Church records rank among the very best genealogical records available worldwide, but they are one of the most under-used sources in American genealogy. Until the advent of vital statistics in the United States, a very late development in most states, church records were the primary source of birth, marriage, and death information. The sheer number of denominations and affiliate churches has made identifying and locating their records a time-consuming ordeal for most genealogists. Church records vary a great deal in content and emphasis according to the basic theology of the religious group that created them.
Early immigrants from England, Scotland, and European countries brought their religious beliefs, institutions and customs with them, including the keeping of church books in which to record births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages, communion lists, deaths, and burials. Lutheran and Reformed records in Pennsylvania rank among the very best.