Vital records are the first place to look for information on your family. However, they are not always available. Church records are an excellent substitute for vital records, as records of baptism and burial can easily mirror those of birth and death. And the marriage records of churches can contain more information than the civil record.
Church records can include a wide variety of other information as well. This information can vary widely depending on the denomination. Records of the vestry may contain minutes of meetings, member lists, and financial matters. Financial records may seem boring, but you may find information on how much money your ancestors donated to the church.
Many churches operated Sunday schools or even regular schools for children. Records for these schools may give you insight into how good a student your ancestor was. Attendance rolls may help you pinpoint when a family moved into or out of the area.
In many Protestant denominations the ecclesiastical records were considered the property of the minister. As such, they often get separated from the church. Ministers often moved from place to place. They might change churches rarely or frequently. When the ministers went to another church, they took their records with them.
Because of this, the records may end up far from where the events took place. And When a minister passed away, there were no rules for what to do with his records. Because they were considered the personal property of the minister, they were part of the minister’s estate. Probate records may reveal where the records went.
Local histories can help you to identify the names of ministers who preached in the areas where your ancestors lived. Church archival repositories can also help. Organizations like the Congregational Library can also help you to identify ministers. They may even be able to help you locate their records.
Once you have ministers’ names, check the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections for clues to the whereabouts of surviving records. ArchiveGrid is also an excellent source of holdings for various repositories. You should also check local historical and genealogical societies and libraries, who may also have important records for you.