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Noteworthy Facts about American Church Records, by Sunny Morton

american church records

We recently asked Sunny Jane Morton, co-author of How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide, to put together a short list of important or surprising features of American church records prior to 1900. Whether you are looking for a specific denomination, or want to test your knowledge of church records in general, we think you will find Sunny’s factoids quite illuminating. So, did you know that . . . 

Anglican church records in the Southern colonies served a semi-governmental function, so you might find tax records, land ownership evidence, and even assistance to the poor (provided or received). Many of these have even been published.

How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records

Several churches had the word “Brethren” in the title. Determine which Brethren church your ancestors affiliated with by identifying the name of a minister or prominent member; finding the exact location of the church; or noting clues about unique doctrines or practices. Knowing the right church will help you use the resources in my book to track down the right records. 

Catholic parishes are generally geographically defined, but some ethnic parishes formed around immigrant communities who wanted to worship with their own language and customs. Their sacramental records are an especially good place to find exact overseas birthplaces for immigrant ancestors.

The Dutch Reformed church created some of the earliest church records in the British colonies. In addition to baptisms, marriages and burials, you may find membership lists and minutes documenting the everyday affairs of a congregation. Many have been gathered into central locations, published, and/or made available online.  

Latter-day Saint congregational membership records often reveal both genealogical data and acts of religious devotion. These are a great place to look for evidence for online but unsourced Latter-day Saint family trees.

Lutheran records can be a genealogical gold mine! Infant baptismal records may have birth dates. You may find marriages, birthplaces, occupations, residences, deaths, funerals, burials, and even full family groups clustered together on the page with genealogical data.

Intrigued? Check out How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide today!