Dig up the church records – Part 1

Were you ancestors a religious bunch? If so, we can thank the churches for providing us many clues to who these people were. You can find many rich clues here. Births, Christenings, Marriages, Deaths, Burials in the church cemetery. You may find your ancestors held positions in the church or maybe they donated land to help the cause.

My tool today is page from the wonderful site Cyndi’s List. http://www.cyndislist.com/religion.htm I have found this page useful more than once in my research. The trick to this page is knowing what religious affiliation your ancestors had. Once that’s identified, there is a great list of resources for most major religious groups.

If  your American ancestors landed here in colonial times (1600-1800), you’ll probably find them in the records of Anglican, Baptist, Congregational, Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Quaker or Roman Catholic churches. But, If your family sailed here in the 19th century (1801-1900), there is a chance that you may find them among the Episcopal, Methodist, German Reformed, Unitarian or Universalist churches , in addition to the religious groups previously mentioned.

My Rhoades line goes back into Pennsylvania and were part of the German reformed church. I have found them on some church records and several of them are buried in the Reformed cemetery in Numidia, Columbia County, Pennsylvania, USA.

Reformed Cemetry in Numidia, PA.

Reformed Cemetery in Numidia, PA.

Side note: My ancestor’s stones are the black ones standing in the front row in this picture. Today the original stones are reinforced with concrete because they were falling over.

Back to the research, As I mentioned before, you’ll need to determine your ancestor’s religious affiliation. This can be a tough task if you have nothing to go on. I’ll share few ways to gather clues that have worked for me. Some of them may seem totally obvious, but I want to share them so that if you are just getting started, this can be a help for you.

For me, the best way to discover religious affiliations of your ancestors is by searching through obituaries and cemetery records. That is how I actually discovered my Rhoades line’s religion. I found them in the reformed cemetery. From there I was able to look into local histories of the area and see what the religious scene was. I found in that period there were really only two religions in the area.  Because of that, many local histories written about the area give a lot of information about the people and the religious dealings. So these are two ways that happened to work hand-in-hand for me.

Another way to find clues is a family Bible. Again this may seem obvious, but don’t dismiss this right away. I you are lucky enough to have a gem like a family Bible that has been passed down, go grab it. Look at the language and translation of the Bible. See if there are any notes in it that would suggest the denomination. More on family Bile clues in a future article.

Hopefully that will get you started on your way to finding the religious affiliation of your ancestors. In the next part we will talk about what to look for in church records once you have identified the right religion.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, July 5th, 2009 at 2:19 pm and is filed under Looking for clues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Dig up the church records – Part 1”

  1. Brian DeGraaf Says:


    Great first (tool) post, Dusty ! Just starting my ancestor search myself. I’m excited about learning more from your blog. But no pressure 😉 That’s what makes personal genea-blogging great, no time commitments. You can work on it whenever you dang well feel like it. Yah!

  2. Ancestry Tool Box » Blog Archive » Dig up the church records – Part 2 Says:

    […] so in the last post on church records, we talked about how to figure out what religious affiliation your ancestors may have had. I hope […]

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