By Jayne McGarvey
Researching early Methodist records in Ireland can be complex because Methodism began as a religious movement rather than a church, growing out of the Established Church (Church of Ireland) following John Wesley’s visit to Ireland in the mid-1700s.
Early Methodists were expected to attend other denominations for services and sacraments. This followed an edict by the Irish Conference of the Methodist Church with stated that no Methodist preacher in Ireland should perform the office of baptism. Baptism of Methodist families therefore, generally, but not always, used the Parish Church (Church of Ireland) for baptisms, marriages and burials.
Baptism within Methodist churches did not commence in Ireland until after 1816 following the split between the Primitive Wesleyan Methodists who retained their link with the Established Church and the Wesleyan Methodists who allowed their ministers to administer baptisms. The earliest surviving registers date from 1816 for Donegall Square, Belfast. These are held in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).
Primitive Wesleyans did not have separate baptism registers until the 1860s. The two branches of Methodism were re-united in 1878.
Another break-away branch of Methodism was the Methodist New Connection, their aim was to break even further away from the Established Church. Mostly confined to Counties Antrim and Down the New Connection re-united with their Methodist brethren in 1905.
Marriages commenced from between 1842 and 1844. However these marriages were only permitted in the presence of the District Registrar. Methodists were only permitted to register their buildings for marriage by their own ministers from 1863. This means that many marriages for Methodist families, both before and after Civil Registration (1845 for non-Catholic marriages) can be found scattered throughout Church of Ireland and records of other denominations and may post Civil Registration sometimes be recorded as a Civil Marriage only.
There are very few specific Methodist Burial Grounds – possibly the best known of these was at Ballymacarrett on the Newtownards Road in Belfast. However the graveyard was badly damaged during WWII bombing and was subsequently cleared. Unfortunately no burial registers exist for this site.
Methodist Churches were organised into series of circuits which do not follow Civil Parish boundaries. The composition of the various circuits has changed over time, as such, it is important to note that the records of any Methodist church may be found in several different circuits.
The Public Record Office for Northern Ireland (PRONI) has an excellent collection of records, encompassing many Methodist Churches throughout the 9 counties of Ulster. For ease of searching PRONI’s guide to church records locates the various Methodist Church records geographically by the corresponding Civil Parish in which they are located.
The Methodist Historical Society of Ireland based at Edgehill College, Belfast has a growing collection of baptismal and marriage registers from Methodist Churches throughout all of the Island of Ireland.
In addition to registers for baptism and marriage it is worth while checking out the many and varied publications, Sunday School Registers, Membership registers as substantive genealogical information can be extracted from these as well.
A number of baptism and marriage registers continue to be held by the individual Methodist Church.
There is very little Methodist specific information available on-line other than reference and finding aids. However these can be very useful in establishing what has survived and where it is held.
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