Why Virginia Church Records Are Important

Why Church Records Are Important for Hard-to-Find Virginia Ancestors…

Church records can be one of the most important sources you search for hard-to-find Virginia ancestors.  Here’s what I know about them–

  1. Church records provide births, marriages, and deaths on a fairly consistent basis.  Some churches do better in one or more vital record categories than others.  The creation of these records depends upon whether the civil government has ascribed by law that the church should the vital records, as you will find in Virginia and Maryland.  Or upon the theology of the denomination like the Baptist faith which does not baptize infants.
  2. Church records identify parents’ names and prove family relationships by recording witnesses, godparents, and sponsors.  I recommend that you read carefully a little book written by John T. Humphrey”s Understanding and Using Baptismal Records, Available, PO Box 15190, Washington DC 20003.  He personally read and transcribed (translating into English) over 100,000 baptismal records for Pennsylvania.  And for the first time, a full chapter on the sponsors described how often they were related to the child and the child’s family.  Very significant little volume.
  3. Church records describe migrations and state places of origin for both individuals and groups.  Admissions to the congregation, dismissals from the congregation to another congregation, biographical sketches, memorials, funeral sermons are part of this storehouse of evidence.  Please continue into these records, don’t just search the vital events.
  4. Special populations were picked up better in church records than in any other record category–Quakers marriages are discussed in both the men’s minutes and the women’s minutes and everyone attending the marriage signed the certificate!  Huguenots  who  blended into the  predominant religion  or  the neighborhood congregation with the most important people in the community–protecting their own congregation from outsiders, yet being buried in the cemeteries nearby regardless of denomination.   Native Americans, who were Christianized early, recording their Indian name and their new Christian name  in the same  book.   Amish who avoided civil affiliations in any way they could, yet considered their own congregation  as sovereign.  Roman Catholics in the British Isles who were proscribed by law–they could not vote or hold public office, they paid double and triple taxes, they could not travel more than 6 miles in any direction or have more than 6 adults in their home at any one time, their children could not inherit–they  were penalized  for their religion until 1829!
  5. Biographical databases are now available for church leaders, ministers, members including itinerant preachers and missionaries both domestic and foreign.  Many of these databases are now available on the internet.  Do a Google search for your church denomination.

Stay tuned for more Virginia church resources, your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle.  http://arleneeakle.com

PS  Virginia military records can fill the gaps of burned county courthouses and record loss better than many other records that try.  You will want to know all the details–so tune in.

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