903 for which there is a typescript index at Friends House Library.
  • Bulletin of the Friends Historical Society of Philadelphia 1906-1923.
  • Bulletin of the Friends Historical Association 1924-1961.
  • Quaker History from 1962.
  • Quaker Connections published by the Quaker FHS, a group composed of those researching Quaker ancestors (but who are not Quakers themselves), is a useful forum for the researcher.
  • There is a useful article on the Archives of the Society of Friends by Mortimer, in Amateur Historian Vol 3 #2, 1956-7.
  • An excellent example of a history of Quakerism in parts of Yorkshire is that by Hoare.
  • A fascinating account of a genealogist’s search for Quakers is recounted by Southey.
  • The website has good discussions of genealogical sources, Quaker dates, and lists of Quaker schools etc.[14]

Quaker Marriages[edit | edit source]

Quaker marriage registers are of especial interest for many details and all the witnesses, often more than 50, are given in the originals (but not in the Digests), with relatives and friends usually listed separately (see chart below). Not all the witnesses are necessarily Quakers, since non-members were allowed to attend.

The form of the ceremony was of an open declaration by both parties, which followed an exhaustive check of their eligibility to marry. In the certificates the names of both parents of each party were given, and variations included the use of printed forms from the end of the 18th century; whether the couple’s parents were still alive and where they resided; or the additions of children’s and grandchildren’s names and birth dates to the marriage certificate copy in the register.

One copy of the certificate was copied or pasted into the each party’s monthly meeting register along with a summary, and another was sent to the quarterly meeting which generally entered a summary into its register.

Chart: Quaker Marriages

Lewes, Sussex 1786 RG6/145                  FHL Film 0811737
Preprinted form with spaces for insertion of details.

Samuel BAKER of the City of Bristol, hat maker son of William BAKER of Cromhall in ye County of Glocester shopkeeper (deceased and Sarah his Wife Surviving) and Jane MITCHEL daughter of Henry MITCHEL of Brighthelmstone in the County of Sussex yeoman deceased and Jane his Wife Surviving

Having declared their Intentions of taking each other in Marriage before several meetings of the People called Quakers in Brighthelmstone and Bristol the Proceedings of the said Samuel Baker and Jane Mitchel after due Enquiry and deliberate Consideration thereof were allowed by the said Meetings, they appear clear of all others and having consent of Parents and those concerned.

Now these are to certify all whom it may concern that for the accomplishment of their said Marriage this Twenty third Day of the First Month called January in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty Six they the said Samuel Baker and Jane Mitchel appeared at a public Assembly of the aforesaid People and others in their Meeting House in Brighthelmstone (aforesaid) and he the said Samuel Baker taking the said Jane Mitchel by the Hand did openly and solemnly declare as followeth, Friends, in the fear of the Lord and before this Assembly I take this my friend Jane Mitchel to be my Wife and promise through Divine Assistance to be unto her a loving and faithful Husband until it shall please the Lord by Death to separate us.

And the said Jane Mitchel did then and there in the said Assembly declare as followeth, Friends, in the fear of the Lord and before this Assembly I take this my friend Samuel Baker to be my Husband promising through Divine Assistance to be unto him a loving and faithful Wife until it shall please the Lord by Death to separate us.
And the said Samuel Baker and Jane Mitchel as a further Confirmation thereof and in Testimony thereunto did then and there to these Presents set their hands.
                                          Samuel Baker
                                          Jane Mitchel

We who were present, among others, at the abovesaid Marriage have also subscribed our Names as Witnesses thereunto the Day and Year above written.
(Here follows two lists of names)
Relations - 15 names headed by Jane Mitchel senior
(Others) - 51 names

Lewes and Chichester Meeting, Sussex 1780 FHL Film 0811737 In an almost identically worded handwritten document to the above John MICHELL of Southover near Lewes, Sussex marries Mary GRINFIELD spinster daughter of William GREENFIELD of Hurstperpoynt, Sussex. The differences are that the announcements were made in Hurstperpoynt and Lewes Meetings, and the marriage took place at Cuckfield; and she promises to be not only ‘Faithfull and Loveing’ but also ‘Obedient’. The lists of witnesses are not labelled but the small one consists of John Michell, Mary Michell and, underneath a dividing line, Will: Greenfield, Mary Greenfield, Will Linfield, Will: Greenfield, Sarah Greenfield, who would seem to be the relations. There is a separate list of 22 other witnesses.

