Book Review: “How To Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records”

I was excited at the opportunity to review “How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide” by Sunny Jane Morton and Harold A. Henderson, CG. The book contains specific resources for researching ancestors in major Christian Denominations before 1900 in the United States. That excitement lasted throughout the whole book.

While censuses are great for providing us with a backbone of an individual’s or family’s timeline, Church records can help us learn the web of connections between family members and those who were close to them. The choice of Church may also give us the underlying motivations for major stories in our ancestors’ history. At the very least they provide us knowledge of the important institution and tenets with which our ancestors allied themselves.

This book is a game changer for religious research. Up until now, genealogists may have or may not have known the importance of church records, but conquering them was a hit-or-miss effort. These skills were usually taught by an experienced genealogist. A genealogist would learn a little about whom to contact and what to ask for, and that could still be a hit-or-miss effort. Experience was the only teacher.

In Section 1, Chapters 1 through 5 take the genealogist through the basics of researching Church Records. Section 2 addresses specific Christian denominations in the United States: Anglican/Episcopal, Baptist, Congregational, Dutch Reformed/Reformed Church in America, Latter-Day Saint (Mormon), Lutheran, Mennonite and Amish, Methodist, Quaker (Religious Society of Friends), Presbyterian and Roman Catholic. Each chapter contains a short history of the religion, important facts about it, followed by information about the records and how to find them. Every chapter also includes a section with resources for learning more.

One unexpected hidden gem in this book is that this approach may prove useful for those researching enslaved African-American ancestors. Some church records for them may exist in the Anglican/Episcopal Church, covered in Chapter 6.

I read this book from cover-to-cover, impressed by the amount of research put into each topic. The authors were clearly focused on putting useful and actionable information into genealogists’ hands. The authors are knowledgeable researchers, but put forth the additional effort of having experts in each religion review their material.

If you are thinking about trying to find your Christian ancestors in Church records, and you should be, this book is for you. This is an invaluable reference for those researching Christian Churches in the United States.

“How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide” by Sunny Jane Morton and Harold A. Henderson, CG, is available from the Genealogical Publishing Company.

Book review: “From the Emerald Isle to the Cream City”

I had a chance to review “From the Emerald Isle to the Cream City: A History of the Irish in Milwaukee” by Carl Baehr.

In family history, context is incredibly important. “From the Emerald Isle to the Cream City: A History of the Irish in Milwaukee” gives the reader that context of the Irish experience of settling in Milwaukee, along with the concurrent history of Ireland. If your family includes the initial settlers of Milwaukee or the famous or infamous, you may find details of their lives among the pages. Even if your family members are not named, you will still find be able to understand the more about their lives and times while living in the “Cream City.”

From the “Note of Street Names” that begins the book, you know that you can expect a well-researched work. The author has produced a well-written narrative, sharing citations for the material he used. The book takes the reader on a trip from the beginning of Milwaukee to the present day, focusing on the Irish in the city’s Third Ward. You learn how Milwaukee recruited immigrants and how they traveled, settled and lived. There are the stories of neighborhoods, schools, work and politics.

Mr. Baehr is a great storyteller. As you read through the chapters of the book, the history unfolds decade by decade. It is as if he is sitting with you, setting the stage for the events that will unfold, then immersing you in the stories of the people involved. He finishes their tales, telling what became of them after their notoriety.

The Irish-born population faced significant challenges in the city. Even their eligibility for citizenship was questioned by those who forgot that immigrants may have spent time living closer to ports before their arrival in Milwaukee.

The book describes the events that shaped the Irish community, such as the impact of the loss of life to the Third Ward in the tragic sinking of the Lady Elgin and the Leahey Riot. The experiences of Milwaukee’s Irish soldiers in the Civil War is detailed.

The Appendices contain useful reference material for students of the Irish in Milwaukee. The author shares his research into the miscalculation of Irish born Milwaukeeans in the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Federal Censuses; a list of the victims and survivors of the Lady Elgin; and the victims of the Newhall House Hotel Fire.

Mr. Baehr tells compelling stories about the Irish in Milwaukee and of the city itself. Students of Milwaukee’s history and those interested in the history of the Irish in America will also enjoy this book.

You can learn more about the book here.