Family History in U.S. Church Records

Family History in U.S. Church Records

January 22, 2020 0 By Kailee Schamberger


>>Michele Sellars:
Good afternoon everyone. I think we’re ready
to start the program. I’d like to welcome you to
the Library of Congress. My name is Michele Sellars. I serve as the head of the local
history and genealogy section of researcher and reference
services division here at the Library of Congress. We are excited that
you’ve joined us for this informative
presentation about finding family
history in U.S. church and synagogue records. As you may be aware, the Library of Congress is the largest
research library in the world, and contains vast amounts
of materials you can access for researching and writing
your own family history. There’s a common misperception
that all of the materials that you need to do this kind of research can be found
and searched online. Today’s exhibit and
lecture demonstrate that old-fashioned library and archival research can
reveal details and provide clues that are only available
in print. While today’s exhibit draws
material slowly from the Library of Congress general collections,
every part of the Library of Congress collections has
materials that you can use for family history research. We hope you’ll continue to
visit the Library of Congress and access all of our
collections to learn about your ancestors and
the world they inhabited. So, whether you’re just starting
out on your genealogy journey, or you’ve been at it for years,
we wish you happy hunting. Thank you.>>Sheree Budge: Hello. I’m Sheree Budge. I’m a reference librarian in
local history and genealogy. I’d like to introduce
our speaker today. I have to put on my glasses. Sunny Morton is a
popular lecturer for the global genealogy
community. She’s a contributing editor
for Family Tree magazine and the author of hundreds of
articles and blog posts as well as the brand-new book, How
to Find your Family History in U.S. Church Records,
which is available there, which she co-authored
with Harold Henderson. She is an official
family search blogger and a past contributing editor to Lisa Louise Cook’s
Genealogy Gems podcast. Sunny.>>Sunny Jane Morton: Thank
you for the warm welcome and for being here
today to learn about finding your family
history in U.S. church records. Much of what I teach you
today will come from my book, How to Find Your Family
History in U.S. Church Records. So, thank you for the
opportunity to speak about my favorite topic. It is a topic very
close to my heart. So, when we look at
our ancestor’s lives through historical records,
historical records give us lots of different lenses through
which we might view them. We might view them
through their social lives, through what appeared in the
newspaper or a court case. We might view them through
the lens of their occupation or their roles in their
family or their community, lots of different kinds
of lenses or roles or ways of looking at our
ancestors’ lives. And one way of looking at your
ancestors’ lives is that here in the United States tends
to be quite overlooked is in the records of the churches
with which they affiliated. Whether they were an
every week sort of devote, or whether they just showed
up for the special occasions or whether they just married
or were buried in a church or a synagogue facility, then
those records were produced, no matter how involved they were
in the community, and often, the more they were involved
in their religious community, the more you can learn
about them through the lens of historical church records. First, let’s talk for just
a minute about what kinds of religions are we talking
about here in the United States. We have a wonderful diversity
of religions in our traditions, or in our history, and if
you look sort of on the birth of our nation, in 1775, a study
showed that the colonists, the British colonists
specifically, were about a third
Congregationalist, another quarter Anglican
or Church of England, just over 20 percent
Presbyterian. We have a nice little healthy
minority of Dutch reforms, and then the remainder
sort of fell into this mish-mash category
of Quakers, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, and Jews. Less than 100 years later, and
I’m comparing congregations, number of congregations
versus number of colonists, that’s the unit of
measure I could find, so less than 100 years later, things have changed
dramatically. Now, the nation is
half Methodist and another quarter Baptist. And then you see a Catholic,
and then the bottom 15 percent, you have the Congregationalists,
the Episcopalians, who are the continuation
of the Anglican church here in this country,
Lutherans, and others. So, what you’re seeing is
almost a complete flip-flop in less than 100 years. So, you’ve got a lot
of religious turmoil, a lot of diversity, a lot
of change going on here. Two main reasons for that,
the first is cultural. We’ve gone from having
our established churches, which were sponsored
by our governments, the Congregationalist
church in the north and the Anglican church in the
south in the British colonies. We’ve gone from that to
what we tend to think of as our more democratic
faiths, and the choice of choosing your own
faith and the faiths that had a democratic
spirit to them, sort of a have your own personal
experience with God rather than work through a minister
or that kind of thing who has authority that sense of
democracy was really appealing in our young nation, and
that’s one reason you see a lot of people, once they
have the choice, to choose their religions,
were choosing some with democratic spirits. Another thing to look
at is the influence of the immigrant groups at
the time, and in the 1770s, you’ve got a lot of
Scots Irish heritage. So, you’ve got a lot
of traditions there, and you’ve got a lot
of English congregants as well, the English heritage. So, the immigrant heritage is
what you really see accounting for the Presbyterians in
1775, and then in 1860, it also accounts
for the Catholics, because you have a growing
number, German Catholics, Irish Catholics had started
coming in large numbers, were yet to see,
Italians, Poles, many other Eastern European
Catholics coming as well. And so, the immigrant groups at any particular given time
period influence the shape of our national religious
pie chart, if you will, over the succeeding generations. So, I’m going to address
a few questions today. First, where did your
family fit into this diverse and changing picture, and
how can you even find out. Second, what might church
records say about your family and their experiences? Third, where can you
find the records, and you’ll see me be a little
bit biased today toward the Library of Congress. I’m going to share some
of their collections. And then the fourth,
right at the end today, I’m going to share a
couple of tips with you, a couple strategies, and a
couple of my favorite stories that I’ve come across
