Church And Cemetery Records For The Genealogist

Information on gathering records from church and cemetery records can be your most beneficial and reliable source of information for the Genealogist

Personal interviews, historical histories, directories, and other books are not the only source available for the genealogist. Sometimes church and cemetery records can be your most beneficial and reliable source of information. The Catholic Church has records in Europe that date from the Middle Ages, and in the Jewish synagogues the records date from the mid-seventeenth century. For the Protestant Church, the records date from the Reformation (16th century).

There are various types of church and cemetery records available to you: marriage, baptism or christening, and burial records. Some church records may even contain membership information, which sometimes can give names of entire families. Some cemeteries have burial plots of families for generations. It was not uncommon for a particular family to be buried in the same cemetery.

Always check all entries of the same name. You may find these entries to be those of cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. These records may also give you direction as to other areas your relatives may have lived.

In the early days of the colonization of America, many cemeteries were connected directly to the church. In these instances if you find the church your relatives attended, you may also find their tombstones in the churchyard cemetery. These findings can be of significant importance. Many churches and cemeteries abroad were also together. Remember if you are not able to visit these areas personally, you may write the church and request information from them. Some charge a nominal fee, while others do not. A letter of inquiry may be the ticket to a generation gap of twenty to one hundred years or more.

Here is what you should look for:

1) The religious affiliation of your ancestor is important.

2) Parish or church attended.

3) General idea of city, state, county, province, parish, shire, etc.

1) Your present religious affiliation is probably the same as your ancestors. Family bibles, diaries, letters, sometimes, death or marriage certificates, and obituaries may help in determining your ancestor's faith. Depending on the area your ancestors lived, sometimes a will may give information in the form of--who will perform the burial, where the burial will take place, and in the case of the Catholic faith, there may be a reference to a particular Catholic Church to perform mass.

2 & 3) Once you know the faith of your ancestor you must find out the general or specific location of habitation. This can be discovered also from bibles, diaries, letters, etc.


In America the representative assemblies were: Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, Catholic, Mormons, Mennonites, Amish, Moravians, Methodists, German Reformed, Congregational, Episcopal, and Jewish. Particular areas of New England were strong in certain denominations and people of that faith seemed to live within that general area.

New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania carried a heavy population of Dutch and German Reformed, Lutheran, Catholic, Quaker, and Presbyterian.

Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts were mainly dominated by Congregational, Baptists, Quakers, and Presbyterians.

The southern states maintained the faith of England (Church of England) and then later by the Protestant Episcopal Church. There also seemed to be a mixture of Quakers, Baptists, Moravians, Presbyterians and Catholics.

All of these churches kept very good records. Perhaps spelling and dates were a little lax but they kept good records of their flocks for many reasons. So do not be afraid to ask some of the old churches to dig out the record books from years past.

A question you may ask is: Could the origin of my ancestors help determine their religious faith? The answer is yes. Following is a list of the most definite religions and their dominant countries.

1) England: Christian, Congregational, Church of England, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, and Baptist.

2) France: Most likely Catholic or French Huguenot.

3) Scandinavian Countries: Catholic, Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, and Reformed Lutheran.

4) Germany: Either Catholic or Lutheran depending on whether from the south or north.

5) Switzerland: Pietist groups that later became known as the Amish, Moravians, and Mennonites.

6) Russia and Poland: Jewish or Catholic.

7) Italy and Spain: Mainly Catholic.

Any record you find from a church or parish should be considered reliable and important. Most records are set up in a chronological order. Look for diaries, family bibles, letters, etc., to determine faith, and place of habitation. Church and cemetery records consist of marriages, deaths, baptisms, and sometimes membership. If you can determine that Aunt Betty and Uncle Willie lived in Spokane Washington and that they were Catholics you can narrow your search down by checking for Catholic Churches in Spokane Washington during the time your Aunt and Uncle lived. You can then call or write asking for information from that church. You will be surprised of the number of churches still in existence today and still holding ancient records. And if the church is gone many times the city government or public library holds the records. Do not be afraid to ask questions especially pertaining to church and cemetery records. Many were family oriented also and many record books may be held by a dominant family of the church or cemetery. As with any resource it is only as good as your desire to obtain it and document it.

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