I am trying to research the birth of a child in 1864 in Holbeach, Lincolnshire (England), and have run into a problem with the lack of a baptismal record. There was only one parish (All Saint's) for this town at that time, as far as I know, and although the child appears in the civil registration birth indices, and in later census records, he is not present in the All Saint's baptismal book for the period in which he was registered (Oct-Dec 1864), or indeed any other period, from what I can tell. Thus I suspect his family did not belong to the Church of England. In which case, do I have any ways to determine which church (be it Roman Catholic or non-conformist) he/his family did belong to?

3 Answers 3


I would first caution:

  • In searching for his baptism record, you could be searching for something which simply has never existed. Baptism was neither a legal nor cultural imperative in the 1860s in England. He might just not have been baptised.

  • Many children were not baptised at birth, or even in the first year of life. Some were not baptised until their teenage years, or later. Therefore you may need to extend the search significantly.

  • Many children were also not baptised at their place of birth. Families often moved parishes, or even counties, between birth and baptism. So you may have to look further afield.

  • Children did not necessarily follow the denomination they were originally baptised into, later in life.

Church of England baptisms are generally the first, and easiest, to investigate. Holbeach had a number of different churches over the years (both Anglican and non-conformist). From the GENUKI page for Holbeach:


  • All Saints, Holbeach, Church of England
  • St John, Holbeach, Church of England
  • St Luke, Holbeach, Church of England
  • St Mark, Holbeach, Church of England
  • St Matthew, Holbeach, Church of England


  • Albert Street, Holbeach, Baptist

Congregational / Independent

  • Holbeach, Congregationalist


  • Albert Street/Albert Walk, Holbeach, Methodist (United Free)
  • Chapel Street, Holbeach, Methodist (Wesleyan)
  • Edinburgh Walk, Holbeach, Methodist (Primitive)
  • Jekils Bank, Holbeach Fen, Holbeach, Methodist (United Free)
  • Jekils Bank, Holbeach Fen, Holbeach, Methodist (Wesleyan)
  • Marsh Road, Holbeach Hurn, Holbeach, Methodist (Wesleyan)
  • Roman Bank, Holbeach Bank, Holbeach, Methodist (Primitive)
  • Roman Bank, Holbeach Hurn, Holbeach, Methodist (United Free)
  • St Marks Road, Holbeach Marsh, Holbeach, Methodist (Wesleyan)

Roman Catholic

  • Holy Trinity, Holbeach, Roman Catholic

There is no central repository for non-conformist churches. They are typically archived in the local archives, so the general process is a matter of determining which is most likely. Do any other records for the family mention denomination or religion – records such as school records or prison records can be helpful in this respect, apart from marriages and burials. Next step is determining which of those churches were open in the 1860s, and which and where any records (if they survive) may be. Some records may still be held by the church itself. The Lincolnshire Archives is a good place to contact, if you cannot find where records for a specific church are located.

In trying to narrow things down, I often find it helpful to identify the specific place your ancestor lived, or was born, on a map. Particularly for larger towns and cities, often people attended the most convenient church. If you can find the address of birth on an old map, look around that area for what churches were in the vicinity.

  • Many thanks for your reply. It seems like all parishes but All Saint's were not founded until 1869/1870, and he is not present in them anyway. Unfortunately, I have precious little information about this ancestor. I am starting to suspect his family was non-religious. The surname ("Depear" or "DePear") might suggest French (Huguenot?) origins, in fact – and a search I just did adds weight to this – but I'm not aware of any Huguenot church in the area.
    – Noldorin
    Mar 29, 2018 at 0:02
  • It also doesn't help that he migrated to the US in the 1880s (I don't know exactly when), so records are split across two countries, and there are no immigration or naturalisation records, that I can find.
    – Noldorin
    Mar 29, 2018 at 0:03
  • @Noldorin If you want to find US immigration or naturalization records, start by reviewing some of the other Q/As on the site, then write a new question -- include what you've already tried, and say why the existing Qs didn't help you. See genealogy.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-ask
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 29, 2018 at 1:32
  • @JanMurphy Sounds fair. I've already given up on those however, as I've searched quite thoroughly, and none are to be found. I simply believe they were never logged, which I suppose is quite possible in the 1880s.
    – Noldorin
    Mar 29, 2018 at 2:25

First, did he marry?

If so, check his marriage certificate. Was the ceremony carried out as CofE, non-conformist, RC, etc...? That might tell you what registers you're going to need to check.

