Virginia Church Records

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Online Resources[edit | edit source]

The Church of England (now Protestant Episcopal) was the established church in Virginia from 1624 to 1786. Between the time of the American Revolution and the year 1900, the largest religious groups in Virginia were the Baptist, Methodist Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches.[1]

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The Library of Virginia has many church records. These are described in:

  • Clark, Jewell T., and Elizabeth T. Long. A Guide to Church Records in the Library of Virginia. Richmond, Va.: 2002. FHL Book 975.5 K23g. Includes the history, location, and record inventory of 11 denominations and congregations. In 2002, an updated edition entitled was published.

The Family History Library also has many parish records of the Episcopal Church and some church records for other denominations, notably minutes of various Baptist conferences, Society of Friends meeting minutes, Presbyterian, United Brethren, and German Reformed and Lutheran parish registers.

Many denominations have collected their records into central repositories. You can write to the following addresses to learn where their records are located, or read more about them in the following publications.

Identifying Ancestors' Religions[edit | edit source]

It can be difficult to identify the religion of your Virginia ancestors. One source that can help from the period 1780 forward are marriage returns by ministers. If you can identify the religion of the person who performed your ancestor's marriage ceremony, this can lead you to the church that one or both parties likely attended.

Baptist[edit | edit source]

Virginia Baptist Historical Society
Boatwright Memorial Library
28 Westhampton Way
University of Richmond, VA 23173
Telephone: (804)289-8669

Baptist churches in Virginia were divided into regional associations. In 1810, they existed as follows:

Online Records

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

The Religious Herald was a newspaper published by the Baptist faith. Abstracts of marriages and obituaries were prepared by The Historical Records Survey of Virginia:

  • Index to Marriage Notices in The Religious Herald, 1828-1938. Baltimore, Md.: Clearfield Company, 1996. FHL Book 975.5 V22in.
  • Index to Obituary Notices in The Religious herald, 1828-1938. Baltimore, Md.: Clearfield Company, 1996. FHL Book 975.5 V42h.

History[edit | edit source]

Baptists faced a great deal of persecution from the established church in Virginia in the 1700s. These grievances have created documents that can help identify ancestors that belonged to the faith.

The 10,000 name petition (dated 16 October 1776) has been digitized at the Library of Congress website. It was signed by people from all over Virginia who wanted an end to persecution of Baptists by the Established Church. Baptists and Baptist sympathizers alike signed the petition. To find your ancestor in this record, first check Hall's transcription in the Magazine of Virginia Genealogy (Vols. 36-38, with annotations in Vol. 39), which is available online at Ancestry ($). It is also available in book form at the Family History Library: FHL Book 975.5 B2vs v. 36-39.

Digital versions of many Virginia Baptists histories, such as The History of Virginia Baptists (1848), Correspondence between Early Virginia Baptists and President George Washington in 1789 (1894), Persecution of Baptists in Early Virginia History (1808) are available for free online at the Baptist History Homepage.

Early Virginia Religious Petitions, digitized by the Library of Congress, include many petitions from Virginia congregations that identify inhabitants who belonged to their faiths.

An excellent early history of Virginia Baptists, which identifies the various churches established and their ministers is:

  • Semple, Robert Baylor and George William Beale. A History of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia. 1810; reprint, Richmond, Va.: Pitt and Dickinson, 1894. Digital version at Google Books - free.
  • Howell, Robert Boyte Crawford and American Baptist Historical Society. The Early Baptists of Virginia: An Address, Delivered in New York, Before the American Baptist Historical Society, May 10th, 1856. Press of the Society, 1867. Digital version at FamilySearch Digital Library, Google Books.

Ministers[edit | edit source]

  • Simpson, William S. Virginia Baptist Ministers, 1760-1790, A Biographical Survey. 7 vols. Richmond, Va., 1990-2009. Digital versions of Vols. 6 and 7 are available at Family History Archives, see: FHL Books 975.5 D3si v. 1-7.
  • Taylor, James Barnett. Lives of Virginia Baptist Ministers. 2nd ed. Richmond: Yale & Wyatt, 1838. Digital versions at FamilySearch Digital Library, Google Books.
  • Taylor, George Braxton. Virginia Baptist Ministers: 3d Series. J.P. Bell Company, Inc., 1912. Digital versions at FamilySearch Digital Library, Google Books.
  • Taylor, George Braxton. Virginia Baptist Ministers: 4th Series. J.P. Bell, 1913. Digital book at Google Books.
  • Taylor, George Braxton. Virginia Baptist Ministers: 5th Series, 1902-1914, with Supplement. J.P. Bell, 1915. Digital book at Google Books.

An 1899 directory of Baptist ministers lists biographical details about many ministers born or serving in the state:[2]

  • The Ministerial Directory of the Baptist Churches in the United States of America. Oxford, Ohio: Ministerial Directory Co., 1899. Digital version at Google Books.

