Presbyterian Church in the United States

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History in the United States[edit | edit source]

Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church
Baltimore, Maryland

Presbyterianism is a part of the Reformed tradition within Protestantism, which traces its origins to Great Britain, particularly Scotland. Presbyterian churches derive their name from the presbyterian form of church government, which is governed by representative assemblies of elders. A great number of Reformed churches are organized this way, but the word Presbyterian, when capitalized, is often applied uniquely to churches that trace their roots to the Church of Scotland.

n the late 1600s, economic problems and religious persecution prompted many Scotch-Irish to migrate to America, and most settled in the Middle Colonies. Their numbers were augmented by Presbyterian migration from Puritan New England, and soon there were enough Presbyterians in America to organize congregations. Other members were of English and Welsh ancestry. The first ministers were recruited from Northern Ireland, including Francis Makemie, who is known as the "father of American Presbyterianism." While several Presbyterian churches had been established, they were not yet organized into presbyteries and synods.

In 1706, Makemie and seven other ministers established the first presbytery in North America, the Presbytery of Philadelphia. A long history of conflict and disagreement has produced many different Presbyterian denominations, explained in this chart. Source: Wikipedia

Presbyterian Religion Family Tree[edit | edit source]

This Presbyterian Religion Family Tree also diagrams the relationships of the various branches of the religion.

Finding the 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, FindMyPast, MyHeritage, and American Ancestors can be searched free-of-charge at any Family History Center.

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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 "so it must be mine". Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, other relationships, and 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!

Consult finding aids[edit | edit source]

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

  • There are thousands of entries of digitized Presbyterian 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.

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:
This list represents some of the largest Presbyterian denominations. Also Google, using keyword "Churches near _____", inserting the name and state where your ancestors lived, to find churches not included in these address lists:

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.

Presbyterian Church (USA)[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian Historical Society
  • Online Index for their collection. This includes a Congregation Vertical Files Index, a Biographical Vertical Files Index and Hall's Index of American Presbyterian Congregations.

  • Presbyterian Heritage Center
PO Box 207
Montreat, NC 28757
Telephone: 704-669-7061
Fax: 704-669-5369

  • Northern Region: Use Presbyterian Historical Society above.

Columbia Theological Seminary
  • Columbia Theological Seminary
C. Benton Kline, Jr. Special Collections and Archives<br
Phone: 404-378-8821
Large collection of congregational records from southern states.

Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)[edit | edit source]

Archives and Manuscript Repository for the Continuing Presbyterian Church
Covenant Theological Seminary
478 Covenant Lane
St. Louis, Missouri 63141
Phone: (314) 469-9077

Information in the Records[edit | edit source]

Baptisms[edit | edit source]

Can be for children or adults. Name, parents' names. Sometimes full families were baptized again. Often noted in membership lists rather than separate registers.

Marriages[edit | edit source]

May be in membership lists, congregation narratives, or separate registers:

  • bride and groom name
  • date and place
  • parents' names
  • residences
  • witnesses

Burials[edit | edit source]

May be in membership lists, baptism registers, session minutes, burial lists, or cemetery records.

Membership Lists[edit | edit source]

Names, possible wife's or husband's name, moving in or out dates, possibly former residence or where moving next.

Session Minutes[edit | edit source]

Can include baptism, marriage, death, discipline, church assignments, move-in/move-out notes.

Presbyterian Missionary Correspondence[edit | edit source]

  • Indian Correspondence, 1830-1895; index, 1830-1895.57 microfilm. FHL first film 906123
    • Indexes include Biography, Chronological and Tribal indexes.

Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA)[edit | edit source]

  • RPCNA Rrchives
Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary
7418 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15208

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.