The Genealogist Research Guide

What are they?

Non-Conformist records go back to the mid-1600's when various groups refused to conform to the Church of England and wished to have religious freedom to worship in their own way. These groups include Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Quakers, Methodists, Catholics and Unitarians.

The number of non-conformists is said to equal the number following the Church of England, making these records invaluable for your research.  TheGenealogist is the official TNA publisher for Non-Conformist records and also provides the largest collection online with over 8 million records.

Birth, marriage and death records are the most important way of tracking down your ancestors. The trouble is the BMD records in the General Register Office civil registration index only go back as far as 1837. These records pre-date civil registration and form an invaluable tool.

The hidden birth, marriage and death records have been compiled from various unpublished registries and many unusually include records of three generations of a family. These are a fantastic resource for the family historian and often prove to be the only record of the events.

Genealogy Supplies recognised the importance of the records and applied and won the bid to make these available online as part of The National Archives LIA scheme. This new release of online records means that for the first time these additional BMD records can be searched with ease rather than looking through millions of images on thousands of reels of microfilm.

Non-Parochial Records

Another part of this set of records are the early registrations of births, marriages and deaths from various sources. They include the birth records at Dr Williams' Library in London, hospital records of maternity, overseas registrations for British citizens and those on board ships.

Julian Dates

An important factor to remember when searching through early records is the variation in the calendar system. The Julian Calendar was the standard system until 1752 which was then replaced by the Gregorian Calendar and the first day of the year became January 1st. According to the Julian Calendar, the first day of the new year was 25th March 'Lady Day', so a full year would run from March 25th to March 24th. Dates between January 1st and March 24th would still be assigned the previous year, for example, January 1st 1744 would either be written as 1744 or 1744/45 to indicate the dual date. At TheGenealogist we use the date as written, so please be aware of this when searching for dates before March 1752.

Paleography (how to deal with difficult handwriting)

If you are having difficulty in reading a name the first thing to do is look at other entries to get a guide to how the author writes various letters. It can take a while to “get your eye in” as to how a particular set of registers is written. First names are more readily recognised and so gives a basis as to what letter shapes are used.

When trying to interpret a line you should look at the line above and follow any descenders down and try to imagine the line without the clutter of other entries from the line above or below.

If a name is particularly difficult you will need to break it down into a range of names from the possible letters.

As a general guide the following rules apply:

  • Letters such as p, f and q normally have straight descenders going below the line.
  • Letters such as y, g, j are likely to have loops to the left where as letters that swing to the right could be f or q.
  • Look for the crosses on t and the dots on j and i.
  • Look for straight strokes of l.
  • Watch out for the letter e, as this is often written backwards!

Don’t forget: some material may show a different surname spelling to a later one; as literacy improved these variations reduced.

What is RG4?

RG4 are registers (authenticated by the Non-Parochial Registers Commissioners) of births, baptisms, deaths, burials and marriages. They cover dates from 1567 to 1858. You can find full details on TNA website, including content and background information.

  • General Register Office, 1836-1970
  • Royal Hospital, Greenwich, 1694 onwards
  • Dr Williams' Library, 1742-1865
  • Presbyterian, Independent and Baptist Registry, 1742-1837
  • Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry, 1818-1838
  • Anglican (Church of England) BMD Records - Registers kept by institutions outside the normal Church of England parish structure, such as Greenwich Hospital.
  • Baptist, Independent and Presbyterian BMD Records - The Protestant Dissenters' Registry served the congregations of Baptist, Independents and Presbyterians in London and within a twelve mile radius of the capital. However, parents from most parts of the British Isles and even abroad also used the registry. It was started in 1742, with retrospective entries going back to 1716, and continued until 1837.
  • Wesleyan Methodist BMD Records - The Wesleyan Methodist Registry was set up in 1818 and provided registration of births and baptisms of Wesleyan Methodists throughout England, Wales and elsewhere. The registers continued until 1838, with some retrospective registration of births going back to 1773.
  • Roman Catholic BMD Records - Registers of births, baptisms, deaths, burials and marriages for some Roman Catholic communities in Dorset, Hampshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Yorkshire. The majority cover Northumberland.
  • Huguenot Records - The Huguenots were members of the French Protestant Church, many of whom, before the French Revolution of 1789, left their homes in France to escape persecution. More than 50,000 of these refugees came to the British Isles and many people can find that they are from a Huguenot descent. The Huguenot records available on The Genealogist cover parts of London, Middlesex, Essex, Gloucestershire, Kent, Devon and Norfolk. It is worth noting that these registers are not written in English.
  • Other Records - Outside of the UK we have some records for Russia. We also have a range of records from German, Dutch and Swiss churches in England.