in old church records. So, where did your family
fit into all of this. As I was describing,
the religious history, just in the two minute version
of the religious history of this country, I bet you might
have been wondering how your family fit into all of this,
and there are ways to find out. And the first and easiest
way sometimes to find out what the religious
background is in your family, if you don’t know,
is to ask them. Living memory only goes
so far into history, but sometimes it reaches
deeper than you think, and sometimes it reaches deep
enough to remember a church that would have been important
in your family tradition that you didn’t know about. So, ask questions. Did the family go to
a specific church? Was anybody married in one or
buried in a church cemetery. Did anyone ever join
a different church? Any black sheep in the
family religiously? If the family was
mostly one thing, did someone become
something else? What about anything like Sunday
schools, charitable societies, any kinds of immigrant
aid organizations? Those kinds of things,
asking questions like that might job a memory
that would serve for somebody that may not, if you said
what church did they go to, well they never went to church. Well maybe they didn’t
go to church, but they could have
affiliated with one. Their names could be on the
records or roles of one. So, it take you a few different
iterations of the question to ask about church
affiliation in your family. But you may be able
to learn some things. The next place to look, and
this is also low-hanging fruit for anyone who has started
their genealogical research, is look in the documents
you already have. Sometimes they mention a church
affiliations, a specific church, or they might just mention a
denomination, such as Methodist, without telling you which
church it was, but all kinds of records might have
used church affiliation or a church baptismal record,
in order to prove a claim. Like for military benefits. You might see them listed
in newspaper announcements, marriage records, any
kinds of family papers that you might have
might give you clues about where somebody would
have affiliated religiously. It might also be on a tombstone. Sometimes you might find
religious iconography or sayings on a tombstone that
would point you toward that person’s faith background. So, here’s few examples. Here on the left is a relative
of mine, whose obituary, this was a printed version, it said she had been
an untiring worker in the Methodist
Episcopal church, ME standing for Methodist
Episcopal church, for over 30 years. So, right there, I got a clue. And here’s one for another
family that I have researched. Osby Johnson or Oglesby
Johnson, his obituary mentioned that the services were held at the New Hope Baptist
church in Hartwell, Georgia. So, I was able to go
right to that church. This is a certificate of
marriage from the State of Colorado, and as such, it’s
not necessarily that interested in the religious affiliation
of the people involved, but it does happen to
say here at the very top, the person who married them,
it says, I, Godfrey Raeber, a Catholic priest, that’s on
the civil marriage record. Now, that civil marriage record
didn’t tell me very much more. What you see is what you get. It didn’t tell me much more,
and you’re going to see in a minute how I was able
to track down Godfrey Raeber and his records to learn more
about this particular couple. But you can pull, sometimes,
a denominational affiliation from the name of the minister. So, you can also
consider the odds. If you’re coming up dry from
all these strategies so far, you might think about
their ethnicity. If they had a strong
ethnic identity, then chances were good,
for some ethnic groups, that they may have
been affiliated more with one particular
church than another. So, this is the list
that appears in my book, but you can get a
good sense of it here, is that there were
ethnicities, immigrant groups, who brought their
religious heritage with them, and other groups,
immigrant groups, such as African Americans,
who when allowed the freedom to do so, may have
affiliated more, chosen to have affiliated more with one church rather
than another. So, you can also
consider the odds if your family were early
pioneers or settlers of a particular part
of the country. Because those were often
part of particular migratory or ethnic groups as
well, and so you can see that there are particular
churches, and the same is still true now, if you travel throughout
this country, you will see regional
themes in the popularity of certain brands of religion. Some are more popular than
others in certain parts of the country, and
that’s the basis of the historical record
of who settled them. So, local histories, if
you found a county history or some other kind
of local history that mentions your family
or that gives the stories of local churches, as this
one does, this mention in a local history of the Mount
Vernon Cumberland Presbyterian Church mentioned several
of the early members. Among them, some of my
relatives, the Weedins. So, I was able to pull from a secular county
history information about their church affiliation. Local maps can sometimes
give you like well where could they
have gone to church. In the days before
automobiles and freeways and quick transportation. Sometimes you just had
to chose what was local. And so here in this
neighborhood when I was looking for Osby Johnson’s family, you
can see over here on this map, as I was looking for
Osby Johnson’s family, in the two areas
that are circled, and I can’t queue them very
well here, but the two ones that are circled, I was able
to see from the map key, I could see that the designation
of a church was a circle with a cross above it. And so, I was able to locate
two churches on the map. One is the Harmony Church,
that has the letter P after it, and I’m not sure quite what that
means, if that’s Presbyterian or what that means, but then down below I see written
sideways, New Hope, New Hope Ch, New Hope Church, and then
underneath, it says COL, telling me from this
time and place that this is a historical
black Baptist Church. And I already knew that
from Osby Johnson’s family that he was African
American, and so I was able to find the location
of this church and do a little more
research confirming that it was right there
in their neighborhood. So, sometimes people
would just go to whatever church was nearest. So, if you already
know something about your family’s
background, ethnic background, or the way they think or
the groups that they tend to associate with culturally,
you might be able to predict if you found this map of
their neighborhood and you saw that there was a Sixth
Presbyterian church, which might have been
largely Scots-Irish, and you saw the Saint Ann’s
German Lutheran Church down there at the bottom,
and then in the middle there, you saw the Fifth
Baptist Church. You might be able to guess where your family
