Churches Have Anniversaries Too!

100th Anniversary, St. Paul of the Cross Church, Dayton, New Yorkby Paula Stuart Warren

We seek out the church records of our ancestors, either in the original format or on microfilm. The records of a family member’s christening, marriage, burial, or the names of parents and witnesses help to fill in the blank spots on our family tree. For some religious denominations we may only find minutes of a church committee or ruling body. We wish for something more. Well, there is one more resource in existence for many churches and synagogues.

Churches often celebrate 50, 75, 100, 150 or more years in existence. A get-together might mark the occasion and a local newspaper might cover the event, complete with a short history of the congregation. Many churches also publish a separate anniversary booklet filled with important details and these booklets are today’s topic.

The Beginnings
Generally a history of the church congregation and buildings is included in such a booklet. You may learn where the early services were held (maybe in your ancestor’s home?), when the first church was built, and perhaps when it burned and when the new building was erected. This may help you determine in which building your ancestor was actually married. The previous location of the original congregation may be covered, stating that they moved as a group from Hometown, Pennsylvania to Newtown, Iowa.

The Information Continues
The booklet may list the founders of the original congregation, ethnic connections of the congregation, photos of the buildings, and the names of the pastors and years they served, some with short biographies. These all serve another purpose as part of the history of the greater community. You might find out that your ancestor donated the land for the church or was the benefactor for the church organ or tower bells. A chronology of events important to the church and congregation could be helpful in determining when some family event took place.

Even More Possible Content
Here are some other components that can be found in many church anniversary/history booklets

  • Notes on the first christenings, marriages, and burials and/or deaths
  • Names and sometimes additional information on early families
  • List of people who had been members for a significant number of years
  • Places where some long-time members had moved
  • Stories of who donated each stained glass window and in whose memory
  • Info on previous significant church history dates and publications
  • Name of parishioners who helped with the building of the actual church
  • Names of service organizations such as the Ladies’ Aid Society or youth group
  • Early burials in the church cemetery
  • Name of members of the church governing body over the years

The Compilers
This booklet is an important part of the celebration. Usually there is a designated historian or appointed committee that compiles the history. An archivist friend of mine had the task of the research and compilation of her church’s anniversary publication. I know of fellow family historians who were instrumental in their respective church booklets.

Giving Credence to a Family Story
I was told that a paternal great grandfather founded a Swedish Methodist church. Since he was a Lutheran from Denmark, I was a bit confused. A 100th anniversary booklet for the Swedish Methodist church did say he was one of the founding members along with others, including extended family members. It also gave some details on where some of the collateral relatives moved. Most of these relatives were immigrants or descendants of his wife’s family — the family that was Lutheran in Sweden.

Find the Anniversary Publication
Check the catalog of a local library, county or state historical society, or special collections department at a local college or university. For example, the New Jersey Historical Society has a wide range of church history and some are in microform.

Anniversary booklets can be found for the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, and other countries. The growing number of booklets or abstracted information online is a boon to researchers. Some websites that have digitized version of local and state histories, also have some church anniversary booklets — including in the Family and Local History Collection.

The Family History Library also has some church anniversary booklets. These are found in the appropriate category of church history.

In addition, I have noticed church anniversary booklets on eBay and in used book stores.

Check Out These Websites
In recent years, many religious denominations and archives have shared ideas for anniversary celebrations and the compilation of history booklets. How to Plan an Anniversary or Milestone Celebration

PCA Historical Center:Celebrating Your Church’s Anniversary-Some Quick Ideas

Online library catalogs list many such booklets and some individual churches have posted their anniversary booklets online. Some examples

The University of Massachusetts Amherst
(Online inventory of Polish-American church catalogs and anniversary booklets.)
The Denver Public Library
(The DPL has many church anniversary booklets.

St. Matthias Anglican Church in Leeds, England.
(Online 100th anniversary booklet.)

An Added Benefit
A number of the church anniversary booklets have a listing of sources used in the compilation. If only all of them did likewise. When you volunteer to help compile an anniversary booklet for your own church, I am sure the sources list will appear in that booklet!

Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, of St. Paul, Minnesota is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer. She has lectured all across the U.S. and coordinates the Intermediate Course, American Records & Research at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She is co-author of Your Guide to the Family History Library and an author for genealogical periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments will reach her at <[email protected]> Paula is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of requests received. From time to time comments from readers may be quoted in my writings. I will not use your name but may use your place of residence (i.e. Davenport, IA).

Upcoming Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren
(I enjoy meeting fellow genealogists at these events so please introduce yourself as an
Ancestry Weekly Journal and 24/7 Family History Circle reader.)

Copyright 2006,





7 thoughts on “Churches Have Anniversaries Too!

