Lutheran Church in the United States
History in the United States[edit | edit source]
When Lutherans came to North America, they started church bodies that reflected, to some degree, the churches left behind. Many maintained their immigrant languages until the early 20th century. They sought pastors from the "old country". Many in dependent churches were established. It wasn't until over time, that they organized into synods and conferences.
The first Lutherans in what would become the United States were members of the Swedish Lutheran Church who landed in the Delaware Valley in 1638 to establish the colony of New Sweden. Many Lutherans came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s, brought by immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia. A significant number of Scandinavian Lutherans settled in the states of the Upper Midwest. Large numbers also settled in major cities such as New York, Chicago, and Seattle.
The Lutheran church in the United States has historically been made up of several synods and conferences. There are at least 20 smaller Lutheran denominations in North America, with some of them being doctrinal offshoots of larger groups through the years, or groups that never merged. Source: Lutheranism by region
With 3.4 million members, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the largest American Lutheran denomination, followed by the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) with 2.0 million members, and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) with 350,000 members.Lutheranism
Lutheran Religion Family Tree[edit | edit source]
This Lutheran Religion Family Tree diagrams the relationship of the many Lutheran "conferences".
Historical Record Lists: Lutheran Ministers and Pastors[edit | edit source]
Finding the Records[edit | edit source]
Look for Online Records[edit | edit source]
Some records have been digitized and posted online, where they are easily searched. More are being added all the time. Partner websites such as Ancestry.com, Findmypast, MyHeritage, and American Ancestors can be searched free-of-charge at any Family History Center.
Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:
- U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Church Records, 1781-1969, index and images, at Ancestry.com, ($)
- Does not contain records of every ELCA congregation. The digital images that Ancestry.com hosts were created from microfilmed copies of church records made apparently in the 1970s/early 1980s from congregations that were members (at that time) of what was then known as the American Lutheran Church. The ELCA was created in 1987, as the result of a merger of the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC), and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). Generally speaking (there probably are exceptions) the digital images are not from congregations that were a AELC or LCA member. Other branches of Lutheranism (eg. Missouri Synod) are not generally included either.
- U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Swedish American Church Records, 1800-1947, index and images, at Ancestry.com, ($)
- Was created from microfilmed images of church records of Lutheran congregations in the United States that were Swedish in ethnic origin. This microfilm was held by the Swenson Swedish Research Center at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. The Swenson Center’s microfilm catalog is online, but it includes non-Lutheran congregational records that were not included in “U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America[ELCA], Swedish American Church Records, 1800-1947” (because they aren’t Lutheran).
- U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1826-1945, index and images, ($)
- U.S., Evangelical Covenant Church, Swedish American Church Records, 1868-1970, index and images, ($)
- Search results at Ancestry.com for Keywords "Lutheran Church America" Several individual church records are available.
- Search results at FamilySearch for Keywords "Lutheran Church Records" filtered for online records. Several individual church records are available in the FamilySearch collection, as this lengthy list shows. Search the Catalog by place, title, or author.
Look for Digital Copies of Church Records Listed in the FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]
There are thousands of entries of digitized Lutheran church records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog:
- Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog state-wide, county-wide, or for a town.
- Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations.
To find records statewide records:
- a. Enter your state name in the "Place" search field of FamilySearch Catalog. You will see a list of topics and, at the top, the phrase "Places within United States, [STATE]".
- b. Click on "Church records" in the topic list. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
To find county-wide records:
- c. From the original page, click on Places within United States, [STATE] and a list of counties will appear.
- d. Click on your county.
- e. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
To find town records:
- f. From the list of counties, click on Places within United States, [STATE], [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
- g. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
- h. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
- i. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. . The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.
Correspond With or Visit the Actual Church[edit | edit source]
Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.
- Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
- To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
- Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
- A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
- If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
- See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.
Synods[edit | edit source]
- ELCA Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Congregation Finder
- LCMS The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod Church Finder
- Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) Locator
Smaller Groups[edit | edit source]
- AFLC Association of Free Lutheran Congregations Church Finder
- NALC North American Lutheran Church Congregations
- AALC American Association of Lutheran Churches Church Finder
- CLC Church of the Lutheran Confession Church Finder
- ELCM Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium of North America Church Finder
- ELDONA Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America Parish Finder
- LCR Lutheran Churches of the Reformation Congregations
- ELS Evangelical Lutheran Synod Church Finder
- LCMC Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ Church Finder
Look for Online Published Books[edit | edit source]
Many records have been transcribed and published in books. These books may have been digitized and made available online. Likely sites where they may be available are:
- Internet Archive
- Digital Public Library of America
- HathiTrust Digital Library
- FamilySearch Digital Library
|Try different keywords in various combinations: the name of the town, the name of the specific church, the denomination, "church records", and "[STATE] church records".|
Check the Church Cecords Collections in Archives and Libraries.[edit | edit source]
Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives or in libraries. Watch for links to digitized, online records offered by the archives. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might hire a researcher.