would have affiliated. This is from a Sanborn
Fire Insurance map, and there’s a great, Library of Congress has a
fantastic collection of digitized Sanborn
Insurance maps. So, you might also be able
to find what churches were in town just from the
local directories, and this is before there
were telephones and after. So, city directories, phone directories often
had listings of churches. So, you can go down the list of
churches and look for something that sort of resonates with what
you know of your family’s story or look for ones that are
located near their neighborhood if there’s no map. So, what kinds of things,
I told you now, you know, how you can figure out
where they went to church, but what kinds of things might
you discover in church records. I do have to confess that not
every church record survives. A lot of them don’t. A lot them are not easy to find. This is not generally your first
line of attack as a genealogist when you’re looking for
your family history. You’re going to go
to those censuses and vital records
first, for good reason, but when you start hitting brick
walls, when you start wanting to know more about the
quality or the daily life, the quality of their
lives or the daily aspects of their lives, their
stories, you want to really get into their biographies, that’s where you turn
to church records. One reason that I love church
records is not just what’s said but who it’s said about. Church records in the U.S. are
more historically democratic than a lot of our other records. They include more women. They include more
children, more immigrants, more ethnic minorities,
the poor, and sometimes the enslaved,
who do not historically appear and are underrepresented in
many of our other records. So, while it may be a
little bit more work to find an ancestor’s
church record, it may be one of the very few places
you could get insight into that person’s life or
find their name written. So, what kinds of records? I’m going to highlight both
these record types today, or the format, the format of
records that you would see. Often, our churches produce
their original records in manuscript form. And original manuscripts
are often found in archives. A lot of times, those
records though have been put into print form. They’ve been transcribed
and published so that others can
have access to them. In addition, you’re going
to find other print records such as church histories
or directories, things that I’m going
to show you. So, sometimes those
print records are going to be unique also, and sometimes
those print records are going to point back to what’s in
those manuscript records that may no longer exist,
that may be inaccessible, or that may at least not
be easy for you to get to. So, I’m just going to give you
a few of the kinds of things that you’re going to find in
church records, you’re going to find information
about births. And these show up in the
infant baptismal records, but they are also
mentioning the child’s birth. You’re going to find
information about marriages. Here on the left, it’s
for a Louisiana marriage that was transcribed from
the 1700s, and the image, what I love about this
one is they put a copy of the original image
in there as well, so you can look at that too. And then what you see here on the right is a
Quaker marriage record. That’s a two-page record. That’s one marriage. It’s a record stating the names
of both the bride and the groom, their parents’ names and
whether they’re still living, where they are, the whole
description of the wedding vow, and a list there of all
who witnessed the wedding. That’s all those names who
are there, many of which, many of whom were
probably relatives. So, if you have Quaker
ancestry or somebody who married in the Quaker church, you could
really come upon a treasure. Death records appear
often, meaning the record of a death and/or burial. Some churches kept
one or the other or may have mentioned
both, and depending on whether they had
burial rights or whether they had
their own cemetery. So, you might find
different kinds of information about deaths. Here I’m showing you
a membership record in manuscript form, one
that was transcribed from cemetery records
at the top, and then on the bottom there, that little white one
that’s inset, is death days, and that’s a record from a Jewish yearbook
from the early 1900s. So, lots of different
kinds of ways that deaths might
have been recorded in the records of churches. Something I really love about
church records and something that a lot of people
don’t realize is that many times they will be
maybe the one place you will find that ancestral
home town overseas for your immigrant ancestors. I was interested to find a
study on German church records that said that nearly
three-quarters of the time you could find
that ancestral home town in the German church
records they studied. Compared to much lower rates for
many of the other common places that people look
for the birth places of their overseas ancestors. And the example that I’m showing
here is a transcribed birth certificate that came, or a
baptismal certificate that came from a little Catholic parish for the child born
of immigrant parents. And the record that they
sent me showed the birthplace of the child in a little town
in Slovakia in the late 1800s and the child’s baptism
just a day or two later in northeast Pennsylvania. They did not FedEx the baby, so clearly something
was wrong here, that was probably not
the child’s birthplace, and what I was really hoping is that it was the immigrant
parents’ birthplace. It turns out that was true,
and additional correspondence with the parish office, they
looked it up for me again, and they said, oh, yes, that’s
where both parents were born. And so that was something
that I wasn’t aware at the time could have been in those Catholic
baptismal registers, was the parents’ birthplace for
immigrant families many times. So, there is more, it’s
not just Catholic records, baptismal records
that might tell you about migrations of a family. This is a membership register
for a congregational church, and what you’ll see,
what you see on the left there are
the names of the people who joined the church,
and then this first page on the left-hand page is all about their admittance
information, when they were admitted to the
church, how they were admitted, so had they converted to the
faith, they were joining it, so it would be by
examination in this faith. So, they would have
been examined by people with a position of authority in
the congregation and admitted, and you see that anyone who
was admitted by examination, it said where they
were from, the world. They were coming out of the
world into their spiritual home, coming out of Babylon. So, you see the sort
of religions mind view of when they converted
to this faith, that’s where they came from. That’s also a migration clue. It meant that they lived there. They were locals who
united with that church. As opposed to those
