OK, 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 you have dug something up. Now that you have figured out their religion keep the following in mind. A lot of the religious groups kept pretty extensive records; others lacked in the record keeping department. Many fell in to private hands and are hard to track down. Unfortunately many have been lost in fires or other accidents. Luckily, in the U.S., several local historical societies or state archives have copies of various church records. Always check with these places.
So now what to look for in these records when you find them?
Well, you can find all kinds of stuff like I mentioned last time. 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. Additionally, you may find records of transfers which will help you track your families migration. For your more irreverent relatives you may even find records of involuntary separations from the church. Sure, that may not seem at first glance to be what you are looking for, but it really paints a picture about them. Maybe your relative was a revolutionary leader in a religious movement? Possibly they were a clergy member, which if they were, you can usually find a biographical sketch about them.
You may also want to find an old map of the area. Locate the church your relatives attended and you will generally get an idea of where your ancestors lived. Most of the time they attended the closest church to them. Sometimes location trumped real religious beliefs. You know what they say, Location, Location, Location…
So make a checklist of things to find to paint a better picture:
Other bonus pieces of information you may find are names of godparents, officials that performed ceremonies, and possibly listing of other family members that may lead to clues.
Share your stories! Have you found church records that have helped? Had a hard time finding hat you are looking for?