  1. Other sources for church histories would be in the denominational offices, seminary libraries, and some denominations have historical societies. I am aware of the Disciples of Christ having a historical society, and that the libary of Iliff Seminary in Denver has archives of Church Women United, and probably of the Methodist churches in their vicinity.

  2. My Grandfather plus 2 of his six brothers were Free Methodist Ministers in the early 1900’s and I have, from family etc. been able to collect some of the church histories where they served and I find these histories very valuable to my genealogy records and very interesting to read.

  3. I am a true novice at all of this – lots of brickwalls and few survivors (when you reach 76 so MANY of your relatives are already gone) but the 17 grandchildren are asking for my input.

    My forefathers all seem to have come from UK/IRE via NYC – but some died at a very early age and I have NO ANSWERS AVAILABLE.

    One “oral history” had brothers as “paid choir members” at Trinity Church in NYC. Since mother was raised Episcopalian – I gather there must be a Protestant connection in NYC but so far have not made ANY PROGRESS – names DIMOND and GODSON. Any suggestions?

  4. I am a disorganized “shotgun”-style researcher who finds things spontaneously and opportunistically: on the web, DAR Library in D.C., county archives, courthouses in VA/NC/GA etc. when I manage to take trips to local areas.

    It’s not the best technique, but for a right-brained dominant person who thinks intuitively and creatively, it’s the best I can do.

    My best finds with regard to religious backgrounds have been when my mother found the burial location of a great?-uncle who worked with John Wesley in the Wesleyan Non-Conformist Methodist movement at McCabe Chapel in London back in the 1970s. This helped clear up some generational gaps in the oral family history tradition.

    One of my Dad’s sisters who passed away in 2002 gave me a History of Dooly Co. GA and a family history on PITTS, BULLOCH, POWELL & other related families, which had autographed by a descendant of the author to my Great-Aunt Ethel Ophelia Bullock-Wester. I had known little about the BULLOCK family connections, esp. the PITTS family in Dooly Co. GA–and there was a whole chapter on the author’s childhood experiences with his grandfather, Rev. Isaac Pitts. The biography also included valuable information about the Free Baptist churches for which he was an itinerant minister–and the local Dooly Co. church in Drayton GA of which he was a founder along with some of my BULLOCK family.

    In Upson Co. GA Archives, there was a wealth of information on my father’s paternal family, including the history of the SHEPHERD Family Place, still extant on a large plotted wall map–where my 2nd-gr grandparents Jesse SHEPHERD & Nancy A. SMITH had raised their family and had a church on the property, a cemetary and at one time, a school. After the elders’ deaths in 1899 and early 1900, the family moved with 13 other families to old Irwin/Worth Co. in Dec. 1900 (which became the Ashburn & Sycamore areas of Turner Co. in 1906). However, the long-time family story that gr-gr-grandpa Jesse had started a school–turned out to be the land they lived on. In June 2004 another cousin and I located that land, hidden just off of a small 2-lane county gravel road — in some woods. The only evidence remaining are some graves, (only 3 marked)and many unmarked.

    The Archive records showed that when the family moved, my great-grandfather Wyley Clay SHEPHERD, had donated the land to the county where the school was. The school was later moved and rebuilt at a different location, and the church changed hands over the years–and is now a Black church located on a larger road not far away.

    We also found the anniversary publication of the Thomaston 1st Baptist Church, which included mention of some family as some early members.

    SO–I strongly recommend traveling to the areas of your roots, since you will be more likely to find local information not available on the web.

    My parents died in 1997 & 1999 at age 83–and now its my generation (from Baby Boomers up to cousins in their 70s) who are looking for the answers….and Family Reunions can also help to bring back memories of family homesteads from other states.

    I wish you all success in your searches. For me, it makes it less stressful and more fun to target a particular area/family than to fruitlessly hunt for trivial info which may not even exist.

    In my case, my grandfather’s 46-year journal has been a wealth of information — am just hoping the daughter-in-law of my Dad’s youngest (& only) remaining sister will finish transcribing the penciled journals before they are lost to posterity.

  5. My Pitts family was in Dooly County and moved to Arabi, GA.
    My gggrandmother was Nancy Horton Pitts, but we don’t know which Pitts she was married to.

    Paula Anderer

  6. My g-grandfather was Ashley Jordan Pitts (founder of Pitts, Georgia). Anyone with ANY information, please e-mail me. My g-mother was Eliza Tabitha Pitts, she married Elisha Spikes in Arabi, Georgia. I know there are a lot of Pitts floating around and I have been running in circles for several years.

    Gerri Lipthratt

  7. Dear Gerri,
    Please contact me. Ashley Jordan Pitts was my grandfather’s brother. I have a Pitts tree on and I would be happy to invite you to view it.

    Paula Anderer – realted somehow

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