Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday: Uniqueness of Nonconformist Registers

In August of 1969, Donald J. Steel gave a speech titled, “Registers of British Nonconformist Groups as Genealogical Source”, to a conference in Salt Lake City. I found an old mimeographed copy at the Selby Library in Sarasota, Florida last winter. He groups together the Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists and points out that the registers of these sects show:

      1.       members of nonconformist groups came from large areas'

      2.       one minister might serve more than one congregation but keep his records in only one book

      3.       the registers might contain more than just BMD data.

Nonconformists had no geographical constraints. A good preacher or an interesting new philosophy might attract members from a large area.  London chapels often attracted members from all over the city and its nearby suburbs. However, the same phenomena was prevalent in rural areas, sometimes even in places that already had a church of the same denomination.

Methodists and some Baptists used the word ‘church’ for a circuit of several congregations that were individually called ‘meetings’ which leads to Steel’s second point, a minister might keep the records of  his several congregations in one book.  These registers appear to belong to the minister rather than the congregation. Steel gives an example of a Presbyterian minister whose register contains entries from Maidenhead, Berkshire from 1745-1749 and Kings Lynn, Norfolk from 1754 to 1777.

Some registers contained more than just BMD records. If minutes of church meetings or Sunday School attendance was kept in the same register, a congregation might have transcribed only the BMD records to submit to the General Register Office in 1837 or 1858. This might give the usual problems with using transcriptions. If the whole book was turned in, the lists of elders and officers and the other ‘business’ aspects of the chapel could provide unexpected dividends as you read through.

The Methodist church my great grandmother attended in upstate New York after she immigrated had a book that showed baptisms and marriages as well as lists of probationary members and when they were admitted to full membership. She went to a Bible study group, and I found a list of all the members, the leader and where they met.

In the 1700s, “denominational labels tended to be fluid.” For example, Steel feels that the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists often had close relationships so it would be wise to search both registers in an area, if you feel your ancestor belonged to either. Mostly in Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, there were union chapels of Baptists and Congregationalists.

To learn more about nonconformist records, I will repeat the LDS sites from last week at the familysearch.org wiki:
          www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/england_nonconformist_ church_ records                                  

To view images of nonconformist records, go to www.BMDregisters.co.uk, a pay-per-view site run by www.thegenealogist.co.uk in association with the National Archives.

Source: Steel, Donald J. Registers of British Nonconformist Groups as a Genealogical Source. Manuscript. Salt Lake City: World Conference on Records and Genealogical Seminar, 1969.

©2012, Susan Lewis Well

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