by Lisa Cooke | Dec 14, 2019 | 01 What's New, Church |
Finding church marriage records may not be as easy as finding civil marriage records. I’ve invited genealogist Sunny Morton to share her best strategies for finding U.S. church marriage records from her new book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide.
Strategies for Finding U.S. Church Marriage Records
Marriage records are part of that genealogy trinity of U.S. vital records. In addition to documenting the wedding, marriage records may also serve up the equivalent of genealogical party favors, such as the birth dates, birthplaces and sometimes even parents’ names of the bride and groom.
Civil or government records are generally the first ones we turn to in the United States. These types of records are commonly referred to as “vital records,” since they document important events in a person’s life like birth, marriage, and death.
Civil marriage records can be fairly easy to find and access. However, that’s not always the case. There may be times you can’t obtain a civil marriage record. If you do find it, it may not include all the information you were hoping for. And sometimes you’d just like to find more corroborating evidence or additional clues about their lives. That’s when it’s a good idea to turn to church marriage records.
Though not all of our U.S. ancestors were married in a church or by a member of the clergy, many of them were, so church marriage records may exist.
In general, finding U.S. church records is a two-step process:
1. identify the right church
2. then find its records.
However, this may actually involve a few additional steps.
I’m going to share with you the steps and strategies of this process from my new book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide. Along the way we’ll see how they apply to a real genealogy case that resulted in success.
Step 1: Identify the Church of Your Ancestor
Identifying the church in which an ancestor married is key to locating any surviving record of it.
Let me give you the first and most important tip: the answer may be sitting under your nose.
What do I mean by that? Start by looking carefully back through other records you already have about the bride or groom. These types of records include obituaries, oral histories, county histories, tombstones, etc. Do they mention a church affiliation?
Example for Lisa’s family history
Even if they don’t mention a church, perhaps one of these records can give you a clue.
For example, let’s say the husband’s obituary mentions his lifelong religious affiliation, like Methodist or Catholic or Baptist, but not the name of the local congregation. My book offers several detailed strategies for tracking down the church name, but here’s one of the most helpful: Look at city directories, histories or maps from that time period to identify nearby churches of that denomination. Keep in mind that before the age of the automobile, people couldn’t travel far to attend church.
Let’s say you find both Irish and German Catholic parishes in the area. Based on what you already know about your family, with which did they likely affiliate?
If you’ve got the civil marriage record, look at the name of the officiator. Do you see a title hinting that this was a minister, such as “Rev” (short for Reverend)? (As an FYI, the initials “J.P.” stand for Justice of the Peace, a civil office.)
Occasionally you may even see the denomination written right in the record, as it is in the Colorado civil marriage record of Mike Fox and Mary Eiarrman:
Colorado civil marriage record of Mike Fox and Mary Eiarrman
Most marriage certificates don’t state a minister’s affiliation but searching with Google may be able to help you with that.
For example, the Indiana marriage certificate for another ancestral couple of mine identifies the officiator as “S.B. Falkenberg, Minister.” Googling that name, along with the keywords church and Indiana, led me to online books that identified him as a Methodist.
Additional digging revealed that “Somers B. Falkenburg”—probably the same guy—was specifically assigned to the Rushville Circuit of the Southeast Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1860. This was around the time and place I’m looking for that 1861 marriage record. (Learn to do this kind of digging yourself from my book. See Chapter 14 Methodist.)
Step 2: Find Where the Church Records are Located
Once you’ve identified the church, it’s time to search for congregational records that may document the marriage.
Your strategy may vary, depending on the denomination, the time and the place. Again, my book can help you: there’s a chapter with general strategies for finding church records and there are specific chapters on various denominations. Here are some get-started strategies.
Googling the Church
Find out whether the church still exists by googling the church name and location or using the online congregational locator tools I mention in the various denominational chapters.
If the church still exists, you’ll likely find a website, Facebook page, or other contact information. Reach out to their office and ask about their old records.
If you can’t find the church online, it may have closed, merged with another church, or been renamed.
Contact the Church Organization
You might turn to regional church offices or archives, such as those of a Catholic diocese or Methodist conference, to see whether they can tell you anything about that church or its records.
Each denomination has a different organizational structure. (See the 12 different denominational chapters in Part 2 of my book.)
An Example Search
Searching for church directories
Remember that 1889 civil marriage record for Mike Fox and Mary Eiarrman I showed you previously? Let’s take a look at the process I used to find their church marriage record.
