Congratulations! You have just found a church record book for an ancestral location. Whether it is in â€œoriginalâ€ form, on microfilm, or a digitized image, you need to look at it with a critical eye. In other words, is it the original record or one that someone copied either for easier reading or to preserve a disintegrating volume? Check to see if there is a title page giving the date the volume was published. Are there event dates that precede that publication date? If there is no such title page, then look for other clues.
The names in the event descriptions such as christenings should not be in alphabetical order. The church members did not show up in alphabetical order to get christened, married, or buried. Is the handwriting the same throughout a record book that spans from 1822-1910? It is unlikely that one pastor or church member entering the events was around for all that time period. Does each family have its own page(s)? How did the record keeper know to save two pages for the christenings of the Johnson familyâ€™s eventual ten children and know that the next family, the Joneses, would have only two children?
Read the church history booklet or a county history entry to help determine if a smaller congregation was a mission or satellite church of a larger one. When the smaller church grew and had its own pastor, were the records pertaining to its members hand-copied from the larger churchâ€™s books? I found one church record book that stated â€œpeople baptized when they had no pastor.â€
Were all the pages in the record book typed–including events that took place in 1845? Typewriters did not come into common usage until the 1870s.
Another comment found in a church record book is â€œperhaps the date is 1870–it is blurred in the original but comes first under the year 1871.â€ (That is a direct transcription, dates and all!)
Think about the church records you have consulted–what idiosyncrasies have you found?
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