The key to discovering church records in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah is the online FamilySearch.org Catalog.
This is a screenshot of the menu bar on FamilySearch.org showing the dropdown menu with a link to the catalog and the following is a screenshot of the catalog page.
One important fact about the FamilySearch Catalog is that it incorporates items from a number of other locations around the world, including the Brigham Young University Family History Library. If you click on the link to "Search these family history centers" you will see the list. You can select a location for a specific search in that location. This list is quite extensive.
Selecting an item from the list acts as a filter and shows only those items from the location selected. The BYU Family History Center is listed, but experience shows that the huge Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library Catalog which includes the BYU Family History Library is not entirely included in the FamilySearch.org Catalog, so searching the BYU Library catalog is still needed.
Searching in the FamilySearch.org Catalog is best accomplished by first searching for places. Genealogically valuable records are usually created at or near the place where an event in an ancestor's life occurs by someone who is either interested in the event or has a duty to record the event. Of course, after the record is created, it may have been moved and stored or preserved in a different location, but searches should always begin in the places where events occurred.
This rule about places also includes all of the jurisdictions where records may have been recorded. Records are created on a national (or even international) level such as national census records or in any record keeping jurisdiction down to the local and personal level. Church records are normally maintained at various levels also. Most church records originate at the local church or parish level, but, depending on the denomination, churches can also maintain centralized records.
For example, Catholic Church records of births (christenings or baptisms), confirmations, marriages, deaths, and burials are all kept at the local or parish level. Parishes are presided over by a Priest and may include one or more churches (cathedrals). Catholic parishes are organized into larger units called diocese which are presided over by a Bishop. Periodically, the Bishop or his representative reviews the parish registers and makes a copy of the records. These records are called Bishop's Transcripts. The parish records are usually maintained in the local church, but the Bishop's Transcripts are kept by the diocese.
Some of the Protestant churches, such as the Lutheran Church, follow the Catholic example of record keeping. But many denominations have a less structured record keeping practice. In the United States, many Protestant denominations are loosely organized with the individual congregations being semi-autonomous. In these cases, finding the records can be a major challenge.
The FamilySearch.org Catalog is organized to reflect the different levels of jurisdictions where the records may have been created, maintained and stored. So any search in the Catalog should begin either at the most general level, i.e. national or the most specific or local level. But all levels should be searched. Here is an example of a search for church records in Massachusetts.
First, begin your search by entering United States even if the events in your ancestor's life occurred betore there was a United States of America.
When you click the search button, you will get a list of the categories of all the records in the catalog that belong to this level of jurisdiction.
You will have to scroll down to see the whole list including the church records.
Depending on your particular needs, some of these records may be useful. The numbers in parenthesis indicate the number of records in each category. Remember, that as you drill down into the catalog, the records are not duplicated. If you fail to search at all levels in a given country, you may miss finding valuable records. At the top of the search list you can see a reference to "Places within the United States." Clicking on this link shows a list of all of the states in the United States.
If you select Massachusetts, then you get the list of categories of records available for that state.
Here is the section about church records.
Here is an example of the records listed in the "Church records (24)" category.
You will also see a link at the top of this entire list to "Places within United States, Massachusetts."
You can continue your search for additional records at the county and local level. Here is a screenshot of some of the records from Middlesex County, Massachusetts.
But remember that you can also search for places within Middlesex County.
Here is a screenshot of the list of records for Lowell, Massachusetts.
These examples point out the need to research the exact locations of events in an ancestor's life as well as identifying the ancestor's religious denomination. Otherwise, you will face the almost impossible task of searching every record that is available for the time period in which the events occurred.
Finally, if you select a record to view, you will see this type of entry.
This screen gives information about the particular record and its availability. In this case, the record is only available in microfilm format from the Family History Library. Microfilm can still be ordered online and delivered to a Family History Center near the person requesting the microfilm. But note that microfilm is quickly becoming an outdated technology and at some point, all of these records will be available online in digitized format. Here is an example of a digitized record.
Stay tuned for the next installment.
See the previous post in this series.