Since the civil marriage record told me that the officiator Godfrey Raeber was a Catholic priest, I turned to the annual Catholic Directory for that year to see what parish (local congregation) he was assigned to.
I googled catholic directory 1889 and found that year’s edition online at HathiTrust Digital Archive.
Keyword-searching within the directory for Raeber didn’t bring up any results, but I didn’t stop there. I paged through it until I found the listing for the diocese of Denver (it is now an Archdiocese).
I found the priest listed at St. Ann’s, but his surname was spelled a little differently, which is why I couldn’t find him with that keyword search:
Immediately, I googled St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Denver, Colorado. Nothing came up. So, I googled Denver Catholic diocese archive and found the archdiocesan archivist’s contact information. I called him and asked what he could tell me about St. Ann’s parish and its records. The parish had closed, he said, and he had the records right there. What did I need?
Hooray! I mailed him a check and emailed him the specifics of my request. He sent me back a copy of Mike and Mary’s entry line in the marriage register:
In case you can’t read it easily, the entry references their marriage on the 28th (the month and year, in preceding columns, are “ditto-marked” the same as the entry above it, which I can’t see, but I have the date already from the civil marriage record). Then Mike Fox’s name appears, age 23, “1” for his first marriage, Denver residence, son of Martin & Francis, born in Germany.
Similar information appears for Mary, the bride, though her surname is mostly illegible. These details (age, parents’ names, birthplace) were what I hoped to learn when I originally ordered the civil marriage record—but it’s not there. Only by taking the extra steps to find the church marriage record did I uncover these additional details.
I’m still looking for a Methodist record of that marriage recorded by S.B. Falkenberg. I’m guessing his was a traveling assignment covering many small towns, which means his own personal log book may have been the only place he would have created a record, if indeed he did. The records of itinerant ministers are not easy to find.
The Search for Church Marriage Records Can Lead to More Gems
It’s true that you won’t always find church records of ancestors’ marriages or other life events such as births, baptisms, deaths or burials.
Sometimes the records weren’t created; for example, Baptists didn’t generally record marriages, as they weren’t considered a religious rite.
Or perhaps membership records have been destroyed or lost.
Occasionally, you’ll track down the records only to find they aren’t accessible to researchers. That’s sometimes true for Catholic sacramental records, which are confidential—though many church or archive offices will release copies or transcriptions of older records.
But while following the process for church records, you may discover other gems that can add color to your family history stories.
For example, when I was looking for Catholic parish records in Olyphant, Pennsylvania, I found a short history of the church. It described the devotion of its earliest members, who raised the funds to erect their building and even helped dig its foundations. Though I can’t prove it, I have reason to believe this family was part of that devoted group.
Other times, you may find photos, directories, reminiscences or other records that give you a glimpse of your ancestors’ church community life.
A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding Church Records
While the 2-step process for finding church marriage records is straight-forward, each case requires unique resources. In How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide which I wrote with Harold Henderson, CG lays out a plethora of specific resources for the major Christian denominations in the U.S. before 1900:
• Dutch Reformed,
• Latter-day Saint,
• Roman Catholic,
• and various German churches.
More than 30 archivists, historians, and genealogical experts in specific faith traditions have contributed their knowledge to the book.
Church records won’t always be your genealogical salvation, but every so often—hallelujah!—they will prove to be your saving grace.
About the Author
Sunny Morton (along with Harold A. Henderson, CG) is the author of the books How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide, and My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories. She is also a contributing editor to Family Tree Magazine.
(Disclosure: Genealogy Gems is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting articles like these by using our link.)
by Lisa Cooke | Dec 9, 2016 | 01 What's New |
New and updated genealogical collections for the Royal Irish Constabulary are just the tip of the iceberg this week. Scroll down for more cool finds for New South Wales, Scotland, U.S. marriages, and an update to the Freedmen’s Bureau collections at FamilySearch.
Ireland – Royal Irish Constabulary Records
You can now search the Ireland, Royal Irish Constabulary Service Records 1816-1922 at Findmypast for over 486,000 records that uncover the details of your ancestor’s career with the R.I.C.
Each search result includes an image of the original document and a transcript. The nature of the information recorded will vary significantly depending on the subject and type of the original document. The following is a list of what types of records can be found in this collection:
Auxiliary division general registers: These are nominal rolls that recorded member’s service number, rank, dispersed date, and company name. The registers also include division journals that recorded dates of appointment, promotions, and medical details.
Clerical staff: record of service and salaries: These lists of clerical staff include birth date, age at appointment, rank, department and salary.