What is RG5?

RG5 are Birth Certificates from the Presbyterian, Independent and Baptist Registry and from the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry. They cover dates from 1742 to 1840. You can find full details on TNA website, including content and background information.

Protestant Dissenters' Registry

The Protestant Dissenters' Registry served the congregations of Baptists, Independents and Presbyterians in London and within a twelve mile radius of the capital. However, parents from most parts of the British Isles and even abroad also used the registry. It was started in 1742, with retrospective entries going back to 1716, and continued until 1837. Unlike RG4, RG5 contains only the birth records.

The increased requirement to provide evidence of birth led the Dissenting Deputies (representing Baptists, Congregationalists & Presbyterians) to establish a births register of their children in 1743 at the Dissenters Library.

Originally for parents living within 12 miles of London it subsequently became open to anyone, regardless of distance or denomination, provided a fee was paid.

Contains details of three generations of a family (approximately 200,000 named individuals)

Registered at Rev. Daniel Williams Library, Redcross Street, Cripplegate, London

Start date April 6th 1743 - End date Dec 30th 1837

Wesleyan Methodist Registry

The Wesleyan Methodist Registry was set up in 1818 and provided registration of births and baptisms of Wesleyan Methodists throughout England, Wales and elsewhere. The registers continued until 1838, with some retrospective registration of births going back to 1773. The Wesleyan Methodist registry opened in Paternoster Row, London in 1818.
The certificates and the register entry have the name and sex of the child, the name and address of the father, the name of the mother and of both her parents, the date and place of birth, and the name of the Wesleyan circuit, with the signature (or name, in the register) of the parents, the witnesses to the birth, and the baptising minister. Contains details of three generations of each family (about 50,000 named individuals).

The Wesleyan Methodist registry opened in Paternoster Row, London in 1818.

The certificates and the register entry have the name and sex of the child, the name and address of the father, the name of the mother and of both her parents, the date and place of birth, and the name of the Wesleyan circuit, with the signature (or name, in the register) of the parents, the witnesses to the birth, and the baptising minister.

Contains details of three generations of each family (about 50,000 named individuals).

What is RG6?

RG6 is the Society of Friends' Registers, Notes and Certificates of Births, Marriages and Burials ranging from 1578-1841.

Scope and content

Registers of births, deaths, burials and marriages of congregations of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in England and Wales. A number of original birth and burial notes and original marriage certificates are included. The documents in the series are arranged by Quarterly or Monthly Meetings, which consisted of a county or combinations of counties.

With these RG6 records, it is important to remember that entries may be recorded in a number of registers, Monthly and / or Quarterly - but differences may occur and it is always worth viewing each record.

Administrative / biographical background

The Quakers had the reputation for maintaining the most meticulous records in keeping registers of births (Quakers did not practise baptism), marriages and deaths, as well as other records which related to their congregations, these being essential to record and ascertain membership of the Society.

Register books began to be kept by Quaker meetings from the late 1650s. Generally these registers were the responsibility of the Monthly Meeting and details were often compiled from independent records of the individual meetings. Sometimes, however, local registers were also kept by Preparative Meetings. To assist in their desire for parliamentary recognition of their marriage procedure under statute law, the Quakers developed a system of ceremony and registration which was so thorough that when Hardwicke's Marriage Act was passed in 1753, the Quakers were specifically excluded from the requirement to marry in Anglican churches.