                                                        Colchester, Essex
                                                   RG6/999 on FHL film 0812204
These marriages are recorded in the Digest format.
1659 6 mo 21 day
Edmond CROSS of Colchester and Mary BACON of Halsted declared their Marriage publickly in the meeting in ye presence of many faithfull witnesses.
1660 6 mo 15 day
John LOVE of Colchester and Susan RUST of ye same declared their Marriage publickly in the meeting in ye presence of many faithfull witnesses.

Quakers were the only Nonconformists whose marriages were deemed legal between 1754 and 1837. In contrast to the Anglican Church list of Prohibited Degrees of Consanguinity, marriage between first cousins was not allowed, and the records can reveal such relationships of the intending parties. This may have resulted in the couple choosing not to marry or leaving the Quakers, but occasionally the impediment was ignored. Prospective marriage partners were subjected to exhaustive checks for their suitability, which allows glimpses into the respectability or otherwise of their families.

Quaker Burials[edit | edit source]

Quakers would not have their bodies buried in consecrated ground and hence provided their own burial grounds, or utilized their own orchards or gardens. The occasional record in a parish register usually refers to burial elsewhere, not in the Anglican churchyard. Quaker burial records were also duplicated, one being given to the quarterly meeting and the other staying with the monthly meeting where the burial took place; another was sent to the home meeting of the deceased if this was different. Names, ages, and at least the town or village of residence were generally given, and sometimes occupations. Records may take the form of instructions to prepare a grave, signed by the meeting’s registrar; the third one in the chart below of this type.

Chart: Quaker Burials

                                                         Colchester, Essex
                                                   RG6/999 on FHL film 0812204
There were perhaps 15-20 burials a year in the early 1660s, then this heading: appears:
From the fifth month 1665 to the 7th of ye 10th month 1666 which was a time of great plague in this towne
Then a list of 98 persons

                                 Lewes Meeting, Sussex        FHL Film 0811737
                                                Dates are those of death
1659 18th day 10th month Elizabeth COTTINGHAM wife of
Thomas Cottingham departed this life and was buryed at Rottingdean
1661 20th day 7th month Richard BEARD departed this life and
was buryed at Rottingdean
1662 15th day 3rd month Ann BEARD the widow of the aforesaid Richard Beard departed this life and was buryed at Rottingdean
1662 21st day 11th month Elizabeth BOYCE departed this life
and was buryed at Rottingdean
1663 4th day 12th month Joan BOYCE sister of the abovesaid
Elizabeth Boyce departed this life and was buryed at Rottingdean

                     Gainsborough, Lincolnshire               RG6/585 on FHL film 0817375
To Robert Offerton  Grave-Maker
The First Day of the Third Month 1784
Make a Grave on or before next Third Day, in Friends Burying-Ground, at Gainsborough and therein lay the Body of Jonathan Hopkins Grocer of Gainsborough in the County of Lincoln aged Thirty nine Years who died the Twenty Ninth Day of the Second Month, called February One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty four. Thos Morley
The Body above mentioned was buried the Second Day of the Third Month, called March 1784.
Witness Robert Offerton Grave-Maker
A true Copy, David Nainby
Register to Gainsborough Monthly Meeting

Society of Friends Burial Ground, Drapers, St. John the Baptist, Margate, Kent FHL Film 1835483
This is a printed format with columns for Name, Abode, When buried and Age. There is only one burial in 1867.

Martha Greenwood HUNTLY of Margate in the Parish of St. John, 16th day of 11th month 1867, age 44
Signed, Henry Headley, Keeper of the register Book
Witness Jas I. Cudwonl (?)

In the columnar Gainsborough Burial registers in RG6/1538 it was noted that several entries were noted as Not a Member of our Society, so non-Quakers were also buried there—a point worth noting when burials can’t be found in parish registers. Among the microfilmed Quaker burial records is a letter from the Staines Urban District Council with a list of tombstone inscriptions of those disinterred from the Friends Burial Ground in Staines, Middlesex and re-interred in Jordans Burial Ground, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire in 1973. The originals are in RG37/149 at the PRO and on FHL film 1818112, and dates range from 1865 to 1933 and most are rendered in Quaker fashion as in Chart 64.

Quaker Monumental Inscriptions[edit | edit source]

Quakers disapproved of mourning, tombstones and ‘other vain funeral customs’ and until the 19th century Quaker M.I.s are non-existent. Examples are shown below in which the earlier ones still use numbers for the months.

