Those searching for Irish Methodist baptismal, marriage and burial records are faced with the difficulty that for the first 50 or so years of their existence Methodists in Ireland regarded themselves as a members of a religious Society rather than constituting a separate church. During those formative years Methodist there were no baptisms or marriages conducted in Methodist chapels or preaching houses. Methodists would have normally gone to their local parish church for baptismal and marriage services.
The first Methodist society in Ireland was formed in Dublin in 1746 and John Wesley, the leader of the movement, came to Ireland for the first time in 1747. Over the course of the remainder of his lifetime he visited Ireland a total of 21 times. By the time of his death in 1791 Irish Methodist membership numbered over 14,000.
Both John and his brother, the hymn writer, Charles Wesley were ordained Anglican clergy and their movement in Ireland grew most rapidly in areas where the Anglican Church was strongest and among migrant European minorities (Moravians, Palatines and Huguenots). Although the numbers were fewer, members and some important leaders were also drawn from among Presbyterian and Catholic communities.
After John Wesley’s death Irish Methodism continued to grow, facilitated by the appointment of Irish-speaking preachers. By 1815 membership was just short of 30,000.
In 1816 the main body of Methodists (the Wesleyans) in Ireland took the decision to allow baptisms in their preaching houses or chapels, but it was a practice which was only gradually introduced among local Methodist societies throughout Ireland so that it wasn’t until the 1830s and 1840s that the practice became standard.
It means that even though your ancestors may have been Methodist in the eighteenth and the early nineteenth century the place to look for their baptism, marriage and burial records usually will be in the local Church of Ireland parish records or less frequently in Quaker or Presbyterian registers.
Even more confusing is that in 1816, when the main body of Irish (Wesleyan) Methodists voted to allow baptisms (and later marriages) in Methodist premises, almost a third of Irish Methodists rejected the Conference decision. They formed instead what they called the Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Society whose preachers and members remained loyal to Wesley’s ideal for his followers that they would remain loyal to the Established Church. The Primitive Wesleyan Methodists (sometimes called ‘Church’ Methodists) continued a separate existence until after Church Disestablishment and eventually reunited with Wesleyan Methodists in 1878. Throughout this period Primitive Wesleyan Methodists didn’t conduct any baptisms or have marriages in their premises until after 1872.
There were three other smaller branches of Methodism in Ireland whose individual membership never exceeded 1,000 but whose birth and marriage records cover a more extensive period. They were (dates in brackets giving the years of their existence in Ireland): the Methodist New Connexion (1798-1905); the [English] Primitive Methodist Connexion (1832-1910) and the Wesleyan Methodist Association (1838-1873).
Methodist baptism registers normally contain the baby’s name, date of birth and baptism, 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.
Methodist preaching houses or chapels were not formally licenced for marriage until after the ‘Registered Separate Buildings’ Act of August 1863. Prior to that, from 1845, it was possible to conduct a marriage in a Methodist chapel but only in the presence of a District Registrar who entered the record of the marriage into the Superintendent’s Registrar’s book and retained the record and not the local minister.
After 1863 when Methodist buildings in Ireland were licenced for marriages the records were held by the local Methodist church. The information recorded is the same as appears in civil marriage records: 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. The names of witnesses and that of the minister who celebrated the marriage are also recorded.
Sometimes an address is included, usually in the form of the townland or urban street name, and the father’s occupation.
Very few Methodist burial registers exist because it was rare for Methodist churches and chapels to have burial grounds attached. See Appendix One
Location of Records
A great number of Methodist baptism and marriage registers are still held by local Methodist churches. A list of addresses, phone numbers and emails of ministers in charge of the various churches may be found at: http://www.irishmethodist.org/find-church
However an increasing number of records have been transferred to the Archives and Library of the Methodist Historical Society of Ireland (MHSI) at Edgehill College, 9 Lennoxvale, Belfast. The most recent accession has been the major Dublin collection previously held at Christ Church, Sandymount, Dublin. A search for records held at the MHSI archives may be made on line at: http://opac.libraryworld.com/opac/home.php
A large collection of mostly Northern Ireland Methodist records is held on microfilm at PRONI copies of which are also held at the MHSI Archives in Belfast. There is in addition a valuable microfilm copy in PRONI of a transcript originally made in Dublin of almost every Irish Wesleyan baptism recorded between circa 1816 and 1845. There is also a hard copy at the MHSI archives.
Sources of other biographical information
Some of the earliest biographical material is found in the memoirs and obituaries contained in various Methodist magazines and journals which have been published in a variety of formats from 1778 onwards. Many of these relate to both the United Kingdom as well as Ireland so the number of Irish people among those listed is relatively few.
A list of Irish based Methodist publications is found in Appendix Two. Indexes are available to a number of these periodicals. For The Irish Evangelist (1859-1883) and The Irish Christian Advocate (1883-1971) there are card indexes for individual obituaries/memoirs and hand lists for local church histories at the MHSI Library. There are name indexes available on line to the Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Magazine (1823-1878): https://methodisthistoryireland.org/collections/catalogue-research-tools/online-catalogues/index-of-pwm-magazine-obituaries/
and to the Methodist Newsletter (1973 to the present) at: https://methodisthistoryireland.org/collections/catalogue-research-tools/online-catalogues/index-of-mnl-obituaries/
A complete record of all those who served as Methodist ministers/preachers with lists of appointments and biographical material is maintained at the MHSI archives. It is hoped that by the end of 2017 a list of those names will be available on line. Only those whose surnames begin with the initial ‘O’ has so far been listed: https://methodisthistoryireland.org/people/ministers//