who joined by letters, that was a transfer process,
where you brought a letter of recommendation from
your previous church of the same faith. So, you would present a letter from your previous church saying
this is where I come from. I’m a member in good standing. So, you can write me into your
rolls without me having to go through the process again
of joining the denomination. And here, it says whence. The last column on that
left page says whence, where they came from. So, Edinburg, Evanston,
Illinois, toward the bottom, Michigan. So, you see people coming
from different places. That’s migration information, and you have an approximate
date of migration. Maybe it took them a little
while to get around to coming to the church, but you have a
period of possible migration. The process repeats
itself when they move out. The next page it says, removed. How they were removed
from the church. And that doesn’t necessarily
mean they were expelled from the church. It means they moved, they
died, they were gone, they were no longer on the
church membership rolls. And so, again, you see columns
for when, how they were removed by letter, meaning
they transferred out. And then where, where they went. Rootstown, Oberlin,
Huron Dakota. So, you see the migration
information again, along with that very
last column, it mostly says married
to or wife of. So, you get some
marriage information for that particular person. These membership registers
would be most common in some of our Protestant churches. So, you might also get
membership information and local addresses,
especially within the last, you know, 100, 125 years or so. Here is an example from a
Jewish yearbook, an annual, that lists the directory of the
members, and that’s the kind of thing you might
find from many churches in the 20th Century, maybe
even the late 19th Century, but mostly the 20th Century. Maybe where they
lived, an address, or just that they were
affiliated with the church. You find the directory
sometimes with the picture. So, here’s an example of a
Catholic baptismal record, and you can see if you look at the translation
that’s given underneath, you can see what it says. It says that this is
signed by the person who performed the baptism,
I, the undersigned, baptized this person, born
on this date, of the father, from the place, and the
mother, from the place. So, ex loco would mean
what place they were from. In this particular record, they
did not fill in the birth place of the parents, but you can see
that there is a place for it. And it says there that
they were married, that little phrase toward the
end, and the godparents’ names. And then in the right-hand
column there, there is a place in a Catholic baptismal
record, there is a place for later rights received by
that person to be recorded. Later rights received in the
Catholic faith, you’re supposed to send them back to
the parish of baptism. You’re always asked for
your parish of baptism. The information goes back there. It isn’t always recorded,
but in this case, it was. It stated later that the person
married a person named Michael Zeller, and it gives
the date and the name of the church and were it was. So, this infant baptismal
record is also a record of an event later in life. Sometimes you’ll find records of entire family
groups showing together. So, what you see here from
the top is clearly a typed transcription of a
particular church record from an Evangelical Lutheran
church record in New York, and it shows the names of
the parents, and it lists all of the children born
to those parents. That was so nice of them to just
put them all together like that so we could just easily copy it. So, if this is your
family, this is going to be a real treasure
for you to find. And the one on the bottom
too, if this is your family, this would make me cry to find. As I look at the different
names for this Bennett family, all the children with
their birthdates listed in that second column, and
then all baptized here, it says Bennett and
Hetty Burton, and then underneath it says
Burton and Hetty Burton, and it’s possible that that’s
just a mistranscription, but what I’m interpreting this
is, these are the children of an African American
couple who was enslaved. What do you see over
on the right? All colored servants of Robert and Elizabeth Burton
in Long Neck. And so this was in Delaware. This was the 1850s, and so you’re seeing
an entire family group with paternity acknowledged. It gave me the shivers when I
saw that because it’s so rare to find and very precious. So, you see what I mean about sometimes church
records will show you things that other records of
the time period will not. Here’s one I just had to put in. It’s not in the U.S. It’s in
England, but it’s my own family, and it shows the
whole family group. So, this is a baptismal registry
for my paternal ancestor, who immigrated to
the United States after joining the
Latter Day Saint church, the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Day Saints. And his mother and all of, almost all of the children
appear all together along with a couple of the
sisters-in-likewise of his older siblings
who had also joined with the faith at the same time. And this one felt
really special to find, to see all of those
McClelland names together and to see it doesn’t show
their family relationships to each other, but I was able
to kind of put they together and could confirm that this
was one family group all doing this together. So, another thing that you might
find, and so, this kind of gets into the things that might,
rather than genealogical facts of significance, these are more
the story-based kinds of things. You might find out your family
was a donor or a subscriber at their local church and
the financial sacrifices or commitments that they made to
further the work of that church or their charitable
societies or whatever it is that they were subscribing to. So, there are lots of
interesting donation lists that you might find
either in published records or in the manuscript records. You might find some wonderful
images, and if you look back at the exhibit that’s
here, you’ll find lots of books back there
with some great images from different church
histories, local histories. Often, churches published
little histories of their faith on a jubilee sort
of an anniversary. So, you might get a 50-year
anniversary, just even a booklet or maybe a 100-year
anniversary, a little book that they just printed
themselves or self-published, and these little books,
when you can find them, are just a real treasure, and they often do
contain a lot of pictures. Other pictures you might
find, I found these on the Library of
Congress website. I was looking for information about the First Church
of Christ Scientist. I had an ancestor who was
Christian Science practitioner in Pueblo, Colorado, and the
church is no longer in business so to speak, but
there is a photo of it that’s digitized form the