In 1776, following a decision by the Yearly Meeting of 1774, the Quakers overhauled their whole registration system and introduced a more systematic procedure. Birth and burial notes were standardised with printed books being provided for Monthly and Quarterly Meetings.

The post-1776 birth notes and register entries contain the date of birth, place of birth (locality, parish and county), parents' names (often with the father's occupation), the child's name, the names of the witnesses, and are noted as a true copy with the signature of the registrar of the Meeting (for register entries). It is not always stated whether the father was living at the time of the birth. The post-1776 burial notes and register entries commence with the gravemaker's name and the date the grave was to be made, followed by the burial place and details of the deceased (name, residence, age, date of death), and concludes with the actual date of burial, and the mark or signature of the gravemaker (as witness).

All marriage certificates were transcribed at full length into Monthly Meeting registers, together with the names of witnesses. Quarterly Meeting registers were started consisting of printed forms of abstracts of the marriage certificates. In 1794, this requirement for Monthly Meetings to keep full copies of the certificates was rescinded, and from that date only the books of abstracts were kept by Monthly and Quarterly Meetings. These printed abstracts start with the date of the marriage, details of the groom (his name, residence and occupation), the groom's parents (including father's occupation), the bride's name, the bride's parents (including the father's occupation), the place where the ceremony was held, and conclude with signatures of witnesses the parties, and the registrar (or clerk) to the Meeting (for register entries).

You can find full details on TNA website, including content and background information.

What is RG7?

RG7 is the collection of registers and notebooks of Clandestine Marriages and Baptisms in the Fleet Prison, King's Bench Prison, the Mint and the May Fair Chapel ranging from 1667-c1777.

Scope and content

Principally registers, 1667-c1777, and note books, 1682-1774, giving particulars of clandestine marriages and baptisms performed in the Fleet Prison, at the May Fair Chapel, at King's Bench Prison or within the Mint, as well as entries in the Fleet registers of other ceremonies performed at these places. This series records the marriages of a significant proportion of the population of London and surrounding areas up to 1754. The 'Report of the Commission into Marriage Law' of 1868 estimated that countrywide in the first half of the eighteenth century, a third of all marriages were actually clandestine. Of these, the Fleet registers in this series are the most significant source, containing an estimated 400,000 entries representing over 200,000 weddings.

With these RG7 records, it is important to remember that a marriage may be recorded in a number of registers - but differences may occur from incorrect copying. The notebook entries are likely to be more accurate than the entries copied into the registers.

Administrative / biographical background

In the 1740s, over half of all London weddings were held at the Fleet (over 6500 per year) with a further thousand conducted at the May Fair Chapel. By the late 17th century, provided that a couple exchanged vows and had some proof of this, then a marriage would be considered valid under English Common Law. Marriages by a form of ceremony conducted by an ordained clergyman, but without banns or licence, and generally not in a church or chapel, usually away from the parish of the bride or groom were termed clandestine marriages. Such ceremonies were often shrouded in secrecy as there were a variety of motives for requiring a clandestine marriage, the primary appeal being reasons of cost, while other reasons included the avoidance of the need to obtain parental consent, requiring a back dated ceremony to legitimise offspring or attempts to validate claims upon an inheritance or a Will.