Constabulary Force Funds: These correspondence registers are of members who paid into the fund with notes on whether they had been pensioned, died or received any rewards from the fund.
Constabulary lists: These are lists of chief constables created during the first year of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
Disbandment registers: These registers are of serving members who were with the force in 1922 when it disbanded after the creation of the Free Irish State. They also noted the number of years the constable served and their recommended pension.
General registers: Records of constables’ service history are contained in these general registers. The entries include the individual’s birth date, native county, religion, previous occupation, date of appointment, and promotions, as well as any rewards or punishments received and the date of pension or discharge.
Nominal returns, arranged by counties: Nominal returns are lists of all serving members of the Royal Irish Constabulary organised by county that recorded the individual’s number, rank, name, religion, date of appointment, marital status, and station location.
Officers’ registers: These registers are lists of Officers that include transfers and dates, favorable and unfavorable records, dates of promotions and details of previous military service.
Pensions and gratuities: Pension records reveal the constable’s rate of pay and the amount of pension calculated.
Recruits index: Lists of new recruits, their dates of appointment and arrival, and their company can be found in the recruits index.
Also at Findmypast, Ireland, Royal Irish Constabulary History & Directories has had a significant addition of over 43,000 records. You will be able to explore a variety of publications between the years of 1840 and 1921. These records will provide insight into the administration and daily operations of the police force.
Each record includes a PDF image of the original publication. The collection includes training manuals, codes of conduct, salary scales, circulars and staff lists that cover promotions, deployments, and rules & regulations.
Ireland – Valuation Books
At FamilySearch, the Ireland, Valuation Office Books, 1831-1856 are now available to search. These records are the original notebooks that were used when the property valuations were conducted between the years of 1831-1856. They are arranged by county, then alphabetically by parish or townland.
Land valuation records may contain the following information:
- Land occupier’s name
- Location, description, and monetary valuation of each land plot surveyed
New South Wales – Passenger Lists
The New South Wales Passenger Lists is a collection at Findmypast that contains over 8.5 million records. The collection includes records of both assisted and unassisted passengers. The assisted passenger lists cover 1828 to 1896 and the unassisted passenger lists span the years 1826 to 1900. Assisted passengers refers to those who received monetary assistance from another party or agency/government for their passage.
Each result will provide a transcript and image of the original record. The information included on the transcript will vary depending on whether your ancestor was an assisted or unassisted passenger, although most will include your ancestors name, passage type, birth year, nationality, departure port, arrival port and the dates of their travels.
Scotland – Parish Records
The Scotland Non-Old Parish Registers Vital Records 1647-1875 found at Findmypast is a collection of registers created by churches outside of the established church. It contains over 12,000 transcripts of births, marriages, and deaths.
Non-old parish registers are different from the Church of Scotland’s old parish records.
Though these are only transcripts and do not include a digital image of the original, you may find the following information on the records included in this collection:
With each result you will be provided with a transcript of the details found in the original source material. The detail in each transcript can vary depending on the event type and the amount of information that was recorded at the time of the event. Here are some of the facts you may find in the records:
- Birth year, date, and place
- Event year
- Event type – birth, marriage, or death
- Register name
- Parish and county
United States – Freedmen’s Bureau Records
FamilySearch has updated their magnificent collection of United States Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of Freedmen, 1865-1872. Records found in this collection include census returns, registers, and lists of freedmen. They also include letters and endorsements, account books, applications for rations, and much more. Many of the records will hold valuable genealogical data.
For a complete list and coverage table of the full collection, click here.
United States – Marriages – Oregon and Utah
Ancestry.com has recently updated two marriage collections. The Oregon, County Marriages, 1851-1975 and the Weber and Piute Counties, Utah, County Marriages, 1887-1940 have some new records. Marriage records will often provide many helpful genealogical details. Depending on the year, you may find:
- Name of the groom and bride
- Date and place of the event
- Birth dates and places of bride and groom
- Names of parents of both bride and groom
- How many previous marriages and marital status
- Place of residence of bride and groom
United States – Washington – Newspapers
Washington State historic newspapers added to their digital collection of newspapers this week. With nearly 50,000 digitized pages from historical newspapers based in Centralia, Eatonville, Tacoma, and Spokane newest titles include the Centralia Daily Hub (1914-16), The Eatonville Dispatch (1916-61) and Den Danske Kronike (1916-17), a Danish-English publication based in Spokane.
The Centralia and Eatonville papers were added this month and Den Danske Kronike was added last summer, along with the Tacoma Evening Telegraph (1886-87).
