I have recently had the privilege to read and review the new book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide by Sunny Jane Morton and Harold A. Henderson, CG (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2019). Back in 2015 I attended the course “Problem Solving with Church Records” at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) with Rev. David McDonald, CG as the instructor. It was a fantastic course (highly recommend!) and I have used the information from that course time and again but have longed to have a text with the information learned laid out in a concise manual. This book is the answer!
The book has two parts, the first is methodological and the second addresses twelve different denominations: Anglican/Episcopal, Baptist, Congregational, Dutch Reformed/Reformed Church in America, German Churches: Reformed and Sectarian, Latter-Day Saint (Mormon), Lutheran, Mennonite and Amish, Methodist, Quaker (Religious Society of Friends), Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic.
The meat of the book is in the first part, the methodology. This is an excellent, concise, and thorough section that delves into various techniques to identify your ancestor’s denominations, to determine if any records exist for that denomination, for working with old church records, and for expanding your research to include information for contextual understanding.
Quite possibly my favorite part of the first section is the survey of WPA (Works Progress Administration) resources available regarding church directories and church record inventories. The WPA inventories of all kinds can be so helpful to understand what records did exist during the 1930s and 1940s and give clues about what might exist now. Another enjoyable portion of the book was the discussion about other records that might discuss church life, these would be the items that give more context to our ancestors’ lives and communities. Beyond the baptisms, confirmations, burials, and such are a number of other resources to use, such as: denominational newspapers, church histories, denominational encyclopedias, administrative papers (membership lists, Sunday school records, membership lists, donors for various projects, pew rentals, ministers’ records, and so on.
Part two of this book delves into the specific history, practices, records, resources, and access instructions for the twelve denominations mentioned above. Each denomination’s chapter starts with a helpful “Quick Stats” section that gives you some at-a-glance information such as when the church was organized, its dominant region in the US, the dominant ethnic origin, and its affiliated faiths. I appreciate each section’s bibliography directing you to some helpful resources for a deeper understanding of that denomination.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic resource every genealogist needs on their bookshelf. As stated in the book’s introduction, church records are “a surprisingly neglected resource” and this book leaves very little room for excuse! Get this book, learn about church records, and then get out there and access them!
The book is $29.95 and available at Genealogical.com.