Minister or itinerant preacher

Methodism originated in the 1730s as a movement within the Church of England. Its leaders were Anglican clergymen, who were assisted by itinerant preachers. With the separation of Methodism from the Established Church by 1800, the itinerant preachers were ordained as ministers. They were assisted by local preachers recruited from the laity (see Local preachers).

Since 1795 a large number of printed lists of ministers and lay people have been produced. These vary in the information which they give, but at the very least provide names and details of service. A selected listing of these sources is provided at the end of this guide.

In addition to the printed lists of ministers, considerable personal information about individuals can be found in other printed and manuscript sources. The more important of these are as follows:

The Wesley Papers

The Methodist Archives and Research Centre has the world's largest surviving collection of manuscripts relating to the founders of Methodism, John and Charles Wesley. The collection includes letters, diaries and other papers, many of which refer by name to itinerant preachers and lay people. The Library also maintains a very extensive range of printed works by or about the Wesleys.

Ministers' letters and diaries

The largest manuscript collection in the Methodist Archive consists of the personal papers of several hundred ministers. These cover two hundred and fifty years of Methodist history and, even if your ancestor did not leave letters or diaries which have survived, he or she may be mentioned in the papers of other Methodists.

Records of Theological colleges

The institutional records of several Methodist theological colleges are preserved in the Methodist Archives. The major collections are those of the Richmond Theological Institute from 1834 to 1971, and Hartley Victoria College from 1876 to 1963. These colleges were specifically responsible for the training of ministers of the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist Connexions to 1932, and the Methodist Church after that date. Other Methodist denominations maintained their own colleges. The collections deposited in the Methodist Archives contain personal information about staff and students in the form of admission registers, examination results etc.

Minutes of Conference

From the late eighteenth century to the present day, the names of ministers and their appointments to circuits are recorded in the minutes of the annual Conference of the Methodist Church. The minutes also contain obituaries for all ministers who have died in the previous conference year i.e. June to June.

Magazines and newspapers

Since 1778 the Methodist Church and its various denominations have been very active in the publishing of magazines and newspapers covering every aspect of Church affairs. They contain obituaries of ministers and give valuable information about the activities of ministers working in the local circuits.

Complete or almost complete sets of most of these periodicals are available and are listed in A Checklist of British Methodist Periodicals, compiled by E.A. Rose [ref.MAW P54f].

Methodist schools

The Methodist Church has a long history of active involvement in the education of children, dating back to the foundation of Kingswood School by John Wesley in 1748. Records of Methodist schools are either on deposit at local authority record offices or are still at the schools. Printed lists of the staff and pupils of the major Wesleyan public schools of Kingswood, Woodhouse Grove and The Leys School are, however, available in the Methodist Archives - see the lists of printed reference material at the end of this leaflet. These existed traditionally to educate the children of ministers and prominent lay people.