Library of Congress website, and I was able to see
the building itself and to see what happened to it. It became the Impossible
Players Community Theater. So, it still had, the
building still has a life, just doing something
a little difficult. And then, I was also looking for
a relative who had affiliated, based on his, this little
obituary that I show here in the newspaper, it says that his funeral
masses were being given at Sacred Heart in
Pueblo, Colorado. Again, on the Library
of Congress website, I found a great picture
of that beautiful church. Another kind of image you might
find would be something more unusual, but I think it’s worth
sharing because it’s so neat, is you used to be able to rent
your pews or buy your pews at certain churches, and
that’s how you’d always get to sit in the same spot. Sometimes it was a status thing. Sometimes it was just
a tradition thing. Well, this is just
where I want to sit, so you’d know you had a
guaranteed seat every time you came to worship. And so there are sometimes
lists of pew rentals, and occasionally I was
really lucky to find this one that was actually a map of
who subscribed to which pew for this particular year. So, you’d know even where they
sat when they went to church.>>Do you know date that’s from?>>Sunny Jane Morton: I think
late 1800s, if I remember right. So, the question was
what date that was from, and I think it was late 1800s. I think that practice largely
died away by about then, but there are some churches that
it was still the practice then, especially if it was a good
fundraiser, why not, right? So, local history. You can often learn a
lot about what was going on in the community
or the neighborhoods of a particular ancestor, especially if they had a
strong community involvement or especially if it was
the church that was part of a migrant or ethnic group. You can learn a lot about what
was going on by the history of the church, because they’re
going to talk about things that might not appear in the
local or county histories. I love, there’s a book back
there that’s here at the Library of Congress that I
love, this history of the St. Charles
Borromeo Church in Harlem. Yes, that Harlem, New York, which would have started its
history Dutch and Dutch Reform, and it’s talking, but
the history that’s coming through the present is that
of a largely African American Catholic Parish. And so, it tells the story of
how that transition happened. First of all, it had to come out
of the Dutch Reformed history and into the Catholic tradition,
and then the Irish Catholic, gradually the neighborhood
changed, and so the people living
there were African American, and those who were involved in this church made a
great outreach effort to reach the African American
community, and you see it. It’s talked about, and
you see it in the pictures and in the stories
that are told there. So, to me, that’s
a wonderful lens through which I could better
understand what was going on in that neighborhood. Biographies are a common thing
to find, especially if your, and probably only if your
relative was pretty actively involved in the church,
and especially if they were in the ministry of some kind. A lot of churches published
annuals, conference reports, annual directories,
annual reports of some kind that would give ministerial
biographies or tributes for those who had passed
away and often also for their spouses, since this
was a male-dominated profession, until recent decades. You would also find them for
the women, when the women, the wives of the ministers
or clergy passed away, you’d also find some
nice biographies of them, or women who were otherwise
really active in the churches. So, that’s a great
place to learn things. They’re going to be,
definitely they’re going to come from a strong religious
point of view and talk about their religious lives, but
that can be very interesting. So, this is, I have a relative
who was in the ministry in the United Brethren Church
in Pennsylvania, and I was able to find through his annual
conference proceedings, and there’s a lot of annual
conference proceedings here in the Library of Congress, I was able to find an 1869
J. Felix, who shows up there, he’s the last name mentioned,
he was direct, he was examined by a committee to receive
his license to preach. And it says they rendered
satisfaction on the doctrines on which they were examined, and they were given
a license to preach. In 1870, I see the next year. So, the committee on
the first year’s course of readings presented
the following report. So, they actually entered
into this education period, sort of a trial period
and a preparation period, before they were fully
ordained, and so I can follow it through these records here. And so it says that when they
were examined it says they rendered tolerable satisfaction but had not read everything
they were supposed to. And so, they could not classify
and define the doctrines in regular order, but at least
my John Felix, Brother Felix, it says, produced an essay. So, these two did
pass, and so they got to move onto the next year. The next year, I just have
a transcript from that one, it says that they were
carefully examined, and it says what Woodward
did and then Felix and Lee both sustained
the doctrines of the church well
from the word of God. We recommend that they pass
to the third year’s course, with the understanding that
they be required to obtain and study the books that
they have not yet read. So, there’s still some
progress you can see. They’ve done some things, but
they’re still kind of trailing in everything that they should. But then you get this in 1872. Early on during the course
of this multiday conference, it says that John Felix was
examined and was recommended to be recognized as an elder. So, that he receive ordination. And at the very concluding
part of that conference, that multiday conference,
the Bishop gave his sermon, and at the very end of that, and
you see that marked in red here, at the close of this discourse,
Reverends R.S. Woodward and J. Felix were solemnly set
apart to the office of elders by the imposition of hands. So, this same conference
proceeding that gave me insight into his years of
preparation to be a minister, also then went on
for several years. I know what committees
he was on. I know which charges he filled, what churches he
was assigned to. I know when he retired and then
came back out of retirement and then went back into it. So, I can trace his career
in the ministry by looking through these conference
proceedings. So, now that I’ve told you
all the wonderful things that might be in the them,
you might be wondering where will I find
these glorious records. So, of course, the first thing
I do with anything these days, and this doesn’t sound
scholarly at all, does it? Google it. Because if you know the name of
a church, if you know the name of a book, if you know
the name of anything that you’re looking for,
but especially the name of a specific church,
