Sunday, May 20, 2012

Church Records: Where are They?

I’ve gotten some emails asking about where church records could be found, so I thought I’d give a quick overview of what I have discovered and used in my research.  I welcome additions or corrections.

In the Danish West Indies, there were five major churches, all of whom kept registers as directed by Danish law. The records were typically of five types:

  • Baptisms
  • Confirmations
  • Marriages
  • Burials
  • Registrations/Lists of Communicants
  • Since 99% of the population of St Croix (and likely St Thomas and St John) was baptized, most people will appear in these records. Both free and unfree were baptized and recorded in the registers. By at least the 1850’s, the churches submitted Quarterly Reports, or transcripts, of their registers to the DWI government. Many of these records are preserved at NARA in College Park.

    While a thorough discussion of the church records would get very long, it is useful to get an overview of what records exist, where they may be found, and what’s in them. Perhaps I’ll document each set in future posts.

    The five major religions to consider when reviewing DWI church records: Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, Moravian, and Dutch Reformed.

    The Dutch Reformed Church

    The Reformed church was an important institution in the 1600’s and 1700’s in both St Thomas and St Croix (St John fell into the St Thomas jurisdiction). The majority of the colonists on St Thomas were Dutch and the earliest plantation owners on St Croix were from St Thomas. The earliest St Thomas Reformed Church records have not survived, however. A Flood in the 1950’s destroyed the registers so today the only surviving records of the St Thomas church in the 18th century is an English translation of the 1744-1882 Register of Members of the Reformed Dutch Church of St Thomas. This 259 page book is available online at FamilySearch along with records from the 1800s.

    On St Croix, the Reformed church was not as large and did not have the numbers of members as St Thomas. Records exist from 1764-1814 although they are often in poor condition. These are available from the FHC on Microfilm number 38862.

    Lutheran Church

    The Lutheran church was the state church of Denmark. Most of the government, military, and other elite were Lutheran. It was not just the elite, however. Many freedmen and slaves were Lutheran. Many of the Lutheran records survive and can be obtained either online or by film. These records are in Danish

    On St Thomas there is the Frederick Lutheran Church (online at FamilySearch.org).

    On St Croix there was the Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Mission Church. Records are available on microfilm. 5 rolls.

  • Roll 38860 – 1740 - 1793 – Many of these are illegible, but some are clear.
  • Roll 38861 – 1788 - 1865 – These are mostly clear, but some books are not well organized
  • Roll 300996 – 1961 - 1911 – The latest of these are typed
  • Roll 300997 - 1872-1917 – These records are mostly of the church in Frederiksted
  • Roll 1520663 – 1818-1901 – Lutheran Mission Church. Interestingly, this roll is a photo negative (white text on black)

    Roman Catholic Church

    The Roman Catholic Church records are difficult to obtain. The books survive and are in the Virgin Islands, and microfilms have been made, but they are not available online and the FHL does not have copies. The only Catholic records available without travel to the Virgin Islands are a single microfilm of Holy Cross in Christiansted (FHL Roll 1820638) which covers 1780-1841. The other records are available through libraries and societies on both St Thomas and St Croix.

    Anglican Episcopal Church

    The Anglican records are the most available, which is fortunate as it was the largest religion in St Croix. The Anglican Records for both St Thomas and St Croix are available online at Family Search. These include:

  • Cathedral Church of All Saints (Charlotte Amalie)
  • St. John's Episcopal Anglican (Christiansted)
  • St. Paul's Episcopal Anglican (Frederiksted)
  • These records are mostly in good condition and, as a bonus, are in English.

    Moravian Church

    There were several Moravian churches in the islands. The church books of the Moravian churches were collected and shipped to the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem PA and are viewable there.  No microfilms were made by the LDS.  Some records still exist in the islands and may be available.  The only Moravian records I have found were from the films at NARA.

    Records at NARA

    Each quarter, all of the churches were required to transcribe their Baptism, Marriage,  and Burial books and submit a report listing them to the government.  The transcription is a full transcription, including sponsors and remarks.  Many of these documents are available at NARA and are part of the microfilm collection M-1884.  Rolls 2-11 are Quarterly Church Records.  They are organized by year, then by type, then by church, then by quarter.  There are many gaps but this is a significant collection, especially for the Moravian and Roman Catholic records that are harder to find.

    Records in the Islands

    There are several organizations that collect records in the Virgin Islands.  On St Thomas, the Caribbean Genealogy Library and the Enid Baa library have material focusing on St Thomas and St John.  On St Croix, the  St Croix Landmarks Society and the Virgin Islands Social History Association (VISHA) have been collecting records and making them available to those on the islands.  These records include some of the church books that are unavailable elsewhere.  If you cannot find a book you need, contact one of these groups and ask them.  They may have the records you need.

    4 comments:

    1. I would like to have a look at the Lutheran Mission Church records! I didn't know they existed. Thanks for this post-- A very good overview.

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    2. Send me an email at delynch@verizon.net with what you are looking for in those. I may be able to help.

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    3. One additional note -- The same church records that are available on microfilm at the Enid M. Baa Public Library in St. Thomas, are also available on St. Croix at the Florence A. Williams Public Library in Christiansted, in the Caribbean Collection & Archives. The VISHA St. Croix Population Database 1734-1917 is also available on workstations there.

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    4. Thank you Mussaenda. I don't have a very good idea of what is available in the islands as I live in Maryland. I hope to visit and see them before long. Additional information is always welcome!!

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