Each record contains both an image and a transcript of the original register. The amount of information varies, but you can generally find out the following about your ancestor:
Parish or location
More information is often available on the image such as the child’s father’s occupation.
There are more than 1.5 million non-conformist records available. Non-conformist is a broad term covering churches of widely differing beliefs that did not follow the teachings of the established Church of England. The term can be used to describe Roman Catholics, Jews, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, members of the Society of Friends, etc. Members of English Protestant denominations, who did not follow the established Anglican Church, were known as radicals or religious dissenters and risked persecution by refusing to conform.
Before the introduction of civil registration in 1837, most people were baptised, married, and buried in their local Church of England parish, regardless of their beliefs. Historically, many non-conformists used their local parish church for registration purposes, despite their differences in belief, even after the Toleration Act of 1689 granted the freedom to worship. Some non-conformists did keep their own registers, particularly for baptisms and burials in the period between 1689 and 1837, and it is these that you can find here.
The original records are all housed at The National Archives in Surrey, part of their RG4, RG5, and RG8 series.
RG4 – General Register Office: Registers of births, marriages, and deaths surrendered to the non-parochial registers commission of 1837 and 1857.
RG5 – General Register Office: Birth certificates from Presbyterian, Independent, and Baptist registry and from the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan registry.
RG8 – General Register Office: Register of births, marriages, and deaths surrendered to the non-parochial registers commission of 1857, and other registers and church records.
In 1837, a commission was established to collect and authenticate registers from outside of the established church. This commission was formed in response to the courts unwillingness to accept certificates from non-conformist institutes. Most of these registers are part of series RG4. A second commission was established in 1857 and these records are found in series RG8. The records found in RG5 comprise Congregational Church records (covering the Presbyterian, Baptist and Independent churches), the extensive non-conformist archive held at Dr William’s Library in London, and the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry.
Denominations There are more than 50 denominations covered in the records; some of which existed only briefly and are no longer practiced today. An example would be the Catholic Apostolic Church, also known as Irvingism, which was a religious movement that originated in England in 1831 before spreading to Germany and the United States. An ecumenical prayer based movement, it was organised around leaders whom the congregation called apostles. After the last apostle died in 1901, membership declined.
There is a significant number of French Protestant or Huguenot records within the collection. The Huguenot group began in France but spread to England as its members fled persecution. Huguenots began keeping records as early as 1567, although very few of these early records survive today. Most records date between 1684 and 1754. Bear in mind that many Huguenot’s anglicized their names on arrival in England – Le Blanc would become White for example.
Roman Catholic registers were generally not kept before 1778 and many of them are written in Latin. Baptism registers will usually show the names of the godparents. The Roman Catholic registers for England and Wales, unlike those in Scotland and those for most other denominations, have never been centrally located.