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!

Making the Most of Your Research Trip Part 2

Originally published on on 11 Aug 2016

By the second day of my research trip in Pennsylvania I was much more familiar with the area and had a better sense of how long it would take me to get from point A to point B, thus I could organize my day efficiently.

Before any trip I plan extensively from home so I don’t waste time and miss resources while I’m on the road.  Sometime I get lucky and connect with “boots on the ground” folks who are willing to provide me needed information immediately.  In those situations, I like to take a minute to visit in person when I arrive to personally thank them for their help.  That was on top of my agenda for the day.

I rose early and didn’t want to wait around for repositories to open so I drove to nearby Greencastle where a Dunkin Donuts had just opened.  I bought a box of donut holes with the intention of bringing them back to Waynesboro and giving them to the office staff of a church who had so graciously emailed me copies of original records.  Those records took me back a generation and I was very greatful!

Not a lot of traffic so I arrived back in Waynesboro 30 minutes before the church office opened.  That was fine, though, as I had previously identified on a map the location of where 3 of the people I was researching owned a business in the mid 1800’s on Main Street.  I had a copy of the map in my phone download so I could bring it up and orient myself to what the present area looks like.  Since the business day hadn’t begun I was able to park easily and snap photos of the lots.  All of these lots had been verified by deeds (remember, I had first gone to the Court House and had from home, rented Family History Library films).

I also like to take photos of the view from the lot.  Why?  This gives me a sense of what the ancestor may have seen from their land.

Of the 3 lots, one still viewed mountains off in the distance.  I could imagine the Rebel Army swarming down on the night of 3 July 1863.  How did I know that had happened?  Before the trip I had read several histories of the area available on GoogleBooks.  I also had the Civil War claim of one of the individuals and two newspaper articles by eyewitnesses of the events of that evening.  The day I visited, thank goodness, the view was not threatening!

I still had time before the church opened so I drove by two other churches .  I took pictures of those places, along with closeups of the visible cornerstone.  This told me that one of the churches was indeed built at the time the ancestor lived in the area.  The other church cornerstone clearly showed a later date.  This was important because it confirmed that the church bought the lot from another church that had previously used the space for a cemetery.  The bodies had been removed to another cemetery in the 1920’s.  Two known people I was researching had been reinterred due to that real estate sale.

Stopped by the church office, dropped off the donuts conveyed my appreciation and was off to visit cemeteries.  Check back for more!

Unique Picture Find To Try!

Originally published on on 18 Feb 2016.

Ever long for a picture of your great great grandparents?  You’ve dug through your grandparents attic, asked your great aunts and uncles, scowered the internet and came up with nothing!  Frustrating, certainly, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I was able to find a picture this week by simply contacting the church that was named in the ancestor’s obituary and asking if they had a record of her.  Within 3 days I had received a note from the pastor who had asked the church historian to scan a copy of the couple’s church registration card and several group photos for church organizations the wife had been a member of.  How cool is that!

I had the obituary for some time and just rereading it sent off a light bulb to see if the church where she was a member for 60 years was still in existence.  I wasn’t counting on a response, as you know from previous blogs, I’ve been unsuccessful before with obtaining church records but this time was different.

Now that I know what she looks like I’m looking through old family photos that I have with many unidentified people as I suspect she is in there.  That may lead me to a picture of her husband who was camera shy at church!