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Church Records for research

Church Records are excellent research documents for historical and genealogical study. They make an ideal alternative in cases where birth, marriage and death certificates are irretrievable for various reasons. Churches normally maintain extensive records on major events in many people's lives and there is a huge wealth of information to be discovered from these records.

While Church Records can be hard to trace and--as is the case with many of them-challenging to peruse once they are found, they may contain details about a person's life that cannot be found in any other type of document. For this reason, it is a good idea to devote a healthy part of your time and research efforts into tracking down these documents.

The most utilised types of Church Records are probably birth, marriage and death certificates although they are by no means the only important and relevant ones available.

The types of records maintained by a church will vary depending on many factors like religious denomination, time frame when the event occurred and even the social and political climate at the time of the event's occurrence.

Among the records commonly kept by most churches are church membership rosters, church reports of specific events, church journals, disciplinary logs and family registers. All of these will provide valuable insights into your research subject that you might not have even thought of.

Many churches have also published their own circulars or periodicals to be distributed among its population, and they may have past issues archived. Church newspapers are a particularly good source for obituary listings of both parishioners and clergy. There may also be mention of past church members who have since moved away.

The information you will be able to find from Church Records of births, deaths and marriages are usually quite straightforward and easy to understand although you should keep in mind that customs vary from parish to parish across different regions and especially among different ethnic groups. Some cultures for example have elaborate customs regarding naming conventions and bloodlines as well as hierarchy within the clan. If you are not familiar with these customs you may have difficulty unravelling the data. It would be a good idea to familiarise yourself with the particular cultural traits of the subject you are researching before beginning your task.

One of the first things you have to determine in order to utilise Church Records is your subject's religious affiliation, if any, and his residence. This will help narrow down your search options considerably and keep you from heading off into blind alleys so to speak. Knowing the approximate time frame of the event you are researching will also come in handy.

After you have gathered a list of churches, find out where the Church Records are actually stored. Some churches may maintain them on the premises while churches, which have long since moved, may have records in the town archives. Sometimes the town will have a preservation society and they may also have access to these documents.


Original Authors: Doods Pangburn
Edit Update Authors: M.A.Harris
Updated On: 20/06/2008

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