These books are not just the history of the Church, but the community and country as well. Some church records reveal health patterns and migrations. Even so, they are often the most underused form of records.
Let's cover the following topics:
Finding Church Records
Finding church records can often require more effort on your part, but the results can be well worth it. The first step in locating church records is determining your ancestor's whereabouts at the time of each religious event. This is where your TimeLine becomes helpful.
Once location is determined, county histories can provide information about churches in the area. Many city or local directories will also contain the names and locations of churches in the area (usually in either the front or the back). Biographies, personal mementos, and documents like birth, marriage, or death certificates can also narrow the search by providing critical denominational and church information needed to find the records you seek. Obituaries will often tell where services were held, and local government records may offer essential information.
Next check for a family Bible. There is a Family Bible presentation that I should post here—they require special attention. This may give you an idea of the family religious affiliations. From there, you would check the necessary churches in the area the family resided. If the family Bible listed more than one church, you should check the most current one first. Depending on the denomination, you may find the records in the church house or in a regional office or diocese. Sometimes the records can be traced through the clergy's name as well.
The following lists of the type of records you will likely encounter on your search of church records:
- Baptism and Christening records
- Marriage records
- Death records
- Confirmation records
- Membership records
- Other records, such as ordinations and tithes
Types of Church Records
Baptism and Christening
Beginning with Baptism and Christening, there may be a wealth of information recorded, in addition to the name of the person being baptized/christened, such as the following:
- Name of the parents (may sometimes give the mother's maiden name, too)
- Date of birth
- Date of event
- The clergyman performing the event
- Sponsors (Often other family members)
- An indication whether the person being baptized/christened is a child or an adult
- Location of the event, if not in the meetinghouse
Marriage records usually include the following:
- Date of marriage
- Bride's name, sometimes with the middle name or initial
- Bride's address before marriage
- Occupation for the bride
- Bride's age
- Groom's name, sometimes with the middle name or initial
- Groom's address before marriage
- Groom's occupation
- Groom's age
- Name of clergyman performing the event
- Names of witnesses (most often other family members)
- In more recent years, you may find a license number and county of record
Death records are normally the most informative. They may include any or all of the following information:
- Name of deceased
- Date of Birth
- Date of Death
- Date of Burial
- Cemetery or location of burial (This may be adjacent to the Church building or nearby)
- Possibly the name of a spouse
- Possible list of survivors (i.e. spouse, children, siblings, grandchildren, etc.)
- Possible list of those predeceasing the person
- Clergy name
- Cause of death is also sometimes listed as well
Confirmation records often contain the following information:
- Name of the Confirmand
- Date of Birth
- Date of Baptism
- Date of event
- Clergy name
- Parents' names
- Possible indication of the level of Christian knowledge
- Status of parents' membership
Membership records tend to include the same information as the Confirmation records. One type of membership record is that of communion. By following this particular record, you can track a family's religious participation. If there is an absence of a family for an extended period of time, they may have moved or changed religious affiliations. Another membership record is that of "transfer status." This would show when a person transferred to the community or parish, and may sometimes reveal the community or parish from whence they came. It may also show a new parish or community that the member moved to, and when, indicating a move of a grown child or the entire family.
Churches keep records of Council members, meeting minutes, committee members, etc. You might also find a "Cradle Roll," showing when a child may have joined the Church's religious classes.
This gives you an idea of what to find with your Church record research. Remember to write down everything you see regarding your family, even those with same surname — you never know what clue it may contain!
Here is another clue to get you started: The names of the sponsors and witnesses, although they may not have the surname you are researching, MAY be found somewhere else in the Church's records so you should make note of them, too. These COULD just be "unknown" family members, in-laws, "missing links" in your tree, or perhaps even cousins.
Sometimes you must take extra initiative to locate and view church records. Some people may know where the records are kept, but don't realize others, including you, would like to view them. How do you contact these people? Contact ministers or chambers of commerce in the vicinity of your search. Place an advertisement in the newspaper in the locality of the church.
Many church records have been microfilmed by the churches themselves and by other agencies. Historical societies often preserve microfilm copies that may be available for sale or rent. The LDS Family History Library has microfilmed the records of many churches throughout the U.S. and the world. You may want to check with your local Family History Center and the online catalog before making a lot of other, more expensive searches.
Heritage Quest Magazine has several articles on researching Church Records, too. Two interesting articles from Heritage Quest Magazine are as follows:
"A Problem in Church Records," Kenneth L. Smith, Issue 11, p.104.
"The Search for a Lost Church Record," Frank Simerly, Issue 25, p.50.
Awesome Genealogy.com has several transcriptions on the Internet.
About.com has 2 pages of genealogical links for church records.
Genealinks.com has church records links, too.
We hope you'll take a closer look at Church Records in your genealogical pursuits. Religion has affected human history throughout the ages and continues to do so today. The records that remain chronicle the lives of the members . . . the lives of our ancestors.