Q. Can Church Records help with my family history?
A. The answer is of course, Yes. Church records can often be used as a substitute for governmental vital records. The most common church records used in genealogy are those for baptisms, marriages, and burials. Other church records can help pinpoint our ancestor in a time and place, such as membership lists and confirmation records.
The first place to start is by determining the church that your ancestor attended. This may be a religious denomination still maintained by family members. Some churches were attended by specific immigrant groups. Sometimes the denomination was determined by which church was nearby and easily accessible. County or Family histories may tell the religion of your ancestor. The governmental marriage record may list the minister who performed the ceremony, or your ancestor may be buried in a church graveyard. An obituary may provide a clue to the church they attended as well.
Once you think you know the church they attended, there are several options to finding the records. If the church is still in existence, you can contact them directly. There may be a regional or national office for that denomination where the records have been stored. Some records, or transcriptions, may be at the local genealogical library or historical society. Some church records may be online at a site such as FamilySearch.org or Ancestry.com, or found through an internet search.
Although locating church records for your ancestor may be challenging, it is often worth the effort.
Note: This was originally published in the "Tips from the Genealogy Committee" column in the Illinois State Genealogical Society Newsletter (July 2021). While these tips were written for those researching Illinois ancestors, many of the principles can be applied to other locations.