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Brethren Genealogy & History

Welcome to the Brethren Network of genealogical and historical resources. Perhaps you are like many people who discovered Brethren roots in their lineage and want to learn more about themselves by getting to know the Brethren. Hopefully, our records and links will offer you a place to start. Peruse our lists, individual contributions, or surf to other Brethren related web sites. You may just find that long lost ancestral link in your family tree. Researching genealogical roots can be an exhilarating experience. Gazing at old photographs may bring us more closely to ourselves, as we look into the eyes of our ancestors. Questions leap from these pictures. What were their dreams? What joys or sorrows rest behind those emotionless faces? If they could speak, what advice would they impart? How did they perceive the world around them? Did they accomplish their life pursuits? Did they marry their first sweetheart? How did they die? Can we ever really know what life was like for them? Searching through old records and listening to family stories may give us some answers. An old steamer trunk might open a momentary window through which we might see both them and ourselves more clearly. Silent voices of our kin speak to us across the years, extending an invitation to join them in the dreamland of history, where they grant us a treasure of opportunities to learn about their experiences, loves, skills, and preferences. Join us now for a walk down memory lane, where you may discover an extension of your own life, uncover answers to family questions, locate a friend, and perhaps, grow more appreciative of the quality and brevity of life itself. Far beyond the vail of eternity, our ancestors continue to witness of their lives and inspire us to learn from them. May you be encouraged through the following resources to search for and hopefully discover missing links and untold stories, that will encourage and guide you on your own life journey.

Brethren Resources


BRETHREN GENEALOGY MAILING LIST is the main place to get in touch and make friends with genealogists and history buffs. This is an opportunity to receive assistance from others like yourself or professional genealogists who know their craft very well. It is a moderated list for genealogical information only, excluding unrelated topics such as web site addresses, computers equipment, brand software, or cyber threats. Subscribe if you want to learn more about the Brethren.


BRETHREN GROUPS is a document that will acquaint you with a historical, non-theological outline of the several denominations using the word Brethren in their label, and hopefully give you an overview of how we all fit together. One common denominator which usually holds true for most Brethren groups is that each progenitive body originated in central Europe under the influence of Anabaptism or Pietism, during the Fifteenth to Eighteenth centuries. There are so many Christian denominations and sub-groups using the term Brethren, that questions frequently arise over their relationship with each other.


FELLOWSHIP OF BRETHREN GENEALOGISTS endeavor to foster communication among persons tracing the same Brethren ancestral lines, generate enthusiastic research in Brethren genealogy, and encourage the preservation of materials relating to the history and genealogy. They publish a quarterly journal called Brethren Roots which contains articles, genealogical listings, valuable research, cemetery records, book reviews, deaths and marriages from 19th century Brethren publications, queries and other timely items of interest. The journal is free to members of the Fellowship, and membership is open to anyone for twelve dollars ($12) for a pdf or twenty-four dollars ($24) for a printed copy per calendar year. Contact Jimmy Garst for details on how to subscribe. This homepage also includes instructions for accessing material from the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA) at Elgin, attending workshops, the annual Fellowship meeting, and coordinating efforts with other Brethren family researchers.


BRETHREN HERITAGE CENTER is a newly constructed facility in Brookville, Ohio, to serve as a repository for Brethren related materials. Far too often, private collections of Brethren books, educational materials, genealogical records, communion paraphernalia, ministry records, church minutes, and private correspondence are lost to auctions, or simply destroyed by well intending descendants who do not recognize or fully appreciate their importance to Brethren researchers. The Brethren Heritage Center is a vigorous attempt to garner these materials from dusty corners and forgotten attics, so that Brethren from many different pursuits may benefit from their preservation. They have a knowledgeable staff to provide accurate interpretation, plus a bookstore devoted to promoting education of Brethren and Anabaptist history.


BRETHREN HISTORICAL LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES (BHLA) is a program of the Church of the Brethren General Board. It serves the Church of the Brethren in two ways. First, BHLA is the official repository for the denomination. Therefore, the archives collects and preserves the publications and records of the denomination. Second, BHLA is a research center for the study of Brethren history and beliefs. As such, the archives provides resources and services for researchers interested in the Brethren. While genealogy is not its primary focus, BHLA is interested in assisting individuals with their genealogical research to the extent that resources and time permit. BHLA is open to the public, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Those coming to do genealogical research should call in advance. BHLA has only one employee and is closed when that person is out of town. BHLA also responds to genealogical requests received by mail, phone, e-mail, or fax. Several years ago BHLA began charging for the time spent working on genealogical requests. The rate is $25.00 per hour. This charge was put in place because the Church of the Brethren General Board could no longer continue to underwrite the costs of providing free genealogical research. However, there is no charge for coming to BHLA to do your own research.

Please note that one service which BHLA does not provide is the loaning of books and records. This policy was established by the Brethren Historical Committee. Because BHLA serves as the historical library for the denomination, they cannot take the chance of losing items which are irreplaceable.

Brethren Historical Library and Archives
1451 Dundee Avenue
Elgin, IL 60120
Voice: 847-742-5100, Ext. 294
Fax: 847-742-6103 (Include Brethren Historical Library and Archives on the Fax)


BRETHREN LIFE SERIES by Merle Rummel gives you an opportunity to go back in time and experience life in a typical Brethren farming community. When life was at a much slower pace, without the vibration of noisy over crowded highways, and the word filth referred to something in a barnyard. Here is at least one opportunity to discover what simple family life was like during the 1840-1850's, in and around the small farming community of Boston, Indiana. For some this will be a chance to discover former ways of more simpler living and for others it will be a refreshing trip down memory lane, because of stories that grandparents used to tell. Brethren church historian Merle C. Rummel has graciously permitted several chapters of his book, "Four Mile Community" to be placed online, so that people in the modern world may discover what life was like in a more simple time, when people knew almost everyone in town. A time of sheltered existence, when the outside world - was the outside world.


BRETHREN ENCYCLOPEDIA is a three-volume, 2,126 page encyclopedia of Brethren life, belief, practice, and history with index, compiled in 1983-1984. This comprehensive work of reference with more than 230 articles on family history, exhaustive compilation of anabaptism and German pietism which has resulted in the growth of the Church of the Brethren, Brethren in Christ, and Mennonites. There are extensive listings, indexes, biographies, illustrations, and even brief histories of local churches. It contains the most up-to-date information ever assembled on all of the Brethren bodies and many illustrations never before published. An additional fourth volume will soon be available. Price ($130-140).


EPHRATA CLOISTER was founded by Johann Conrad Beissel, a former member of the Brethren who left them to begin a new religious experiment in communal living near the village of Ephrata. Over the years, it became a thriving community which garnered many other Brethren who also left their congregations to join Beissel. Members were largely vegetarians who also practiced celibacy. The colony was very autonomous. It had orchards, gardens, grain-fields, the resources to manufacture clothing from flax, a saw-mill, gristmill, paper-mill, and a printing press. Records from the Cloister, the present museum, and nearby cemetery yields a tremendous amount of genealogical information.

“Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”
Proverbs 22:28

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