Family History Episode 26 – Using Church Birth Records in Family History

Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.

Family History: Genealogy Made Easy

with Lisa Louise Cooke

Republished April 8, 2014

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Download the Show Notes for this Episode

Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.

Episode 26Using Church Birth Records in Family History

In our last episode we covered civil birth records. As promised, in this week’s episode we finish up this two part series on birth records by talking about church birth records. Just like with civil birth records, there are a variety of records to track down. So to help us in the hunt I’m bringing back professional genealogist Arlene Eakle, PhD. She helps us see the challenges we face and the success we can have locating church buy herpes medication online records about our ancestors’ births.

Read the show notes below for exciting updates to the original conversation.

The first place Arlene looks for church birth records is the International Genealogical Index (IGI).  This database can be found at FamilySearch.org. As you can see below, you’ll see a search tool for just the IGI. Community-indexed IGI is what you want to search: the collection of vital and church records from the early 1500s to 1885.

church birth records, IGI

Unfortunately, the indexed entries are not sourced in this database. Chase down the original source of the record with this FamilySearch tutorial.

Here are 3 tips for searching for church records

1. Search for a namesake of the person you are looking for, particularly if they have a fairly unusual or unique name.  Often times that person will be related and give you a clue as to where to find the other person.

2.  Always attempt to get a copy of the original source for information found in transcribed records or online.

3. When you want to locate a church in the U.S. and determine how to access their records, Arlene suggests using Rootsweb and USGenWeb.  US Gen Web is organized by state, then county.

And here are links to 3 more places to look for your family history:

1. Google Books

2. The Social Security Death Index, or SSDI, which we talk about in Episode of this podcast.

3. Volunteer lookups: Arlene mentions Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. That site went offline, then was revived, but isn’t exactly the same. Find it listed along with other volunteer lookup sites at Cyndi’s List.

You’ll Feel Lucky with Free Access to Irish Records for a Limited Time

You will all feel a little lucky this week with new and updated genealogical records for Ireland and several states across the U.S. Records from Nevada, Nebraska, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota are on the list. Updates to two of the Freedmen’s Bureau record collections will wrap up this week’s records you can dig into.
dig these new record collections

IRELAND – RECORDS, GUIDES, AND BOOKS

The New England Historical and Genealogical Society is offering access to their Irish resources for FREE for a limited time. So hurry before it ends on August 9th and see what luck you have digging up your Irish ancestors.

You will need to sign-up, but remember, it’s free. Once you have logged on, you will begin your search here.

Many Irish researchers have difficulty finding records because of the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922. Not only can you browse the records available, but also the subject guides and books for Irish genealogy.

UNITED STATES – PENNSYLVANIA – NATURALIZATION RECORDS

The Chester County, Pennsylvania website has made their naturalization indexes available for the year span of 1798-1935. To search their indexes is free, but there is no name search field. You may have to scan several pages to find the record that may interest you. The database is also available to search from Ancestry.com and allows you to search by name, date of event, and place of origin.

The index of naturalizations include the name of the individual, name of native country, and a date. The original record could hold additional information. You can request a copy of the original record from their webpage. To learn more about that, click here.

UNITED STATES – NEVADA – MARRIAGE & DIVORCE

The most difficult records too find are often those that were created within the last 50 years. Due to the scarcity of recent records, we are pleased to see Ancestry has added a new database titled Nevada, Marriage Certificates, 2002-2015. You can search by name, date, location, and spouses name.

The digital image of the marriage records differs from year to year and location to location, but generally, you will find the couples’ names, ages, date and location of the marriage, and the person who officiated the wedding.

Nevada, Divorce Records, 1968-2015 has recently been updated on Ancestry as well. This index includes nearly half a million divorce records. You can use the index to locate the county the divorce took place, and then contact that county for the original records. You won’t find the reason for divorce in this index, but you can find the county of divorce and the divorce file number that will help locate the further records you want.

UNITED STATES – NEBRASKA – PASSENGER LISTS

A passenger list database for Omaha, Nebraska? Yep, but these are passenger and crew lists of air manifests between the years of 1958-1965. The collection is titled Omaha, Nebraska, Passenger and Crew Manifests of Airplanes, 1958-1965. If your Omaha relative did a lot of air travel, these records may be of interest to you. These records were were recorded on a variety of forms turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Some details included the name of the airline, type of aircraft, flight number, places of departure and arrival, dates of departure and arrival, full name, age, gender, physical description, military rank (if any), occupation, birthplace, citizen of what country, and residence. For military transports, you may even find the next of kin, relationships, and addresses. Later, manifests may include visa or passport numbers.

