Stuck on Where to Find Family Records – Try This Underused Resource

Last week I blogged about obtaining school records to help identify parentage.  This week I’m thinking in reverse; say I know the parents names but I don’t know the children’s names.  Where to look if census records aren’t available?  Try church records.

Now wait, before you stop reading because you don’t know if the family was affiliated with a church, I’m going to tell you some tricks to discover that information.  

First look at the marriage license to see if there was a minister named.  You might get lucky and the church address was also recorded.  In that case, see if the church is still the same denomination and contact them.  

If you aren’t able to identify a church, then take the minister’s name and try to identify his religious affiliation from the previous census.  When researching a local family, I was able to look at the 1945 Florida State census to find the minister and his address.  Using property records, I could tell the denomination of the church he was affiliated with then – it was Baptist.  The marriage record from 1946 was in Tampa so it was probable that the family had married in that particular Baptist church.  They had records and I was able to confirm the marriage occurred at that site and several children, named, were inducted in the Cradle Club.  

This works, too, even if you’re looking for much older records for an elusive family.  If this was in the time of circuit riders, do a Google search to see if the minister named on the marriage license denomination shows up, then identify where those records may have been kept.  For example, I’m always interested in finding information about my Duer family living in what is now Ohio.  I was able to determine they were Presbyterian (after leaving the Quaker denomination).  I know where the circuit rider records are kept but they are not yet digitized or indexed so someday I’ll be visiting the repository to check them out.  

I’ve blogged in the past about obtaining a transcription of a diary written by one of my husband’s 3rd great aunts (yes, I extend searches to distant family – you never know what you’ll find and it’s usually awesome).  Mary Ann Eyster Johnson died in 1905 and descendant’s of her husband (they had no children) donated her diary to her rural church in St. Joseph County, Indiana.  While researching Mary Ann’s sister, Sara, in the hopes of identifying all of their children, I located Mary Ann’s diary and happily found she had recorded all of Sara’s children’s birth dates and in most cases, times.  This was long before birth certificates were available.  

My recommendation is always check out church records and if possible, go in person and bring chocolate.  It’s always worked for me!