How to Find Church Records in the United States

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How to Find Church Records in the United States


Prepare by Collecting Background Information[edit | edit source]

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You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by organizing in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:

  • name, including middle name and maiden name
  • names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
  • exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
  • names and approximate birthdates of children
  • all known places of residence
  • occupations
  • military service details


Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a "near match". If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Some records have been digitized and posted online, where they are easily searched. More are being added all the time. Partner websites such as Ancestry.com, FindMyPast, MyHeritage, and American Ancestors can be searched free-of-charge at any Family History Center.

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Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available "so it must be mine". Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, other relationships, and details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

Look for digital and microfilm copies found in the FamilySearch catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah


  • To find chuch records listed under a state:
a. Enter your state name in the "Place" search field of FamilySearch Catalog. You will see a list of topics and, at the top, the phrase "Places within United States, [STATE]".
b. Click on "Church records" in the topic list. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
  • To find church records listed under a county:
c. From the original page, click on Places within United States, [STATE] and a list of counties will appear.
d. Click on your county.
e. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
  • To find church records listed by town:
f. From the list of counties, click on Places within United States, [STATE], [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
g. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
h. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
i. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Use finding aids that list specific churches and their existing records.[edit | edit source]

Sometimes there are finding aids that list churches, their existing records, and where they are stored, such as:

Each Wiki Church Records state page lists finding aids unique to that state.

Look for published books with transcripts of church records.[edit | edit source]

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Many early records, especially from the 1600's and 1700's, have been transcribed and published in books.
These books can be digitized and available online. Check these online digital libraries:

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.png Try different keywords in various combinations:the name of the town,
the name of the specific church, the denomination, "church records", and "[STATE] church records".


Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[edit | edit source]

Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.

  • Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
  • To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
  • Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
  • A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
  • If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
  • See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.
  • Each denomination page offers an online address directory of local churches for that denomination.

Search church records stored in denominational archives.[edit | edit source]

Some denominations gather their records from the local churches and store them in centralized archives or libraries. Some archives only hold records for churches that have closed. Most have digitized catalogs of their holdings. Some have digitized online records. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might need to hire a researcher.

These Wiki articles will give you links to archives for each denomination.

Wiki Articles for Records of Major Religious Denominations


Search state archives and university archives.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives. Each Wiki state Church Records page will list known state archives and university archives with church records collections and their contact information. Generally, these archives have online catalogs of records. More and more of these are digitizing their records and posting them online.

In addition, these articles will list localized denominational archives, with collections unique to the region.

Wiki Articles for Church Records for Each U.S. State
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
  • Contact local libraries.[edit | edit source]

    New York Public Library Research Room

    Churches sometimes donate their records to local libraries. Call or write to the libraries in the close vicinity of the church your ancestors might have attended and the towns where they resided.

    Correspond with genealogical or historical societies.[edit | edit source]

    Some church records have been given to local historical societies. Also, historical societies may be able to tell you where the records are being held. To find a society near you, consult this list:

    Consult the PERSI index for records published in journals.[edit | edit source]

    • PERSI is the Periodical Source Index and is available at FindMyPast.com:PERSI., ($). It can be searched for free at any Family History Center. PERSI is an index to family and local history periodicals from 1847 to the present. Many of these periodicals publish church records. If you locate an index entry for a church, you will then need to find the periodical. Use the WorldCat.org search engine to find a library near you that carries the periodical. Library reference desks can be contacted to request a copy of articles, or you may need to hire a researcher.

    Check for manuscripts kept in private collections.[edit | edit source]

    Other records may be held in the homes of people such as retired ministers or clerks, or their descendants. They might be kept by private organizations.