Chart: Examples of Memorial Inscriptions from Friends Burial Ground, Staines, Middlesex

Alexander Lucas ASHBY eldest son of Alexander and Susanna
            Lucas ASHBY. Died 30th of 1st month 1872. Aged 14 years.
Elizabeth Sheldon Dudley ASHBY eldest daughter of Thomas
            and Caroline ASHBY. Died 13th of 3rd month 1877. Aged 24 years.
Muriel Cicely, eldest daughter of Algernon Charles and Sophia ASHBY. Born May 3rd 1878. Died Feb 21st 1880.
Caroline ASHBY widow of Thomas ASHBY. Died 7th of a 12th
         month 1889. Aged 67 years.
Caroline FELTCHER (sic) widow of William FLETCHER. Died
          Feb 7th 1922. Aged 82 years.[15]

Also known as Quakers, the Society of Friends did not have appointed clergy to perform the rites of baptism. They recorded births instead. Burial registers usually include the date of death. Quakers recorded marriages to ensure their validity.

The organization of Quaker religious groups, known as "meetings," includes:

  • The preparative meeting or the local church group, about the size of a parish.
  • The monthly meeting, made up of several preparative (local) groups, is the primary meeting for church affairs and includes records of births, marriages, and deaths.
  • The quarterly meeting, comprised of two to seven monthly meetings, similar to a diocese.
  • The yearly meeting includes representatives from the quarterly meetings and Friends from other countries.

Quaker registers began in the late 1650s. From 1840 to 1842, the Society made digests of its records (to about 1837), which cover all English meetings. The digests are arranged first by date and then alphabetically by surname. Copies of digests and original registers are in the Family History Library. The original records are in The National Archives, England.

For a valuable booklet on this subject, refer to:

  • Milligan, Edward H., and Malcolm J. Thomas. My Ancestors Were Quakers: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1983. (FHL book 942 D27m.)

Anglican records that include Nonconformists[edit | edit source]

Until the advent of the English Civil War in 1642 most Puritans stayed within the Church of England so their records will be found in the parish registers. For 18 years there was turmoil, a state church that was Presbyterian, and relative religious freedom. However, records were kept abominably, if at all, and nearly a whole generation of genealogical data is thus missing in the majority of parishes. However, civil marriage registrars (confusingly called registers) acceptable to Puritans were appointed in 1653 so from then until 1660 most marriages were recorded usually in the same books as had been in use for the Anglican records.

The Restoration in 1660 brought back control by the Anglican Church and better record-keeping but Nonconformists discontinued attending except when forced to by a lack of alternatives. Most Nonconformist burials were still in the parish churchyard, and many marriages took place in Anglican facilities, but the baptisms were done by their own ministers and few such records survive from this early period. A 1696 Act instructed Anglican ministers to record the births of all nonconformist children in their parish, but this seems to have only been complied with until about 1704. Methodists, in particular, were content to baptize in the Anglican church where they gained the advantage of sure legal evidence of age, parentage and legitimacy. Many Nonconformists continued to be buried in their parish churchyard, for want of an alternative, until borough cemeteries were provided starting in 1853.

Although many Nonconformists are recorded in parish registers without comment, especially after 1691, many vicars did note them. Each incumbent and parish differed according to the personalities concerned. Some examples are given in the next three sections.

Baptisms[edit | edit source]

After 1695 Protestant dissenters, especially those who had heritable property to protect, may have availed themselves of the legal provision for registering births, without going through Anglican baptism, in the Established Church registers. Entries which record a birth, as opposed to a baptism, may therefore indicate parental nonconformity. Baptisms of Catholics in the Anglican church are very rare, and late baptism may indicate parental Protestant Nonconformity but should not be considered more than a clue; examples are given below.

Chart: Late Anglican Baptisms as Clues
to Parental Nonconformity

20 May 1711 Aldenham, Hertfordshire
John ye son of John and Mary RADLET (An adult whose parents (were crossed out) are anabaptists)
13 Dec 1712
William TOPHEL (an adult) baptized on his deathbed
18 Apr 1735 Burstow, Surrey FHL film 1470975
David TERRY. He was married the same day
5 May 1743 Eversholt, Bedfordshire
Thomas Samuel BRITNAL at years of discretion was baptized
Elizabeth Mary BRADFORDat years of discretion was baptized
Henry John BRADFORD at years of discretion was baptized
29 Jan 1808 Aldenham, Hertfordshire
Ann, wife of Wm KING, born 23 Novr 1766 of Anabaptist parents but never before baptized
29 Jun 1820 St. Luke, Finsbury, London
William, adult s/o Heyman and Henrietta KARGE, Jewish parents, Unruhstadz in Russia, merchant
20 Apr 1827 Dunstable, Bedfordshire FHL film 0826469
Francis son of Francis and Sarah HEWS of Dunstable, Minister of the Baptist Dissenters. Born 23 Mar 1791. Witnesses Gouger, Thos Noble, Mary Eggleton. Upon the evidence attached (a certificate from Dr. Williams Library is appended - see Chart 8.)
17 Dec 1835 Old Church St. Pancras, Middlesex
Jemima an adult daughter of Edmund and Maria JUPP, Coburg Street, carpenter, said to be born June 1812. The above adult was married to Wm PILBEAM in May 1829.

