Oregon Church Records
This entry was originally written by Dwight A. Radford for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Before the turn of the twentieth century, the largest religious groups in Oregon were Roman Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Christian Church. Most church registers are still housed at the original churches, though some records have been transferred to a central archive.
In 1834 Methodist missionaries led the settlement of the Willamette Valley in Marion County. Earl Howell’s Methodism in the Northwest (Nashville: Parthenon Press, 1966) outlines the church’s encounter in the Pacific Northwest. Early Methodist vital records are incomplete and scattered. Archives collections are located at Willamette University in Salem, Mark O. Hatfield Library, 900 State St., Salem, OR 97301 http://library.willamette.edu.
Presbyterians under the leadership of Marcus Whitman established churches in Walla Walla (now in Washington) in 1836. The first Presbyterian Church in present-day Oregon was in the home of William H. Gray on Clatsop Plains between Astoria and Seaside. The first service was given in 1846. The Oregon State Library has on file a WPA inventory of Presbyterian Churches in Oregon, indexed by the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia. These inventories consist of churches affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in the United States, United Presbyterian Church of North America, Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and Reformed Presbyterian Church, and are not complete. The inventories are in the form of questionnaires that asked for the date the congregation was organized and which church records are available, and they only list congregations in eleven Oregon counties. The Presbyterian Historical Society prepared four indexes: 1) by county name, 2) by place-name, 3) in chronological order according to the organizational date of the congregation, and 4) by church name. The indexes and the inventories are on microfilm at the FHL.
The first permanent Episcopalian minister was Rev. St. Michael Fackler, who came to Oregon City in 1847. The vital records of the Diocese of Eastern Oregon were gathered by its historian. These have been microfilmed and are at the Oregon State Library along with an index to baptisms from 1873 to 1956 extracted from the records and interfiled in the “Oregon Collection” catalog.
The Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, 11800 SW Military Lane, Portland, OR 97219 www.diocese-oregon.org] has archives that include records of defunct parishes and diaries of bishops of the diocese dating back to 1841.
The Quakers arrived in Oregon prior to the Civil War and founded the first Friends Sunday School in Ashland during the early 1850s. No communities or meetings were developed until the 1870s due to the fact that Quaker families were scattered throughout the region. From the 1870s onward, the migration of Quaker families into Oregon was rapid, and the Oregon Yearly Meeting was established in 1893. Most of the early Oregon Friends were representatives of Orthodox, Gurneyite Quakerism. By 1890, there were slightly less than 1,000 Quakers in Oregon. For a history of Oregon’s Quaker community, see Ralph K. Beebe’s A Garden of the Lord: A History of Oregon Yearly Meetings of Friends Church (n.p., ca. 1968). A repository of Quaker records is at George Fox University, 414 N. Meridian St., Newberg, OR 97132 www.georgefox.edu.
Two Catholic priests arrived in what is now Oregon from Quebec in 1838. They established a mission at St. Paul, north of Salem, on what is called French Prairie, where Hudson Bay fur trappers had a settlement. The priests also traveled the Pacific Northwest, establishing missions and churches. The early Oregon Catholic records are well preserved and have been transcribed by Harriet Duncan Minnick in her seven volumes of Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Ore.: Binford & Mort, 1972–1989). Catholic repositories include Diocese of Baker, 911 SE Armour St., Bend, OR 97702 (mailing address: P.O. Box 5999, Bend, OR 97708) www.dioceseofbaker.org and Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, Archives, 2838 E. Burnside, Portland, OR 97214 www.archdpdx.org.
When Mormon missionaries first arrived in Oregon in 1857, they were met with great opposition. For this reason, missionary work was postponed until later in the century. In 1890 the establishment of the Oregon Lumber Company at Sumter Valley brought an influx of Mormon families into Oregon. The Amalgamated Sugar Factory, built in 1897, brought still more people to the state seeking employment. Thus, Malheur County has a large Mormon population dating back to the 1880s. Ward/branch and mission records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are deposited at the FHL. Today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the largest denominations in the state.
The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Northwest District, 1700 NE Knott St., Portland, OR 97212 www.lcms.org has archival holdings relating to the history of the denomination, biographical material, and congregational records.
Jewish settlers came to Oregon early. Oregon’s first synagogue was the Congregation Beth Israel, organized in Portland in 1858. Other congregations soon followed, among them the Congregation Ahavath Achim, organized in Portland in 1911. This synagogue was composed of Sephardic Jews who came from Turkey and the island of Rhodes.
The Oregon Jewish Museum, 310 NW Davis St., Portland, OR 97209 www.ojm.org/index.html houses the archive of the Jewish Historical Society of Oregon, which includes a library collection of documents, photographs, and record books pertaining to Jewish life in Oregon as well as some synagogue and Hebrew school records, and transcripts of interviews with members of the local Jewish community.