Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 8, Number 10 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 June 1, 2016
Publisher's Notes In this article we discuss Church Records. These are another one of those hard to find records, but they can certainly give you some interesting information. I always enjoy reading the comments in these records.
James L. Douthat
Church Records When we all start our genealogical research, we hope to find all the answers in one place or another. This generally turns out to be a pipe dream for each of us. Even if we find a collection that someone else finished in the past, we all too often find mistakes that they did not discover. For example, I have been going back over research that I did more than sixty years ago and have found some mistakes that I made primarily because I did not have access to the right records.
Many of us hold out for the church records that will give the vital records of when one is “hatched - matched - dispatched” as these would be very helpful. When we finally find the right church, then we discover some of the problems with these records. In this country, church records were not as important as in Europe when these records were primarily the main source of records for the area. Few if any civil records were kept intact. In this county, however, the civil government was much stronger and the records tend to be in their collection instead of the church. Yet, the church records are still important.
In the past, our ancestors were not as closely associated with a church as we are today. If a Methodist preacher came on the scene as the pioneers moved west, then everyone in the community would go to hear him. This did not mean they accepted the Methodist doctrine or even beliefs, but they wanted to hear the word of God and this was their only chance. In another month, a Baptist preacher came into their community and everyone flocked to hear him. Not everyone accepted the Baptist doctrine or beliefs either. At this time in our history, the ministers were the ones that kept down the records. Primarily the records of marriages and deaths. They may not have it all together as many times a person died weeks or even months before the funeral was held since they had to wait on the preacher to come back around. Couples might even have a child before the wedding as there was no one in the area to perform the marriage ceremony. They were not living in “sin”, but were just being realistic.
As churches began to get established, the records improved. For example, in the mid-1800s the Baptist records are better than the Methodist, but later into the early 1900s the roles were reversed. In southwest Virginia and east Tennessee for the Methodist church, there are only about two dozen churches that are over 200 years old. In most of these, Aunt Sally kept the church records under her bed for the last seventy-five years of her life. When she died in 1932, those records were passed around the family for a time, but now no one knows what happened to them. Many of the early Baptist minutes and records have suffered the same fate.
When you read these early records when found, they offer a gleams into the world of the times. It is not uncommon for them to state something like “...Mary Jane, the bastard daughter of Miss Ella Smith and John Jones.” The ones I like are when a church dismissed a member for loud talking in church or drunkenness. These two were the same in their eyes. Many times, the individual will repent and they take them back at the next meeting only to be ousted at the following one for the same “sin”.
A few years ago, when I was pastor of a congregation in east Tennessee, the Office of Social Security contacted me to verify the age of an applicant. This was a very old church and the records were fairly good. However, there were no records of birth. I did find the name of the individual in a number of records, but never any mention of their age. This was very frustrating as I could not be of much help. I did run down the age of others in their Sunday School class and they were all within about four years of the others. I assumed the individual was about that age as well and sent that to the Office. I never did know how the Social Security handled the information since the person was no longer living in the community.
Are the church records worth the search - YES!! Sometimes you just might find the answer to all your questions, or at least the answer to one of them. They are very difficult to find because our ancestors did not leave too many comments on where they attended or which records might have been made available. But yes, go for them. You never know what interesting piece of information you will find.
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