Genealogy Research

Using A Written Church History in Your Genealogy Research

Finding ancestors in church historiesHave you ever used a written church history in your genealogical research?

Church histories are locally published by an individual church and provide a valuable  information about its members and the surrounding communities : history of the area, church membership roles, church minutes, photographs of church members and activities.  This is just a sample of what you can find in a church history.

Let’s look what can be found in this paperback church history of Baptist Chapel Church located near Broadway in Lee County, NC.

Baptist Chapel Church History
Baptist Chapel Church History

The original location and name of the church.

Baptist Chapel Church was originally known as Joe Log Baptist Church  and founded about 1869. No one knows the origin of the  Joe Log Baptist Church name or when the church changed its name to Baptist Chapel Church. Due to county lines, the church was originally in Moore County, NC. Lee County was not formed until 1907.

The church land donors

Baptist Chapel Church was founded on Moore County land that was donated by Jim and Sally Pittman.  The Joe Log Cemetery was also on the church property and is still in existence today. As of 1986, the church history lists the cemetery’s upkeep as “questionable”. In 1913 a new church was built on land donated by James R Howard.

Church member Rolls

A partial list of the early members of Joe Log Baptist Church is found in the church history.  Surnames included Dickens, Kelly, Pittman, Smith, Thomas and Womack.  Other lists included are deacon lists, Officers and Teachers and choir lists.

Church minutes/expense accounts

Baptist Chapel Church  Treasurer's Report
Treasurer’s Report

Copies of church minutes and expense accounts are an unusual, but valuable find. These records tell a tale of church life not seen merely in member lists. The researcher can see who joined and left the church community and when a minister was called to preach. One can also find what missions the church supported.

Perhaps most valuable of all, the researcher can find samples of original handwriting(s) and signatures if your ancestor was an officer in the church.  The excerpt below is a good example.  JR [James Robert] Howard was the treasurer for many years at Baptist Chapel Church. He recorded the expenses of the church in his own handwriting and signed each entry.  [JR Howard was an uncle to my great-grandfather Connie Howard.]


Baptist Chapel Church History
Baptist Chapel Church Sunday School Class

Photographs of ancestors are perhaps the most exciting find for the researcher.  Church histories are frequently full of photographs.  If you have ancestors  in the church, checking each photograph carefully may provide you with a previously unknown photograph of your ancestor.

Where do you find these church histories? Check with family members, the church itself, local historical societies/libraries, and the local public libraries. (Don’t forget to check the vertical files!)

If you have used church histories in your research, leave me a comment.  I’d love to know what you found that helped you in the research process.

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