The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of the world’s oldest Christian churches—and its home is in one of the world’s oldest countries. Modern-day Armenia traces its roots to those who lived in the Armenian Highlands for thousands of years. They lived at a geographical and cultural crossroads between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and absorbed much from the societies of each.
When you are searching for your Armenian ancestors, it’s important to take a look at the Armenian Apostolic Church. Understanding the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church is valuable when searching for Armenian family records.
The Early Armenian Apostolic Church
One of the most far-reaching influences on Armenian culture was the early appearance of Christianity. According to tradition, two early Apostles of Jesus Christ, Thaddeus and Bartholomew, preached and founded churches in Armenia as early as the first century AD. Despite ongoing persecution, the religion took root. It continued to spread as disciples visited Jewish Armenian communities and as Armenians interacted with neighboring Christians. By the mid-200s, the wider Christian church recognized the presence of organized churches in Armenia.
Some Armenian Christians experienced severe persecution in the late 200s. One was Grigor, a soldier who was imprisoned, in part for his faith. In the year 301, according to the church, Armenian ruler Trdat III experienced a severe illness. His daughter dreamed several times that only Grigor could cure her father. Released from prison, Grigor preached to Tiridates (Trdat) and healed him. Trdat and his entire court converted to Christianity.
Some scholars date this event at around 314, after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313. Whatever the precise year, the effect was profound. Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion. The soldier Grigor became St. Gregory the Illuminator, first bishop of the Armenian Church and the patron saint of the nation.
Over the centuries, the Armenian Church has provided both a spiritual home and a unifying identity for Armenians. In 405, Church leaders championed the creation (or revival) of an Armenian alphabet for use in scriptural translation. This alphabet strengthened Armenian identity and culture. The Armenian nation has been conquered and dispersed at various times over the centuries. Even when the country ceased to exist at times, the Armenian Apostolic Church has continued to speak for—and culturally unite—people of Armenian descent who were scattered around the world.
Armenian Church Records
In recent generations, church membership has remained important both to Armenians living in the country and to those living in other parts of the world. If you are of Armenian descent, the records of local Armenian congregations may be able to help you reconstruct your family tree. The church generally kept registers of infant baptisms, marriages, and burials, all of which might mention identifying details about relatives. Here’s an example:
Whether church records may still exist about your relatives—and whether they are easily accessible online—depends on where your family lived and when they live there. Many records in Armenia were destroyed, but fortunately not all. Explore a collection of Armenian Church records from the Armenian Central Historical Archive that is now available on FamilySearch.org. Additional church records, histories, censuses, and other resources may have been created by various Armenian communities in Syria, Lebanon and Israel, Europe, North America, and elsewhere.
This resource on Armenian Church records can help you get started. It describes different kinds of religious records in Armenia, includes an Armenian word list to help you read old records, and points to additional resources. As in all genealogical research, ask your living relatives what they can tell you about your relatives’ names, where they were from, and what documentation they may have about the family. Then you can work from this known information backward in time to discover new and meaningful connections to your Armenian roots. With this information, you will be well on your way to building your Armenian family tree!