Next, find a copy of the Philimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers - it may be available in your local library, or, if you have a subscription, you can check some of the information on Ancestry.co.uk (although I'm not sure if the Ancestry collection also contains the index, which contains some of the most useful information!).

That will tell you what registers survive, which ones you are likely to find on FamilySearch, which nonconformist records are at the National Archives etc.

And then it's all legwork.

Work your way through the local registers, keeping records of which registers you searched and what you did, or didn't, find in each case. Start with the most likely registers (CofE in the absence of evidence to the contrary) and work your way through until you find him.

If you don't find him after all that, then he probably wasn't baptised at Holbeach, so you'll have to expand your search to nearby parishes. If the census records suggest that the family moved, you can repeat the process at later parishes where you know they were living.

  • Thanks for the response. He did indeed marry, although I'm only aware of a civil marriage certificate. The Philimore Atlas and Index sounds like a good place to start then!
    – Noldorin
    Mar 28, 2018 at 1:35
  • 1
    @Noldorin The civil certificate should record the church & say something like "... according to the rites of ..." which may tell you if he was a non-conformist. Mar 28, 2018 at 2:42
  • Hmm, it only mentions the names of the individuals, the date on which they got married, and the notary. It's called a "marriage record report", and it's from Colorado, USA. Perhaps it's only a summary though?
    – Noldorin
    Mar 28, 2018 at 23:24

For planning your search, try FamilySearch's England Jurisdictions 1851, a GIS-based system which can be accessed at https://www.familysearch.org/mapp/. The first link leads to the article in the FamilySearch wiki, which describes the site and has information about what works were referenced when building it; the second link leads to the site itself.

With the site, it is easy to:

  • List contiguous parishes
  • do a Radius place search
  • Search the Family History Library Catalog
  • Search the Family History Historical Records
  • Search the FamilySearch Research Wiki

For Holbeach, their notes say:

Non-Church of England denominations identified in Holbeach include: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, General Baptist, Presbyterian, Primitive Methodist, Society of Friends/Quaker, and Wesleyan Methodist.

For other places in the parish, they list:

Fox's Low, Holbeach Bank, Holbeach Clough, Penny Hill, Holbeach Hurn, Holbeach Marsh, and Holbeach Drove.

This is a powerful tool, especially when used with the information at GENUKI (as previously discussed). The user can choose between Google Maps, a satellite view, or an Ordnance Survey map.

Another source for historical Ordnance Survey maps -- the digital collections at National Library of Scotland. See https://maps.nls.uk/ and choose find by place.

One caution: be careful not to search so narrowly in time that you miss your subject. In my own research, I have found cases of siblings born two years apart who were baptised at the same time and appeared on the same page on the register book. (Check the date between the birth registration of the missing child and the date of the parent's marriage; if the numbers aren't what you might have expected, that might be a clue that the child was baptised under his mother's name only, or not baptised 'on schedule'.)

For an extreme case, Judy Webster (who goes by the Twitter handle @JudyQld) reported: https://twitter.com/JudyQld/status/978709489754038274

I found a digital image of a parish register with the baptism at age 61 of my 4xgr-grandfather Isaac PEACOCK of Farndale, "a Quaker born 8 May 1754, bap. 25 Apr 1816, son of Benjamin & Sarah". It's in the Yorkshire collection at http://bit.ly/2yorksh

The shortened URL sends the user to findmypast.

Another thing to consider is the coverage of any extant collection of baptism records. In my own research, I found articles in the British Newspaper Archive about the local vicar in my study place being chastised for not performing his duties (including baptisms). If you have access to the Church of England registers, have you counted the number of baptisms per year, and checked the numbers against the population numbers in the census reports? If you see a rise in population from 1851-1871 but the baptism numbers fall off from the earlier period, that's a sign that you don't have good record coverage.

General Resources:

Resources for Lincolnshire:

  • 3
    Worth noting that if, like JudyQld's great-great-great-great-grandfather, the person you're looking for turns out to be a Quaker then (unless performed by another denomination) there won't be a baptismal record because Quakers don't practice water-baptism. There should, however, be good membership records.
    – owjburnham
    Mar 28, 2018 at 8:03
  • Thanks for the useful info. Unfortunately so little of the information is available online (at least for free), so it looks like I'll have to put in a lot of effort and possibly money to check these registers. But at least I have a good approach to take now. My suspicion is that the family was not particularly religious, although it wasn't Church of England either, I think. I know the individual in question later married an Irishwoman (Catholic, I think), but I only have a brief civil marriage record.
    – Noldorin
    Mar 29, 2018 at 0:21

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