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Locating Church Records

 

Where do you look ?
 

New Hampshire religion has long been dominated by Congregationalism. Virtually every New Hampshire town contained at least one Congregational parish. Also present, but fewer in number, were the Quakers, Anglicans, and Presbyterians.

After the Revolution the dominance of Congregationalism was challenged. Meetings in the hill country soon produced new sects. These grew in numbers and threatened the position Congregationlists held.

The Freewill Baptists were organized by Benjamin Randel at New Durham in 1780; Universalism ; Christian Connection , in 1803 Elias Smith formed the first congregation of the at Portsmouth. The Shakers, gathered substantial numbers of converts to their charismatic way of thinking. Methodism did not arrive in New Hampshire until 1790, and grew steadily in the state thereafter. The largest non-conforming group was The Separate-Baptists , started in New Hampshire during the Revolution by Chaplain Hezekiah Smith of Haverhill. By 1800 the Separate-Baptists had organized several churches in New Hampshire and approached parity with the Congregationalists in the hill country.

The availability of church records will differ from town to town, but some general guidelines are:

1.Considering the Congregationalists were so amassed in numbers the first records to seek are those. These will likely be the most extensive records available in the community. Congregationalist records typically contain several documents:

2.Convenants of the church which will state the beliefs and practices of the parish. These will usually be signed by all members in full standing.

3.The vital statistics were kept by the pastor. These records were kept on the citizens who maintained membership in the parish.

4.A membership list. Congregationalist lists often distinguished between two levels of membership: "full covenant" and "halfway." The "halfway" were members who had made a public testimony of their religious experience and were admitted by vote of the other full convenant members to partake in communion; the "full" were those who agreed only to abide by the doctrinal teachings and moral authority of the church, but made no personal admission of faith.
 

 

5.Pew rentals were also an important consideration as lists of these arrangements provide a picture of economic and social status in the town: the wealthiest families usually rented the most prominent and expensive pews. This was of great consequence as parishes built a new meetinghouse or repaired an old one, funds were raised either by assessment or by rental of pews.

6.Church records books contain votes of the parish on significant matters ranging from salary and support arrangements with ministers. To how the community would chastise members of a rebellious nature.

7.Records of the other denominations will also contain the same kinds of information, but with much less extensiveness. However, one should try to obtain at least some documentation from these dissenting communions to realize a sense of religious division at the local level and its impact the community and decisions that were made. The particular form of records is less important than the kind of information one can find in them; but in any case you may have to clarify the language of the records in order to use them fully.

8. Each denomination had its own form of record-keeping. The Presbyterians were governed by a board of Elders, the Quakers held monthly meetings. However all basically faced the same sort of decisions as the Congregationalists did, noting however that the Baptists and Quakers did not pay their ministers.

9. Finding these church records is usually a matter of good detective work, especially if the church is no longer in existence. First be sure your check the local and county histories to establish the religious history of the community. It was quite common for the churches to deposit their early records with the local or state historical societies. Sometimes these records are mixed in with the town records and will be found on the microfilms that are available from the State Libraries or State Archives. In searching for religious documentations one must resort to outside sources like denominational libraries, which is considered a standard procedure. Assume information exists and consult as many sources as possible.

             

 

                                                                                                                  

       

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