Rhode Island Church Records
This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Quakers, Anglicans, and Baptists all managed to develop a strong presence in Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Although church records never reach quite the comprehensiveness that is characteristic of Massachusetts in the seventeenth century, there are strong collections in the state, many still held and maintained by the local organization. A WPA survey of church records conducted in 1939 was updated to 1970 by the Rhode Island State Archives when the microfilming was completed for the FHL. Information may be obtained by a request addressed to the Rhode Island State Archives (see Rhode Island Archives, Libraries, and Societies).
Baptist. In a colony founded by Roger Williams, this is the historical home of the Baptists in this country. Since infant baptism was not practiced, the earliest church records have more social than genealogical value. The Newport Historical Society Library has some of these records. Ministers often carried their own records with them that included marriages. Some of these are printed in Arnold’s Vital Record (see Rhode Island Vital Records). Later Baptist records can be found at the Rhode Island Historical Society and the local church.
Society of Friends. Arnold’s volume 7 (see Vital Records) is devoted to the vital records for Narragansett and Rhode Island Friends. It is an index rather than a transcript of the records, and some of the valuable items such as witnesses to marriages are not included and need to be sought in the original records. Those for the settlements on the island of Rhode Island are at the Newport Historical Society. Rhode Island Historical Society’s manuscript department has a curator for the Friends materials for the rest of the colony. Many Rhode Island Quaker families migrated to Monmouth County, New Jersey, as well as Dutchess County, New York, and North Carolina. Some others moved with the sea trade to the Caribbean.
Episcopal. Three Episcopal congregations were established in Rhode Island by the early eighteenth century. Volume 10 of Arnold has the earliest extant baptisms and marriages for Trinity Church at Newport with the originals now at the Newport Historical Society. Wilkins Updike’s History of the Episcopal Church at Narragansett, 3 vols. (Boston: D. B. Updike, 1907) is a complete transcription of that church’s records from 1718 to 1774, whereas Arnold’s volume 10 reports just the vital records for the church up to 1875.
Roman Catholic. Both French and Irish Catholic Churches developed in the nineteenth century. See Patrick T. Conley and Matthew J. Smith, Catholicism in Rhode Island: The Formative Era (Providence, R.I.: Diocese of Providence, 1976). Records can be located at the Diocesan Archives, 1 Cathedral Sq., Providence, RI 02903, or at the individual parishes. A few of the early Irish records are at the Chancery Archives of the Archdiocese of Boston (see Massachusetts Church Records).