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Records of Religious Groups

Religious records generally have a wealth of information, and in any era when vital records were not kept by governmental authorities, they are excellent substitutes. Even in modern times, you may want to seek out the records because they may contain items not included on a civil certificate, for instance, names of witnesses to baptisms and marriages, and names of those who are often relatives.

Other records besides baptisms, marriages and burials may provide the clue you need. For instance, many churches require a person to be baptized before he can be confirmed. If your ancestor was born in the old country, but came to confirmation age here, the church record might show the name of the town where he was baptized.

Many churches keep lists of people who join, who are current members, and those that move away. Even minutes of the board, records of excommunications, and pew rentals can provide valuable information. Church histories are often valuable, as groups of people migrated together, and they may contain biographies of prominent members.

In European countries and in early America, the state church was responsible for vital records keeping and may include items we would consider unusual, such as vaccination records, and lists of men eligible to serve in the militia.

Records vary greatly in content and quality from organization to organization. Some churches kept no records at all. If a church has disbanded, the records might be anywhere, in an archive, a historical society, a university, in another church or even in private hands.

Help Me!  Find the address of a church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious organization my ancestor may have attended.

Help Me!  Find out if my church's records have been published.

Help Me!  Find the address of an archive that may have the records.

Help Me!  Learn about the religious practices of a particular denomination.

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.