Track down Nonconformists

Track down Nonconformists

If your forebears were Nonconformists, there’s a good chance you can trace them online

How to, How to

How to

How to

If you can’t find your ancestors in Anglican parish records, it’s possible they were Nonconformists (see page 28). From the 17th century onwards there were increasing numbers of separate religious movements – Congregationalists, Baptists and Presbyterians grew from Puritanism; Quakerism was founded in the 1840s; Methodists split from the Church of England in the mid-18th century; Unitarianism became a formal movement at the end of the 18th. Many of these groups themselves subdivided in later years.

Records of Nonconformists begin as early as the mid-16th century. In the early and mid-17th century, when Nonconformism was still illegal, the most useful records may be from Quarter Sessions and other legal records when the dissenters were hauled in front of the courts, even for simply failing to attend communion.

Nonconformist baptisms, marriages and burials can often be found in Anglican parish registers – between 1695 and 1705 this was a legal requirement for baptisms, and after Hardwicke’s Marriage Act enacted in 1754, marriages (other than for Jews and Quakers) were obliged to take place in a church. But many denominations also kept their own registers, and these ‘non-parochial’ registers are at The National Archives and online at You are more likely to find records from the 18th century onwards, and they can often provide more details than the typically terse Anglican parish registers.

Other places to look for baptisms between 1716 and 1837 are the Protestant Dissenters’ Registry, and the Wesleyan Methodist Registry from 1818, with some records backdated to 1773. These too are online at TheGenealogist.

Discover your Nonconformist ancestors at TheGenealogist

1. Log in to your account at and click on the Non Conformist & Non Parochial Records link at the right. Let’s try searching for John Cadbury, the Quaker founder of the chocolate dynasty.
2. There are two pages of promising results here. We know he was born in 1801, so let’s click ‘full details’ next to the first of the two records matching that date.
3. This transcript gives us details of his birth in Birmingham, and the names of his parents – his father is listed as a linen draper.
family tree
4. Scrolling down the transcript shows a family tree chart, too – where possible TheGenealogist automatically generates these for up to three generations. We can also view a scan of the original register (see below).
5. Now let’s go back to the search results from step 2: both of Cadbury’s marriages (in 1826 and 1832) are also available at the site.
Cadbury’s children
6. The basic search feature (step 1) has a ‘search all names’ option – this includes records where the person in question was not the primary individual, such as a parent. This enables us to track down Cadbury’s children, such as his son Richard, who took over the family business.

In focus: Nonconformist registers

Here are two different marriage records from TheGenealogist, both relating to famous Quakers

Intriguing article?

Subscribe to our newsletter, filled with more captivating articles, expert tips, and special offers.

William Penn

  1. This is the marriage record for the English entrepreneur and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, and his first wife Gulielma Maria Springett, which took place in Chorleywood in 1672
  2. The register reveals where both spouses were living – in Penn’s case, Walthamstow in Essex, and Gulielma was from Buckinghamshire. Penn was often on the move, staying with various Quaker families after his conversion in 1666
  3. The date of the ceremony is spelled out in full – “the fourth day of the second month” – because Quakers declined to use names of days and months derived from pagan gods
  4. Of great value to family historians, this early register lists the names of everyone present at the ceremony – these include Margaret and Richard Penn, who were presumably Penn’s mother and brother. His father had died two years beforehand
John Cadbury

  1. This is the marriage record for John Cadbury, who married in his wife’s home community of Exeter, Devon, in 1826. Cadbury’s second marriage, in 1832, can also be found at TheGenealogist
  2. Nonconformist registers often give details of occupations – in this case for Cadbury himself (a tea dealer before he hit upon making chocolate), his father and his new wife’s father
  3. The names of Priscilla Ann Dymond’s parents here are useful for tracing back a generation – although her mother Olive’s maiden name is not given, her own marriage to John Dymond is also at TheGenealogist, revealing her name to be Hitchcock
  4. The witnesses to the marriage are also listed, along with their occupations – two are merchants and therefore of the same class as the groom and the two fathers

Discover Your Ancestors Periodical is published by Discover Your Ancestors Publishing, UK. All rights in the material belong to Discover Your Ancestors Publishing and may not be reproduced, whether in whole or in part, without their prior written consent. The publisher makes every effort to ensure the magazine's contents are correct. All articles are copyright© of Discover Your Ancestors Publishing and unauthorised reproduction is forbidden. Please refer to full Terms and Conditions at The editors and publishers of this publication give no warranties,
guarantees or assurances and make no representations regarding any goods or services advertised.