google the name of the church and its location. You might be directed to that
church’s current website, if it still exists. You might be directed to
its records at a repository. You might be directed to
a webpage and its memory. There are lots of
different things that, lots of different ways
that Google can direct you. It can direct you
toward printed records, and you’ve got the
Library of Congress catalog that you can also search for
printed records, in WorldCat, the Family Search Catalog,
which is specifically organized for genealogists by
place and record type. You can go right to a particular
place, right to a record type, and then see what
church records exist. Certainly, if they have
any published things, you might then flip back
over here to the Library of Congress catalog and see
if they’ve got that book here, because Salt Lake City
is pretty far away to go to the family search or
family history library. So, you might find these
original or printed records in genealogical and special
collections libraries all over the country,
in online archives, if they’ve been digitized. If they haven’t been transcribed
or put into print form, if it’s just the manuscript
records, you might need to get them from
the original church, from the congregation
if it still exists. Or if the records have been
archived by a church archive, you might need to go to
an archdiocese archive or to a conference
archive if it’s Methodist or the different
kinds of archives that the various churches have, which are all laid
out in my book. So, you might find
things, surprisingly, when you google them or
start digging for them. You might find them
in other archives that might really surprise you. Sort of these orphan collections
that ended up in a place where you didn’t know. If you end up finding things at a congregational
office, that’s wonderful. If they’ve been able to keep
their records back that far, you can contact them and ask
them for copies of the records. If you do that, a
few tips for you. Try to look to see on
their website are there any instructions for
ordering old records? There usually aren’t,
but it’s a good thing to check, and then call ahead. If you can find a phone number or you can message their
Facebook page or any other way that church takes communication,
try to communicate with them. Find out, do you have
some old records, what would be the process
for ordering things? Be very respectful. They are not, if you’re
ordering from a church, their priority is the person
who passed away yesterday or the person who is in
their office for counseling or the parishioners
or congregants that they’re meeting
with later that day. Their priority is not
you, as a genealogist. So, they’re concerned with matters administering
to the living. So, please be respectful. Please be patient and please
include money with your request. Be very specific in the kind
of thing you’re looking for. Don’t say please give
me everything you’ve got on a John Smith. I’m looking for the baptismal
record of a John Smith who I think was born
about this time, you know, maybe in February of 1863. These are his parents’ names. Whatever it is that would help
them identify the record and get to it quickly in
their own collections. Give them your email
address in case they want to send you a scanned version of
the document or you might need to enclose a self-addressed
stamped envelope. Do they still do those? That’s how you used to have to
order everything old school. But always be respectful
and send, even if they don’t request
it, send some kind of donation to thank them for their time. So, the Library of Congress
has some great materials, and there are some
excellent search strategies for finding church records
that you can see in a handout that will be provided online with this lecture
once it goes online. So, lots of different subject
headings that you might browse and see what you find. Yes, sir? [ Inaudible Comment ] So, I’m getting a question about
whether there’s a reading room for religion or for church. There is one for local
history and genealogy. If you’re looking through
the lens of local history and genealogy, that’s
a good place to start. Is there a separate place
to read for religion? [ Inaudible Comment ] The main reading room
includes religion. We have from, that’s the, and
if you have any other questions about that, right back there. Go see Cheryl. Okay. Good question. You can also look for it. If you can’t find what you’re
looking for in the Library of Congress catalog, I sometimes
also just flip to other catalogs that I might have a little
bit better luck using, and maybe I’m able to come
up with something here, and then once I get an
exact title, I can go back to the Library of Congress
if I’m here and look to see if they have it. The Family Search Catalog,
as I mentioned earlier, this is a free genealogy
website, and under search, you can choose the option for a
catalog, and then you can search by place and then
even by record type. So, my home town of
Euclid, Ohio, I did a search for church records, and
I found two of them. So, I could go in and see
what church records they have for that particular place, and
that’s a good place to start. And even, so these
are the holdings of the family history
library in Salt Lake City, some of what have
been digitized, and the catalog entry will tell
you if it’s been digitized. It will link to it, and if
it hasn’t, it will link you to that particular record
in WorldCat so you can look for that holding, whether
it’s microfilm holding or a print holding
at any other library. So, if you’re looking
for manuscript records, ArchiveGrid is a great
catalog of many thousands of archival items at different
archives internationally but especially within
the United States. So, it’s not just
archivegrid.org unfortunately, but just google the word
archivegrid, and you’ll find it. So, you can search for,
particularly you can search for archives near a place
that you want to research, or you can just search
for the name of a particular religious
denomination and the place. So, when I run a search on
Methodist Episcopal church in Dallas, I find these
collections located in archival and manuscript collections across the country,
but mostly in Texas. All right. I’m going to leave
you here with a couple of specific strategies
and stories. First strategy. When I was looking yesterday
for my family, I had found this, so just for reference
I put a copy of that up in the very top there. Remember that my family was
mentioned in a county history as belonging to the Mt. Vernon
Cumberland Presbyterian Church. So, great, I took the phrase Mt.
Vernon Presbyterian Cumberland church or Mt. Vernon
Cumberland Presbyterian. I put that in the Library of
Congress catalog, and it brought up a book called History of
the Zion Church and cemetery with inscriptions and young …. Well, is this the same church? History of the Zion Church. That doesn’t sound like Mt.