UNITED STATES – MINNESOTA – PASSENGER LISTS

The same is true in this database, Minnesota, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1957-1962 at Ancestry. This collection includes both air travel and ships coming into Minnesota ports. The original records were originally digitized by the National Archives and Records Administration. Information you may collect from these digital images include:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity, nationality or last country of permanent residence
  • Destination
  • Arrival date
  • Port of arrival
  • Port of departure
  • Ship name

UNITED STATES – GEORGIA – BONDS AND LICENSES

Ancestry has added the Savannah, Georgia, Licenses and Bonds, 1837-1909 database this week. You will find digital images of records from the City of Savannah’s Clerk of Council relating to people and businesses. These records usually include the name of person’s name, occupation, name of business, record date, record place, and subject.

UNITED STATES – FREEDMEN RECORDS

FamilySearch has updated two of their existing collections within the Freedmen Bureau Records. The United States, Freedmen’s Bureau Ration Records,1865-1872 and the United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872 have been able to be browsed for some time. While not all the records have been indexed by name for easy searching, many have. You will want to first run a search by your targeted name. You can browse all the digitized images, but it won’t be easy. The ration records are not filed by county, but by film number. However, if you want to browse the collection of education records, they are searchable by state, then date.

MORE GEMS ON IRISH GENEALOGY

Beginning Irish Genealogy: Tips and FREE RecordsIrish censuses Irish genealogy Irish family history

A Comprehensive Way to Learn How to Research Irish Genealogy

Irish Genealogy: Find Your Poor Ancestors in Ireland

We Dig These Gems: New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records onlineEvery Friday, we highlight new genealogy records online. Scan these posts for content that may include your ancestors. Use these records to inspire your search for similar records elsewhere. Always check our Google tips at the end of each list: they are custom-crafted each week to give YOU one more tool in your genealogy toolbox.

This week: British POWs in World War I, North Carolina marriages, and church records for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and various denominations in Scotland.

BRITISH POWs IN WWI. Prisoners Of War 1914-1920, with over 43,000 records with images at FindMyPast, consists of “10 series of British Foreign Office documents relating to prisoners held by the Ottomans during World War One. They not only include the names of military personnel taken prisoner–both allied and foreign–but also the names of civilians, merchant seamen, fishermen, diplomatic employees and more.” Some documents “contain the names, ranks and locations of PoWs and provide insights into life in the Ottoman camps. They contain details of requests made by inmates for items including footballs and biscuits, details of visits by foreign diplomats and reports on camp conditions.”

NORTH CAROLINA MARRIAGE RECORDS. Ancestry has a new collection of North Carolina “marriage bonds, licenses, certificates, and registers, as well as indexes and abstracts to the various records from 87 North Carolina counties….Of special interest to African American researchers are records of cohabitation, which were required to be recorded in 1866 in order for the marriages of recently emancipated slaves to be legally recognized.” The records span 1741-2011.

SCOTLAND CHURCH RECORDS. Births, baptisms, banns and marriages, deaths and burials are among a slew of newer records searchable on MyHeritage.com. According to the site, “The records in this collection were taken from Kirk Session material of the Church of Scotland, other Presbyterian churches, and also the registers of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). These parish registers cover a wide range of dates (from 17th to 19th century) and many of them are not to be found in any other record source.” Information listed in these records may include names, family relationships, dates and places of events and details of the parish.

U.S. LUTHERAN CHURCH RECORDS. Baptism, confirmation, marriage and burial records from more than 2000 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (1875-1940) are now on Ancestry. These have been available on Archives.com but have migrated to its parent site. “The information…varies from congregation to congregation (and sometimes from minister to minister). In some ethnic congregations, you may run into records in German, Danish, or some other language….Within the collection you may also find membership records, with some listing the names and dates of admission, communion records, and how they were received into the church.”
check_mark_circle_400_wht_14064 new genealogy records online

Google tip of the week: If you see a record collection online but don’t have a subscription to the website that hosts it, Google the name of the database. See whether a free site (like FamilySearch) or another site to which you do have access also hosts the same data set or a similar one. Can’t find it? Click on the description of the record collection (you can generally read the description even if you can’t search the records themselves) and read its source. It may come from a book or a resource that’s been microfilmed–something you can search for on WorldCat and borrow to a library near you. This tip is brought to you by The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd edition–fully revised and updated in 2015!

