Idaho Church Records
This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Idaho has a rich and diverse religious culture. The Mormons settled along the Snake River in eastern Idaho and established farming communities. Among these farming communities was Franklin, the first permanent white settlement in Idaho. Catholic priests founded missions among the Coeur d’Alene Native Americans in 1853. Protestants, such as the Methodists and Episcopalians, arrived during the gold mining era.
The largest religious organization in Idaho is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Mormons colonized the eastern portion of Idaho by 1860. Due to friction caused by of the practice of plural marriage by Mormons, many Mormon families who had originally moved from Utah to Idaho Territory continued their migration northward into Alberta, Canada, where the Mormon presence remains strong today. Mormon ward/branch and mission records are available at the FHL. Brigham Young University–Idaho is a Mormon institution in Rexburg, Idaho. Their Archives and Special Collections department has manuscripts, photographs, and oral histories concerning the Mormon settlement in the Upper Snake River Valley.
Unlike the Mormons, early Protestant and Catholic efforts in Idaho were focused on converting the Native Americans to Christianity rather than settling the land. Methodists and Presbyterians arrived in the region before the Catholic fathers. Episcopalians soon followed. These efforts concentrated on northern Idaho with the Nez Perce and Flathead tribes. The Methodist mission board in 1834 took action to establish a mission among the Flathead Tribe.
The first Episcopal clergy arrived in Boise and established St. Michael’s Church (at the time, the only Episcopal Church in Idaho, Montana, and Utah) a year after Idaho became a territory. The Episcopal faith spread across southern Idaho, and priests evangelized the Shoshoni-Bannock tribes at Fort Hall with success. Episcopal Church records in Idaho covering 110 years are microfilmed and deposited with the Idaho State Historical Society. Among the items filmed are church registers from Delamar, Fort Hall, and Silver City, as well as district and diocesan records between 1896 and 1924.
The emigration of Swedes and Norwegians to northern Idaho brought the Lutheran faith to the area. Other Scandinavians came from the Midwest in the early 1900s to work on irrigation canals in southern Idaho. Many remained to settle the land. Many Lutheran Finns settled in the Long Valley near Cascade and McCall.
The Catholic mission to Idaho began in 1840 when Father Pierre Desmet was appointed to minister to the Native Americans. The Cataldo Mission near Kellogg was established in 1846; the mission church still stands and is the oldest building in Idaho. When miners came in the 1860s, priests were assigned to pioneer white congregations. Currently, the Catholic Church has the second largest membership in the state. The state is served through the Diocese of Boise and the parish registers have been transcribed for the diocese and published as Roman Catholic Diocese of Idaho, Catholic Chancery Records of Idaho, Master Index (1872–1964). The Diocese of Boise can be contacted at 303 Federal Way, Boise, ID 83705 www.catholicidaho.org/index.cfm.
It is uncertain how many Quakers lived in Idaho before the turn of the twentieth century, but by 1918 there were 763. A meeting was opened in Boise in 1898 but was briefly discontinued. At the turn of the century, a few Quakers resided in the Star area, a community about twenty miles from Boise. The promise of irrigation water brought many Quaker families to the Boise Valley. By 1906 the meetings in Fairview and Mountain View were organized into the Mountain View Monthly Meeting. The first Quarterly Meeting in Idaho (Boise Valley) was established in 1906 under the auspices of the Oregon Yearly Meeting. It consisted of New Hope (Star), Boise, and Mountain View Monthly Meeting.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, members of the Church of the Brethren began to settle in Idaho, attracted to the farmland of the Snake River Valley in southern Idaho and the Clearwater Plateau in northern Idaho. Railroad agents encouraged Brethren to settle in groups in Idaho. So many congregations were established between 1895 and 1910 that the Idaho and Western Montana District was organized. Early congregations were established in Moscow, Grafton-Clearwater, Nez Perce, Winchester, Nampa, Boise Valley, Boise, Bowmont, Payette, Weiser, Idaho Falls, Lost River, and Twin Falls. An excellent history of these early congregations is found in Roger E. Sappington, The Brethren along the Snake River: A History of the Brethren in Idaho and Western Montana (Elgin, Ill.: The Brethren Press, 1966). Brethren congregations in the southwest part of the state can be contacted through the general website at www.idahochristiansource.com.
Jewish settlers in Idaho have contributed substantially to the society. During the territorial era Jews became merchants serving the mining camps. The first synagogue, Temple Beth Israel, was constructed in 1895 in Boise. The only other synagogue is in Pocatello. Idaho elected the first Jewish governor in U.S. history. Temple Beth Israel in Boise is the oldest continuous synagogue in existence west of the Mississippi. The historic Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel in Boise can be contacted at 2620 W. Bannock St., Boise, ID 83702. A worthwhile history of the Jewish community in Idaho is Juanita Brooks, History of the Jews in Utah and Idaho (Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1973).