Church records can be helpful if vital records (birth, marriage death) do not exist. The first thing that you need to know is the denomination of your ancestor. Next, find out how to research your ancestor’s denomination. For example, this resource will help those whose ancestors were United Methodist: Historical Society of the United Methodist Church Genealogy Section. If your ancestor was Baptist, you may find more success researching state resources. See Baptist Historical Collections.
Membership records and records documenting marriages, baptisms, confirmations or burials can help you reconstruct your ancestor’s family. You may even discover ancestors among the records of the clergy, donors or history of the church.
Some repositories provide online finding aids and research guides. This is a great research guide for church records: University of Delaware Library: Church Records. Look for information about church records in the following places in the state or region where your ancestor lived:
- university archives
- historical or genealogical societies
- church archives
- Family History Library Catalog
Do not assume that if you come from a long line of Baptists, that your family was always Baptist. If your ancestor migrated to a new area, there may not have been a place to worship. The family may have attended the same church as others in the area even though they may have held different beliefs.
While assisting someone recently who believed her ancestor was Baptist and did not check the records of different denominations, the ancestor was found on the original church records of a different denomination. There was no other place to meet, and there was no other authorized clergy member in the area.
Universities, libraries, and museums collect manuscripts. It is a definite long shot, but these manuscripts may either mention a family name, or they may help you learn more about your family or the institutions and organizations they were involved with.
Begin by searching the online catalog of the university library in the area where your ancestor lived. See the example of the manuscript collection at the University of Virginia Library: Virginia Genealogy. Record types that you may discover include but are not limited to:
- personal papers
- business papers
The answer to your genealogical problems could be literally hidden away among the courthouse records in the area where your ancestor lived. It might be time to take a break from online research to discover what you have been missing. When you make a trip to the courthouse, you do not want to do it blindly.
- You will want to find out as much as you can about what records are available and how they are organized: Visit the online website of the county or parish to see if it provides instructions for researchers or types of records available. Contact them to learn more.
- Search the Family History Library Catalog to see what courthouse records are available on microfilm. For example, one courthouse record available for Johnson County, Arkansas is: Johnson County, Arkansas Circuit & Chancery Court Records 1841-1965
Courthouse records provide another alternative to the unavailability of vital records. Some records that can help to identify parental relationships are:
- Civil and criminal
- Wills and probate
Other records that may provide clues are:
- Land and property
Hopefully, you are now armed with a few more ways you have not already tried in search of your ancestor’s parent. If any of the suggestions from this article or Part One, open the door to discovering them, please share on the Saving Stories Facebook page. Even if you do not find success from these suggestions, please feel free to share the things you have already tried in your quest.
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