- General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857. Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Registrar General (RG) 4. The National Archives, Kew, England.
- General Register Office: Birth Certificates from the Presbyterian, Independent and Baptist Registry and from the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry. Digitized images. Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Registrar General (RG) 5. The National Archives, Kew, England.
- General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non Parochial Registers Commission of 1857, and other registers and church records in the Protectorates of Africa and Asia. Records of the General Register Office, Government Social Survey Department, and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Registrar General (RG) 8. The National Archives, Kew, England.
This collection is mainly comprised of birth, marriage, and death registers from non-conformist congregations and churches in England and Wales that were turned over to the Registrar General following the Non-Parochial Register Act of 1840 and a later request in 1857. It also includes non-parochial registers from the Church of England at St Petersburg, Chelsea and Greenwich Hospitals, and registers from burial grounds and non-denominational cemeteries. You’ll also find Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist birth certificates. Details found in the records will vary depending on the event and the time period.
Following England’s split with the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII and his establishment of the Church of England, Protestants of other faiths, Catholics, Quakers and Jews were considered Nonconformists. Availability of Nonconformist records for births, baptisms, marriages and deaths is inconsistent, particularly in the earliest years. Not all Nonconformist congregations kept records, and where they did, not all of the registers survived. At times, Nonconformists sometimes faced persecution and so didn’t want evidence of their involvement with dissenting religions. This was also true of Catholics, who faced particularly severe consequences prior to the passage of the Catholic Relief Acts of the late 1700s.
With the enactment of the Hardwicke Act in 1754, all Anglicans and Nonconformists, except for Quakers and Jews, were required to be married in the Church of England, though it didn't have to be at the local parish, provided you had the right kind of licence, or if at least one of the parties was resident in a parish for three weeks (long enough to have the marriage banns called). This means you’ll find many Nonconformist marriage records in Anglican parish records. Finding only marriages for your ancestors in Anglican parish records could be a clue that there were Nonconformists and that their births or baptisms were recorded elsewhere.
Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths began in 1837, and you can find indexes to birth, marriage and death records in England and Wales Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes.
A History of Parish Registers
Here are some key dates for understanding the historical background of non-parochial registers:
- 1754 — Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act requires a separate marriage register that records witnesses, signatures of all parties, occupation of groom, and the residences of the couple marrying. The act also states that only Church of England marriages are legally valid, enforces banns and makes clandestine marriages illegal. As a result, there are very few non-conformist marriage registers from 1754 onwards.
- 1837 — Civil registration is mandated for all births, marriages, and deaths. For the first time since the passage of Lord Hardwicke’s Act in 1754, all marriages do not have to be performed in a church. Where the Church of England had previously enjoyed a monopoly, civil registrars of marriage could now marry non-conformists, including Roman Catholics, in their own churches and chapels. Also, civil birth registration now has a legal status previously only enjoyed by Church of England baptism certificates.