General Introduction for Family History Researchers
(information taken from ELCA Archives)
Church records, maintained by and for local congregations, can be a plethora of
genealogical information for family historians, especially when they seek information on
ancestors who lived during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when records such
as census, tax, land, and newspapers were vague, incomplete, or simply did not exist. Most
of the information essential to tracing your family genealogy will be contained in
congregation records. Since these records were and are maintained by the congregation
only, no centralized lists of members exist at church-wide/ synodical offices or archives.
Do not assume, that because you are Lutheran, or some of your relatives may have
been Lutheran in the past, that all family members were Lutheran. Similarly, do
not assume that because your relatives were German, Swedish, Norwegian, etc., that
they were Lutheran. Be prepared to find that your relatives might not have belonged to
any church. Furthermore, the term "evangelical" does not guarantee that a
congregation was Lutheran. German Reformed and other
Protestant groups also use this term.
Generally, most congregation records are usually composed of:
Chronological listings of pastoral acts, such as baptisms,
confirmations, marriages, and burials, and
· In some cases, records of communions and membership lists may be included.
More modern congregation records (ca. 1850-Present) might also include:
· Congregational annual and council meeting minutes,
· Financial and legal documents,
· Parish newsletters or other printed items, including congregational histories,
· As well as similar records for congregational organizations,
such as women's, men's or youth groups.
Therefore, for the family historian, it is essential that your inquiry sent to
any archives, or historical or genealogical societies contain as much information
as possible, including full names, relevant dates, and place names.
When writing for information, please use the following checklist to make sure that
your letter includes as much of the following information as possible.
Congregation records are not usually indexed and are often in a language other
than English, so that each item of information you provide will save time and effort.
1. Full name of person(s) to be researched.
2. Known or approximate date(s) of birth or Baptism, marriage, death, etc.
3. Name of state, county and town where your family lived.
(If a large city is involved, include a street address, since many cities
would have numerous congregations from which to choose.)
4. Name(s) of congregations(s) where your family were members.
5. Name(s) of pastors who performed Baptisms, marriages, etc.
(Often on certificates that you may have among family papers.)
6. Ethnic group of your family, i.e., German, Swedish, Finnish, etc.
(Prior to the 1920's most Lutherans attended congregations founded by a particular ethnic
group because worship services and congregational activities were in those languages.)
If you do not have this information, it is highly recommended that you turn to other
resources, such as federal census records, state tax rolls, or similar sources, before
you contact a Lutheran archives. This would be especially true if you are not
sure that your relatives were Lutheran.
Moreover, please bear in mind, that congregation records dating from the eighteenth
and the first half of the nineteenth centuries, for which you might be searching,
might no longer exist. Due to natural disasters, disbandings and mergers,
and poor records management procedures of the past, congregation records
have been lost, destroyed, or even stolen.
|Did you know?
St. Mary's Lutheran
Church is the only
church in the
Synod named for a
woman and is one of the
synod's oldest churches.
St. Mary's Lutheran Church Parish Records
Burials 1861 - 1930 Burials 1927 - 1985
Baptisms 1881 - 1931 Baptisms 1926 - 1985
Marriages 1884 - 1937
The Historical Society of Carroll County has
resources to assist in a genealogical search including
some records from St. Mary's Church .
Maryland German Church Records, Volume 7
Saint Mary's Church
Silver Run, Carroll County
Lutheran Records 1784 - 1863 Reformed Records 1812 - 1866
Copies of this publication may be obtained from the
Historical Society of Carroll County
You may also contact the church office to find if your
family is listed in this publication.
Genealogy information may be
found by contacting the
ELCA Region 8 Archives at Gettysburg
Adams County Historical Society
Another source for information on
Adoptions, Births, Deaths, and Marriage Records
Maryland State Archives
National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database
Links To Other Resources
(Not maintained by St. Mary's Evangelical Lutheran Church)
(Please refer to their websites for policies
and services provided.)