Records – Civil or church?

When do you know what records to look for when researching your family tree?  Many times, it is helpful to know what church your family might have been affiliated with.  Why you ask?  The majority of church records (whether in America or Europe) tend to be a literal list of your family’s history!  But each minister/pastor handled entering data into the church book(s) differently than the next.  It is not uncommon to see references of a parents marriages and/or occupation and ages when seeking baptism/christening information.

Civil records tend to be a 50/50 proposition as far as either gaining a lot or a little data.  This depends on the document you are seeking as well as the time frame involved.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been obtaining quite a few marriage records from the City of Cleveland.  Depending on the time involved, the marriage license contains either just the bride and grooms full names, the date of their marriage and the date the marriage was registered.  Other years the marriage license contains ages of the couple, their birth places, their parents names – including the maiden name of the mothers!!  Occupations are sometimes listed as well as, again, when the marriage took place and when it was registered.

This is one of those times when ‘less is NOT more’!  If you have the opportunity to look at church records then by all means, do so!!  But you can ‘amend’ your church record data with civil record information when it comes to marriages because ALL ‘modern’ marriages must be recorded in modern cities/towns/counties/states!!

Take some time and look at the website (Library catalog) to see what ‘vital’ records might be listed for the location you are researching.  You might be pleasantly surprised to see films are available for you to view at your local Family History Center!!  (An example: I was able to view my great grandfather’s baptism records from the Cook County Diocese!  Having known their birth dates it was relatively simple to find them in the copies of the actual church records!  I got to see the godparents names as well which was really cool!)

Unfortunately for those of us doing Pimsner research of Cleveland, the Cleveland Diocese does NOT have its church books available on microfilm.  If a church has been closed, you will be able to contact the Diocese Archives and ask for a search – it will help greatly if you already know the parish your ancestors attended.  If the church is still part of an active parish, like St. Stephen’s, then you will probably have great difficulties obtaining data.  The parish secretaries are many times over worked and have next to no ‘free’ time to do research for something a frivolous as genealogy…  Darn!~

Published in: on May 3, 2011 at 6:01 pm  Leave a Comment