The New York State Religious Records (1639 - 1914) collection in our eLibrary contains religious records - including birth, marriage, and death records - for over 120 congregations all over New York State.
These records, which were expertly transcribed by Royden Woodward Vosburgh, Historian and Archivist of the NYG&B in the early 1900s, have been digitized and are available in the NYG&B eLibrary.
Religious records are very important for New York State research because New York vital records can be difficult to find, especially for our ancestors who lived prior to the late 1800s. In fact, for many years, New Yorkers everywhere viewed collecting information on births, marriages, and deaths to be a church function, not a responsibility of the state. Because of this, religious records are excellent vital record substitutes.
The great thing about our religious records is that they contain far more than just names and dates - you'll be surprised at the incredible amount of information these records hold. Read on for some tips on getting the most out of this record set.
What's in the collection?
This collection contains complete transcriptions of the religious records from a wide variety of churches throughout New York State.
The collection is organized by congregation - we recommend thinking about the county and time period you're researching, and using that information to determine if there is a congregation in our collection worth investigating.
To see what congregations are included, visit our record set collection page, which contains a table that displays:
- The name and location of every congregation included in the collection
- The dates the transcriptions cover
- The county of the congregation
- The denomination of the congregation
- Links to search or browse the congregation's records
Each column can be sorted by clicking the heading, allowing you to sort congregations by name, denomination, and county.
Why you should browse first
The last column of the table will contain a link to either search or browse this congregation's records. While all congregations can be browsed, not all can be searched (if you're interested, you can help us index the rest of the records!).
We highly recommend browsing a congregation's records before performing a search - each volume of transcriptions has crucial information at the very beginning, which you would miss if you only searched for names.
Read on to see what amazing information awaits those who browse these records.
The table of contents: A must-read
The very first thing you should do is look at the table of contents for any congregation you're interested in.
When you click on the link to browse the collection, you'll head over to findmypast.com, where our records are hosted.
When you find yourself on the title screen of the digitized volume, navigate a few pages forward to find the table of contents. Some volumes will begin on the table of contents.
As you can see in the example below, each volume contains a lot more than just names and dates:
Historical narratives about the church, region of the state, and religious denomination will provide invaluable contextual clues - see below for examples.
Other sections shown in the table of contents may also provide information on your family's migration - religious organizations often captured more than just births, marriages, and deaths in their records (more on this below as well).
Of course, the table of contents also contains details about exactly what types of records are in the volume, and the exact years they cover - useful to know before you search or browse!
Read on for some interesting examples of the valuable information that can be found in the early pages of each volume.
Learn about the people of the congregation and area
Many volumes contain introductory context from the NYG&B's Historian and Archivist Royden Woodward Vosburgh, who was an incredibly thorough scholar.
Take a look at this section from the history of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Beaver Dam in Albany County:
The information in just this paragraph alone could be the first step to breaking through a brick wall!
There is significant information about language, culture, origins, and relationships of the local people. We even have further resources to investigate. While the actual content differs from congregation to congregation, this is a good example of what can be found.
Another great example is from the records of Christ's Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Germantown. In this volume, we get a very useful and detailed history of the German Palatines and their settlement of the area:
Armed with information provided by the above examples, researchers can search other record sets and other municipalities more intelligently and efficiently.
But the pages of these volumes will hold more than just contextual clues. There are other religious records that can contain direct information about our ancestors - information that could be very hard to find elsewhere, depending on the time period.
As we have mentioned, religious records may be some of the few records generated by a family in the 1700s or early 1800s.
Fortunately, religious records may hold some information about a family's migratory history. While the majority of the records contain information related to baptisms, marriages, and burials, there are definitely many other kinds of religious records that congregations kept, and thankfully they were usually transcribed with everything else.
Many congregations kept a log of those who left and entered the congregation on a yearly basis. While the level of detail varies, in many cases, these logs will have crucial information about where the family came from, originated from, or moved away to.
For instance, these records from the Society of Friends go into great detail about those who came and left the congregation:
You'll also notice some very useful information about family relationships in this record as well.
All of this information - relationships and prior residences - shouldn't be taken as definitive evidence, but as an excellent jumping-off point for further research.
This information can also help you decide if someone found in other pages of the congregation's record is in fact the person you're seeking.
Don't forget the birth, marriage, and death records!
This article has focused on the importance of exploring a congregation by browsing first and has provided a few examples of the kind of information that can be uncovered by the savvy researcher.
While this information is essential and very useful, we don't want to overshadow the immense importance of the birth, marriage, and death records found in these volumes. Entries in a church register are usually wonderfully informative, providing names, dates, locations, names of other family members, and events circumstances. Sometimes they have as much or even more information than a state vital certificate.
The records of many congregations go so far back in time that they will be some of the few records generated by some lines of our family in the first place - let along digitized and available on the internet.
We're thankful for everyone who contributed to putting them online, and wish you many discoveries in your research!
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