Genealogy Research Techniques for Finding Your Free People of Color

Not all people of color were enslaved prior to the emancipation. In fact, many were freed long before that. Researching free people of color can be quite complex. Tracing my own family line (who were free people of color) continues to be a real learning process for me. However, don’t let the challenges deter you from exploring this rich part of your heritage. In this “Getting Started” post, we discuss the manumission process, “negro registers,” and more for tracing your free people of color.

Who are Free People of Color?

[Note: Throughout our post, we will be using terminology that was used at the time the records were created.] A ‘free negro’ or ‘free black’ was a fairly recent status in the U.S. which differentiated between an African-American person who was free and those who were enslaved prior to emancipation. If a person was referred to as a ‘free negro’ or ‘free black’, that meant the person was not living in slavery. It is a fascinating and little know fact that, as Ancestry Wiki states, “one in ten African-Americans was already free when the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter.”

Step 1 for Tracing Free People of Color: Censuses

Sometimes, the story of your ancestors being free people of color was passed on through oral traditions. In my own family, our “line of color” was not talked about. Instead, my first clue was when I found my ancestor in the 1840 population census listed as free. I also found that one woman (presumably his wife) was marked in the column for “free white persons,” but John and the children were marked as “free colored persons” in this census. This was the first step to identifying my ancestor as a free person of color.

Let’s see another example. The 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses included two population schedules. One enumerated free inhabitants, and the additional schedule, referred to as a Slave Schedule, was for making an enumeration of those persons who were enslaved. [We will discuss this further, below.]

If your ancestor appears on the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for free inhabitants, they are considered free, even if their race was listed as “Black.” An example of a Black man enumerated on the 1850 census is shown in the image below. Archibald Giles is recorded as “Black,” but appears on this census for “free inhabitants.” Therefore, he would be considered a free person of color.

If your targeted ancestor does not appear on either the 1850 or 1860 population schedule for free inhabitants, they might have been enumerated on the slave schedules of 1850 or 1860.

freepeopleofcolor_4

1850 Slave Schedule for Henry County, Tennessee. Snapshot via Ancestry.com.

You can check the 1850 Slave Schedule and the 1860 Slave Schedules at Ancestry.com. The 1850 census is also available at Findmypast, MyHeritage, and FamilySearch.

In this example to the left, you will see a portion of the Henry County, Tennessee Slave Schedule for 1850. Notice, only the heads of household or the “owners” were listed by name. Slaves were not named, but rather listed by age and sex under the names of their “owners.”

Step 2: The Manumission Process

Once you have identified that you have free people of color in your family tree, the next step is to determine how they became free. Many free people of color came from families that had been free for generations. This could have been due to a manumission of an ancestor or a relationship between an indentured white woman and a black slave. I make mention of this relationship between races because it is helpful to remember that the status (whether free or enslaved) of the child was based on the status of their mother. If the mother was free, then the child was free. If she was a slave, then the child was enslaved. [1]

Manumission was a formal way in which slaves were set free. There are many reasons why a slave owner may have released or freed his slaves. In some cases, slave owners would free their mistresses and children born to her. In one case, I found the following comment made by the slave owner,  “I give my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of the deepest regret to me…” And thirdly, it was possible for a slave to obtain their manumission through the act of “self-purchase.”

If the mother was free, then the child was free. If she was a slave, then the child was enslaved. [1]

Private manumission through probate. A private manumission decree could be made in a last will and testament. You can find these manumissions in wills, estate papers, or in probate packets. Many of these county level probate records have been microfilmed or digitized and are easily accessible online.

Sometimes, a manumission in a will would be contested. When this happened, a long paper trail of court documents may have been created. A thorough search of all of these proceedings may offer a wealth of genealogical data and clues.

Usually, manumission papers included the name of the slave owner, the name of the slave, and the reason for manumission. In the case of the slaves of John Randolph of Roanoke [Virginia,] his slaves were not named individually in his will written on 4 May 1819. Instead he stated, “I give my slaves their freedom, to which my conscience tells me they are justly entitled. It has a long time been a matter of the deepest regret to me, that the circumstances under which I inherited them, and the obstacles thrown in the way by the laws of the land, have prevented my manumitting them in my lifetime, which is my full intention to do, in case I can accomplish it.”[2]

John freed over five hundred slaves, and though each of them was not listed by name in his will, a codicil at the end of the will did name two of his slaves when he asked that Essex and his wife Hetty “be made quite comfortable.”[3]

freepeopleofcolor_1

Record of Arthur Lee purchasing his freedom.

