This post is by Pharos Tutor, Stuart Raymond, author, teacher and genealogist
I had a very curious experience last year. I asked Pen & Sword if they would be interested in publishing a book on Nonconformist Ancestors. To which the response was, well, why not expand it to include the Church of England as well? To which my response was, the nonconformist sources would be swamped. Well, in that case, why not two books, one on Nonconformity, one on the Church of England. Oh, and throw in another on Roman Catholic records as well. To which I responded, Help!!!
But my publisher was right. There were few up to date books which provided comprehensive coverage of sources relating to the various different denominations. Yes, there are many which cover aspects of those sources, such as my own on Parish Registers, or some of the Society of Genealogists’ My ancestors were … series on specific denominations. But there was little recent work which covered the whole range of sources in detail. So I set to work.
Earlier this year, the first of the trilogy appeared. Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors: a guide for family and local historians aims to provide an overview of nonconformist records. It begins with an outline history of nonconformity, which explains the context in which records were created. Those records are held in many different record offices, which are discussed in some detail. Many records are common to all nonconformist denominations, for example, state and ecclesiastical records of late seventeenth-century persecution, and the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials deposited with the Registrar General in 1841 and 1856 (and now available at http://www.bmdregisters.co.uk). The structures of the various nonconformist denominations are sometimes very different, and it is important to know that the record keeping activities of Quakers are very centralised, whereas most Baptist or Congregationalist records do not go beyond the local church. The sheer diversity of nonconformist denominations must also be taken into account. The first denomination mentioned in my index is the Apostolic Church, and the last the Wesleyan Reform Union.
Tracing your Church of England Ancestors: a Guide for Family and Local Historians is currently on the point of publications; indeed, attendees at WDYTYA have already had the opportunity to see copies. As one would expect, this includes chapters on parish registers and associated sources of baptisms, marriages and burials, and also on probate records (which were a church responsibility). But it also deals with a wide range of other sources created by the Church of England at both diocesan and parish level. These range from churchwardens’ accounts to midwives’ licences, from incumbents’ visiting books to excommunication record. There is also a chapter on the records of Anglican organizations such as the Church Missionary Society, and the Waifs and Strays Society. I wonder how many genealogists have used the records of charities such as these?
The third book in the trilogy, Tracing your Roman Catholic Ancestors, is not due to appear until early next year. It will of course look at records of Roman Catholic baptisms, marriages and burials, which can be found in both Anglican parish registers, and in Catholic mission registers. But Catholics were subject to severe persecution for over 250 years after 1558, much more so than the nonconformists. So I will be looking in detail at the records of persecution by both state and church. Attention will also be given to the numerous seminaries, monasteries, convents and schools founded by English exiles on the continent during the penal years – and to the many institutions founded in England when the French Revolution forced their return to England. How many of our ancestors attended the Catholic schools they founded?
Now, what was I doing before I started all this? Ah yes, conducting my Pharos courses on apprentices and the seventeenth century.
Stuart A. Raymond
31st May 2017
Buy Stuart’s books from Genfair: https://www.genfair.co.uk/search.php
Pen & Sword website: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/