Nonconformity was the religious movement which dissented from the Church of England, which had been established in 1534 when Henry VIII declared himself Supreme Head of the English Church.
As Nonconformity only began to gain legal acceptance in the 17th century, no records go back further than the middle of that century - the starting point of the Quaker series. Series from the Baptists and Presbyterians date from the early 18th century, while the remainder, the Congregationalists, Methodists, Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion and Independent Calvinists, start at the end of the century.
Up to 1837, the Quakers were the only group outside the Established Church who had the right to perform marriages; a few Nonconformist churches had their own burial grounds. The majority of registers, therefore, are for baptisms and/or births, and these often give more detail than can be found in Church of England registers.
The records are more difficult to use than their Anglican counterparts, because their entries are rarely on a parochial basis. A register often records entries from several chapels and each chapel frequently drew its members from a number of surrounding parishes.
The majority of Nonconformist marriages and deaths appear in the Church of England registers as the services were repeated to keep within the law. It was also only possible to be buried in the parish church.
Few original registers for the period before 1840 have been deposited in the Record Office because, following the introduction in England and Wales of civil registration, the records were ordered to be deposited with the Registrar General in London. However, the Record Office now holds microfilm of all the West Sussex material from The National Archives (where the originals now are) together with later original registers of many individual churches and chapels.
Transcripts of all pre-1840 registers for both West and East Sussex have been compiled and are available on the open shelves in the searchroom. Many of the birth, baptism and marriage entries have also been included in the International Genealogical Index.
Useful resources can be found in the Record Office shop.