Religious Records << Teacher's Guide <<
| Objectives |
Main Idea No.1 |
Main Idea No.2 |
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IN THIS LESSON, YOU'LL
- LEARN how church records help place an ancestor at a specific location and time
- BEGIN looking for "proof of relationship" in records
- LEARN how to determine your ancestor's religion
This lesson includes opportunities for class discussion and a video presentation. Vocabulary words are included
at the end of the lesson, though not specifically brought into the lesson in the form of an assignment. Resulting
measurable assignments include a creative writing sample and a letter. While the lesson's main ideas logically
build on one another, the activities and assignments suggested can be adapted or omitted according to your
MAIN IDEA NO.1
THE CHURCH'S "VITAL" RECORDS
Births, marriages and deaths were often recorded by the state, but each state started keeping track of
these records at different periods of time. For instance, Pennsylvania didn't start recording vital records until
1906. What do you do if you're trying to find the marriage certificate of an ancestor who moved to Pennsylvania
in 1880? You look for church records.
Instead of birth records, churches recorded baptisms, which often times meant the baptism of a baby. For
this reason, these baptism records are a good substitute for birth records. Instead of death records, churches
recorded the burials of members of their congregations. Often these people were buried right on the church
VIEW ANCESTORS EPISODE 6: RELIGIOUS RECORDS
Meet Greg Spacher, whose digging into Church records uncovers a startling truth about where his family came
from. Experts and clergy highlight various religious records and tell how to determine an ancestor's religious
- What records might give you clues to the religious affiliation of your ancestor?
- Why is discovering a religious affiliation sometimes difficult?
- For immigrant ancestors, how can knowing where they came from help you determine their religious affiliation?
- A baptismal record can contain what types of information?
- Where might church records be kept?
- Why is the following statement by genealogist John Humphrey true or not true: "It was the church records that brought the average man out of his obscurity in the sixteenth century."
MAIN IDEA NO.2
You may not have realized it, but as each record gives you clues to your ancestors, you begin to understand
more about that ancestor's immediate family. In fact, a good ancestor detective always looks for clues in
records that will prove relationship, meaning, clues that will tell you who the ancestor's mother was, or who
their older brother might have been. On a marriage certificate, for instance, the witnesses to the marriage
are often relatives. But is it the bride's uncle or the groom's father? You may not know who it is, but the
record has at least given you a name that you can now look for in other records.
Visit a local Cathedral, Mosque or Synagogue and talk to that congregation's main record keeper. Find out
how long records have been kept there, and what types of information were recorded. Are there duplicate
copies made, and where are those records stored?
http://www.CyndisList.com/topical.htm, you'll find a listing of sources for the records of various religions,
- LDS & Family History Centers
- Other Religion & Churches
If you know...
- the religion of your ancestor
- where he or she lived
- and the years he or she would have attended that church
...you are prepared to write a letter, requesting information from the church archive or library. Include the
ancestor's name and the time period in which the person lived in the community. Request baptismal, marriage
or burial information for that person. While some organizations may not have the staff available to do a search
for you, others will send you what information is available for a modest fee. Record what you learn on your
pedigree chart and family group record.
If you're looking for an immigrant ancestor and don't yet know his or her religion, look at what Cyndi's List
suggests under "Localities" for clues to religious affiliation based on geography.
If you're looking for an ancestor who is in the States but you still don't know the religion, look for a local
history for the area in which that person was living and see if you can discover the prominent congregations
in the area.
Often ethnic groups share the same religious affiliation. Cyndi's List can help you there, too.
FOR THE FUN OF IT
Includes discussion groups, databases, history and how-to help.
This is the homepage of the Jewish Women's Archive, whose mission it is to "uncover, chronicle and
transmit the rich legacy of Jewish women and their contributions to our families and communities, to our
people and our world."
Learn more about Quakers and their role in history.
Take a look at some very old and interesting Evangelical records.
Select an event recorded in church records. Pretend that you are the rabbi, priest or other religious leader, recording
that event in a history that you're writing about the congregation. What information would you consider important
enough to record?
WHAT HAVE I LEARNED AND . . .
Religious records are "what brought the ordinary man out of obscurity" (1) because they recorded major events
in the lives of all church-goers, not just the rich or famous. They can help you fill in the blanks on your pedigree
chart and teach you more about what life was like for your ancestors. But, as a good family history detective,
you probably want to know more than what you've learned so far. What's another record that could tell you
more of your family story?
. . . WHAT'S NEXT?
It doesn't have to be Memorial Day to go to the cemetery. Bring a wreath of garlic if you'd like, but don't miss
what you can learn about your ancestors from the places in which they're buried.
(1) John Humphrey, professional genealogist and expert featured in Ancestors, Episode 206: Religious Records.