Often overlooked and yet full of genealogy information, churches are the original record keepers. Long before governments thought to keep a record of vital statistics, or accepted responsibility for this task, churches did it freely and they continue to keep track of all proceedings today.
If you do not know which church to begin with, don't fret. Just knowing the family's faith and geographical origin will be enough for most.
The location of the records vary widely. For larger churches in major Canadian cities, the records are retained in the church or nearby rectory. For smaller churches, Catholic churches and many states, church records are held by the diocese. Before you start writing to any church, give them a call and confirm the location of their records and how to obtain information or extracts.
What information will you find? They house records for baptisms, marriages and funerals including cemetary records and their own ministerial records.
How do you obtain this information? Contact the church and determine any fees. Some request a donation with the lookup request, others charge an hourly rate to research a name. If you want to do the lookup yourself, always call to make an appointment.
One last note: don't expect CD Roms, microfilms or any form of automation. Chances are you will be searching through large volumes of ledgers and trying to decipher old handwriting on aged paper. But as with all genealogy tasks, it is worth the effort!
This article appeared in the May 1998 issue of Hot Chocolate.