Moravian Church in the United States

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History in the United States[edit | edit source]

First Moravian Church
New York City

The Moravian Church (also known as Unity of Brethren) in North America is part of the worldwide Moravian Church Unity. It dates from the arrival of the first Moravian missionaries to the United States in 1735, from their Herrnhut settlement in present-day Saxony, Germany. They came to minister to the scattered German immigrants, to the Native Americans and to enslaved Africans. They founded communities to serve as home bases for these missions. The missionary "messengers" were financially supported by the work of the "laborers" in these settlements. Currently, there are more than 60,000 members.

The beginning of the church's work in North America is usually given as 1740, when Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg sent Christian Henry Rauch to New York City on a mission to preach and convert native peoples. Eager to learn more, the Mahican chiefs Tschoop and Shabash invited Rauch to visit their village (in present-day Dutchess County) to teach them. In September 1740, they led him to Shekomeko, where he established a Moravian mission. The two Indian chiefs converted to the Christian faith. By summer 1742, Shekomeko was established as the first native Christian congregation in the present-day United States.

The Moravians were more successful in Pennsylvania, where the charter of the colony provided religious freedom. The towns of Bethlehem, Nazareth, Emmaus, and Lititz, Pennsylvania, were founded as Moravian communities. Graceham, Maryland was founded as a Moravian Community on October 8, 1758. Later, colonies were also founded in North Carolina, where Moravians purchased 98,985 acres. This large tract of land was named die Wachau, or Wachovia. The towns established in Wachovia included Bethabara (1753), Bethania (1759) and Salem (now Winston-Salem) (1766).

Bethlehem emerged as the headquarters of the northern church, and Winston-Salem became the headquarters of the southern church. The Moravian denomination continues in America to this day, with congregations in 18 states. The highest concentrations of Moravians exist in Bethlehem and Winston-Salem. The denomination is organized into four provinces in North America: Northern (which includes five Canadian congregations), Southern, Alaska, and Labrador. Source: Wikipedia

Missions to the Indians[edit | edit source]

  • Moravian Church. Records of the Moravian Mission Among the Indians of North America. New Haven Connecticut : Research Publications, 1969. FHL films 1017681-1017720 These records are indexed in:
    • Fliegel, Carl John, Compiler. Index to the Records of the Moravian Mission among the Indians of North America. New Haven, Connecticut : Research Publication, 1970. FHL book 970.1 F642i

Finding Records[edit | edit source]

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, 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 copies of church records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • There are many entries of Moravian church records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog:
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Look for published records.[edit | edit source]

Check these online digital archives:

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".

Check the church records collections in archives and libraries.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives or in libraries. Watch for links to digitized, online records offered by the archives. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might hire a researcher.

The Northern Province covers the Moravian churches in the United States (excluding congregations located in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Virginia) and Canada.

Moravian Archives
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
  • The Northern Province Moravian Archives
41 West Locust Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018
Phone: 610.866.3255

For Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia:

Southern Province Moravian Archives
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • The Southern Province Moravian Archives
457 S. Church Street
Winston-Salem, N.C. 27101
Phone: (336) 722-1742

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.
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  • 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.

Address lists:

Information in Records[edit | edit source]

"Choir" Lists[edit | edit source]

  • name of husband and wife
  • maiden name of women
  • date and place of birth
  • date and place of joining the church
  • date and place of first communion
  • number of sons and daughters
  • occupation
  • church office
  • date of death of spouse

Lebensläufe (Memoirs)[edit | edit source]

"The Memoir is a biographical sketch, sometimes autobiographical...but usually prepared by the pastor...and with a careful search of the Church registers for dates....Today [it] is read in conjunction with the funeral gives the life-story in detail, carefully including the religious experiences of the member." [1]

Family Registers[edit | edit source]

  • records of entire families
  • birth date and place for each family member
  • baptism and confirmation
  • immigrant arrival dates

Community Diaries[edit | edit source]

"Community diaries were written daily and shared with other communities so that each could be informed of the news of that community.Baptisms of Native Americans, travelers who stopped by (including non-Moravians), the health of their members, and expected immigrant parties were all part of the news shared by the community to their brethren."[2]

Baptisms[edit | edit source]

Children were baptized soon after birth, and therefore, the baptism record proves date of birth.

  • baptism date
  • date of birth
  • the infant's name
  • parents' names, including mother's maiden name
  • status of legitimacy
  • names of sponsors, who may be relatives]
  • the officiant's name
  • later confirmation
  • later moving out

Marriages[edit | edit source]

Marriage registers can give:

  • the marriage date
  • the names of the bride and groom
  • birth dates and places for the bride and groom
  • parents' names
  • the names of previous spouses and their death dates
  • names of witnesses, who might be relatives.

Burials[edit | edit source]

Burial registers may give:

  • the name of the deceased
  • the date and place of death
  • place of burial
  • cause of death
  • the names of a widow or widower
  • parents' names, for chilren
  • short biography

Reading the Records[edit | edit source]

Many of the records will be written in Fraktur (old German) script. These articles will teach how to read the records.

  • German Paleography Seminar - Lessons on German Handwriting
  • Old German Script Transcriber (alte deutsche Handschriften): See your family names in the script of the era. Type your name or other word into the font generator tool. Click on the 8 different fonts. Save the image to your computer and use it as you work with old Germanic records.
  • These printable handouts can be used for ready reference when reading German Handwriting.
Vocabulary found on Specific Records:
Dates, Numbers, Abbreviations:
Miscellaneous Vocabulary:
  • Fraktur Font -- Many forms and books are printed in this font.
German Given Names:

Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor[edit | edit source]

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 gathering 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.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Adelaide L Fries, "Moravian Church Records as a Source of Genealogical Material, National Genealogical Society Quarterly24:1 (March 1936), 5.
  2. Ibid., 6