Moravian Church in the United States
- 1 History in the United States
- 2 Finding Records
- 3 Look for published records.
- 4 Information in Records
- 5 Reading the Records
- 6 Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor
- 7 References
History in the United States[edit | edit source]
The Moravian Church (also known as Unity of Brethren) in North America is part of the worldwide Moravian Church Unity. It dates from the arrival of the first Moravian missionaries to the United States in 1735, from their Herrnhut settlement in present-day Saxony, Germany. They came to minister to the scattered German immigrants, to the Native Americans and to enslaved Africans. They founded communities to serve as home bases for these missions. The missionary "messengers" were financially supported by the work of the "laborers" in these settlements. Currently, there are more than 60,000 members.
The beginning of the church's work in North America is usually given as 1740, when Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg sent Christian Henry Rauch to New York City on a mission to preach and convert native peoples. Eager to learn more, the Mahican chiefs Tschoop and Shabash invited Rauch to visit their village (in present-day Dutchess County) to teach them. In September 1740, they led him to Shekomeko, where he established a Moravian mission. The two Indian chiefs converted to the Christian faith. By summer 1742, Shekomeko was established as the first native Christian congregation in the present-day United States.
The Moravians were more successful in Pennsylvania, where the charter of the colony provided religious freedom. The towns of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Emmaus, and Lititz, Pennsylvania, were founded as Moravian communities. Graceham, Maryland was founded as a Moravian Community on October 8, 1758. Later, colonies were also founded in North Carolina, where Moravians purchased 98,985 acres. This large tract of land was named die Wachau, or Wachovia. The towns established in Wachovia included Bethabara (1753), Bethania (1759) and Salem (now Winston-Salem) (1766).
Bethlehem emerged as the headquarters of the northern church, and Winston-Salem became the headquarters of the southern church. The Moravian denomination continues in America to this day, with congregations in 18 states. The highest concentrations of Moravians exist in Bethlehem and Winston-Salem. The denomination is organized into four provinces in North America: Northern (which includes five Canadian congregations), Southern, Alaska, and Labrador. Source: Wikipedia
Finding Records[edit | edit source]
Look for online records.[edit | edit source]
Some records have been digitized and posted online, where they are easily searched. More are being added all the time. Partner websites such as Ancestry.com, FindMyPast, MyHeritage, and American Ancestors can be searched free-of-charge at any Family History Center.
Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:
- Book Series: Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, 13 volumes
- Bethlehem Digital History Project
Look for digital copies of church records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]
- There are many entries of Moravian 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. . 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.
Look for published records.[edit | edit source]
Check these online digital 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.
The Northern Province covers the Moravian churches in the United States (excluding congregations located in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Virginia) and Canada.
- The Northern Province Moravian Archives
- 41 West Locust Street
- Bethlehem, PA 18018
- Phone: 610.866.3255
- E-mail: email@example.com
- Bethlehem Digital History Project
- Digital Resources
- Search Our Church Registers Index
- Inventory of Church Registers
- Online Finding Aid
- Schedule a Visit
For Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia:
- The Southern Province Moravian Archives
- 457 S. Church Street
- Winston-Salem, N.C. 27101
- Phone: (336) 722-1742
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Our Memoir Collection
- The Genealogy Bookshelves List of family surnames in the collection.
- Moravian Churches Historical List
- 1932 Catalog Overview of older holdings
- Researcher Application Schedule an appointment.
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.
Information in Records[edit | edit source]
"Choir" Lists[edit | edit source]
Lebensläufe (Memoirs)[edit | edit source]
"The Memoir is a biographical sketch, sometimes autobiographical...but usually prepared by the pastor...and with a careful search of the Church registers for dates....Today [it] is read in conjunction with the funeral service...it gives the life-story in detail, carefully including the religious experiences of the member." 
Family Registers[edit | edit source]
- records of entire families
- birth date and place for each family member
- baptism and confirmation
- immigrant arrival dates
Community Diaries[edit | edit source]
"Community diaries were written daily and shared with other communities so that each could be informed of the news of that community.Baptisms of Native Americans, travelers who stopped by (including non-Moravians), the health of their members, and expected immigrant parties were all part of the news shared by the community to their brethren."
Baptisms[edit | edit source]
Children were baptized soon after birth, and therefore, the baptism record proves date of birth.
Marriages[edit | edit source]
Marriage registers can give:
Burials[edit | edit source]
Burial registers may give:
Reading the Records[edit | edit source]
Many of the records will be written in Fraktur (old German) script. These articles will teach how to read the records.
- Reading German Handwritten Records Practice exercises to build your skills and confidence.
- Old German Script Transcriber (alte deutsche Handschriften): See your family names in the script of the era. Type your name or other word into the font generator tool. Click on the 8 different fonts. Save the image to your computer and use it as you work with old Germanic records.
- Print these handouts for ready reference when reading German Handwriting:
- Kurrent Letters Handout
- Numbers Handout
- Birth Records Handout
- Marriage Records Handout
- Death Records Handout
- Days and Months Handout
- Common Symbols Handout
- Common Abbreviations Handout
- List of Names in Old German Script A comprehensive list of German given names, written in old script, with possible variations.
- Fraktur Font--Many forms and books are printed in this font.
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
- military service details
Carefully 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]
- Adelaide L Fries, "Moravian Church Records as a Source of Genealogical Material, National Genealogical Society Quarterly24:1 (March 1936), 5.
- Ibid., 6