Church Records

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This entry was originally written by Roger D. Joslyn, CG, FUGA, FGBS, FASG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Pennsylvania Family History Research series.
History of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Vital Records
Census Records for Pennsylvania
Background Sources for Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Maps
Pennsylvania Land Records
Pennsylvania Probate Records
Pennsylvania Court Records
Pennsylvania Tax Records
Pennsylvania Cemetery Records
Pennsylvania Church Records
Pennsylvania Military Records
Pennsylvania Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Pennsylvania Archives, Libraries and Societies
Pennsylvania Immigration
Pennsylvania Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania County Resources
Map of Pennsylvania

The Historical Records Survey produced an inventory of the church archives in Pennsylvania, but the only part published was for the Society of Friends (see below). Arranged by county, the inventory is located in the Pennsylvania State Archives. A good number of church records have been published individually and in periodicals such as The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society Quarterly. Many copies exist in manuscript at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Library (DAR collection), and in other libraries. A good portion of the published material concerns German churches and Quaker meetings.

Among the useful published works are The Mennonite Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Hillsboro, Kans.: Mennonite Brethren Publishing House, 1955–59); Howard Weigner Kriebel, The Schwenkfelders in Pennsylvania, A Historical Sketch (Lancaster: The Pennsylvania-German Society, 1904); Samuel Kriebel Brecht, ed., The Genealogical Record of the Schwenkfelder Families (New York and Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1923); The Brethren Encyclopedia, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Brethren Encyclopedia, 1983); and History of the Church of the Brethren of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Lancaster: Era Printing Company, 1915), which has much genealogical material.

Some major religious bodies have libraries in the commonwealth with collections that include not only Pennsylvania church records, but those for other states as well. These include the following:

The collection at the Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA 19081 is defined in four publications: Catalog of the Book and Serials Collections of the Friends Historical Library, 6 vols. (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982); Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Friends Historical Library (Swarthmore, Pa.: Friends Historical Library, 1982); Inventory of Church Archives: Society of Friends in Pennsylvania, compiled by the Pennsylvania Historical Survey (Philadelphia: Friends Historical Association, 1941); and Guide to the Records of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, compiled by Jack Eckert (Haverford, Pa.: Haverford College, 1989). The library has original and microfilmed Quaker records, mostly for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and some for Virginia, including those for fourteen Pennsylvania meetings copied by Hinshaw but never published. See Ethel D. Williams, Know Your Ancestors (Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1960), p. 125-27, 136. While the basic meeting records are located at Swarthmore, other material can be found in the Quaker Collection at Magill Library at Haverford College, Haverford, PA 19041-1392. Some Pennsylvania Quaker records have been published. The most significant are those in William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, vol. 2, covering the two oldest monthly meetings in the Philadelphia area, and volume 4 covering three southwestern Pennsylvania monthly meeting records (1938 and 1946; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969, 1991).

The Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 2215 Millstream Rd., Lancaster, PA 17602-1499 has a handout entitled Genealogical Resources at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. A research fee is charged for mail inquiries. The society also publishes a quarterly, Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage.

The Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society of the United Church of Christ, 555 W. James St., Lancaster, PA 17603 loans microfilm of church records ($5 per reel), covering German churches in Adams, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Columbia, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Schuylkill, and York counties, as well as a few for Maryland and Virginia.

Many German church records, particularly for the German Reformed and Evangelical Church, have been published in books and periodicals. Charles H. Glatfelder, in Pastors and People: German Lutheran and Reformed Churches in the Pennsylvania Field, 1717–1793, 2 vols. (Breingsville, Pa.: The Pennsylvania German Society, 1980, 1981), provides the location and history of the early churches and pastors of these two denominations. For a large collection of Evangelical records, see Pennsylvania German Church Records (births, baptisms, marriages, burials, etc.), reprinted from Proceedings and Addresses of the Pennsylvania German Society, 3 vols. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983).

The Presbyterian Historical Society, 425 Lombard St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 has records of over 20,000 churches and has published the Journal of Presbyterian History since 1901. At the other end of the commonwealth, the Presbyterian Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania and the Reformed Presbyterian Historical Society in Pittsburgh have a variety of records, journals, and newspapers.

Two Methodist repositories are in Western Pennsylvania: Methodist Archives and History, 1238 Varner Rd., Pittsburgh, PA 15227, and United Methodist Archives of Western Pennsylvania, Allegheny College, 731 Park Ave., Meadville, PA 16335.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has a microfilm collection of Jewish synagogue and cemetery records; other related material is at the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center, 18 S. 7th St., Philadelphia, PA 19106. Other Jewish archives are at the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh.

Western Pennsylvania parishes are served by the Catholic Archives and Records Center, Cardinal Dean Center, 4721 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213.

Other important archives are kept by the Moravians at 66 West Church St., Bethlehem, PA 18018; the Schwenkfelders at Pennsburg, PA 18073; the Lutherans at Abdel Ross Wentz Library, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, 66 Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg, PA 17325–1795 and the Lutheran Theological Seminary, 7301 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19119–1794; the Church of the Brethren (formerly Dunkards) at Elizabethtown College, One Alpha Dr., Elizabethtown, PA 17022–2298, and Juniata College, 1700 Moore St., Huntingdon, PA 16652; and the Brethren in Christ Church at Messiah College, One College Ave., Gratham, PA 17027.