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I'm searching for the baptism on my ancestor Mary Darby, who was born between 1811 and 1818, and am trying to assess whether I should search in non-conformist records as well as Parish/Established Church register.

[I note that I am making an assumption that she was baptised at all, but that's a subject for a different question.]

The range of birth dates is based on:

  • her marriage date in 1834 (assuming she was at least 16 and probably 18 or over);
  • the 1841 census (her age was given as 25, but may have been rounded down from at most 29);
  • her death in 1847 (her age was given as 34).

I know the place of her marriage (the Parish Church in Halesowen in Worcester); however in 1834, she would not have been able to marry in a non-conformist church, so this tells me nothing about her religious practices. The marriage was by Banns, which again tells me little -- some non-conformists preferred to marry by licence, by banns was cheaper. Both participants were noted as being 'Of This Parish'.

I know that a least one of her daughters was baptised in the Church of England as a child; and another daughter had several children baptised ditto. Her husband was also baptised in the Church of England.

I intend to search for her baptism records in the parishes of Halesowen (where she married) and Oldbury (where she lived between at least 1836 until her death in 1847; and also the adjacent parishes (identified using information from GENUKI). I anticipate that this will throw up a number of candidates to investigate and eliminate (or not). I can access online or PDF transcriptions of all the relevant PRs for the period in question (from what I judge to be reliable sources). However, non-conformist records are harder to find and there were a number of non-conformist chapels in the search area at the time. Some records will only be available at a physical archives; some will not be accessible at all.

With the information I have, can I confidently exclude the possibility that she came form a non-conformist family? If not, what steps if any can I take to determine this (other than searching the records of 2 dozen or more chapels?)

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In my experience, there is no prescribed way to determine whether a search for non-conformist records will be fruitful.

  • You can look at given names in the family. For example, certain biblical names were popular among various Christian denominations, or acquired middle names might indicate Catholic.
  • Many other records do sometimes specify information about religion – ranging from school to prison records. However such records are not, generally, easily accessed.
  • Identify Mary's burial record, which could contain valuable insight into her religion.

My approach to this would be:

  • There is every indication that Mary Darby was Anglican. She was married in an Anglican church (albeit there was no alternative), some children were baptised in the Anglican church, her husband was also. Nothing you have described makes me think that Mary likely came from a non-conformist background.

  • That being said, there is no way to rule out that her parents were non-conformist. If you find no evidence in Anglican records, at that point I would turn to non-conformist records. I generally would not search non-conformist records in detail before this, but sometimes I do a broad search of Ancestry.co.uk or FindMyPast to start with to see if anything jumps out.

  • A case like this, where you have no definitive evidence for her birthplace, will take trial and error. I agree with your approach to identify any and all baptisms in the proximity first.

  • Based on the death age (suggesting born c.1813) and fact that no parental consent is listed on the marriage record (suggesting age 21 or above, i.e. born before c.1813), I would start my search with a relatively narrow range of birth of 1811-1815, and expand if necessary.

  • The 1841 census does state she was born in the county (Oldbury p. Halesowen at that time was in an exclave of Shropshire). So that is a starting point. With probablematic border or exclave parishes, you obviously have to consider that they might have been born in neighboring counties such as Worcestershire or Staffordshire. This all suggests she was a local girl, but precisely which county she was born in is difficult to pinpoint.

  • Even if you do identify a viable baptism (either Anglican or non-conformist), you will needed other records to assess if or whether it is likely correct. You will likely need to research the candidate's siblings and parents to see if you can identify any wills or other documentation that ties them to your Mary. In fact, if you have easy access to the local archives it would not be a bad starting place to look at any Darby wills in the Archdeaconry and Diocese of Worcester. I would also expand a search into the Diocese of Lichfield as well, due to its proximity and easy records access (available on FindMyPast).

  • I often find it useful to browse for burials with the same surname in the parish of marriage or settlement – i.e. Halesowen and Oldbury. With a relatively uncommon name like Darby, you might be able to find some good candidates for Mary's parents, even if she was not baptised in that parish.

  • Don't forget to also include Derby, Darbey, etc in the search (personal experience with this surname).

  • Bottom line is I would not get caught up on the baptism record at this point, as it really is only one small piece of the puzzle. Certainly it is the obvious starting point, but the baptism alone is not going to tell you whether you have the correct record, you need other evidence to back it up.

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