What Can I Find in U.S. Church Records?

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What Can I Find in U.S. Church Records?

Different denominations, different time periods, and practices of different record keepers will effect how much information can be found in the records. Sometimes, you will only find a simple membership list. This outline will show the types of details which might be found in the best case scenario. Denominations following practices learned in Europe, where there are state churches (such as the Anglican/Episcopal, Catholic, and Lutheran), are more likely to have full records.

Baptisms or Christenings[edit | edit source]

In Catholic and Anglican records, children were usually baptized a few days after birth, and therefore, the baptism record proves date of birth. Other religions, such as Baptists, baptized at other points in the member's life. Baptism registers might give:

  • baptism date
  • the infant's name
  • parents' names
  • father's occupation
  • status of legitimacy
  • occasionally, names of grandparents
  • names of witnesses or godparents, who may be relatives
  • birth date and place
  • the family's place of residence
  • death information, as an added note or signified by a cross

A simpler record from earlier times might give only the date of baptism and the names of the child and parents.
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Marriages[edit | edit source]

Marriage registers can give:

  • the marriage date
  • the names of the bride and groom
  • indicate whether the bride and groom were single or widowed
  • their ages
  • birth dates and places for the bride and groom
  • their residences
  • their occupations
  • birthplaces of the bride and groom
  • parents' names (after 1800)
  • the names of previous spouses and their death dates
  • names of witnesses, who might be relatives.

A simpler record from earlier time might give only the date and the names of the bride and groom.

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Catholic records are frequently written in Latin.
Use the Latin Genealogical Word List in the Wiki to easily read this record.

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Burials or Funerals[edit | edit source]

Burial registers may give:

  • the name of the deceased
  • the date and place of death or burial
  • the deceased's age
  • place of residence
  • cause of death
  • the names of survivors, especially a widow or widower
  • deceased's birth date and place
  • parents' names, or at least the father's name
  • funeral sermon
  • biography of the deceased

A simpler record from earlier times might give only the date and name, and the father's name for a child or the husband's name for a woman.

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Membership Lists[edit | edit source]

Membership lists may give:

  • the name of the person
  • the date and the place the list was made
  • may also give the spouse’s name
  • the date of admission
  • letters of admission or dismission
  • the name of the congregation they came from or left to
  • a death date, added later

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A Letter of Dismission

Minutes or Historical Narrative[edit | edit source]

Many denominations, intersperse records chronologically throughout
minutes or church history, without placing them in separate registers.

Other Records[edit | edit source]

Other records, less specifically genealogical, include:

  • congregational histories (may have membership lists, baptism lists interspersed)
  • church newspapers (may have notices of birth, marriage, death)
  • donation lists
  • pew lists
  • committee officers or lay officers
  • business meeting minutes
  • correspondence
  • Sunday School records (may have attendance records)
  • church cemetery records
  • pastor's notes or memoirs
  • biographies of pastors