Church of England (Anglican, Protestant Episcopal)[edit | edit source]

Virginia churches.png
Before the American Revolution, the state church of Virginia was the Church of England (also called Anglican, and later Protestant Episcopal). Besides keeping parish registers, the church kept many records of a civil nature in their vestry books. In many instances, parish registers containing baptism, marriage, and death records have not survived when vestry books have. Colonial vestries largely ceased functioning in 1786, when local overseers of the poor took charge of some of the vestries' main responsibilities.[3]

Colonial Parishes[edit | edit source]

Some early parish registers are incomplete or missing. Many of those still existing are available at the Library of Virginia and many copies are at the Family History Library. Rivah Research charts the survival of Virginia's CoE records in Virginia Parish Registers Information & Location. Many have been published. Baptisms and marriages from most colonial Virginia parishes are indexed in the International Genealogical Index, see: Hugh Wallis's IGI Batch Numbers for Virginia, USA for a breakdown.

You may need to study parish boundaries to determine which parish an ancestor attended. There are three excellent sources, which include maps, written by Charles Francis Cocke:

  • Parish Lines, Diocese of Southern Virginia. Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1996. FHL Book 975.5 K2co 1996.
  • Parish Lines, Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1960. FHL Book 975.5 K2c.
  • Parish Lines, Diocese of Virginia. Richmond, Va.: Virginia State Library, 1967. 1978 reprint: FHL Book 975.5 K2cf 1978

Freddie Spradlin has analyzed references to the formations and boundary changes of Church of England parishes found in Hening's Statutes at Large. His notes are available online at Parishes of Virginia (part of VAGenWeb Project).

To learn what records survive for specific parishes, click on its page:

Abingdon · Accomac · Accomack · Albemarle · Amherst · Antrim · Appomattox · Argall's Gift · Augusta · Bath · Beckford · Berkeley · Blisland · Blount Point · Botetourt · Boutracy · Bristol · Bromfield · Brunswick · Bruton · Camden · Cameron · Charles City · Charles · Charles River · Chickacoan · Chickahominy · Chippokes · Chiskiack · Chotank · Christ Church (Lancaster Co.) · Christ Church (Middlesex Co.) · Chuckatuck · Cople · Cornwall · Cumberland · Dale · Denbigh · Dettingen · Drysdale · East · Elizabeth City · Elizabeth River · Fairfax · Fairfield · Farnham · Flowerdew Hundred · Fluvanna · Frederick · Fredericksville · Hamilton · Hampton · Hanover · Harrop · Henrico · Hog Island · Hungars · James City · Jordan's Journey · Kecoughtan · Kingston · King William · Lancaster · Lawnes Creek · Lee · Leeds · Lexington · Littleton · Lower (Elizabeth City Co.) · Lower (Isle of Wight Co.)  · Lower (Lancaster Co.)  · Lower (Nansemond Co.) · Lower (Northampton Co.) · Lower (Stafford Co.) · Lower (Upper Norfolk Co.) · Lower Suffolk · Lunenburg · Lynnhaven · Machodick · Manchester · Marston · Martin's Brandon · Martin's Hundred · Meherrin · Middle Plantation · Middletowne · Montgomery · Mulberry Island · New Poquoson · Newport · Nomini · Norborne · Northampton · North Farnham · Nottoway (Prince Edward Co.) · Nottoway (Southampton Co.) · Nutmeg Quarter · Occohannock · Overwharton · Patrick · Petsworth · Piankatank · Piscataway · Poropotank · Portsmouth · Potomac · Raleigh · Richmond · Rockbridge · Rockingham · Russell · St. Andrew's · St. Anne's (Albemarle Co.) · St. Anne's (Essex and Caroline Cos.) · St. Asaph's · St. Brides · St. David's · St. George's (Accomack Co.)  · St. George's (Spotsylvania Co.) · St. James Northam · St. James Southam · St. James's (Goochland Co.) · St. James's (Mecklenburg Co.) · St. John's · St. Luke's · St. Margaret's · St. Mark's · St. Martin's · St. Mary's · St. Mary's Whitechapel · St. Patrick's · St. Paul's (Hanover Co.) · St. Paul's (King George Co.) · St. Peter's · St. Stephen's (King and Queen Co.) · St. Stephen's (Northumberland Co.) · St. Thomas · Shelburne · Sittenburne · Smith's Hundred · South · Southampton · South Farnham · Southwark · Stafford · Stanley Hundred · Stratton Major · Suffolk · Tillotson · Trinity (Lancaster Co.) · Trinity (Louisa Co.) · Truro · Upper (Elizabeth City Co.) · Upper (Isle of Wight Co.) · Upper (Lancaster Co.) · Upper (Nansemond Co.) · Upper (Northampton Co.) · Upper (Stafford Co.) Upper Suffolk · Varina · Wallingford · Ware · Warrosquyoake · Warwick · Washington (Westmoreland Co.) · Washington (Washington Co.) · Waters Creek · West · West and Shirley · Westbury · Westover · Weyanoke · Wicomico · Wilmington · York · Yorkhampton

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

The Southern Churchman was a newspaper published by the Episcopal faith. Abstracts of marriages were prepared by The Historical Records Survey of Virginia:

  • Index to Marriage Notices in The Southern Churchman, 1835-1941. Baltimore, Md.: Clearfield Company, 1996. FHL Book 975.5 V22i.