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Before 1754 anyone could marry anywhere and some references to Nonconformity occur in Anglican registers such as the following inter-faith union:

St. Sidwell, Exeter, Devon 17 Jul 1701
Robert STEPHENSON of St. Thomas married Elizabeth BIDGOOD, Quaker

Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1754 applied to all except Jews, Quakers and the Royal Family and continued in effect until the introduction of civil registration in 1837. Marriages were only legal if performed in an Anglican church, so Nonconformists and Catholics had to choose this venue for their children to be considered legitimate and able to inherit. Catholics typically had a second ceremony in their own faith, but Nonconformists usually did not.

Burials[edit | edit source]

Nonconformists and Catholics were often buried in the parish churchyards and some parishes had more than others, perhaps because of a larger number of Non-Anglicans, or because of a sympathetic vicar. If the burials were without Anglican services one can often find this noted directly, or indirectly, such as a reference to being:

  • Interred without ceremonies/service/rites.
  • Hurled in ye ground.
  • Put/tossed/tumbled in the ground.
  • Burial between 9 pm and 12 midnight, although this also applied to suicides and some others.
  • Excommunication of Nonconformists especially in the 1660s and 1670s. Anglican sinners can also be excommunicated of-course.

Examples are shown below. Some Anglican registers have a special section, such as that in Speldhurst, Kent commencing in 1709 entitled Buried at the Anabaptists Burial Place.

Chart: Burials of Non-Anglicans in Parish Churchyard

8 Oct 1844 St. Mary le Strand, Westminster, Middlesex FHL film 0572513
John BORKIN of No.6 Clare Market, age 3 years, (buried in) Russell Court Ground. Roman Catholics who refused to have the service performed. J.M. Denham M.A. Rector.
20 Aug 1626 Tarporley, Cheshire
Richard Welde, papist and excommunicate.
10 Dec 1679 Waterbeach, Cambs
Francis Wilson, excommunicated, buried in his orchard.
23 Feb 1700/01 Brenchley, Kent
Buried John Albourn of Pembury, but not ye burial service as by ye Book of Common Prayer appointed read; he dying a propper Anabaptist.
29 Mar 1707 Sundon, Beds
Affidavit made concerning a son of Richard Carter of Sundon who was not baptised nor buried in the church yard.
1735 Brenchley, Kent
Hurled into ye ground being an Anabaptist
5 Jul 1723 St. Mary Cray, Kent
Mrs Anne Parker. A midnight funeral when I fell headlong into her Grave, and so much bruised my leg, that I was confin’d to my bed and chamber and lay under ye surgeon’s hand 5 weeks: a painful yet happy retirement Deo Gratias.
11 Feb 1723 St. Mary Cray, Kent
Stephen Parker Esquire most obstinate sinner midnight id:

Those buried in dissenting burial grounds were noted in the Anglican registers either instead of, or in addition to their own registers. Other burial items may contain clues to nonconformity as well as in a certificate for burial in woollen shown below.

Chart: Certificate for Burial in Woollen

To the Reverend the Minister of Luton
Susannah Punter of the Parish of Luton in the County of Bedford maketh Oath, That the Body of Mary Kingham of this Parish which was lately buried at the Burial Ground of the Baptist Meeting House was not wrapped up, when buried, in any Suit, Sheet, or Shroud, but what was made of Sheep’s Wool only; nor put into any Coffin, lined, faced, or covered with any kind of Cloth, or Stuff, but what was made of Sheep’s Wool only, according to the Direction of an Act of Parliament, intituled, An Act for burying in Woollen.
Taken and Sworn this second Day of December 1795
Before me Coriolanus Copleston, curate

N.B. Affidavits of Burial in Woollen must be delivered in to the Minister of the Parish where the Deceased was buried, in eight Days from the Time of Burial, on pain of the Penalty if Five Pounds for neglect thereof.