Manumission through self purchase. Self-purchase may seem impossible; however, many slaves were not required to work on Sundays for their masters.[4] On this day, men and women could hire themselves out to do work for others. With frugality, they could save their earnings to buy their freedom or the freedom of their loved ones, though this was very, very difficult.

As you can see in this example of Arthur Lee, he was able to pay for his freedom and the freedom of his wife, though it took many years. This type of record could be found in a published book, a record listed in notarial books of the county, civil minutes books, or other courthouse holdings. It is important to speak with a knowledgeable person in your targeted area about where you should look. A knowledgeable person may be those working with the local historical or genealogical society, or a head of the local history department of the public library.

Step 3: “Negro Registers”

If you do not find the manumission in a last will and testament, perhaps due to a courthouse fire or other loss, you may have luck searching the county records where your free people of color later settled. Free people of color were often required to register, using their freedom papers, when they relocated to a new area. These types of records are called ‘negro registers’ or ‘records of free negros.’

Newly freed people carried with them their freedom papers which were given to them when they were manumitted. Once they relocated, they would register with the county clerk. They would need to show the county clerk these freedom papers and a record was made in the register. The record may include the name of members of the family, ages, and most recent place of residence.

The book titled Registers of Blacks in the Miami Valley: A Name Abstract, 1804-1857 by Stephen Haller and Robert Smith, Jr. provides the following information about registers of freed people:

“From 1804 to 1857, black people in Ohio had to register their freedom papers with the clerk of courts of common pleas in the county where they desired residency or employment. State law required this registration, and clerks of court were to keep register books containing a transcript of each freedom certificate or other written proof of freedom (see Laws of Ohio 1804, page 63-66; 1833, page 22; 1857, page 186). Few of these registers have survived to the 20th century.”[2]

Though this author says that only a few of the registers have survived, I found some microfilmed registers listing the names of free people of color who had settled in Miami County, Ohio at the local historical society archives. Again, it is important to ask those people who would be most knowledgeable, and in this case, it was the historical society.

In conclusion, we understand that tracing both our enslaved and manumitted ancestors is often a difficult task. We also know there is much more to learn and share for the best techniques to researching these lines. We encourage you to review some of the additional sources below. Please let us know what other resources have been most helpful to you in researching your free people of color in the comments section below. We want to hear from you!

Source Citations

[1] Kenyatta D. Berry, “Researching Free People of Color,” article online, PBS, Genealogy Roadshow,  accessed 1 Dec 2016.

[2] Lemuel Sawyer, A Biography of John Randolph with a Selection From His Speeches, New York: 1844, page 108, online book, Google Books, accessed 20 Dec 2015.

[3] Ibid.

[4] History Detectives Season 8, Episode 10, PBS, online video, originally aired 29 Aug 2010, accessed 1 Dec 2016.

Additional Reading

Free at Last: Slavery in Pittsburgh,” article and database online, University of Pittsburgh.
John Randolph,” article online, Ohio History Central.
Lemuel Sawyer, A Biography of John Randolph with a Selection From His Speeches, New York: 1844, book online, Google Books.

English Parish Boundaries: A Little-Known Online Tool

Did you know that FamilySearch has an interactive map to help you find English parish boundaries in 1851?

Daniel Poffenberger, who works at the British desk at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, showed me this map gem. He says this map was about 7 years in the making!

English parish map from FamilySearch.org.

English parish boundaries: map on FamilySearch.org.

Before you click through to the map, you should know:

  • Use the main Search interface to search by a specific location.
  • Click on layers to indicate whether you want the map to show you boundaries to parishes, counties, civil registration districts, dioceses and more.
  • Click and drag the map itself to explore it.
  • Wales is also included here but the Welsh data doesn’t appear to be entirely complete (try it anyway–it might have what you need).
  • The map isn’t yet permanently operational. It does go down sometimes, possibly because they’re still working on it.  It doesn’t print easily. It’s suggested that if you want to print, you hit “Ctrl-Print Screen” and then paste it into Word or another program that accepts images.

Click here to see the FamilySearch England & Wales 1851 Parish map.

Genealogy Video

Want to learn more about using maps? Premium members can check out my video, 5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old Maps.” Not a Premium member yet? Click here to learn more.

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