West Virginia Church Records

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West Virginia Wiki Topics
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Beginning Research
Record Types
West Virginia Background
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Local Research Resources

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

The Church of England (now Protestant Episcopal) was the established church in Virginia (including West Virginia) from 1624 to 1786. Other major religious groups in West Virginia were the Baptist, Methodist Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and United Brethren churches. With the arrival of English and Scots-Irish settlers came West Virginia's early dominant religions. Many families of English origin were Quakers; the Scots-Irish were Presbyterians. Both religions were well established by 1740, and they were followed by Baptists who settled in Berkeley County in 1743 and a Methodist circuit in Berkeley and Jefferson counties in 1778. [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]

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.

Caution sign.png

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]

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, West Virginia.
b. Click on Places within United States, West 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, West 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]

Statewide[edit | edit source]

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

Baptist[edit | edit source]

Episcopal[edit | edit source]

Methodist[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Books[edit | edit source]

  • Jewell T. Clark, and Elizabeth Terry Long. A Guide to Church Records in the Archives Branch of the Virginia State Library. Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1981. FHL Collection 975.5 K23c

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.

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.

State Repositories[edit | edit source]

West Virginia University Library'
West Virginia University
1549 University Ave.
P.O. Box 6069
Morgantown, WV 26506-6069
Phone: 1-304-293-4040
Fax: 1-304-293-6638

West Virginia Archives and History Library
West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History
The Culture Center
Capitol Complex
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston WV 25305-0300
Phone: (304) 558-0220
Fax: (304) 558-2779

Because West Virginia was part of Virginia until 1861, the Library of Virginia has church records.
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]

West Virginia Baptist Historical Society
1715 Lower Parchment Valley Road
Ripley, West Virginia 25271
Phone: (304)-574-9018
E-mail: rosesatsunset@suddenlink.net

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

Tri-Synod Archives
Thiel College
75 College Avenue
Greenville, PA 16125
Phone: (724) 589-2131

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

Episcopal[edit | edit source]

Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia
1608 Virginia Street East
P.O. Box 5400
Charleston, WV 25361
Ph: 304-344-3597
Fax: 304-343-3295

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
1300 Byron Street
P.O. Box 230
Wheeling, WV 26003
Telephone: 304-233-0880 or 1- 888-434-6237
Fax: 304-233-0890

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. Johni Cerny, in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.