It wasn’t until 1880 that Nonconformist burial ceremonies were officially allowed in parish churchyards, and one can identify them in the Anglican burial register by the name of the dissenting minister performing the service instead of the regular incumbent or his curate.

Diaries of local Anglican clergy who were involved in disputes over tithes, church attendance or other unco-operative behaviour by dissidents can be mother lodes of personal information about your ancestors’ lives. Dissenters tended to be determined and outspoken, characteristics which engendered records and did not endear them to those keen on preserving the status quo.[16]

Monumental Inscriptions[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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 FHL film 1517777

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.[17]

Online non-conformist church records[edit | edit source]

  • The Official Non-Parochial BMDs Service is for records of birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial taken from non parish sources BMDRegister.co.uk such as non-conformist records of Methodists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Independents, Protestant Dissenters, Congregationalist, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Quakers (Society of Friends), Dissenters and Russian Orthodox. Maternity Records plus various other BMD records are also included.
  • The Genealogist has recently placed millions of entries of names transcribed from nonconformist church registers. See their website for searching.
  • Record Search at FamilySearch.org has millions of entries transcribed and indexed over the last 40 years, now available online.
  • Moens, William John Charles. The Marriage, Baptismal, and Burial Registers, 1571 to 1874, and Monumental Inscriptions, of the Dutch Reformed Church, Austin Friars, London. With a Short Account of the Strangers and Their Churches. Lymington: King and Sons, Printers, 1884. Digital version at Google Books.

Wiki articles describing online collections are found at:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Christensen, Penelope. "England Catholic Church Archdioceses and Dioceses (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Catholic_Church_Archdioceses_and_Dioceses_%28National_Institute%29.
  2. Christensen, Penelope. "England Catholic Church Records, Registers, Births, Baptisms, Confirmations (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Catholic_Church_Records,_Registers,_Births,_Baptisms,_Confirmations_%28National_Institute%29.
  3. Christensen, Penelope. "England Catholic Church Records, Deaths, Burials (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Catholic_Church_Records,_Deaths,_Burials_%28National_Institute%29.
  4. Christensen, Penelope. "England Catholic Church Records, Archives, Charities, Organizations, Clergy (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Catholic_Church_Records,_Archives,_Charities,_Organizations,_Clergy_%28National_Institute%29.
  5. Christensen, Penelope. "England Catholic Church Records, Priests, Family and Estate Papers, Religious Orders (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Catholic_Church_Records,_Priests,_Family_and_Estate_Papers,_Religious_Orders_%28National_Institute%29.
  6. Christensen, Penelope. "England Catholic Church Records, Schools, Orphanages, Status Animarum, Wills (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Catholic_Church_Records,_Schools,_Orphanages,_Status_Animarum,_Wills_%28National_Institute%29.
  7. Christensen, Penelope. "England Catholics in Early Non-Catholic Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Catholics_in_Early_Non-Catholic_Records_%28National_Institute%29.
  8. Christensen, Penelope. "England Catholics in Additional Early Non-Catholic Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Catholics_in_Additional_Early_Non-Catholic_Records_%28National_Institute%29.
  9. Christensen, Penelope. "England Catholic Historical Societies, Publications, Newspapers (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Catholic_Historical_Societies,_Publications,_Newspapers_%28National_Institute%29.
  10. Christensen, Penelope. "England Records of Huguenots, Walloons, Flemish Religions (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Records_of_Huguenots,_Walloons,_Flemish_Religions_%28National_Institute%29.
  11. Christensen, Penelope. "England Huguenot Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Huguenot_Records_%28National_Institute%29.
  12. Christensen, Penelope. "England Quaker History (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Quaker_History_%28National_Institute%29.
  13. Christensen, Penelope. "England Quaker Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Quaker_Records_%28National_Institute%29.
  14. Christensen, Penelope. "England Additional Quaker Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Additional_Quaker_Records_%28National_Institute%29.
  15. Christensen, Penelope. "England Quaker Marriage Records, Burials, Monumental Inscriptions (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Quaker_Marriage_Records,_Burials,_Monumental_Inscriptions_%28National_Institute%29.
  16. Christensen, Penelope. "England Anglican Records that Include Nonconformists (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Anglican_Records_that_Include_Nonconformists_%28National_Institute%29.
  17. Christensen, Penelope. "England Additional Anglican Records that Include Nonconformists (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Additional_Anglican_Records_that_Include_Nonconformists_%28National_Institute%29.