22 December 2019

Book Review: Morton and Henderson's How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist's Guide

Photograph taken by Brenda Leyndyke

Do you have books on your wish list?  I have a few books on my Christmas wish list and my family is quite good at buying me those, but I couldn't resist the Family Roots Publishing Co. email sent around Thanksgiving. I ended up ordering three books from them this year.

One is new this year, How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist's Guide by Sunny Jane Morton and Harold Henderson, CG. I think church records are underused and I plan to learn a lot from this book.  I have met Harold Henderson at a Midwest Geneabloggers meetup and I am looking forward to meeting Sunny Morton on November 14, 2020 (save the date) when she is the speaker at the 2020 Fall Family History Event that Michigan Genealogical Council is hosting. Full disclosure here-I am the President of Michigan Genealogical Council and was instrumental in scheduling Sunny's presentations. The views are my own and I haven't received any compensation in any form for reviewing this book.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One covers "Family History Research in Church Records" Five chapters introduces the reader to general church record research in this part.
  1. What's in Church Records: Information on the various records churches were responsible for, baptism, confirmation, marriage, memberships, funerals, etc. are listed.  The authors talk about what type of information and what to expect from these records.
  2. How to Identify Your Ancestor's Church: The authors give four approaches to locating your ancestor's churches with detailed information for each.
  3. How to Find and Order Church Records: Tips for finding church records are included here, including a state by state list of WPA Church Inventories. Information on church offices, archives, published sources, images and indexed records completes the chapter. 
  4. Tips for Working with Old Church Record: The importance of looking at original records is stressed. Guidelines for understanding and working with church records is given.
  5. More Records about Church Life: This chapter concentrates on what other records a church may have kept and how to find them.  If you want an example of the importance of looking for these records check my blog post, Samuel Stillman Glover Excommunicated and the Reason Shocked Me, blog post.
The information in the first five chapters would be enough to get you started with church record research but the authors take you further in your research in Part Two "The Denominations." It covers twelve chapters: Anglican/Episcopal; Baptist; Congregational; Dutch Reformed/Reformed Church in America; German Churches: Reformed and Sectarian; Latter-Day Saints; Lutheran; Mennonite and Amish; Methodist; Quaker; Presbyterian; and Roman Catholic denominations.

Each chapter starts with a few statistics. Next is a background section which covers a brief history of the denomination. About the records, how to access membership records, and other records of interest provides the essential information for each denomination. The chapter concludes with additional reading resources on each denomination.

 I found the book to be the best there is on United States church record research.  Sunny and Harold did a thorough job of researching various denominations. The information will further anyone's research in church records. Even if you have done some church research, which I have, you will find useful information in their book. 

Sunny and Harold state, "records...are underutilized resources for family historians." Also, they say "it is not an easy task to track down U.S. church records."  Their book will help you further your family history research through church record research and you will be happy you explored this vast source.

How to Find Your Family History In U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist's Guide won't be far from me when I am doing research. I look forward to digging into the hundreds of links Sunny and Harold provided.  I hope you will to.

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