Tuesday, February 14, 2012

St Croix Records: Lutheran Church Books

The official religion of Denmark and the DWI was the Danish Lutheran Church.  According to the Virgin Islands Danish Consulate’s website, the first Lutheran services in St Croix were at Fort Christiansvaern in 1734.  By 1753 they had created a permanent church in the Steeple Building, named the Lutheran Church of the Zebaoth.  The congregation eventually included government officials, prominent citizens, freedmen, and slaves.  When the Dutch Reformed Church left the island around 1831, they gave their building to the Lutheran church. 

In the mid 1700’s, the van Beverhoudts were Dutch Reformed, but by 1790 they begin showing up in records of the Danish Lutheran Church and continued throughout most of the 19th century.  Since so many of my ancestors were Lutheran, it was only natural that I would want to go through the Lutheran Church books for information.

Sadly, and much to the surprise of some family historians, not everything is available on the internet.  Most records aren’t even digital.  Only a small number of church record books are digitized, and those were done very recently.  The LDS church, however, has been photographing these books and putting them on microfilm since at least the 1970s.  These films are available at Family History Centers.  I ordered all 4 rolls of the St Croix Danish Lutheran Church records (Der Danske Folkekirke) and hit pay dirt over and over.  For this post, I want to discuss what you can find in these rolls.

You can find the catalog at FamilySearch.org.  The listing for the church is entitled “Kirkebøger, 1740-1917”, which translates to “Church Books, 1740-1917”.  The collection is divided according to volume photographed and collected into 4 microfilm rolls and about 1,900 frames.  The collection spans over 150 years, and during that time the style of record keeping changed often and considerably.  The earliest records were simply running listings, with baptisms, deaths, and marriages in no particular order.  The latest books contained sections for each type of record.  The earliest images are heavily deteriorated and practically illegible, while the later volumes are carefully laid out in neat columns with considerable information.

Even for those who don’t speak Danish, the book names don’t present too much of a challenge.  The sections are:

Fødte og Døbte Births and Baptisms
Konfirmerede Confirmations
Copulerede Marriages
Døde og Begravede Death and Burials
Communionsbog Communicant Books

Roll 38860:  Books 1-6 cover the period from 1740 to 1794 for the Christiansted church.  Book 1 (1740-1753) is heavily damaged.  The images are hard to read and many pages are torn with pieces missing.  Book 2 (1740-1753) is much more legible and the pages are in good shape. Book 5 (1780-1794) is fairly dark with a lot of bleed through from the back side of pages and is hard to read.  The others on the roll are somewhat better.  Overall, roll 38860 is tough to get through.

1807-Baptism-Johannes van Beverhoudt detail-p27b

Roll 38861: Books 7-11 covers 1797-1865 for the Christiansted church.  This roll is much better.  Book 7 (1797-1822) is still written in a serial fashion, with free-form listings in date order.  The image above is the baptismal record of my 3rd great grandfather, Johannes van Beverhoudt.  The entry, in the upper left reads:

Entry 863: On 20th Dec. [1807] a boy born [named?] Engel Johannes Claudius to mother Amey Mc Nobony, baptized 24 Nov [1807]

By Book 8 (1822-1860) they started keeping data in a two-page, columnar format that is the more familiar register system.  An example of this is shown below, the baptismal record of Johannes’ son, Claudius van Beverhoudt.  The rolls are fairly clear with fewer damaged pages.  The dates of the rolls overlap slightly, and it isn’t clear why things are recorded in one book or another.  They also began separating the various types of records into separate sections of the books, making it easier to scan through lists of baptisms (the largest sections), confirmations, etc..

1829-Baptism-Claudius beverhoudt(Bk08-f024)

Roll 300996: Books 12-17 spanning 1861-1911 for the Christiansted church are much clearer.  Books 16 (1896-1904) and 17 (1905-1911) are typed, making it extremely easy to read.  They continue the two page approach to most sections and maintain the columnar approach.

Roll 300997: Books 18-20 (1872-1917) are rolls for the Frederiksted church.  These books look very much like the Christiansted books, neat columns, although all are handwritten.

The biggest difficulty in using these rolls is the fact that they are written in Danish.  As registers of names, though, it isn’t an insurmountable problem.  This is actually most difficult in the earliest books where they record information in sentence form.  For the tabular data the only difficulties relate to understanding occupations of fathers (for baptisms) or comments written in the fields.  The combination of old Danish handwriting and archaic Danish spellings makes it quite difficult to translate since there is no context available to guess.  Find a good translator because I found using web translation virtually impossible.

For my family, this is a key collection, as the van Beverhoudts appear to have been in the Dutch church to about 1788 and left the Lutheran church in the late 1800s. I found over 150 references to my family in this collection.

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