My Process for Exploring the Family History of Primitive Methodists


My objective is use online resources to provide basic information including as far as possible about when and where a person was born, their parents, their occupation, details of partners and children and when and where they died.

Starting Point

My usual starting point is an obituary, usually in the Primitive Methodist Magazine or Christian Messenger, or in the case of someone who was a PM minister, Leary’s Directory of Primitive Methodist Ministers and their Circuits, 1990. The latter lists the circuits served by a minister and gives references to obituaries and other sources.

In the case of an enquiry there is an index of obituaries in the Primitive Methodist Magazine, complied by Leary that can be used to see if there is an obituary readily accessible.

For ministers who died after 1932 there is usually an obituary in the Minutes of the Methodist Conference.

I access these sources at the Museum of Primitive Methodism, Englesea Brook, although some of the material in the Primitive Methodist Magazine is available online. See

The records in Leary regarding ministers often ends with the term ‘disappears’ at the end of the stations. This typically means one of the following.

  1. They returned to lay activity
  2. They transferred to another denomination
  3. They moved abroad. 

If they moved to another Methodist denomination they may be found in;
Beckerlegge, Oliver A.   United Methodist ministers and their circuits . London: Epworth Press, 1968
i) Check the A-Z lists of Wesleyan Ministers on My Wesleyan Methodists. If the individual “died in the work” they will be listed.
ii) A number of editions of Hill’s Arrangements are already available free of charge online. They may be found by following this link

Ministers who moved to the Congregational Church may be found in the Surman Index.

For ministers who moved to other denominations or abroad, I look to census returns for information.

For ministers who were alive in 1933 the Who’s Who in Methodism 1933 is another useful source for information about partners and number of children post the 1911 census return.

Tracking movement from Census returns

I search for people in census returns using one or more of the following online resources.

Note the first three are subscription sites and whilst the latter is free you need to register.

Based on my searches I hope to find information about place of birth, parents names and occupations, location at the time of each census, partner’s christian name and children with their approximate year of birth. The years that can be searched are 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. There is also the 1939 Register online at Ancestry and Findmypast. The latter is useful for determining dates of birth.

A further subscription site is available if you are particularly looking for records relating to Scotland. I have no experience of using it.

Births, Marriages and Deaths

The above websites can also be used to identify births, marriages and deaths.

A couple of useful tips:

  • Many, but not all, Findmypast birth records now identify the maiden name of the mother. This can be a useful  input into a search for a marriage when you know the full names of both partners.
  • To find children born after the 1911 census you can enter a surname and mothers maiden name into a Findmypast search. Based on location and child bearing ages you can sometimes identify the children born after 1911.

The above sites also have information from parish records and Bishop’s transcripts. These are useful for pre-1837 births and marriages, but are not comprehensive.

If you are looking for information relating to the Isle of Man, I have found the following site helpful.

Probate Records

Both Ancestry and Findmypast can be used to search for probate information. Ancestry provides a fuller service. Probate records can be helpful in determining the actual date and location of death, especially if there is no obituary. They can also provide some information about executors and their occupations as well as an indication of the size of the estate.

People who have moved abroad

Findmypast can give clues to someone having moved abroad, but I usually use Ancestry where I can find census returns for the USA and Canada and births, marriage and death records for several countries including USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Both Ancestry and Findmypast also have records relating to passenger lists so it is possible to tie down movements of people in and out of the country.

A Word of Warning displays many family trees that have been put together by subscribers. I recommend that these are taken with a ‘pinch of salt’, especially those which quote other Ancestry trees as a source. I have used them to provide a ‘steer’ but always check out the sources before publishing.

Other useful sources

Newspaper archives – some of these are available free online.

The Primitive Methodist Leader is available on line from John Rylands Library.

This can provide useful information about births, deaths and marriages between 1905 and 1932.

Google – If you are struggling with a name it is always worth ‘googling’ – it is surprising what may come up.

Taking things further

I have only described the sources I use to do online searches. If you want to go deeper then you need to go to relevant County Archives in places where the person you are researching was located. The Methodist Heritage website (  can help identify which record office is relevant to each circuit.

Records that may help your research include:

  • local newspapers
  • preaching plans for local preachers
  • church and circuit records, e.g. minutes of Quarterly meeting or Trustees’ meetings.
  • church records of baptisms, deaths and marriages

You can order copies of Birth, Marriage, and Death certificates at a cost from the General Records Office.

A useful guide to researching family history for Methodists is the following book:
Philip Thornborow, A Methodist in the family? Answers to ten frequently asked family history questions, 2014.

Happy researching!

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