England Anglican Records that Include Nonconformists (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Non-Anglican Church Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Anglican Records[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.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Non-Anglican Church Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.