Beginning Research in United States Church Records
What are United States church records?
- A baptism or christening could be either for a child or an adult. Children were christened within a couple of months after birth. This can be substituted for a birth record.
- A church marriage record was usually kept by the minister of the church in which the couple married, in addition to a government record of the wedding.
- Burial records were kept by the minister conducting the funeral or by the minister of the church where the person was buried. This can be substituted for a death record.
What time periods and locations do they cover?
Church records may cover years from 1600's to the present, beginning with the date the church was founded in that town.
What can I find in them?
- A baptism record will give the child's and parents' names, date of baptism, and sometimes godparents' names. It may also give a birth date, the father's occupation, and the father's residence.
- A marriage record will give the marriage date and name of the bride and groom. It may give their ages, residences, parents' names, and their birth places.
- A burial record usually gives name, burial date, and age at death. In the case of a child, it may list the father's name. In the case of a woman or widow, it may list her husband's name.
How do I access them?
The records may still be kept at the original church. Google the church for an address or telephone and contact the minister.
Church Archives or Central Headquarters
The church records you are seeking may have been sent to the headquarters of the church. Contact that church to see if they allow public access to their records and to see what kinds of records are available. For contact information for each church, go to United States Church Records and click on a church from the list.
Genealogical and Historical Societies
Local churches may have donated their records or allowed genealogical or historical societies to make a copy of their records. Google using the county name and genealogical or historical societies for contact information.
Online Church Records
- Learn what family traditions about the church your ancestor’s may have attended.
- Learn the national origin of your ancestor. Immigrants usually attended the same church in the new country that they had in the old country.
- Learn what churches were available in the towns where your ancestor settled. They may have attended the local church because of its proximity. On the other hand, your ancestor may have traveled some distance to attend their preferred church in the next town or county. A county history will help with this.
- Find an obituary of your ancestor or one of their siblings. The church your ancestor attended is often mentioned in obituaries. Also look for funeral notices to see where the funeral took place.
- Look at cemetery records. If your ancestor was buried in a church cemetery, they would have belonged to that church at some time.