Clandestine marriages began to grow in numbers from the middle of the seventeenth century. The authorities attempted to quell this growth by introducing three parliamentary acts between 1694 and 1696 which collectively regulated marriages, introduced marriage taxes and censured and suspended clergy found to be involved. These, however, only applied to marriage centres which came under the jurisdiction (or visitation) of the bishop of the diocese. These acts inadvertently gave a near monopoly to private marriage centres outside the bishop's visitation (e.g. prisons) and to clergymen (many of whom were prisoners) who had been dismissed or were in debt and who had nothing to lose by conducting clandestine, fee-paying marriages. In 1711, Parliament passed legislation which included an attempt to deal with the problem of such clandestine marriages being conducted in prisons. A clause was included in the act to counter the loss of revenue (from non-payment of stamp duties) caused by clandestine marriages. The clause continued the imposition of fines for any person in 'holy orders' conducting a marriage but also introduced the same fine for any prison keeper who permitted such a marriage at his prison. While this prevented the marriages being performed inside the prisons, it did not prevent them being conducted in other locations in the vicinity of the prisons: e.g. the Liberties (or Rules) of the Fleet, or the Mint (for King's Bench Prison). On 25 March 1754, all clandestine marriages were made illegal by Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act; although couples were still able to travel to other areas of the United Kingdom where the act did not apply: i.e. across the border into Scotland (e.g. Gretna Green), or to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Fleet Prison was primarily a debtors prison and stood on the east bank of the Fleet River in what is now Farringdon Street, London. The marriages performed at the Fleet involved all classes from London and the surrounding counties, but mainly catered for artisans, farmers, labourers and craftsmen from the poorer parishes of London, soldiers (including Chelsea Pensioners), and particularly sailors. King's Bench Prison was located on the east side of Borough High Street in Southwark. As with the Fleet, the majority of prisoners were debtors. Relatively few marriages were performed in the Prison itself, and by the 1740s, those marriages which had been performed in the Mint began to be held at the Fleet. The King's Bench and the Mint, because of their location, tended to attract a high proportion of couples from Kent and Surrey. From the late 1720s, clandestine marriages commenced at May Fair, which eventually became only second to the Fleet in terms of notoriety for such marriages. Initially, May Fair marriages were performed at St George's Chapel, Curzon Street, Mayfair, near Hyde Park Corner then, from 1744, at a private dwelling house (the 'New' or 'Little Chapel') situated ten yards away from St George's Chapel. Whereas clandestine marriages performed at the Fleet and King's Bench prisons and surrounding areas tended to attract the working classes, the May Fair Chapel was used by professional classes and the aristocracy for marriages, including the Dukes of Cleveland and Hamilton, Lord Stanley, and Lord George Bentinck . The need for a public record of the marriages meant that they were recorded in registers and some were produced as evidence in court cases. The registers of the Fleet were kept, for the most part, by the ministers (or their clerks) who performed the ceremonies, by self-appointed register-keepers, by the landlords of some of the houses where the ceremonies took place, and by persons who appear to have set up record offices at a later date and made copies of registers in the possession of others.

It must be emphasised that the information in the Fleet documents (particularly those before 1714) should be treated with extreme caution as dates given can be unreliable and also people would request not to record their surnames, or would give false names to protect their real identity from a fear of discovery.

What is RG8?

General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non Parochial Registers Commission of 1857. Among the more extensive collections in this series are the registers of the British Lying-in Hospital, Holborn, which record particulars of births and baptisms. These cover the period 1749 to 1868 and are very detailed.

Burial records, registers of the Chapels Royal and the archive of the Russian Orthodox Church in London.

Scope and content

Registers of birth, baptisms, death, burials and marriages which were collected by the Non-Parochial Registers Commissioners of 1857, or which were later deposited for safe custody at the General Register Office and the Public Record Office. Some of these registers were authenticated by the Commissioners, and are marked to that effect: others were left unauthenticated because they arrived at the General Register Office after the Commission was dissolved. Some may have been refused authentication by the Commissioners. Among the more extensive collections in this series are the registers of the British Lying-in Hospital, Holborn, which record particulars of births and baptisms; registers of burials in the Victoria Park Cemetery, the New Burial Ground, Southwark, Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, Hackney, and the Bethnal Green Protestant Dissenters Burying Ground; registers of Chapels Royal at St James's Palace, Whitehall and Windsor Castle.
The rest of the series contains the archive of the Russian Orthodox Church in London, 1721-1927. The records include not only registers of births, marriages, deaths and conversions, but also comprehensive general records on the day-to-day workings of the church. The usual language is Russian, with some Greek; there are a few documents such as certificates, letters and passports in English, French and German. These records are under the link RG8 Books.

