About This Collection
Presbyterianism traces its roots primarily to England and Scotland during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. John Knox, a Scotsman who studied in Geneva with the French theologian John Calvin, is credited with having brought Calvinist teachings back to Scotland. He, along with protestants among the Scottish nobility, led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. While churches of other protestant denominations are typically governed by either an episcopal system (by bishops) or through congregationalism, Presbyterians are governed via representative assemblies called presbyteries.
Early immigrants to America included Presbyterians, who founded congregations in the New World as early as the 1630s. They were an integral part of early American history, and participated in endeavors such as the writing of state and national constitutions. Their belief system was one of the driving forces behind the creation of a new government that included separation of powers as well as checks and balances on those powers.
Topics such as theology, governance, and slavery were all sources of disagreements within the Presbyterian church, and led to the formation of separate Presbyterian denominations during the early history of the United States. In the 20th century, topics such as women's issues, civil rights, and social justice issues have all had an impact on Presbyterian churches as well. Various denominations within the United States have split, reunited, and reorganized on multiple occasions due to internal debates on these and other issues. Today, the largest of the existing denominations is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which formed in 1983 as a result of the reunion of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
See the Presbyterian Historical Society's website for more information on the history of the Presbyterian church.
What you can find in the records
This collection currently includes baptism, marriage, death, burial, and other records from Presbyterian churches in 38 states. Records from additional churches will be added in future updates to this collection.
Baptism records typically include the name of the child or adult being baptized, his or her parents’ names, and the date and place of baptism. In some cases, a birth date is noted as well. In some registers, you may find family groups being baptized together. An infant baptism can be a clue that a member had been in the congregation for all of his or her life, whereas baptisms performed later in life could indicate the family had more recently joined a congregation.
Marriage records typically include the names of the bride and groom, as well as the date and place of marriage. Additional information may include the name of the officiant, the couple's residences, or their ages. Other remarks were sometimes recorded as well.
Death and burial records typically included the name of the deceased, and the date and place of death or burial. Additional information may include the age or birth date of the deceased, his or her residence, relatives' names, and in some cases even the cause of death. Other remarks were sometimes recorded as well.
Membership records often list the names of family members, as well as the dates of admission and how the member was received into the church (e.g., baptism, certificate/transfer from another church, or other, which could indicate a conversion from another denomination), and on when they left or moved away. In addition, various other types of records are included in this collection as well. Records for a specific church may include lists of probationers or suspended members, communion rolls, school lists, minutes, or lists of church officials. This last group of records are not indexed and so are not searchable, but they can be browsed.