Finding Church Records
Although church records may not have been kept with genealogy in mind, these records can provide genealogists with vital information to help fill the gaps in their research. Even if your ancestor was not a regular attendant, you may find detailed information on births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials.
How do you go about obtaining these records? If you’re lucky enough to have access to your family Bible, you may be able to gather enough information to start your search at a specific parish. If you don’t have access to your family Bible, you may start by looking into local churches near where your ancestors’ lived. If you know your ancestors’ religious denomination, you might be able to narrow your search even further. Also, keep in mind if there are any ethnic congregations that your ancestors may have gravitated toward. In many cases, people of the same ethnicity would attend the same churches. Therefore, the closest church may not have been exactly the one your relatives’ may have attended.
Once you have located a church you believe your ancestors were affiliated with, take the time to call the parish’s office to inquire whether they have any records from your ancestors’ lifetime and how you can access them. It’s important to remember that church records are not public; they are private records. If the church has since closed down or you’re having difficulty locating records kept by traveling ministers, try calling a denomination office or check out local and state archives where the records may have been donated. You may also try searching genealogy library catalogs such as the Family History Library, which holds an extensive collection of church records.
Once you find your ancestors in the church records, you could be richly rewarded with information. Baptism records will likely name godparents (who were often relatives) and others in attendance, marriage records could provide you with more information about witnesses and maiden names. Death records may provide you with cause and date of death. You can find detailed information in burial records, including possibly the location of a grave you were unable to find otherwise. You may even discover a relative who whose short life was never recorded in a census.
Be sure to ask if you can keep copies of the records you have found and scan them to your computer. Share what you’ve found with others by uploading these documents to your ancestors’ Geni profiles!