Further Details

The Lying in Hospital records cover the birth and baptism records of various children born in the hospital. It also includes death dates where it has been noted. They cover the period 1749 to 1868 and are very detailed.

The records can include the following information:-

The Date and order of admission, Woman and Husbands Name, Occupation, Woman’s Age, Parish, Time of Reckoning, Came in, Went out on leave, Returned, Delivered, Child Baptised, Woman Discharged, Recommenders Name

Below is an example from the Register of Births and Baptisms and a Register of Deaths in the British Lying-In Hospital in Endell Street, St Giles in the Fields, Holborn, Middlesex

On the 17th June 1758, Rachel Ward wife of John a Staymaker aged 27 of the parish St Martin in the Fields was admitted. She gave birth to a boy on the 17th June who was then baptised on the 25th June with the name Thomas. She was Discharged 5th July. Rachel Ward was recommended to the hospital by Lady Carpenter.

Both the original record of the hospital entry and the baptism images can be viewed, printed or downloaded plus the details viewed and a small tree printed.

What is RG32?

General Register Office:Overseas Births, Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths and Burials Abroad and on British & Foreign ships, of British subjects, nationals of the colonies, the Commonwealth and countries under British jurisdiction. Also Lundy Island Devon and Channel Island records.
Events affecting some foreign nationals are also included. Records consist mainly of certificates issued by foreign registration authorities, which are in local languages, and copies of entries kept by incumbents of English churches and missions, chaplains and burial authorities.
These cover the period 1831 to 1969 and are very detailed.

Scope and content

The series contains largely non-statutory records relating to Births, Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths and Burials abroad, and on British as well as foreign ships, of British subjects, nationals of the colonies, the Commonwealth and countries under British jurisdiction.
Events affecting some foreign nationals are also included. Records consist mainly of certificates issued by foreign registration authorities, which are in local languages, and copies of entries kept by incumbents of English churches and missions, chaplains and burial authorities.
It also contains documents sent by individuals to the Registrar General.
For the Second World War period some notifications of deaths of members of the services, prisoners of war, civilians, internees and deaths through aircraft lost in flight are included. Notifications of some post-war deaths of civilians in mining service are preserved. There is also material relating to the Channel Islands and a return for births on Lundy Island (Devon).

What is RG33?

General Register Office:Overseas Birth, Marriage, death and Burial of British Subjects including those onboard ships. Also Lundy Island Devon. Original registers, notebooks and copies of entries in registers kept by incumbents of English churches and missions, British embassies and legations etc. These cover the period 1627 to 1960 and are very detailed.

Scope and content

Registers of Overseas Birth, Marriage, death and Burial of British Subjects including those onboard ships. Also Lundy Island Devon. Original registers, notebooks and copies of entries in registers kept by incumbents of English churches and missions, British embassies and legations etc. These cover the period 1627 to 1960 and are very detailed.

With these RG33 records, it is important to remember that a record may be recorded in a number of registers - but differences may occur from incorrect copying. The notebook entries are likely to be more accurate than the entries copied into the registers. It is also important to consider that a marriage may also be recorded in the RG34 series however differences / more detail may occur and it is always worth checking both entries (if applicable) to obtain the most information possible.

What is RG34?

General Register Office: Overseas Foreign Marriage Returns. This series contains marriage certificates issued by foreign registration authorities and churches, copies of entries in the registers kept by British embassies, incumbents of English churches and chaplains, notification of marriages of servicemen during service abroad, and documents deposited for safekeeping. These cover the period 1861 to 1921.