Denominational Archives[edit | edit source]
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA Archives)
321 Bonnie Lane
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Phone: (847) 690-9410
The Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America preserve, protect and make accessible the records of the ELCA, its predecessor church bodies, inter-Lutheran agencies and prominent leaders of the church. Working with the archives of the 65 synods and nine regions of the ELCA, the ELCA Archives serves historians, congregations, synods, genealogists and others interested in Lutheran history by providing resources and answering questions. Has records of closed and merged parishes.
- Partial lists of church records in its collection are:
- American Lutheran Church (ALC) Archives. ALC Congregations on Microfilm. Dubuque, Iowa: The Archives, [197-?]. (Family History Library fiche 6330690-93.) Arranged by state and city of congregation. Note: The ALC Archives are now part of the ELCA Archives.
- American Lutheran Church Shelf List Index to Their Church Records Microfilmed as of 1987. N.p., 1988. (Family History Library book 973 K2aL.)
There are nine regional archives, each with collected church records from that region. This document ELCA Regional Archives and Holdings (PDF) gives descriptions of the collections and all the contact information for each region. Active ELCA congregations are primarily responsible for maintaining their own archives. Therefore, we recommend that researchers interested in the records of an active congregation contact the church before contacting the archive.
Concordia Historical Institute
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
801 De Mun Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63105
- Records for former and active congregations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
Odessa is a digital library dedicated to the cultural and family history of the millions of Germans who emigrated to Russia in the 1800s and their descendants, who are now scattered throughout the world. The Odessa document collection consists primarily of digitized books and records plus indexes of microfilms and research aids that enable users to trace individual and family migrations since the early 1800s. This site contains German-Russian emigrant ancestry in pocket settlements in mid-west states of North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. Contains transcribed minutes of meetings, membership lists (some with parentage listed), birth, deaths, and marriages.]
Norwegian Lutherans[edit | edit source]
Norwegian American Genealogical Center and Naeseth Library
415 West Main Street
Madison, WI 53703-3116
Minnesota[edit | edit source]
1520 St. Olaf Avenue
Northfield, MN 55057
- Online digital records
- Locating Lutheranism explores Lutheran life and institutions in their American context using digital resources. The larger, on-going project will collect an archive of images, documents, and other items and display interpretative exhibits on a variety of topics. This pilot project, begun in summer 2014, focuses on Norwegian-American Lutheran congregations in Minnesota.
Wisconsin[edit | edit source]
- Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod Archives
- N16 W23377 Stone Ridge Drive
- Waukesha, WI 53188
Maryland[edit | edit source]
- 350 Rowe Boulevard
- Annapolis, MD 21401
- Toll free: (800) 235-4045 or (410) 260-6400
- Fax: (410) 974-2525
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Information Recorded in the Records[edit | edit source]
Different time periods and practices of different record keepers will affect how much information can be found in the records. This outline will show the types of details which might be found (best case scenario):
Baptisms[edit | edit source]
Children were usually baptized a few days after birth, and therefore, the baptism record proves date of birth.
Marriages[edit | edit source]
Marriage registers can give:
Burials[edit | edit source]
Burial registers may give:
Reading the Records[edit | edit source]
Many of the records of German congregations will be written in Fraktur (old German) script. Other congregations will have records written in the handwriting used in those countries.
- FamilySearch German Paleography Seminar - Lessons on German Handwriting
- Old German Script Transcriber (alte deutsche Handschriften): See your family names in the script of the era. Type your name or other word into the font generator tool. Click on the 8 different fonts. Save the image to your computer and use it as you work with old Germanic records.
The following articles can be used for ready reference when reading German handwriting.
Vocabulary found on Specific Records:
- Birth Records Vocabulary handout
- Marriage Records Vocabulary handout
- Overview of Marriage Laws and Customs (handout)
- Death Records Vocabulary handout
Dates, Numbers, Abbreviations:
- Days and Months handout
- Numbers Vocabulary handout
- Script Dates and Numbers handout
- Common Abbreviations handout
- Common Symbols handout
- Fraktur Font - many forms and books are printed in this font
German Given Names:
- List of Names in Old German Script - a comprehensive list of German given names, written in old script, with possible variations
The records of some congregations were written in Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish. For help reading them see:
Carefully Compare Any Record You Find to Known Facts About the Ancestor[edit | edit source]
You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by gathering in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:
- name, including middle name and maiden name
- names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
- exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
- names and approximate birthdates of children
- all known places of residence
- military service details
Carefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a near match. If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence see Evaluate the Evidence.