Vernon Cumberland Presbyterian Church, but because it
brought it up for me with this specific church,
I went ahead and I clicked on the item and I looked at
the catalog, and if you look down at the subjects, it says
Zion Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Mt. Vernon
Township, Missouri. That’s very specific. So, this helps me
know if this is or is not a record collection
pertaining to my family. And it does tell me that it’s
also filed under the subject of birth registers and things. So, while we’re on
this particular screen, I will say that when you do
pull up something of interest, but maybe it’s not exactly
what you’re looking for, look to see what other
subjects it’s under, because you could click on that. If I were looking for any more
vital records, like registers of birth in Mt. Vernon Township,
I could click on that Library of Congress subject heading to see what other records
were marked with that, whether they were or
weren’t church records. But sometimes you’ll
see the name of a church or a denomination,
and then you can click on that subject heading
and see everything in the catalog that’s
been tagged with that particular
subject heading. So, another thing you can
do is look for biographies or reminiscences of people who
may not have been your ancestors but may either have
mentioned them or may have had a
life similar to theirs that could offer a window,
even sideways into their lives. And that’s when I was
looking for things for the United Brethren
Church in Christ, and I was looking specifically for a particular
part of Pennsylvania. I found this biography of a
man who served in that church as a minister during a similar
time period, in a conference, a neighboring conference. And so, I clicked in,
and it was digitized. So this is on the
Library of Congress, and it has a digital record that
I could go in and pull it up, and when I went to pull it up,
I could read his experiences as a minister, and it talked
about he never got paid enough, and I figured out that to be the
case for my relative as well. They never paid them quite
enough, and he had a whole, his nerve-wracking
process of being ordained, of submitting his name
and being reviewed and the committee
meeting and session and that’s the little
bit that I clipped here, and it helped me imagine
this process that I read about in the conference
proceedings that I showed you earlier so
that I could really get a sense of emotionally what it
might have been like for him to undergo that process. So, here’s the strategy
that I mentioned earlier, and I promised I’d
come back to it. How can you use the officiant’s
name on a marriage certificate to get you to church records? So, from the marriage
certificate to finding the priest’s
affiliation, the parish here, or the clergyman’s church or
charge they’re assigned to, to finding the church record. So, I started with the
name, Godfrey Raeber. I know he’s a Catholic priest. I know this is 1889. I know this is in Denver. So, I happen to know that the
Catholic Church published the Catholic, or the Sadlier’s
published a Catholic directory every year for many years, and
it was during this time period. So, I went and found the
1889 Catholic directory, and I think I googled
that exact phrase. And I found the 1889
Catholic directory. It was digitized online. I ran a search for Reverend
Raeber’s name I didn’t find it. So, instead I paged through
until I got to the Diocese of Denver, which is
now the Archdiocese, but at the time it was
the Diocese of Denver, and I just read through
all the church assignments until I found Reverend Raeber. He was listed under a
slightly different spelling, and that’s why I didn’t find
him before when I did it by OCR. But, you can see there that
I did eventually find him as assigned in northeast Denver. He was assigned to
the church of St. Ann. Now, I have a name
of his congregation. So, I’ve gone from
knowing he’s Catholic to knowing what church
he’s assigned to. And it’s the local
church records that would have produced that. So, at that point, I got on
the phone with the Archdiocese of Denver, every
archdiocese has an archive. I googled it. I found the phone number. I called the Archdiocese
of Denver. I did run a search on the church
of St. Ann, and I got nothing. So, I figured that this
was a closed parish, and that turned out
to be the case. A lot of us have
ancestors who went to churches that
no longer exist. That particular little
congregation has closed or merged with another one. So, I called the archdioceses
in archivist and asked about the records of the church
of St. Ann’s, and he said, yes, that is a closed parish. What do you need? I have those records here. So, he sent me this record,
and for the bride and groom, it gave me a lot more than
the civil marriage record did in Colorado, which isn’t much. I knew that I could see that on
February 28 of 1889, Mike Fox, who was age 23, which
I didn’t know, I didn’t know it was
his first marriage. I didn’t know he
lived in Denver, and I certainly didn’t know
he was the son of Martin and Francis, and that
he was born in Germany. But all of that was in the
church record they sent. You can see they just sent
me very little snippets. They’re respecting
the confidentiality of other records,
and so they just, they sent me only the
things that I needed. The same information
was there for the bride. I was able to get her
age at the marriage. I knew it was her first
marriage, that she lived in Denver, and that she was born
in Ohio and her parents’ names, at least their first names, and
we know her dad’s last name. So, I was able to, using the
church record of the same event as the civil marriage
record, you think, well why would I need two? I already know about the
civil marriage record. But it didn’t tell you enough. Maybe the church
record told you more, and that’s what happened here. So, another strategy, if you
come across a print record, mine it for manuscript sources. Generally, if they wrote
a history of the church, it’s because they had
some records there that they can consult. And here in this particular
one that is sitting over there, that’s here at the Library of
Congress, it had a whole list of the communicants in 1878. Well, I promise you
that the author of this book did not have a
memorized list in their head of everyone who is a member
of this church in1878. They would have consulted
old records. That means that at the time
that this book was prepared, those records existed
in some form. So, that tells you, you
could go look for them. The same thing here, in
another part of the book. It references Dr.
Lee’s journals, saying that there are
records of baptisms in there. It has a picture of a
young priest from the album of the Mangum family,
and then later it says, it references the
registers of Saint Andrew’s. So, clearly you’re seeing
in these print records, you’re going to learn
whatever they tell you, but you’re also going to see
where else you could look, what records may still survive. Okay, a final tip,
denominations change. Like if you were going
to say, well, you know, I had an ancestor who was
a Puritan, so I’m going to go find the Puritan Church in
their little New England town. Are you going to find
a Puritan Church? No, like this is the
first national church of the Puritans, right. There isn’t such a thing. You’re laughing, but like
this is good to understand. So, the Puritan Church
sort of changed over time. They became the
Congregationalist church and then lots of other mergers and different kinds
of things happened. All these churches have
drama, just like families. They have their own family
trees, and you can find them on a website called thearda.com. There are denominational
family trees like this one that I’m showing you here that
tells you if you were looking for a Puritan ancestor or
you were looking for somebody who had belonged
to the Evangelical and Reformed Church what
is that church today? What archives would
I go look in? So, it’s churches that have
