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Finding Ancestors In Brethren Records
A Genealogical Guide to Brethren Records and History

Brethren Groups
    Many religious groups have used the term "Brethren" in their name. Learn about Dunkards, Brethren, German Baptist Brethren, Dunkard Brethren, Church of the Brethren, Fellowship of Grace Brethren and more at Brethren Groups. Read about the history and beliefs of the various Brethren churches in Brethren history books, The Brethren Encyclopedia, online at the Church of the Brethren Network (COB-Net), and also their History and Genealogy section.

The Brethren Encyclopedia
    This comprehensive three-volume reference has short biographies and genealogies of some early Brethren families, lists of published family history books, histories of congregations, lists of ministers, locations of churches, and much history and doctrine of the various Brethren churches. Learn how our Brethren ancestors lived, dressed and worshiped from this wonderful resource. Large genealogical libraries and Brethren college libraries have this set. It is also for sale at bookstores.

Brethren Family History Books
    Since the 1940s, Brethren families have been encouraged to write their family histories. Shortened versions of many of these genealogies were published in The Brethren Encyclopedia, while hundreds more are in Brethren college libraries and at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at Elgin, Illinois. Look for book titles in the online card catalogs of Brethren libraries and in the huge chapter "Bibliography of the Brethren" in volume three of The Brethren Encyclopedia. Also, see the online Brethren Bibliography at the COB-Net History and Genealogy website.

Obituaries In Brethren Church Periodicals
    Obituaries from Brethren church periodicals are an excellent resource for genealogists. In The Brethren Encyclopedia, see the articles "Brethren Press" and "Publishing" and then individual articles about The Gospel Visitor, The Brethren at Work, The Primitive Christian, The Vindicator, The Gospel Messenger and other publications. The Brethren Historical Library and Archives at Elgin, Illinois, and most Brethren college libraries have obituary indexes to some of these publications. See the BHLA homepage for information about purchasing these indexes.

Brethren Church Records
Baptismal Records
    The Brethren practice adult baptism, therefore there are no records of baptisms of infants. After an adult was baptized, his or her name was added to the church membership list.

Church Membership Lists
    Although many early church membership lists have been lost, most of those which have survived have been printed in Brethren church history books. Some of these lists are available online at the History and Genealogy: Church Records. More recent membership lists are in the local churches. Use The Brethren Encyclopedia to find the names of churches. See a list of currently Active Congregations with web pages at the History and Genealogy site. Write to the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at Elgin, Illinois, to ask the location of historical records. Check the card catalogs of Brethren college libraries and of area city and county libraries for history books about the congregation which may have printed membership lists.

Church Minutes, District Minutes, and Annual Meeting Minutes
    Business meetings of a church and of the quarterly and district meetings were recorded in minutes. These unpublished and unindexed records are in manuscript form and usually at the local church. If the church has ceased to exist, the minutes may be at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at Elgin, Illinois, or at a nearby Brethren college library. Annual Meeting Minutes are published each year and are available at local churches, Brethren college libraries, at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives, and are available for sale. Brethren Press reprints historical annual minutes for the earliest years.

Brethren Cemetery Records
    The earliest Brethren congregations used public cemeteries. On the frontier, Brethren families had small graveyards on their farms. More recently, cemeteries were located next to meetinghouses, some of which still exist as cemeteries although the church is no longer active. Letters to the various agencies which may have current responsibility for the care of old cemeteries will be necessary. Write to local churches, county cemetery boards, historical societies, local libraries, the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at Elgin, Illinois, and Brethren college libraries in the area. A current project of the Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists is to gather and index records of Brethren Cemeteries.

Brethren Church Histories
    Since 1900, the publication of district and congregational histories has been encouraged. Look for a history of your family's church in the online card catalogs of Brethren College libraries, in the chapter "Bibliography of the Brethren" in volume three of The Brethren Encyclopedia, and in the online COB-Net Brethren Bibliography under "Local History." After finding a title, write to the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at Elgin, Illinois, which has name indexes to the older district histories.

Brethren Historical Library And Archives
    1451 Dundee Avenue, Elgin, IL 60120. Phone: 847-742-5100. Fax: 847-742-6103 ext. 294. The Brethren Historical Library and Archives is located at the General Offices of the Church of the Brethren in Elgin, Illinois. Serving as the church's official archives, part of its mission is to provide a center for research into Brethren life and history. The BHLA has many books and indexes helpful to family researchers and will do limited research for a fee. The card catalog is not yet online. Please consider a donation of your family history book to the archives and a donation of your time or money to help make these precious historical records available for all researchers.

Brethren College Libraries
    The card catalogs of most Brethren college libraries are available online. See the article "Historical Libraries" in the The Brethren Encyclopedia for a list of libraries and archives of the various Brethren groups. Use the online card catalogs of Brethren libraries to find books about your surname and books about the history of your family's church. After you locate a title, write for photocopies of index pages with your surname. Next write for the pages which mention your family. Libraries will send photocopies of pages for a small charge, however, please consider an additional donation, as these days all libraries are overwhelmed with our genealogy requests.

Brethren Bookstores
    Family history books, church histories and books on related topics are available for sale from many bookstores. Write for their catalogs. Also, do a subject or title search for the terms "Brethren," "Dunkards," "German Baptist," and the other Brethren groups in online bookstore catalogs.

COB-Network: History And Genealogy
    Learn what resources are available, what records are indexed, and possibilities for more research. Links to all kinds of Brethren information are provided: libraries, passenger lists, family web pages, history, doctrine, bookstores, and much more.

Brethren Online Genealogical Discussion Group
    Join the online discussion group and meet others researching your family. By e-mail you can share your research and learn something new about the Brethren, their history, and Brethren genealogical research.

Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists
    Discover more about your Brethren ancestors in our periodical Brethren Roots. Over the years, many volunteers have organized and indexed old records making Brethren research easier for the genealogists of today. Much of this material has been printed in Brethren Roots and now this kind of information is becoming available online. Join the Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists and help publish more Brethren material for family history research.

Submitted: May 1998 - Judith C. Whipple





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