You will be able to search this newspaper collection for free from the Washington State Library website.
by Lisa Cooke | Oct 14, 2016 | 01 What's New, Records & databases |
This week, we bring you new and updated record collections from genealogy societies around the world. We are often familiar with the record sets available at FamilySearch, Findmypast, and MyHeritage, but many more wonderful virtual repositories exist online. Check out these records for New Zealand, Belgium, Israel, Britain, and Ireland.
New Zealand – Civil Records
FamilySearch has added a large new collection this week for New Zealand. New Zealand, Civil Records Indexes, 1800-1896
is an index only, but numbers 857,382 records. This index collection contains birth, marriage, and death records between the years of 1800 to 1896. The original records are located with the New Zealand Government, Internal Affairs.
Birth records may contain:
- First and last name of child
- Date of birth
- Location of birth
- First and last name of father and mother
Marriage records may contain:
- Date and location of wedding
- Bride’s first and last name
- Groom’s first and last name
Death records may contain:
- Date and location of death
- First and last name of deceased
- Date of birth
- Age at death
Belgium – Civil Registrations
Though FamilySearch has only added to these collections, it is a good idea to check back in to see what’s new. This week, four Belgium collections regarding civil registrations have been added to.
You will notice in the chart above, some of these record sets are indexed records only. Belgium, Antwerp, Civil Registration, 1588-1913
; Belgium, East Flanders, Civil Registration, 1541-1914
; and Belgium, Liège, Civil Registration, 1621-1914
are the index only collections. Belgium, Limburg, Civil Registration, 1798-1906
is the only one that contains digital images.
Each of these civil registration collections contain birth, marriage, and death records for the town locations and time periods listed. The records for Limburg are written in Dutch or Flemish depending on the timeframe. You will find names, dates of events, and sometimes details such as residence, marital status, and names of parents in any of these civil record sets.
Israel – Misc. Records
Societies around the world bring a wealth of information to our research. A Gem’s reader, Elena, shared with us this next record collection set for Israel. The Israel Genealogy Research Association
has over 730,000 records from over 260 databases on their website. You can search in English or Hebrew and for free, though you are required to register.
The IGRA adds or updates their record collections about every two months. In particular, record collections cover:
They also have miscellaneous records from various parts of the world, such as a list of Russian Jewish POW’s in World War I and a list of Jewish soldiers in the International Brigade that fought in the Spanish Civil War.
Britain – Registers
Findmypast has released the new Britain, Registers of Licences to pass beyond the seas 1573-1677 collection which records the details of early travelers who left Britain for Ireland, continental Europe, New England, Barbados, Bermuda and other overseas colonies.
The collection includes over 27,000 fully searchable transcripts and scanned images of original documents. It includes lists of soldiers who signed a statutory oath of allegiance before serving in the “Low Countries” between 1613 and 1633, licences for individuals traveling to Europe between 1573 and 1677, and registers of individuals traveling to America between 1634 and 1639.
The records showing passengers licensed to sail to the Americas are very rare, making this collection quite significant. They record groups headed for colonies in New England, Maryland, Virginia, Barbados, Bermuda, St Kitt’s, and the Providence Island colony during the 1630s. Very few original records from this early period of American history are available online. Registers record the details of some of earliest English settlers to arrive on the continent.
After 1609, all travelers over the age of 18 had to swear an oath of allegiance to the monarch before the Clerk of the Passes could issue them with a licence to leave the country. The dates shown in these records are the date the oath was taken or the date the licence was issued – not the date of actual departure.
Ireland – Indexes
Societies around the world continue to amaze us, as does The Irish Genealogical Research Society with three recent updates. These updated collections include new birth, marriage, and death confirmations of citizen of Ireland.
In particular, the birth index was most recently updated to reflect information gathered from several thousand records taken from Index of Nuns, a CD publication in 2015 by the Catholic Family History Society. which notes biographical information for about 14,000 nuns, many of them from Ireland.
Also, there are entries from a census-substitute dated 1887 recording the Roman Catholic residents of the parish of Kirkinriola, Co. Antrim and entries taken from Emigrants from Ireland, 1847-1852.
IGRS is another genealogy society around the world containing Irish records.
The full database is available only to Members. However, a restricted but free surname-only search of the database can be made by non-members. A search will tell you how many entries in the database match your search criteria. It will not provide all the details of those matched records. You can however become a member with all access by visiting their subscription page here.