changed names, that have merged with other churches, that
have maybe gone to defunct as we know them, but their
records maybe have been picked up by another denomination. So, it’s good to find out the
history of a denomination. And you can be resources
like this. The individual congregations
also have drama too sometimes. Denominations split sometimes
over doctrinal issues, sometimes over more
mundane things. Sometimes churches closed or
they merged with other churches, and sometimes we have these
union churches, which were sort of planned mergers of two different denominational
churches, local congregations, who were pretty similar
in spirit. They could get along and
agree on a lot of things, and maybe there were very few
people in the neighborhood or in the town that affiliated
with either of those churches or that spoke that language, and
so they would unite together, share a minister, share a space, and their records may have
been also put together and maybe eventually
separated again. So, it can be helpful to find out if an ancestor’s
congregation may have merged with another. So, that kind of thing did
happen, because you want to follow the record trail to
where those records may be now. Okay. I’m going to, I
promised you a couple stories, and that’s what I’m
going to conclude with. I love this one that I found in,
this is a published transcript of a church cemetery
burial ground. Looking in the author’s
commentary in this second paragraph here. Going beyond the bald facts of
names and dates presented here, in a thoughtful perusal,
one can read the sad record of the cholera epidemics
of 1849, ’50 and ’52, which devastated the city and
the smaller epidemic of 1854. One also becomes aware of
how difficult life was, how many children were lost
in infancy and childhood, and how many adults died in
what is now usually a healthy middle age. On the other hand, one
sees hints of kindness, a poor person lovingly buried
on another’s family lot, the good work of the sisters at
St. Francis Hospital the efforts of the hardworking pastor who
apparently was too ill himself to record the deaths during
one week of the 1852 epidemic. If your family was buried
here, especially during that time period, you’ve just
been given somebody’s insights into what was going
on in that community. So, I love this one. These is from my
husband’s ancestry as I was researching the
history of Holy Ghost Parish in [inaudible] county
Pennsylvania. I learned this about
them, which is wonderful. If you look again, starting
the second paragraph. Twenty-one dedicated Slovak
families pioneered the effort to establish a parish. During the summer of 1888,
they, along with Slovak families from Forest City to Taylor,
spearheaded a combined effort to solicit funds for a church. The little frame church
was erected by the strength and sweat of men after
their regular day’s work. This group dug with
picks and shovels, often well beyond midnight, until the excavation
was completed and the stone foundation placed. And then it goes on to talk about the Cornerstone
being blessed. My husband’s ancestors
were in town. The house backed up right
to the back of the church, and they eventually, for a very
small amount, sold the back half of their property to the church. They appear throughout
the records of this particular church, and I
haven’t been able to confirm it, but I have a guess
that they were part of those 21 dedicated
Slovakian families. It certainly helps me
understand the sacrifice that would have been required
for families like these to have worshipped in
their own language, in their new home
towns as emigrants. Okay. I’m going to end
with my very favorite one, and if anyone has ever
tried to sing or has sung in a church choir, you’re going
to understand the feelings of poor Luther Spelman. He gave a $3 donation to his
congregational church provided that chorister will in all cases
audibly name the tune before singing and will not sing until the choir have
learned the tunes named and will allow all
to sing that please. If you’re ancestor is Luther
Spelman, this is a great story. What a find. So, this is again one of those
donation or subscription records that you would find in
these old church records. So, you can learn a lot more. It just hit the tip
of the iceberg. There’s so much that I
don’t have time to tell you in this short lecture here
at the Library of Congress. You can learn more in my book,
How To Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records, which
is available here today, and you’re welcome to get
a signed copy or later in the Library of
Congress bookstore, or you can buy one online from Genealogical
Publishing or from Amazon.com. So, that said, I would love
to take your questions. What questions do you have? Any remainder? I’ve taken a couple throughout. Yes?>>I have done research
specifically in a couple of denominations, and
what strikes me is that there’s a great deal of similarities among
church records and I think you’re getting
at some of this in the work that you’re doing, and I look
forward to seeing your booking. But do you have a sense
that church records, let’s say across all the
denominations are more similar than they are different? he>>Sunny Jane Morton:
So, the question is, who similar are these
denominational records, especially some of these
membership records that we care about the most or
sacramental records, how similar will they
be across denominations? It will depend on the
doctrine of the church. Some churches didn’t baptize,
or they only baptized adults. So, you might find
different kinds of records. I would say that by and large
some of our Episcopalian, Methodist, Catholic, many
of these records are going to be quite complete
genealogically and great genealogical finds. Unfortunately, many of our
Baptist churches did not record as much about their members. I think they were busy
living full religious lives and didn’t write things down. So, there’s not as much
often in the Baptist records, and that’s a very
general statement, and exceptions are
certainly going to apply. And you’ll find a lot more,
there are specific chapters on individual denominations
in the book that describe what you
might expect to find and what language
it’s in and how to understand their
terminology and things like that in the book. Any other questions? Yes? Yes, sir?>>Just generally
to shed some light, what determines whether the
church’s archives [inaudible] like the Library of Congress.>>Sunny Jane Morton: Okay,
he’s asking a question about how you would know,
how you might anticipate where church records
might be archived. That’s an excellent
question, and it kind of gets at the history of
archiving itself. Generally, if a church is still
in existence, and if it belongs, if it’s not an independent
church, if it belongs to a larger denominational
structure, often there will be a policy
for archiving records, and sometimes they’ll say
maintain your old records unless you can’t, and then send them to
us or send them to our archive. So, there may be policies for
an individual denomination. And some of those policies may
not have been put into place until the mid-1900s
or later even because there was not a strong
history of having archives like this, especially
denominational archives or regional archives. You really didn’t find these
coming into being until maybe after the churches had
already archived their records someplace else. So, it just kind of would depend on when they would
have archived. The other thing to consider is
that there are some faiths here in the United States that
started their own colleges. And many times, it’s
their colleges that have special
collections libraries where one of their special collections
might be the records of this particular denomination, maybe a little German
denomination that is a real sort of a niche topic that
they have collected. So, it really kind of,
it depends, but that’s, hopefully that is a good start. Thank you very much
for being here. I’m happy to answer more
questions afterwards. [ Applause ]