Virginia Church Records

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Virginia Wiki Topics
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Beginning Research
Record Types
Virginia Background
Cultural Groups
Local Research Resources

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Church of England (now Protestant Episcopal) was the established church in Virginia from 1624 to 1786. Between the time of the American Revolution and the year 1900, the largest religious groups in Virginia were the Baptist, Methodist Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches.[1]

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],, and 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!

Indexes[edit | edit source]

Baptists[edit | edit source]

Church of England/Episcopal/Anglican[edit | edit source]

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

Quaker (Society of Friends)[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, Virginia.
b. Click on Places within United States, Virginia 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, Virginia [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.

  • A Guide to Church Records in the Library of Virginia. Clark, Jewell T., and Elizabeth T. Long. Richmond, Va.: 2002. FHL Book 975.5 K23g. Includes the history, location, and record inventory of 11 denominations and congregations. In 2002, an updated edition entitled was published. WorldCat
  • "Genealogical Research in Virginia Church Records," Long, Elizabeth Terry. Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2 (1980):pages 60-69.($). Discusses records associated with the Church of England, Presbyterians, Quakers, Lutherans, Reformed, and Baptist churches.

Baptist[edit | edit source]

Church of England/Episcopal[edit | edit source]

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.

Virginia Genealogical Society
P. O. Box 626
Orange, VA 22960-0365
Search Engine

Library of Virginia
800 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219-800
By appointment only: call 804-692-3800 to make an appointment.

"A Guide to Church Records in the Library of Virginia (2002)" lists these records in the Archives collection, some of which date from the colonial period and most of which are administrative. They contain very few references to births, deaths, or marriages. Represented denominations include Baptist, Christian (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran and German Reformed, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Society of Friends (Quakers), and Unitarians. There is no master index to information recorded in the materials in this collection, and individual volumes usually are not indexed. Records of a small number of churches have been transcribed and published.
"As administrative units of the established church in Virginia until 1786, the Anglican parishes were charged by law with keeping records of births or baptisms, marriages, and deaths or burials. Few of these registers are extant, and all that survive have been published. Each parish also was required to keep minutes of the meetings of the vestry as a record of the administrative affairs of the church. Such vestry books generally do not contain vital statistics. The "Hornbook of Virginia History"' contains convenient cross-referenced lists of parishes of the established church of Virginia between 1607 and 1785.
"Other denominations were not required by law to record births, deaths, and marriages; therefore, the types of records and the information recorded therein vary. Although some churches did record vital statistics, most kept only records of business meetings and financial affairs. Published church records can be located by searching the Library’s online catalog."

Baptist[edit | edit source]

Virginia Baptist Historical Society
Boatwright Memorial Library
28 Westhampton Way
University of Richmond, VA 23173
Telephone: (804)289-8669

Church of England (Anglican, Protestant Episcopal)[edit | edit source]

Vestry Books[edit | edit source]

Before the American Revolution, the state church of Virginia was the Church of England (also called Anglican, and later Protestant Episcopal). Besides keeping parish registers, the church kept many records of a civil nature in their vestry books. In many instances, parish registers containing baptism, marriage, and death records have not survived when vestry books have. Colonial vestries largely ceased functioning in 1786, when local overseers of the poor took charge of some of the vestries' main responsibilities.[2]

Finding Aid[edit | edit source]

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

James R. Crumley Jr. Archives
4201 Main St.
Columbia, SC 29203

Phone: 803-461-3234

  • Archives hold records for closed churches. For open churches write directly to the local church.

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian Church Archives
Union Theological Seminary in Virginia
3401 Brook Road
Richmond, VA 23227
Telephone: (800)229-2990 or (804)355-0671

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

Diocese of Arlington
200 North Glebe Road
Arlington, Virginia 22203
Phone:(703) 841-2500

  • Contact the local parish with requests for records and information. Use the "Find Parish" button on the main page for a drop-down menu.

Diocese of Arlington covers the counties of (Arlington, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, King George, Lancaster, Loudoun, Madison, Northumberland, Page, Prince William, Rappahannock, Richmond, Shenandoah, Stafford, Warren, Westmoreland counties).

Diocese of Richmond Archives
7800 Carousel Lane
Richmond, VA 23294-4201
(804) 359-5661

  • Contact the local parish with requests for records and information: Parish Finder

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. 1:365. Digital version at Google Books.
  2. John Frederick Dorman, "Review of Albemarle Parish Vestry Book," in The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec. 2005):320. Digital version at American Ancestors by NEHGS ($); FHL Book 975.5 B2vg v. 49 (2005).