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Church Records

Overview

Church records can be valuable sources of information for family historians. These records often predate local official vital records and can be a source of birth, marriage and death information. They may also provide personal information about an individual or the family.

Church records include baptism/christening, marriage, death/burial records and membership lists.  You may also find minutes, administrative, and financial records of the church.  Many churches have published histories of their congregation.

The Library has numerous congregational records and resources regarding Minnesota churches from throughout the state.  This guide provides an introduction to these resources and how to locate these materials in the collections.

Getting Started

When you begin searching for church records there are a few issues to consider as you start your search. Numerous denominations/churches have existed in the U.S. with many splits or mergers resulting in various branches (or sects). Philosophical differences resulted in the demise of some denominations. Denominations use different  terms or vocabulary to describe their organization. For example - Baptist churches form associations, Lutherans and Presbyterians form a synod, Methodists unite in conferences and Episcopalian and Roman Catholics are part of a diocese. Records may be archived differently with local, regional or a central/national archive of the denomination. However, with the internet many resources can be found online, such as information regarding a denomination's archive and how to access it.

To find church records you will need to identify the denomination or the church affiliation of the ancestor you are researching. In some cases, families maintain a long time religious tradition which makes the task easier.  But, for varying reasons, people change their church or denomination affiliation over the years.  In those instances, wedding announcements, obituaries, civil marriage, birth or death records, and family bibles can offer clues as to a specific denomination or church name in which your ancestor was a member.

County histories are a resource for information on the early churches that were established in a community. They can include information on the pioneer members and the founding of the church.  If your ancestors were early settlers or long time residents of a particular area or county these may be a useful resource to consult. The Library has an extensive collection of Minnesota's county histories.

In larger areas, city directories list churches (by denomination and church name with address) that were in existence when your family was living in that area. If you're not sure of a church affiliation, a good place to begin is to check for churches that were accessible to them.

If you know the church your ancestor was affiliated you can begin by searching the Library catalog to determine if we have records. For individual congregations, search the library catalog by the name of the congregation, the church body, or the location.

If you are not sure of an ancestor's church affiliation you can search the library catalog by the name of the [county,city, village] church or churches to determine the records we have in our collection.

Research Options

Related Research Guides & Webpages

Guide Author

Brigid Shields
Reference Librarian

MNHS Reference Staff

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