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From the Green Valley News, Friday 1 August 2008, page B9

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

American Church Records, Part II

Do you know the name of the church your ancestors attended? If not, the family’s present church affiliation may be an indicator, as might family ethnic group or family tradition. Obituaries, cemetery records and marriage licenses may also provide a clue. City directories or local histories may help determine the denominations with churches in a particular area.

Remember Protestants often changed denominations when they moved to an area lacking their old church affiliation. Immigrants sometimes adopted a new faith to conform to that of people in the area where they settled. In frontier areas served by a circuit riding preacher, the records normally travelled with him and may no longer exist.

Catholic Church records are likely as complete as any in this country, but they are not readily available. Church law required the records be kept and preserved. It also stipulated that records be searched only by a priest, so few indexes have been compiled. Language is another stumbling block. Historically, records were kept in Latin. As various ethnic groups came to America and settled together in larger cities, ethnic Catholic churches were established where records were kept in the native languages. When my husband found his grandparents’ marriage records in Pennsylvania, the priest allowed us to view the registers but the information was in Polish.

Today Catholic records may still reside in the parish church or they may have been moved to the diocese. In some cases they’ve been deposited in a church archive far from their origin. Removal from the local church often means more restrictions and less chance of finding a desired record.

The Pope recently announced the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) will no longer be given access to film Catholic Church records. Genealogical groups are urging him to reconsider and lift the ban on nineteenth century records so they are more accessible.

The LDS has filmed church records across the country. The films are located via the Family History Library Catalog at Several Protestant denominations have central repositories for their church records, while in other cases county historical or genealogical societies, state libraries or state archives may be custodian of church records in their area. Local historical or genealogical societies sometimes publish church records in their journals. Search for them by location in the PERSI index, available through HeritageQuest online from the Pima County Public Library. The National Union Catalog of Manuscripts (NUCMC) also online may be helpful in finding the current location of a particular church’s records.

Persevere! Imagine my surprise when I visited the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library in Washington, DC and found a copy of the marriage register of Ephraim Hubbell, Justice of the Peace who performed marriages in New Fairfield, Connecticut’s North Church.

In the late 1800s, a descendant of Mr. Hubbell applied for membership in the DAR and submitted the entire register as proof of her ancestor’s marriage. After making a typed copy of the original manuscript in the 1920s, DAR returned the original to the New Fairfield Town Clerk. Around 1975 the original register disappeared from the Town Clerk’s office never to be seen again, but the typed copy is safely shelved in Washington. There I found the record of Gaius Smith’s marriage to Keziah Page, 25 April 1763. Now if I could only find his parents!

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