Nonconformist Records – Great to search

For many family historians tracing ancestors is a labour of love, however this can easily turn to frustration when they can not find the details of someone they know ‘is there’ but despite their best efforts come up against a ‘brick wall’.


The other week as an example I was contacted by client who had spent months trying to find the birth details of a Great Great Grandfather.  From information gleaned form the census of 1851 and 1861 they knew he was born around 1845 and appeared to be an only child.  Searches of the Civil Registration lists had not been successful, so it appeared that his birth had not been registered.  Although Civil Registration of Births, Marriages & Deaths had been made compulsory in 1837, there was no financial penalty to parents for not registering a birth until a change in the legislation in 1874, so we know that there are many gaps in the register before this date.


So having not been successful in looking for the birth details in the Civil Registration records, they tried the next obvious thing which is looking at church records for his Baptism details.  Now it is also true that not all children were baptised and if they were they are not necessarily baptised in the same year they were born.  If you have ever trawled through years of baptism records on microfilm at a record office you will not have failed to notice  batches of three, four or more children with the same surname being baptised at the same time, almost as a ‘job lot’.  The oldest may have been born a decade before. 


Anyway after countless hours searching through the records of various parish churches they still drew a blank…and were stuck.  While researching if I ever I find myself in this position the next thing I do is think about other resources that might be available that may contain information about the early life of an individual.  From the 1700’s onwards Nonconformity in Britain really became established and it is at the records that were generated by these groups that I tend to look at next.


So you may be asking yourself what was ‘Nonconformity’?  The established church, after Henry VIII split fromRome, was the Church of England.  By the 1650’s there were various splits or factions within the established church (all classed as dissenters) so much so that many ‘new’ denominations had appeared.  The one thing that they pretty much had in common was that they all subscribed to the notion of the ‘priesthood of all believers’.  Any believer could communicate with God without the necessity of having a clergyman to act as an intermediary.  This was a direct threat to the authority of the established church and their clergy. 


These new denominations all had differences but we know them as Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, Unitarians and many more besides.  By and large they all kept records about baptisms, marriages and burials and so it was that I was able to direct my client to a selection of these records and they found what they were looking for.


Graham Hicks

Ancestral Stories


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