Why Church Records Are Important for Hard-to-Find Ancestors

Church records can be one of the most important sources you search for hard-to-find ancestors.  Let me describe What I know about them–

  1. Church records provide births, marriages, and deaths on a fairly consistent basis.  Some churches do better in one or more categories than others.  The creation of these records depends upon whether the civil government has ascribed by law that the church record the vital records like Virginia and Maryland.  Or upon the theology of the denomination like the Baptist faith which does not baptize infants.
  2. Church records identify parents’ names and prove family relationships by recording witnesses, godparents, and sponsors.  I recommend that you read carefully a little book written by John T. Humphrey”s Understanding and Using Baptismal Records, Available from the author, PO Box 15190, Washington DC 20003.  He has personally read and transcribed (translating into English) over 100,000 baptismal records for Pennsylvania.  And for the first time, written a full chapter on the sponsors and how often they are related to the child and the child’s family.  Very significant little volume
  3. Church records describe migrations and state places of origin for both individuals and groups.  Admissions to the congregation, dismissals from the congregation to another congregation, biographical sketches, memorials, funeral sermons are part of the storehouse of evidence.  Please continue into these records, don’t just search the vital events.
  4. Special populations are picked up better in church records than in any other record category–Quakers whose marriages are discussed in both the men’s minutes and the women’s minutes and everyone attending the marriage signs the certificate!  Huguenots  who  blend into the  predominant religion  or  the congregation  with the most important people in the community–protecting their own congregation from outsiders, yet being buried in the cemeteries nearby regardless of denomination.   Native Americans, who were Christianized early, recording their Indian name and their new Christian name  in the same  book.   Amish who avoid civil affiliations in any way they can, yet consider their own congregation  as sovereign.  Roman Catholics in the British Isles who were proscribed by law–they could not vote or hold public office, they paid double and triple taxes, they could not travel more than 6 miles in any direction or have more than 6 adults in their home at any one time, their children could not inherit–they  were penalized  for their religion until 1829!
  5. Biographical databases are now available for church leaders, ministers, members including itinerant preachers and missionaries both domestic and foreign.  Many of these databases are now available on the internet.

Your hard-to-find ancestors  can be located within the church records of their places of worship.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Stay tuned, I have collected a list of some databases you may not have discovered yet.  That will be our topic another time.

PPS  The British Isles Family History Society Seminar is sold out.  And I have two very new publications and others that I have revized and reprinted just for this event.  In another Genealogy News Sheet I will list these with their prices, so you don’t miss out.

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