Some of the best information I found in doing research on my family came from early church records. My early ancestors attended Three Forks Baptist Church in what is now Watauga County.
Three Forks began on November 6, 1790 as either the first or second church west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I first read the early church records on microfilm in the library at Appalachian State University years ago
It was a thrilling experience to read down the list of membership names recorded in the church records from the 1790’s. There written out in crooked and rough old-style handwriting of long ago were the names of my direct ancestors Valentine and Christenana (Christina) Reese and many of their ten children.
The Local History Department of the Iredell County Public Library maintains a collection of Church History Files with information on more than 219 churches in the Iredell County area. Most of these files contain newspaper articles, newsletters, programs, and church histories.
The North Carolina State Archives has a collection of microfilmed church records from Iredell County. These include microfilm of church rolls, minutes, and conference minutes from over 55 churches in Iredell County.
Unfortunately, the State Archives was forced to stop the filming of church records in 2000-2001 due to lack of funding and state budget cuts. Most of their budget now is dedicated to the preservation of state government documents.
Many churches in the area are in possession of various church records that have never been filmed or properly cataloged and preserved. The State Archives will still film the records and store the microfilm, but only if the church will pay the cost of having the work done.
A new grant proposal being put together at North Carolina State University may provide help to local churches to assist in the preservation of their church records. The North Carolina Church Records in Local History Project at N.C. State University is a records preservation grant proposal being initiated to assist churches throughout North Carolina with conserving and preserving their historical records.
N.C. State is preparing the proposal now to seek a grant for the cost of the project from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission. The project will not film the records, but will provide organization and conservation assistance of non-current records along with a finding aid for using the collections.
Regional workshops will be held by professional archivists who will teach church participants how to gather, arrange, and preserve their records to prevent deterioration, and the importance of church records in local community history and history writing.
Consultants and materials will be free to all participating churches. In return the churches will allow the project to catalog the records so they can be identified by researchers and provide access to the records through the project website.
The archivists will travel here to look at each participating churches records. All records will be returned to the churches and they will be provided with assistance in donating them, should they choose to, to appropriate repositories.
North Carolina State University has a graduate program in Archival Management and it will be Professor Craig T. Friend and State Archivist Dick Lankford who along with the graduate students will be performing the actual work of gathering, organizing, and preserving the records.
Money from the grant will also be used to pay for acid-free folders, sleeves, and possibly Hollinger boxes in which the materials will be stored, along with the workers’ travel, lodging, and meals.
Once they have completed their preservation work an online finding aid or index will be created so that the location and existence of the records may be found by researchers. Churches participating in the project will not be charged any fees. They only have to agree to make their records available to researchers.
To participate in the project and to help get it approved churches should submit a letter on church letterhead describing their interest, needs, and the types of materials they have. Also include a separate sheet giving contact information for someone with your church.
The grant will begin January 1, 2007 and hopefully continue through 2008. If you are interested in having your church participate in the N.C. Church Records in Local History Project, contact Professor Craig Thompson at 919-513-2227 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters should be sent to, Dept. of History, Campus Box 8108, N.C. State University, Raleigh, N.C. 27695-8108.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Church records good source for family history” on July 26, 2006