Scope and content

Overseas Foreign Marriage Returns. This series contains marriage certificates issued by foreign registration authorities and churches, copies of entries in the registers kept by British embassies, incumbents of English churches and chaplains, notification of marriages of servicemen during service abroad, and documents deposited for safekeeping. These cover the period 1861 to 1921. These records give detailed information about both the groom and the bride and their family. Military Marriage records are also included in this record set giving Groom and Wife’s Name, Rank, Regiment and Nationality.

With RG34 records, it is important to remember that a marriage may also be recorded in the RG33 series but differences / more detail may occur and it is always worth checking both entries (if applicable) to obtain the most information possible.

What is RG35?

General Register Office: Miscellaneous Foreign Death Returns - 1791-1921. Contains death certificates issued by foreign registration authorities and churches, copies of entries in the registers kept by British embassies, incumbents of English churches and chaplains, notification of marriages of servicemen during service abroad, and documents deposited for safekeeping. The records cover the period 1791 to 1921.

Scope and content

This series contains death certificates issued by foreign registration authorities and churches, copies of entries in the registers kept by British embassies, incumbents of English churches and chaplains, notification of marriages of servicemen during service abroad, and documents deposited for safekeeping. They include an incomplete collection of certificates of British military deaths in France and Belgium, 1914 to 1921, issued by the registration authorities of those countries.

What is RG36?

RG36 Registers and Returns of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the Protectorates etc of Africa and Asia Covering dates 1895-1965. Notifications of birth, marriage and death forwarded by officials responsible for civil registration under administrative ordinances in Nyasaland, Kenya, Somaliland, Uganda, Sudan, Palestine, Sarawak, Malaya, including Johore and Selangor, and British North Borneo.

Scope and content

This series contains Registers and Returns of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the Protectorates etc of Africa and Asia Covering dates 1895-1965. Notifications of birth, marriage and death forwarded by officials responsible for civil registration under administrative ordinances in Nyasaland, Kenya, Somaliland, Uganda, Sudan, Palestine, Sarawak, Malaya, including Johore and Selangor, and British North Borneo. These newly added records were previously only viewable on microfilm at The National Archives.

How To: Searching the Registers online

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You can access all the non-conformist records from the Master Search on your Search page or by selecting BMD Registers from the drop down box, which will then take you to another search page. The search allows you to enter first and last name, select a specific event, e.g. baptism you can also refine by data set e.g RG6, as well a piece number, year and place.. You can also tick to include family members, which means that search results will include entries where the person searched for is not the main person on the entry, e.g. the father recorded on a baptism.

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The results page given will show you all matching entries, with details of the year, place, record-set and piece number. The 'Full Details' link on the right opens the transcript in a new window with complete details of the entry, and the link 'Page Image' also opens the original image into a new window.

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Click on the link below to read how Florence Nightingale can be traced through the RG4 and RG5 record sets:

http://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/featuredarticles/2009/florence-nightingale-102/

What is the BT Series?

BT158 Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages of Passengers at Sea. Covering dates 1854-1908.

BT159 Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Registers of Deaths at Sea of British Nationals. Covering dates 1875-1888

BT160 Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Registers of Births at Sea of British Nationals. Covering dates 1875-1891

Scope and content

These are registers compiled from ships' official logs of births, deaths and marriages of passengers at sea by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen (RGSS) and its predecessor.

From 1874, the RGSS was required to report births and deaths at sea, aboard all ships registered in Britain or its colonies and on foreign-registered ships carrying passengers to or from the UK, to the Registrars General of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland (the General Register Offices). The name of this series is misleading as it includes events related to persons of any nationality, not just British nationals. It should also cover events on foreign-registered passenger ships travelling to or from a UK port, but there is little evidence of this in the registers themselves.

There are separate volumes for England, Scotland and Ireland corresponding to the GRO to whom the details were to be reported. The registers for Scotland and Ireland contain details where the deceased was a ‘Scotch or Irish subject of Her Majesty’. The registers for England include all events not reported to the GROs for Scotland and Ireland and thus contain entries for foreign nationals as well as those for English and Welsh subjects.