Histories and Guides[edit | edit source]

During the last half of the eighteenth century, the Church of England in Virginia lost much of its membership to dissenting religions. Many of the grand church buildings fell into disrepair. In the nineteenth century, "Many Virginians had a deep sense of living among the ruins of a more glorious past."[4]

  • Anderson, J.S. The History of the Church of England in the Colonies and Foreign Dependencies of the British Empire. 3 vols. London: Rivington, 1856. Digital versions at Internet Archive: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3. [All three volumes include material on the history of the Church of England in Virginia.
  • Axelson, Edith F. A Guide to Episcopal Church Records in Virginia. Athens, Georgia: Iberian Publishing, 1988. FHL Book 975.5 K27a. Includes parish register and vestry book inventories.
  • Bryden, George MacLaren. Virginia's Mother Church and the Political Conditions Under Which It Grew. 2 vols. Richmond, Va.: Virginia Historical Society Press, 1947-1952. FHL Book 975.5 K2bg v. 1-v. 2
  • Goodwin, Edward L. The Colonial Church in Virginia: With Biographical Sketches of the First Six Bishops of the Diocese of Virginia, and Other Historical Papers, Together with Brief Biographical Sketches of the Colonial Clergy of Virginia. Milwaukee, Wisc.: Morehouse Pub., 1927. FHL Book 975.5 K2g.
  • Goodwin, Wm. A.R. History of The Theological Seminary in Virginia and Its Historical Background. 1923. Digital versions at FamilySearch Digital Library-Vol. 1, FamilySearch Digital Library-Vol. 2.
  • Hawks, Francis Lister. A Narrative of Events Connected with the Rise and Progress of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia: To Which is Added an Appendix, Containing the Journals of the Conventions in Virginia from the Commencement to the Present Time. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836. Digital version at Google Books.
  • Meade, William. Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia. 2 vols. 1857. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1966. Digital versions of volume 1 at FamilySearch Digital Library, Ancestry ($), Internet Archive. Digital version of volume 2 at Internet Archive, FamilySearch Digital Library-Vol. 2. FHL Book 975.5 K2m 1966. Mostly histories of early parishes but includes 6,900 names of individuals.
  • Upton, Dell. Holy Things and Profane: Anglican Parish Churches in Virginia. Yale University Press, 1997.

For images and brief histories of colonial churches where your ancestors worshipped, see:

  • Colonial Churches: A Series of Sketches of Churches in the Original Colony of Virginia: With Pictures of Each Church. Richmond, Va.: Southern Churchman Co., 1907. Digital versions at Ancestry ($); Google Books; Internet Archive; 2nd ed. (1908): Google Books; 1990 reprint: FHL Book 975.5 K2cc.
  • Wigmore, Francis Marion. Old Parish Churches of Virginia: A Pictorial-Historic Exhibition of Photographs in Colors Lent to the Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1929. Digital version at Internet Archive - free.

Clergy[edit | edit source]

To learn more about the origins of Church of England ministers sent to Virginia from England during the colonial period, start with these books:

  • Fothergill, Gerald. A List of Emigrant Ministers to America, 1690-1811. London: E. Stock, 1904. Digital versions at Ancestry ($); Google Books; Internet Archive, 1965 reprint: FHL Book 973 W2f 1965. Addendum published in Caribbeana, Vol. 3 (1914):312-313. Digital version at dLOC - free.
  • Weis, Frederick Lewis. The Colonial Clergy of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Boston, Mass.: Society of the Descendants of Colonial Clergy, 1955. FHL Book 975 D3wc; digital version at World Vital Records ($).

The Society of the Descendants of the Colonial Clergy points researchers to many valuable resources.

Church of England ministers sent to Virginia were often educated at the English universities of Cambridge and Oxford. The website Expert Links: English Family History and Genealogy contains links to many of these university's records available online under the "Occupations" section.

The Clergy of the Church of England website (work in progress) also contains details of many of their ministerial careers before departing for America.

Very few of Virginia's colonial glebe houses (residences of Church of England ministers owned by the parish) survive today.[5]

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)[edit | edit source]

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The usage of "Mormon" and "LDS" on this page is approved according to current policy.

