For centuries, churches have recorded personal information which provides insight into congregants’ lives. Before governments began recording births, marriages, and deaths, churches recorded baptisms, marriages, last rites, and membership dates. For many genealogists, knowing the full person is of utmost importance, and those churches recording interpersonal relationships and congregants’ personal lives are truly a blessing.
Church records may include
- Birth dates
- Attendance records
- Baptism dates
- Reprimands for misbehavior
- Marriage dates
- Death dates
- Burial dates
- Membership dates
- Letters of Transfer
- Leadership positions within the church, such as choir, committee work, or deacons
- Names of children
Denominations differ with terms and content. In general, if the church used a pre-printed ledger, more detailed information was given than if a journal-styled record book was used.
Church records are often housed at the church, the church district’s office, or a regional manuscript repository. Contacting the church pastor or church historian is recommended to uncover the records’ location.
Reading handwriting can be difficult particularly because previous generations used different symbols than are currently used. The library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill maintains a Writing Guide for researchers reading documents dating from the 18th century forward. For those researching European handwriting styles, Great Britain’s National Archives has “Palaeography: Reading Old Handwriting, 1500 - 1800: A Practical Online Tutorial” and Brigham Young University maintains Script Tutorials for Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.
For more reading
Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006. (App Coll CS 49.S65) [Chapter 6: Church Records lists contact information for multiple repositories and resources for records]