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A non-conformist church is any church that does not conform to the 39 Articles of Religion published in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer or does not recognize the Church of England as its parent body. This includes all the variants of Methodism, the Catholic Church (after the restoration of the Crown), Jewish synagogues, Baptists, Quakers, etc. Members of these faiths were also called "dissenters".

Each religious entity kept their own records and operated, for the most part, outside of the English parish in terms of borders. Some individuals of non-conformist faiths would marry in both their non-conformist chapel and the Church of England chapel to ensure the legality of their offspring in matters of inheritance. Also, most non-conformist clergy could not legally perform marriages until the 1800s.

Many non-conformist ministers worked a "circuit", where they traveled about a region providing church services, marriages, etc. The Quakers called these Meetings. For these, you will need to find where the circuit (meetings) records were filed or archived. The number of chapels in a circuit varies enormously. Circuits are then formed into Districts and the Districts form what is called the Connexion (for Methodists).

Baptists were much less common than Methodists or Quakers, so their Circuits would have been larger.

Some snippets of Non-Conformist History

In the 1600's Alford was a centre of Puritanism and many Alfordians would travel to Boston to hear John COTTON preach. In nearby Bilsby, John WHEELWRIGHT developed non-conformist doctrines and following the persecution of Puritans by the established church, he and a disillusioned band of Alfordians set sail aboard the Griffin for Boston, Massachusetts, in 1634. We have a list of those who sailed as the original Puritan emigrants in 1620.

Anne HUTCHINSON, America's first woman preacher, was born in Alford in 1591. Anne was dismayed when John COTTON fled to New England and decided to follow him to America. Anne and her husband John sailed for the New World aboard the Griffin from London in 1634. In 1638 serious disagreements with established Puritans forced Anne and her family to leave Boston, Massachusetts, for New Hampshire where they founded the town of Portsmouth.

By 1676 there were twenty dissenters in Goulceby.

In 1689, Non-conformists gained the freedom to worship, but not to legally marry.

Between 1754 and 1836, ALL marriages, exept those for Quakers and Jews, had to be celebrated by the Church of England in order to be considered valid. Many 'dissenters" would marry in their local chapel or house of worship, then marry in the Church of England to establish legal rights.

It was not the wish of John WESLEY (1703-1791) to separate from the Church of England and during his lifetime Methodist Chapels were called "Preaching Houses", the Parish church being used for baptisms, marriages and burials. The earliest registers date from 1795 when baptisms commenced in some chapels and burial grounds were also established.

In the early days of Methodism there were many different Methodist denominations, but the title ranter was generally, although not exclusively, used by the Primitive Methodist Church as the term given to Methodist local (lay and non-ordained) Preachers.

All non-conformist records had to be deposited with the Public Records Office in 1837. Records after 1837 may still be with the Circuit preachers.

To be buried "under Burial Laws Amendment Act 1880" means that the person buried was a non-conformist; the burial service was performed by a Non-Conformist minister, but in a Church of England church as the burial was going to take place in the churchyard (consecrated ground). Many non-conformist church members had to be buried in unconsecrated ground, as their religion was not recognised as such by the established church.

Until 1932 there were several Methodist denominations, some of which were established only in particular parts of the country. Those which were significant in Lincolnshire were:

In 1932, the United Methodist Church was formed from the Wesleyan Methodist Church and The Primitive Methodist Church.


Much more can be learned from the excellent "Understanding the History and Records of Nonconformity" by Patrick Palgrave-Moore, ISBN 0 9506290 4 9, (£1.80 excluding p&p), available from the Federation of Family History Societies or from most Lincolnshire Family History Society Branch bookstalls if you are in Lincolnshire.

The Society of Genealogists publishes various booklets ("My Ancestors were Baptists," "My Ancestors were Methodists," etc.) which list the main sources for particular denominations.

The Society of Genealogists have published the National Index of Parish Registers, with a separate volume covering non-conformist churches.

You should contact the local County Record Office or Archive, which should know where most of the local records are if they don't have them in their own safe-keeping. Some non-conformist records covered areas that included three or four English shires, so check neighboring Record Offices. In Lincolnshire, contact the Lincolnshire Archives.

The Lincolnshire Family History Society publishes (available from the Federation of Family History Societies Bookstore via credit card) "Non-conformist Marriages", containing:

Indexes and general holdings:

For Walloon records:

The Walloon people are often confused with the Huguenots (see below) and some of their records appear in Huguenot collections. The Walloons (from the same root word as Wales) were/are of Celtic stock and lived in the area which became Flanders. Although they fought against French rule for 300 years, their country was handed over to the French royal house in a marriage settlement in about 1389. They speak their own language which is supposed to be older than French and is called Romand by them. The Walloons became French Calvinists - Jean Calvin was one of them - and were among the first exiled when the Spanish Inquisition came into France in 1558. They fled to the Netherlands, Germany and England. The Walloon weavers went to Norfolk, Kent and London and those trained in drainage went to the Netherlands and later were employed in England to help drain the Fens starting around 1628. The Huguenot weavers went to Norfolk, too, which is why there has been some confusion. The Huguenot and Walloon Research Association started in 1985 and is located at Malmaison, Church Street, Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, 5N8 3PE, ENGLAND. Their focus of interest is on migration into the British Isles for the period 1550-1790 only. When researching your own Walloon ancestors, focus on southern Lincolnshire and the Fens area of Cambridgeshire and northwestern Norfolk.

For Huguenot records:

Huguenots were French Protestants who followed the beliefs of Calvin. By 1561 there were 2,000 Calvinist churches in France and the Huguenots had become a political faction. Persecution followed and large numbers fled to England as refugees in Tudor times. Those who remained fought as many as eight civil wars against the Catholic establishment. Their numbers grew until they were again persecuted. In 1685 many thousands of Huguenots fled to England and other parts of the world, some settling as far away as North America and South Africa.

For Jewish records:

For Baptist:

For Calvinists:

For Congregational Methodist records:

For Connexion Methodist records:

For Primitive Methodist records:

For Wesleyan or Union Methodist records:

For Quaker records (the Society of Friends was founded in 1640):

There are three Roman Catholic parishes in the city of Lincoln, and five in their Deanery. These are St. Hugh of Lincoln in the city centre, Our Lady of Lincoln on the Ermine Estate (northern suburbs) and Saints Peter and Paul in Boultham (southern suburbs). The other two parishes are Holy Rood at Market Rasen and Our Lady & St. Peter at Woodhall Spa. In Lincoln there is a Convent of the Sisters of Providence and a residential University Avalon Chaplaincy Centre. Outside of the City of Lincoln there are Catholic Chapels at Bardney, Osgodby, Spilsby, Caistor and Hainton.

For Roman Catholic records:

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Last updated on 1-May-2011
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