Genealogy Societies Around the World
You may never have considered joining a genealogical society outside of your country, but may find it is just what you need to break through that brick wall. Do you know of a genealogy society that has an extensive collection of records? If you do, would you share it with us? We would love to hear about it in the comments below. Be sure to leave a link so that we can check it out!
by Lisa Cooke | May 13, 2017 | 01 What's New, FamilySearch, Research Skills |
I have thoroughly enjoyed having Amie Tennant as a blogger for the past year. In her final blog post for Genealogy Gems she takes us on a tour of her home state’s digital records. Then she will be turning all of her attentions to her own genealogical certification. Thank you Amie for all of your helpful and thoroughly enjoyable posts! – Lisa Louise Cooke
Ohio genealogy research goes digital. You can now virtually walk into any courthouse in Ohio with the click of the mouse. Check out the amazing browse-only databases at FamilySearch for Ohio and other states, and take your family history research to the next level.
I use FamilySearch.org to search courthouse record books all the time. In particular, the Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996 now have nearly 7 million digital images of county record books such as wills, estate files, guardianship records, naturalization records, minutes, bonds, and settlements. In fact, many other states have their court record books online at FamilySearch, too. So, why haven’t you noticed before?
Browse-only Databases vs. Indexed Databases
You may have read our previous post on step-by-step instructions to using browse-only databases at FamilySearch. If you didn’t, you should know that when you are searching for records at FamilySearch using the traditional search fields, you are only searching for records that have been indexed. In other words, there may be thousands of records you need on the site, but you won’t find them. They have not been indexed by a searchable name, place, or date. Instead, you need to go in the virtual “back door.”
Step 1: First, go to FamilySearch and sign in. Next, click Search at the top right. Now you will see a map of the world. Click on the desired location. I have chosen the U.S., but you can choose any country you are interested in.
Step 2: Once you choose your desired country or continent, a pop-up list will be available and allow you to choose the state (or country) you wish to search in. In this case, a list of the U.S. states appears and I clicked on Ohio.
Step 3: The system will direct you to a new page. You will first see the Ohio Indexed Historical Records. These are the records and collections that have been indexed and are searchable by name, date, and place. Though these are great, they are not the record collections I want to share with you today.
Instead, scroll down until you see the heading Ohio Image Only Historical Records. You will notice several databases such as cemetery records, church records, naturalization records, etc. All of these are browseable. That means you will use them like you would microfilm.
Step 4: I want to bring your attention to a specific record collection, so scroll down even further until you see Ohio Probate Records, 1789-1996. Click it.
At the next screen, you will see you can browse the 6,997,828 Ohio probate records and you are probably thinking, “What!? I can’t possibly browse through nearly 7 million records!” But, you can, so go ahead and click it!
Step 5: At the new screen, you will see everything is broken up into counties. Click on the county you are interested in researching. You will next see a list of possible record books available for that county. Each county will vary, so where you may find guardianship records available in one county, you might not find them in another.
Ohio Genealogy Research at the Courthouse
As a refresher, courthouse research is often imperative to thorough genealogy research. Here is a helpful chart of the type of information you may find in these types of court records. Be sure to remember: records and the amount of information they contain change over time.
More on Courthouse Research Techniques
Are you looking to understand the value of courthouse research and how to use those records to overcome brick walls in your family tree? Read 4 Ways to Power Up Your Courthouse Research Skills from our own Sunny Morton.
by Lisa Cooke | Apr 8, 2015 | 01 What's New, Digital Archives, Libraries
The 40 millionth record has been added to WorldCat, the enormous multi-library catalog that helps people find library materials all over the world.
Even cooler, that 40 millionth record was harvested to WorldCat through the WorldCat Digital Collection Gateway. This gateway allows for “unique, open-access digital content” to be brought into WorldCat, according to owner OCLC. “Once there…collections are more visible and discoverable to end users who search WorldCat as well as Google and other popular websites.”
If you haven’t used WorldCat for genealogy, you may be missing out on a lot. Like published history books (regional, county, local, ethnic, religious and more). And published family histories (search by the surname as a subject). The holdings of the enormous Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah are now included in WorldCat, too (click here to read a blog post on that).
The idea that digital archives are integrating into WorldCat–hence becoming more searchable for us–is fantastic. What kinds of digitized materials might be cataloged here? Well, the Arizona Memory Project is the digital archive that provided that 40 millionth WorldCat record. The Arizona Memory Project “provide(s) online access to the wealth of primary sources in Arizona libraries, archives, museums and other cultural institutions including government documents, photographs, maps and objects that chronicle Arizona’s past and present.” Good stuff!
Remember to also search ArchiveGrid, WorldCat’s sister search interface for archival materials, for original family history documents.