Introduction to Red Book: Church Records
This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Church records of baptisms, marriages, and burials can be a valuable major source of vital record documentation. In addition, membership lists can indicate migration by noting movement from one church to another. Minutes of meetings may describe values held and community concerns—providing a richer understanding of the tensions and relationships in a community. Many publications on microfilm, in print and, most recently, on CD-ROM or the Internet have increased the accessibility of church records for research. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, have extensive collections of this material. Others have little to none. Denominational newspapers should not be overlooked for vital records information. As an example of what can be found, David C. Young and Robert L. Taylor, Death Notices from Freewill Baptist Publications, 1811–1851 (Bowie, Md: Heritage Books, 1985) and a comparable 1994 volume on marriage and divorce records from the same publication are available in individual printed volumes or combined in CD-ROM format. Both cover the denomination’s newspaper and publications for all geographical areas, not just one location.
Each state’s section will next outline a sample of church records known to be available in published volumes, in CD-ROM form or online, and what guides and sources exist for locating the original records. A search online for the locality through www.usgenweb.com or the subscription databases (see Internet Sources) would be a good place to check.
The national headquarters for a particular denomination, described in the appropriate state sections where they are located, may be able to supply the information regarding availability of records. The search for church records will encourage your best detective work.
For an excellent discussion on church records, see Richard W. Dougherty, “Research in Church Records,” in Szucs and Luebking, eds., The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Inc., 1997).