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Your Irish ancestry search in Methodist records

How to research the lives of your Methodist ancestors in Ireland

Irish Methodist records

If your Irish ancestry search leads you to Methodists, you will find it useful to aquaint yourself with the history of Methodism in Ireland before you start looking for church registers.

Methodist Church, Bandon, Cork, Ireland.

Bridge Street, Bandon, Co. Cork

The brief history in the right-hand column should make clear why, depending on when your ancestors lived, your time might be best spent looking for Methodist baptism, marriage and burial records in Church of Ireland registers.

Just to confuse matters, your Irish ancestry search for Methodists may also require you to look at Quaker and Presbyterian registers.

This is because, until the second decade of the 1800s, Methodists usually had dual membership with their local (Anglican) parish church, which they attended for family events such as christenings, weddings and funerals.

The earliest Methodist-only registers date from 1815/16. Most of them, however, started in the 1830s/1840s.
Methodist baptism registers (and those for marriage/burial) contain the same information as Church of Ireland records. The baby's name is given, plus the father's full name, the mother's first name, and the name of the minister. Sometimes an address is included, usually in the form of the townland or urban street name, and, from the 1820s, the father's occupation.

Marriages in Methodist preaching houses or chapels came quite a bit later than baptism. This is because Methodist buildings were not formally licensed for marriage until 1863.

Before that date, from 1845, while it was possible to have a marriage conducted in a Methodist chapel, it had to be in the presence of the District Registrar; it was he who retained the record of the event, not the local minister.

So the earliest Methodist marriage register you will come across in your Irish ancestry search will date from 1863 and the information will be exactly the same information as appears in the civil marriage record ie full names, ages and addresses of both bride and groom, occupation of groom, and the names and occupations of the fathers of bride and groom. Witnesses names are also recorded, along with the name of the minister.

Very few Methodist burial registers exist because there were only a small number of Methodist chapels across the island and only a small proportion of them had any land. So if you are looking for the death or burial record of a particular family or Irish ancestor, search the local Church of Ireland registers. But also see the Obituary box below.

Methodist baptism, marriage and burial registers were the personal property of individual ministers. They tended to travel over large areas (circuits) in order to preach to their flocks so the geographical scatter of each register can be confusing and you may have to look through a good many sets of records in your Irish ancestry search. Of course, the itinerant nature of the minister's life also meant that some registers were lost.

Where are the surviving records?

The vast majority of Methodist baptism and marriage registers are still held by the local chapels. Contact the minister of the congregation concerned. You can find the addresses and phone numbers (and some emails) at the Methodist Church of Ireland website:

55 years of obituaries

Between 1823-1878 the Primitive Methodists published a magazine which recorded obituaries for their leading members.

There is an index to these obituaries, which can be viewed by personal visitors, at the WHS archives (see contact details, right).

A large collection of Methodist records is held on microfilm at PRONI in Belfast. Your Irish ancestry search may well benefit from study of a collection held by PRONI in Belfast. It contains a large number of Methodist baptism records dating from 1815 to 1840 from chapels throughout Ireland and may have been an early attempt to compile a central register of records from all Irish parishes. Many of these records pre-date the registers held by individual Methodist churches.

PRONI also holds a county-by-county listing of surviving registers for Ulster province.

The Wesley Historical Society (WHS) archives hold a substantial number of registers – in microfilm and hard copy formats. The WHS can be contacted at Edgehill College, 9 Lennoxvale, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT9 5BY, UK, but does not provide an ancestral search service.

The Dublin District of the Methodist Church in Ireland also has a large collection of registers held at Christ Church, Sandymount, Dublin.

As explained above, if you are looking for records of Methodists, your Irish ancestry search should also include Church of Ireland registers. See the Related Pages link below.

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History of Irish Methodism

Methodism was founded by the Reverend John Wesley (1703-1791) in the late 1730s as an evangelical preaching arm of the Church of England (ie the Anglican church). He founded Irish Methodism after sailing up the River Liffey in Dublin on 9 August 1747 and just five years later established its first chapel at Whitefriar Street in Dublin.

John Wesley

Reverend John Wesley

He went on to make more than 20 additional visits to Ireland over the next 45 years until he died.

During this time he founded many Methodist Societies within the Church of Ireland (the Irish branch of the Anglican church) and Presbyterian churches. As a result, early Methodist baptism, marriage and burial records were recorded in Church of Ireland registers.

While Methodism split from the Church of England in the 1770s, it was not until 1816 that some Irish Methodists split from the Church of Ireland.

Initially, it was the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion that split and began holding its own services, administering baptisms, and maintaining its own church registers. The remaining group, known as the Primitive Methodists, finally broke from the Church of Ireland and joined the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion in 1878.

The united group formally emerged as the Methodist Church of Ireland but still refers to itself as The Connexion.

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Irish language preaching

The early Methodists in Ireland were English speakers preaching to other English speakers. This excluded the majority Irish-speaking population.

Recognising this limitation, Methodists began preaching in Irish in 1799.

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