We seek out church records of our ancestors, either in the original format, online, or on microfilm. The records of a family member’s christening, marriage, burial, or the names of parents and witnesses help fill in blank spots on our family tree. For some religious denominations we may only find minutes of a church committee or ruling body. We wish for something more and there is one more resource in existence for many churches and synagogues.
Churches often celebrate 50, 75, 100, 150 or more years in existence. A get-together might mark the occasion and a local newspaper might cover the event, complete with a short history of the congregation. Many churches also publish a separate anniversary booklet filled with important details.
Generally a history of the church congregation and buildings is included in such a booklet. The variety of details often include where the early services were held (maybe in your ancestor’s home?), when the first
church was built, and perhaps when it burned and when the new building was erected. This may help you decide in which building your ancestor was actually married. The previous location of the original congregation may be covered, stating that they moved as a group from Hometown, Pennsylvania to Newtown, Iowa.
The information continues
The booklet may list the founders of the original congregation, ethnic connections of the congregation, photos of the buildings, and the names of the pastors and years they served, some with short biographies and these all serve another purpose as part of the history of the greater community. You might find out that your ancestor donated the land for the church or was the benefactor for the church organ or tower bells. A chronology of events important to the church and congregation could be helpful in determining when some family event took place.
Even more possible content
Other components of many church anniversary/history booklets are:
• Notes on the first christenings, marriages, and burials and/or deaths
• Names and sometimes additional information on early families
• List of people who had been members for a significant number of years
• Places where some long-time members had moved
• Stories of who donated each stained glass window and in whose memory
• Info on previous significant church history dates and publications
• Name of parishioners who helped with the building of the actual church
• Names of service organizations such as the Ladies’ Aid Society or youth group
• Early burials in the church cemetery
• Name of members of the church governing body over the years
This booklet is an important part of the celebration. Usually there is a designated historian or appointed committee that compiles the history. An archivist friend of mine had the task of the research and compilation of her church’s anniversary publication. I know of fellow family historians who were instrumental in their respective church booklets.
Adding credence to a family story
I was told that a paternal great grandfather founded a Swedish Methodist church. Since he was a Lutheran from Denmark, I was a bit confused. A 100th anniversary booklet for the Swedish Methodist church did say he was one of the founding members along with others, including extended family members. It also gave some details on where some of the collateral relatives moved. Most of these relatives were immigrants or descendants of his wife’s family – the family that was Lutheran in Sweden.
Find the anniversary publication
Check the catalog of a local library, county or state historical society, or special collections department at a local college or university. For example, the New Jersey Historical Society has a wide range of church history and some are in microform http://www.jerseyhistory.org/microfiche.html. Anniversary booklets can be found for the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, and other countries. The growing number of booklets or abstracted information online is a boon to researchers. Some websites that have digitized version of local and state histories, also have some church anniversary booklets – including www.Ancestry.com under the category of family and local histories. The Family History Library www.familysearch.org also has some church anniversary booklets. These are found in the appropriate category of church history. I have noticed church anniversary booklets on eBay and in used book stores.
Check out these websites
In recent years, many religious denominations and archives have shared ideas for anniversary celebrations and the compilation of history booklets.
Online library catalogs list many such booklets and some individual churches have posted their anniversary booklets online.
- The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s inventory of Polish-American church catalogs, anniversary booklets http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/umass/mums057_main.html
- The Denver Public Library has many church anniversary booklets listed in its catalog
- The Minnesota Historical Society has hundreds of such booklets from around the state listed in the catalog.
An added benefit
A number of the church anniversary booklets have a listing of sources used in the compilation. If only all of them did likewise. When you volunteer to help compile an anniversary booklet for your own church, I am sure the sources list will appear in that booklet!
© 2010 – 2014, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.