Congregational Church in the United States

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History in the United States[edit | edit source]

Newman Congregational Church
East Providence
Rhode Island
  • In 1660, approximately 75 percent of the total population of the thirteen British colonies was either Anglican or Congregationalist.
  • Congregational churches trace their history back to nonconforming Protestants, Puritans, Separatists, Independents, English religious groups coming out of the English Civil War, and other English dissenters not satisfied with the degree to which the Church of England had been reformed. The Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Separatists of Plymouth Colony were the first of many groups known as Congregationalists.
  • Within the United States, the religion churches was carried by migrating settlers from New England into New York, then into the Old North West, and further. By 1776, there were 668 Congregational churches—21 percent of all churches in America.
  • Congregationalists would migrate westward as the new United States expanded. The first church on Vermont was established in 1762, but there were 74 Congregational churches in Vermont by 1800.
  • Expansion into the central and western parts of New York took place in the 1790s as emigration increased from Massachusetts and Connecticut. As New Englanders settled in the Old Northwest, they brought Congregationalism with them. The First Congregational Church of Marietta, Ohio, gathered in 1796, is the oldest Congregational church in the region.
  • The challenge of building churches and providing ministers for western settlements motivated many Congregationalists to cooperate with the Presbyterians, as they were both part of the Calvinist tradition. This led them to form united Presbyterian-Congregational churches in areas where ministers and resources were in short supply. This cooperation was formalized in the Plan of Union adopted in 1801 in Connecticut, and was later adopted in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
  • The Presbyterians gained more from the union than the Congregationalists. Around 2000 churches founded as Congregationalist in the states of New York, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan switched allegiance to the Presbyterian Church. The plan created mixed churches that could belong to either a Congregational association or a local presbytery of the Presbyterian Church. Records of Congregational ancestors, therefore are frequently found in Presbyterian church records.
  • In 1825, churches of the American Unitarian Association were created as a split from the Congregational Church.
  • In the 20th century, the Congregational tradition in America fragmented into three different denominations. The largest of these is the United Church of Christ, which resulted from a 1957 merger with the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Congregationalists who chose not to join the United Church of Christ founded two alternative denominations: the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. Source: Wikipedia: Congregational Church and Congregationalism in the United States

Congregational Religion Family Tree[edit | edit source]

Finding Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

"In this series you will find records of: church meetings and votes; births, deaths, baptisms, and marriages; church discipline, including admonitions, confessions, censures, and excommunications; ecclesiastical council minutes. Of particular note are the personal conversion narratives, called "relations", found in several of the collections. These documents, prepared by any individual seeking church membership, offer insight into many under-documented populations including women, children, Native Americans, slaves, and indentured servants."

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

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • There are hundreds of entries of digitized Congregational church records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog:
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog state-wide, county-wide, or for a 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 statewide records:
a. Enter your state name in the "Place" search field of FamilySearch Catalog. You will see a list of topics and, at the top, the phrase "Places within United States, [STATE]".
b. Click on "Church records" in the topic list. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
  • To find county-wide records:
c. From the original page, click on Places within United States, [STATE] and a list of counties will appear.
d. Click on your county.
e. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
  • To find town records:
f. From the list of counties, click on Places within United States, [STATE], [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
g. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
h. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
i. 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 finding aids.[edit | edit source]

  • ArchiveGrid Use keyword "Congregational", town name, church name, or minister's name.

Find published transcripts.[edit | edit source]

Many Congregational church records have been transcribed and published. Look for them in these online archives:
Dark thin font green pin Version 4.png Try different keywords in various combinations: the name of the town, the name of the specific church, the denomination, "church records", and "[STATE] church records".

Congregational Library and Archives

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.

Congregational Library and Archives
14 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108

Telephone: 617-523-0470
Fax: 617-523-0470

Connecticut State Library & Archives

Connecticut State Library

New Hampshire Historical Society
New Hampshire Historical Society
30 Park Street
Concord, NH 03301

Telephone: 603-228-6688

"A good way to verify the information printed in vital records is through the Society’s collection of original church records. With lists of births, deaths, baptisms, and marriages, church records are often the only resource though which to find or verify this information. Church records can also help place a particular person in a place at a certain time. The church records collection reflects many towns and denominations throughout New Hampshire."

Maine Historical Society
John Marshall and Alida Carroll Brown Research Library
489 Congress Street Portland, ME 04101 Phone (207) 774–1822 Fax (207) 775–4301 E-mail:

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.

Address lists:

Information Found in Church Records[edit | edit source]

Early Records: Records before the late 1800s were more like historical notes and minutes about the establishment of a church and its activities. The most useful information would be possible membership lists and baptisms (both adult and child) interspersed throughout the notes.

Registers: Standard printed registers of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths/burials were not adopted until the later 1800s.

Births and Baptisms: Births were not recorded always and baptisms could be adult or child. Children's baptisms might name just the father. Adult baptisms might mention married couples. Occasionally, an entire family joined the church and were all baptized at once. Baptism was not required, so your ancestor might not show up at all.

Marriages: Name of bride and groom, residences, date of marriage, officiator's name.

Deaths: Mentioned on membership lists.

Membership Lists: Name, maybe maiden name, spouse's name, date joining church, prior congregation, and where moved to when leaving, death date and age at death.

Conversion Stories: Early on, members had to explain how they became converted, in order to join the church.

Other Records: Minute bools, disciplinary actions, financial records, church histories, obituaries of ministers.

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 gathering 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.