The American Baptist Historical Society exists to document the life and history of Baptists. It does not intentionally collect genealogical data. Even so, historical data concerns people, and people are the subject of genealogical study. Some of our holdings inevitably will have some genealogical value.
To save you time, we post this information guide for the genealogist.
Information requests we cannot answer:
- Send all the information you have on the Doe family.
- I’m looking for the names of the parents of John Doe.
- My ancestors got married in a Baptist church in the city of X. Can you tell me when?
Information requests we may be able to answer:
- My ancestor was a Baptist pastor in New England after the Civil War. Do you have any information on him?
- My grandparents served in Africa with the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. Please help me locate information about them.
- My grandfather graduated from the Rochester Theological Seminary, and I want to know what churches he served.
Baptismal Records. Baptists historically have practiced believer’s baptism, instead of infant baptism. A person is baptized when he or she professes faith (often as a young adult) not soon after birth. Finding a record of an ancestor’s baptism in a Baptist church, therefore, does not document the birth date or approximate age of the person in question. Further, Baptist records normally record only the person’s name and date of baptism. Baptist church records do not record date or place of birth, age, names of parents, siblings, or children.
Marriage Records. Because marriage is not regarded as a sacrament, Baptist churches traditionally have not kept marriage records as part of their church records. Some ministers have kept a private log of marriages performed, but ABHS holds only a handful of such marriage logs. These are not indexed and can only be accessed through the name of the minister, not the names of those married by that minister.
Church Records. Because Baptists do not have an ecclesiastical hierarchy which sets administrative policy for each church in the denomination, only a small percentage of Baptist churches have placed their records in research facilities such as ABHS. We hold some original records of churches affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA (formerly the Northern Baptist Convention), the Free Will Baptist General Conference, and the Danish Baptist General Conference of America.
For the reasons cited above, we have found that Baptist church records are generally not helpful for genealogical research.
The records which we hold are indexed only by the name of the local church, not by the names of its members, nor by the county in which it is/was located. Further, there is no national, state, or county membership list of Baptists. Membership in Baptist churches is recorded only at the local church. If you do not already know the name of the church to which your ancestor belonged, we have no way of determining that for you. We can not search the records of all Baptist churches in a county or metropolitan area to see if we can find your ancestor.
If your ancestor played a prominent role in Baptist life at a state or national level, there is a chance we might find an obituary (probably very brief) in one of the Baptist periodicals or state/association minutes that we hold.
If your ancestor belonged to or participated in a local Baptist church, it is highly unlikely that we can find any genealogical information for you. At best, we could find only that your ancestor had belonged to a given church at a given time, and we could find that information only if you know the name of that church and only if the records of that church have been deposited with the Historical Society.
Ministers and Missionaries. If your ancestor was a Baptist minister (particularly in the North) from the mid-1800s later, or if your ancestor served as a missionary for the American Baptist Missionary Union (later the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society), the American Baptist Home Mission Society, or the American Baptist Publication Society, there is some chance we might be able to locate an obituary. If you know the churches and years where your ancestor served, we may be able to confirm that information in association minutes, along with a few snippets of information about the churches.
If your ancestor served as a pastor or missionary with the Southern Baptists, we suggest you contact one of the various historical societies operated by national or state Southern Baptist conventions. If you know the churches and years where your ancestor served, we may be able to confirm that information in association minutes, along with a few snippets of information about the churches.