Rhode Island Church Records

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Rhode Island Wiki Topics
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Beginning Research
Record Types
Rhode Island Background
Cultural Groups
Local Research Resources

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

Before 1900 the largest religious groups in Rhode Island were the Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, Protestant Episcopal, and Roman Catholic.[1] Many of the early settlers were members of the Society of Friends.

Information Found in the Records[edit | edit source]

To effectively use church records, become familiar with their content. Click on these links to learn about a specific record type:

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com, and MyHeritage.com can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available. Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, relationships, and other details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

Online Records[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com[edit | edit source]

FindMyPast[edit | edit source]

Other Collections[edit | edit source]

Look for digital copies of church records in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • The Family History Library (FHL) has a substantial collection of original church records and transcripts on microfilm for churches in the United States.
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the state, county, or town.
  • If you find a record that has not yet been digitized, see How do I request that a microfilm be digitized?
  • 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:
a. Click on the records of United States, Rhode Island.
b. Click on Places within United States, Rhode Island and a list of counties will appear.
c. Click on your county if it appears.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Click on Places within United States, Rhode Island [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
f. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
g. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
h. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. 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.

Consult available finding aids.[edit | edit source]

These aids generally provide lists of records that are known to exist and information on their location.

Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[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.
  • Each denomination page offers an online address directory of local churches for that denomination.

Check the church records 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.

Here you will find archive information unique to the state. Many more archives are kept by denomination. For denominational archives, go to Searching for Church Records by Denomination.

American-Canadian Genealogical Society Library[edit | edit source]

American-Canadian Genealogical Society Library
1 Sundial Avenue, Suite 317N
Manchester, New Hampshire 03103

Tel: (603) 622-1554

Rhode Island Historical Society[edit | edit source]

Rhode Island Historical Society
121 Hope Street
Providence, RI 02906
Phone: (401) 331-8575
Fax: (401) 751-7930

"The Library has manuscript records of many Rhode Island churches, with particular strength in records of Baptist and Congregational churches. Among the most comprehensive collections are the General Six Principle Baptist Archives and the records of the First Universalist Church of Providence, Congdon Street Baptist Church, and the First Congregational Church of Providence. The extensive archives of the First Baptist Church in America are on deposit and can be accessed only with permission of church historian Dr. J. Stanley Lemons, History Department, Rhode Island College, 600 Mount Pleasant Ave., Providence, Rhode Island 02908.

"The Archives of the New England Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) are housed at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library. They are a separate institution, but the collection can be accessed via the RIHS staff and most of the early vital records can be accessed via microfilm in the Reading Room. The records cover most of the Quaker meetings in New England from 1676 to the present, and consist mainly of vital records and meeting minutes. Questions can be directed to the NEYM Archivist atneym@rihs.org. The 113-page Guide to the Records of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in New England was published in 1997 and is available for sale at the Rhode Island Historical Society. For more information about theNew England Yearly Meeting, visit their website."

Newport Historical Society[edit | edit source]

Newport Historical Society
Edward W. Kane Library

82 Touro Street
Newport, RI 02840

Baptist[edit | edit source]

Rhode Island Baptist Heritage Center
Brown University Library
Providence, RI 02912
Phone: (401) 863-2165

The Rhode Island Baptist Heritage Center, an affiliate of the American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island [ABCORI], was established in 2004 to create an official Baptist presence in Providence, Rhode Island. It provides substantive information regarding early English and American Baptists and documents traditional forms of worship and doctrine in the Baptist Church. The collection includes a wide array of church materials documenting organizational and administrative operations, religious practices and beliefs, and the history of the Baptist Church in Rhode Island. It includes registers, reports, correspondence, photographs and church publications dating from as early as 1867 to the late 1980s. The churches and organizations included are: Arlington Baptist Church, Bethany Baptist Church, Cranston Street Baptist Church, Eighth Baptist Church, First Free Baptist Church, Fourth Baptist Church, Jefferson Baptist Church, Olneyville Church, Park Street Baptist Church, Phenix Baptist Church, Rhode Island Free Baptist Association, Roger Williams Free Baptist Church, Trinity Baptist Church, United Baptist Church, United Community Church, United Presbyterian Church.

Episcopal[edit | edit source]

Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut
135 Asylum Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105-2295
Phone: (860) 233-4481
Fax: (860) 523-1410

  • Contact the local church for information and records. Contact the diocese for information on closed churches.
  • Updike, Wilkins. A History of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett, Rhode Island (1907)
Volume 1.
Volume 2.
Volume 3.

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

Diocese of Providence
The Chancery Office
34 Fenner Street
Providence, RI 02903-3695
Phone: (401) 278-4500
Fax: (401) 278-4548

  • Sacramental records (i.e., baptismal and marriage certificates) are maintained at the individual parishes, and not in the Archives.

Society of Friends[edit | edit source]

New England Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends: 1633-2018
Special Collections and University Archives
University Libraries
University of Massachusetts Amherst
25th Floor, Du Bois Library
154 Hicks Way
Amherst, MA 01003
Phone: 413-545-7282

Correspond with genealogical or historical societies.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been given to historical societies. Also, historical societies may be able to tell you where the records are being held. To find a society near you, consult these lists:

Next, go to the Wiki article for your ancestors' denomination.[edit | edit source]

There are frequently additional, nationwide or regional archives and online collections for each denomination. Find the article for your ancestors' denomination and follow the instructions there to access these sources.

Wiki Articles for Records of Major Religious Denominations

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 organizing 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
  • occupations
  • military service details

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully 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, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. William Chamberlin Hunt and United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1906 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1910), Vol. 1:352. Digital version at Google Books.