Early church records, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for Virginia Wards and Branches can be found on film and are located at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The film numbers, for each ward, can be locate through the Family History Library Catalog or by refering to:

  • Jaussi, Laureen R., and Gloria D. Chaston. Register of L.D.S. Church Records: Classified by the Library of The Genealogical Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2 vols. Provo, Utah: Genealogy Tree, 1982. 1968 edition: FHL Book 979.2258 A3j; Fiche 6031507.

These volumes contain the film numbers for many (but not all) membership and temple record films.

Huguenot[edit | edit source]

See The Huguenot in Virginia Periodicals.

Jews[edit | edit source]

For a bibliography of works published about Virginia Jews, visit the Southern Jewish Historical Society's website.

Lutheran and German Reformed[edit | edit source]

For a guide to available records, see:

  • Rosenberger, Francis Coleman. German Church Records of the Shenandoah Valley as a Genealogical Source. FHL Film 1018893 Item 13. Reprinted from The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (Apr. 1958).

Methodist and Methodist Episcopal[edit | edit source]

The Library of Virginia has some Methodist church records in manuscript form and some on microfilm. See the guide by Jewell Clark (FHL Book 975.5 K23g) mentioned previously.

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

Methodists published The Christian Advocate.

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian Church Archives
Union Theological Seminary in Virginia
3401 Brook Road
Richmond, VA 23227
Telephone: (800)229-2990 or (804)355-0671

The Family History Library has a large collection of nineteenth-century Presbyterian church records for Virginia. Find them by using the place search on the catalog for counties and towns in the state.


Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

Virginia is divided into three Roman Catholic dioceses. Virginia's Eastern Shore falls under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Wilmington (Accomack and Northampton counties). Virginia's Northern Neck and northeast region fall under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Arlington (Arlington, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, King George, Lancaster, Loudoun, Madison, Northumberland, Page, Prince William, Rappahannock, Richmond, Shenandoah, Stafford, Warren, Westmoreland counties). The remainder of Virginia's counties fall within the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Richmond.[6]

Diocese of Arlington

Diocese of Richmond
7800 Carousel Lane
Richmond, VA 23294-4201
(804) 359-5661

Diocese of Wilmington

Society of Friends (Quakers)[edit | edit source]

Quakers are organized into monthly meetings. All monthly meetings known to exist in Virginia before 1900 are described on the county pages where they are situated, such as Nansemond County.

Hinshaw abstracted many Virginia Quaker records:

  • Hinshaw, William Wade. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. 6 Vols. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards Brothers, 1936-1950. Volume VI covers Virginia Monthly Meetings. FHL Book 973 D2he 1969; digital version at Ancestry ($). To locate copies nearest you, use WorldCat.

Several histories of Virginia Quakers have been written, including:

  • Worrall, Jay. The Friendly Virginians: America's First Quakers. Athens, Ga.: Iberian Pub. Co., 1994. FHL Book 975.5 K2wj. Identifies Virginia monthly meetings.
  • Bowden, James. The History of the Society of Friends in America. 2 vols. London: W. & F.G. Cash, 1850-1854. Digital version of Vol. 1 at Google Books; FHL Book 973 F2bj v. 1. [Volume 1 includes Virginia.]

Quakers were carefully observed during the Revolutionary War, see:

  • Gilpin, Thomas. Exiles in Virginia: With Observations on the Conduct of the Society of Friends during the Revolutionary War; Comprising the Official Papers of the Government Relating to that Period. 1777-1778. 1848. Digital book at Google Books.

Additional Reading[edit | edit source]

  • Long, Elizabeth Terry. "Genealogical Research in Virginia Church Records," Virginia Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2 (1980):60-69. Digital version at Ancestry ($). Discusses records associated with the Church of England, Presbyterians, Quakers, Lutherans, Reformed, and Baptist churches.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. William Chamberlin Hunt and United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1906 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1910), Vol. 1:365. Digital version at Google Books.
  2. Davis points out that not all ministers participated, see: Robert S. Davis, "Some Baptist Ministers of South Carolina at the Turn of the Century," The South Carolina Magazine of Ancestral Research, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Winter 2004):13-22. FHL Book 975.7 B2sc v. 32
  3. John Frederick Dorman, "Review of Albemarle Parish Vestry Book," in The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec. 2005):320. Digital version at American Ancestors ($); FHL Book 975.5 B2vg v. 49 (2005).
  4. Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 417.
  5. John Frederick Dorman, "Review of The Glebe Houses of Colonial Virginia," in The Virginia Genealogist, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec. 2003):313. Digital version at American Ancestors ($); FHL Book 975.5 B2vg v. 47 (2003).
  6. Map of the Roman Catholic Dioceses in the United States of America, Office of Catholic Schools Diocese of Columbus, accessed 3 Nov 2010.