Church records rank
among the most promising of genealogical
records available. Indeed, for periods before
the advent of civil registration of vital
statistics (a very late development in many
American states), church records rank
as the best available sources for information
on specific vital events: birth, marriage, and
They are also among the most under-used major records in American genealogy. Part of the reason lies in the number of denominations-there are hundreds of them. Identifying and locating the records of these various churches makes even professional genealogists hesitate. Yet the task is not impossible. Microfilming, photocopying, and indexing techniques make church records more accessible now than ever before.
Church records vary a great deal in content and emphasis according to the basic theology and social role of each denomination. However, a useful distinction is the difference between "state" churches and so-called "free" churches. State, or "established," churches in Europe considered every Christian in the state or kingdom to be a member. Free, or "gathered," churches emphatically rejected this inclusive view of belonging from birth. Rather, only those who had been "born again" in Christ could be considered true members of his church. The sign of this rebirth in Christ was another baptism (adult baptism) that took precedence over the person's baptism as an infant. For this practice they were called Anabaptists-from the Latin for "rebaptizers." The descendants of the Anabaptists include Mennonites, Hutterites, many smaller groups associated with the Pennsylvania Germans, and their British cousins, the Baptists, who form the dominant religion in much of America today.
Church Records Help Guide
The Blessing of Church Records
Church records of our ancestors are so valuable they should be sought to document vital events in our ancestors' lives. They can also be invaluable in providing relevant information about an ancestor's family and community.
Locating Church Records
Most Americans families have been affiliated with at least one religious group, even if they were not consistently practicing. Religious records usually play an important role in providing the information you seek.
Locating "Lost" Churches
Some of the best evidence of our ancestors' vital dates and locations can be church records. This is especially true of the time periods before state, county, and local governments began complying with legislation to issue birth and death certificates.
National Church Repositories
This is a 1994 listing of addresses for national church repositories in the United States and Canada.
Tips for Reading Early American Handwriting
Not being able to read old handwriting can be an obstacle for even experienced researchers. Following these tips can give you a head start.