United States Church Records
Many original church records are still at the local church. Others have been gathered into a church or state archives or deposited with a local historical society. To locate them, you must first identify your ancestor's denomination.
If you know the denomination:
- Look for their records in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE], [COUNTY], [TOWN] - CHURCH RECORDS.
- Write directly to the minister of the local church. The addresses are usually in city or telephone directories. Some denominations, such as the Roman Catholics and Lutherans, also publish directories. Addresses are also listed in Melton's National Directory . . . cited in “Guides to Church Records” below.
- Write to the historical society or church archives that may have the records.
- Write to the church headquarters to ask where the records of the specific congregation are located.
If you do not know the denomination of your ancestors:
- Search marriage records, obituaries, family and local histories, cemeteries, and family Bibles for clues.
- Check local histories and city directories to determine which churches were in the area or neighborhood at the same time as your ancestors.
- Write to a local library or historical society for information on churches in the area. Regardless of your family's past or present denomination, look for family information in the records of other churches in the area.
The following is a partial list of some of the major denominational archives and sources that can provide more information.
American Baptist - Samuel Colgate Historical Library
1106 South Goodman Street
Rochester, NY 14620-2532
Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archive
901 Commerce Street, Suite 400
Nashville, TN 37203-3630
14 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108
American Jewish Archives
3101 Clifton Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45220
American Jewish Historical Society Library
2 Thornton Road
Waltham, MA 02154
Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
Family History Library
35 N. West Temple Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84150-3400
Other archives and libraries also have records. For information about records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints see the LDS Records Research Outline.
Concordia Historical Institute
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
801 De Mun Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63105
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA Archives)
8765 West Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60631-4198
If a local church is still active, it will be able to help find their records. The records of disbanded U.S. churches are at the ELCA Archives in Chicago. The archives has records of many congregations; those on microfilm can be borrowed for a small fee. Partial lists of church records in its collection are:
American Lutheran Church (ALC) Archives. ALC Congregations on Microfilm. Dubuque, Iowa: The Archives, [197-?]. (FHL fiche 6330690-93.) Arranged by state and city of congregation. The ALC Archives are now part of the ELCA Archives.
American Lutheran Church Shelf List Index to Their Church Records Microfilmed as of 1987. N.p., 1988. (FHL book 973 K2aL.)
A guide to most Lutheran churches and addresses is:
Lutheran Church Directory for the United States 1982. New York, New York: Lutheran Council in the USA, 1981. (FHL book 973 K24L.)
United Methodist Archives Center
Drew University Library
P.O. Box 127
Madison, NJ 07940
Presbyterian Church (USA) Dept. of History
318 Georgia Terrace
Montreat, NC 28757
Presbyterian Historical Society
425 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147-1516
For their obituaries, news clippings, ministerial service, genealogies, histories, and biographical sketches see:
Presbyterian Historical Society (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Miscellaneous Biographical Collection. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1967. (On 69 FHL films starting with 506383.)
Benedetto, Robert. Guide to the Manuscript Collections of the Presbyterian Church, USA. New York, New York: Greenwood Press, 1990. (FHL book 973 A3ben.) Indexed.
Records of most parishes are kept in the individual parishes or in diocese offices. Guides to dioceses and parishes are:
Official Catholic Directory. Wilmette, Illinois: P. J. Kennedy and Sons, annual. (FHL book 282.025 Of2.)
Humling, Virginia. U.S. Catholic Sources: A Diocesan Research Guide. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1995. (FHL book 973 K2hu.)
For older North American church records kept by priests of the Order of the Holy Cross contact:
Holy Cross Provincial Archives
P.O. Box 568
South Bend, IN 46556
Society of Friends (Quakers)
Magill Historical Library
Haverford, PA 19041
Friends Historical Library
500 College Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081
Important guides to records include:
Hinshaw, William Wade. Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. Six Volumes. www.erhs.info Ann Arbor, Michigan: Edwards Brothers, 1936-1950. (FHL book 973 D2he; film 432597-606; fiche 6051371-79.)
Hill, Thomas C. Monthly Meetings in North America: An Index. Second Edition. Cincinnati, Ohio: N.p., 1993. (FHL book 973 K22h 1993; film 1698282 item 11.) Alphabetical by monthly meeting. Gives address and sometimes location of records.
United Church of Christ
(Merger of the Evangelical and German Reformed churches and some Congregational churches)
Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society and Archives
555 West James Street
Lancaster, PA 17603
Telephone: 717-290-8711 or 717-393-0654
The Family History Library has a substantial collection of original church records and transcripts on microfilm.
These include records of many denominations, particularly the Quaker, Presbyterian, Congregational, Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic churches in the eastern, southern, and midwestern states.
The library also has an extensive collection of records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This includes membership records, temple records, and church censuses. Although these records pertain to all states and many countries, they are described in more detail in the Utah Research Outline and in the LDS Records Research Outline.
Church records are generally found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE], [COUNTY], [TOWN] - CHURCH RECORDS. Histories of churches are listed under [STATE], [COUNTY], [TOWN] - CHURCH HISTORIES.
Many christenings and marriages listed in the records of some churches (such as the Congregational, Dutch Reformed, and Lutheran) have been listed in the International Genealogical Index (IGI). This index is available online at www.familysearch.org.