Sunday, July 3, 2011

Church Record Sunday -- A Call for Volunteers

While researching the descendants of Capt. John KING of Hartford, CT and Northampton, MA, I thoroughly appreciated the availability of Church history resources found at Forbes Library. At the link provided, you can search finding aids, including the Guide to Microfilm Resources at Forbes Library. A few highlights include the following, among many others:

  • The Judd Manuscript (reel 15H) records marriages by Mr. Hooker;
  • The First Church of Christ, Northampton (reels 22-23) includes Church records from the Old 1st Book (1661-1846) and 3rd Book (thru 1924), list of members. Original record books are kept in the Hampshire Room for Local History and Genealogy;
  • First Baptist Church, Northampton, MA (reel 160) includes the Church clerk's records, Church covenant, constituent membership list, detailed meeting records, and a brief history of events leading up to the founding of the church (1826-1848);
In addition to microfilmed and original manuscripts are bound, typewritten transcriptions from the original manuscripts. These were largely compiled by members of The Daughters of the American Revolution, who volunteered their time to preserve and distribute local Church history. Two which I used quite frequently are:
  • Congregational Church Records, Southampton, Massachusetts, 1743-1937;
  • Church Records of the Town of Chesterfield, Massachusetts, 1st Book, 1762-1820.
Since Northampton was the beginning point of my genealogical gleanings, I had taken for granted that most communities were as rich in Church history resources as Massachusetts towns were; but when I moved South, I found that few churches, especially African-American churches, had such well-preserved records available to the public. 

My research focus for the past four years has been on Craven County, North Carolina. I have found that New Bern-Craven County Public Library houses numerous books of Church records for Virginia, and some for South Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticutt, and even Barbados. 

In the Vertical Files Subject Headings one finds several headings for churches, but only one for AME Zion, with no particular churches listed. 

Among the microfilmed records appear several collections for Methodist, Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian and Catholic churches. . . . but none for AME Zion churches.

In speaking with several cousins who attend or have held office in the African-American churches of the Havelock, NC area, I discovered that early records do not exist largely because of the following factors:
  • lower levels of literacy during the Reconstruction period,
  • fires which destroyed records,
  • and church secretaries and officers who had limited foresight in the value of such records in the years to come, who either didn't keep good records, or disposed of them.
Of all the African-American churches located in the Havelock area, only one--Piney Grove AME Zion Church-- has a website, and offers a brief historical account of its founding and development. There is, however, no comparison between such an account and the church records made available of white churches, and especially those of the North, and of New England.

It is my hope that someone with ties to the following churches would have the desire and foresight to gather the existing church records into a manuscript, similar to those created by members of the DAR, so that generations of history are not lost forever:
Craven Corner Missionary Baptist,
Green Chapel Missionary Baptist Church,
Hyman Chapel, 
Pilgrim Rest United Church of Christ, and
Piney Grove AME Zion Church.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you Debra. I have not only asked about records from some of the African American churches in NC, but in Harlem, NY, San Diego, CA. What records that were in NY were locked, the secretary was out for the summer, and there was no one at the church who had a key to whatever records that they had.

    Many African American Churches are keeping better records today, but there are many that are not.

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