A recent addition to the Society of Genealogists’ Members Area is an index of Catholic nuns covering the period 1598-1914.

In the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547) all religious houses of women and men were closed. There was a small revival under Queen Mary (1553-1558) but at her death the few nuns who wished to remain so went abroad.

In 1598 a congregation of specifically English nuns was established in the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium). Many more followed and for nearly two hundred years Catholic nuns lived out their lives in the Catholic countries of Europe. Many of their records have been published by the Catholic Record Society and the relevant volumes contain more detailed histories. All these orders were enclosed and the ladies within them lived lives of prayer.

With the advent of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792 most of these convents were expelled. Fortunately they were able to return to England where Catholicism was now legal.

Nuns 244x300 Index of Catholic nuns 1598 1914

With the great expansion of Catholic numbers in the United Kingdom, and especially of poor urban Catholics from the 1840s, many new Orders came to England from the continent to do active work – mostly teaching or nursing. By 1900 there were over 90 religious orders of Catholic women working in the UK.

In the early 1990s the Catholic Family History Society circulated all the organisations of Catholic religious women working in England to ask about the records of individuals. A great many lists were received and computerised and this index (which lists over 12,000 individuals from about 60 orders) is the result. The Catholic FHS has no further information about the women listed here.

In many cases religious orders had a centralised structure and an archivist for the whole order was able to supply a copy of a complete list. The Carmelites and the Sisters of Mercy, however, had no such central structure. Lists were received from particular houses but not from others.

Note that England, Wales and Scotland, with which this index is concerned, formed a quite separate province from Ireland. This index contains a great many Irish women but they have all joined the English Province, not the Irish Province, of their Order. The cut off date was entry in 1914 so very few women born after about 1895 will be found here. However a very few orders sent later material with permission to incorporate it.

Further information on individuals may well be available from the Religious Order concerned. The address of the current religious superior will be found in the Catholic Directory. Most orders have archivists and many of those are members of the Catholic Archives Society. Many have published articles describing their holdings in that society’s journalCatholic Archives of which the Society of Genealogists has a complete run.

To search the index go to the Members Area.

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